Good-bye to an Old Friend

Thirty five years ago I bought a research tool that has helped me write for decades.  At the time I was still a year or so away from owning my first PC (a Commodore VIC20 that William Shatner –aka Captain Kirk–hawked on TV) and the Internet was just a communication device for the military industrial complex.  You actually had to get up off your butt and go to the library to do any in depth research.  One other thing you could use was the tool that I bought so long ago.

It was the 1980 edition of The New Webster Encyclopedia Dictionary of the English Language: Including a Dictionary of Synonyms and Twelve Supplementary Reference Sections.  A copy of the title page is featured above.

The dictionary started out with a very interesting forward entitled On the Origin of Words which, essentially, explained how the English language came to be.  Nine hundred and seventy two pages of word definitions followed until you came to the 12 supplements mentioned in the title.

The supplements were as follows:

  1. Synonyms and Antonyms
  2. Popular Quotations
  3. Classical Mythology
  4. Foreign Words and Phrases
  5. Student’s and Authors Manual
  6. Secretaries Guide
  7. Business Law for Laymen
  8. Business and Finance
  9. Names and Their Meanings
  10. The Story of America in Pictures
  11. Flags of the World (in color)
  12. Presidents of the United States (in color)

The last president listed in section 12 is Ronald Reagan.  I found out in section 9 that my first name means “The Lord is gracious, merciful” and in section 5 I found out how to edit a document using Proofreading Marks.  There are too many great quotations to list here but my favorite from the Writing list in section 2 is “Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At this time, I have to paraphrase another well known quote, “Time waits for no man nor great tome of knowledge”.  Over the course of the decades, this book was referenced more times than I can remember especially after my son was born in 1984.  It was at his side countless times while doing homework and at mine as I did my writing.  Now, however, it is showing the effects of its great use and great age.  The pages are torn and falling out as they fade from yellow to brown and the binding is all but gone.  So I have decided to give it a new life; I have made the gut wrenching decision to recycle my old companion in hopes that its next life will be as useful as its first one was.

So good-bye my old friend, good-bye.

NOTE: I used this book one last time to look up the proper way to spell-and hyphenate-the term “good-bye” since there are many variations of it and discovered that the phrase is a shortened version “God be with you”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary on line is located here.  It even has a section for Scrabble: http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Captain Kirk selling computers (as William Shatner): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK9VU1aJvTI

These “sayings” drive me CRAZY…

Saying things like this is a sure way to get me in your face and if you use these terms in a story, without making the character a total caricature, it will get you a terrible review, which is what you would deserve for taking short cuts with the English language. You are a writer, so write, say it in a way that doesn’t only appeal to Valley Girls and Stoners.  Write for the world and avoid these phrases at ALL cost:

  1. “I am going to REACH OUT to that person” – If you are not within arms distance of a person, you cannot “reach out” to them.  You can call them, email them, make an appointment to see them somewhere, or even snail mail them  If you ever get within arms length of them, then you can truly “reach out” to them; just make sure they want your advances.
  2. “I can’t wrap my head around that” – Perhaps if you wrapped your head around a brain you would not have this problem.
  3. “Back in the day…” – What day?  Last Tuesday?  A month ago?  1899?  Get specific, tell me WHAT day you are back in.  I have posed these questions to idiots who have used this phrase when talking to me and all I got in response was stuttering inanities.  Which is why I figured they used this phrase in the first place.
  4. “Don’t go there” – Ummmm, where is it you don’t want me to go?  We were having a discussion and not traveling anywhere.  Do you want me to go to a specific place?  Should I leave the room?  The building?  The planet?
  5. “It’s not rocket science” – That’s good since we were NOT talking about ROCKETS or SCIENCE or anything remotely related to these professions.  We were talking about what to have for dinner tonight.
  6. “Push the envelope” – Well gee, I can push an envelope.  Heck, I can push thousands of them all at once.  Does that make me special?   Do you have any idea what it is you mean to say?
  7. “Think outside the box” – Sorry, does it look like I have a box on my head?  Maybe you should talk to my barber.  What box is it that you speak of?  Do you have any idea?  If not get your head out of your as…
  8. “Chill out” – Are you referring to my Martini?  I mean it is already cold.  I drink them in toast the the English language that is being slowly killed off by catch phrases.
  9. “Don’t throw (someone) under the bus” – This punishment should be reserved for people dumb enough to use this irritating phrase.
  10. “It is what it is” – But what is it?  Can you tell me or are you just using this idiotic throwaway phrase to tell me you are too ignorant to express yourself in words?

There are more but if I keep writing this, I will blow a gasket….

Grandma's Favorite Recipes

Some of Grandma’s Favorite Recipes

Believe it or not, I authored a cookbook, that is I compiled a cookbook.  How this all came about and how part of it ended up being published in a national magazine are stories in themselves–which I will tell now.

When my grandmother, Loretta Duffy, became too ill to live on her own, I helped her move into an assisted living center. This meant that she had to sell off most of her possessions which I helped her with as well.  While going though her things, we came across her “recipe box” which was a small cardboard box stuffed with handwritten recipes she had collected in her 80 plus years on the planet.  Many of them were recipes given to her by her friends and since these concoctions did not have formal names grandma called them by her friend’s names, such as “Ivah’s Chicken Casserole”,  “June’s Freezer Coleslaw” and “Nella’s Cake”.  Other recipes were ones given to her by my great-grandmother and some were ones she just made up as she went.  When I commented on this box, grandma said I could have it since she would not be cooking anymore.  So I took it home with me and went through it.  It was like a trip down memory lane for me as I remembered eating many of the dishes as a child while visiting her and grandpa at their small rural farm in Michigan.  I thought it would be nice to compile these recipes, call them Grandma’s Favorite Recipes, print up copies and give them to family members so that is what I did.  When I would tell people about my project, inevitably someone would ask for a copy, which I supplied readily. Then it dawned on me that I could possibly publish this work and raise some money for grandma.

But where?  I started searching for possible markets and when I found some, I began to mail (yes mail) out copies to publishing houses.  It didn’t take long to find a willing editor in a small book publisher who wanted to add it to their line of books since it would be their first cookbook.  I didn’t tell grandma this until I actually had a copy of the book to show her. She howled with laughter at the thought of anyone wanting to buy her recipes.  The next time I saw her, I gave her a royalty check.  Sadly, it wasn’t long after that the my grandmother died.

From then on, I gave all the proceeds from sales to my mother.  When the small publishing house that had the book in its stable went out of business, I decided to look for another one to carry the title but I had no luck.  That is when I had the idea to write a small article about my grandma’s cooking and call it Some of Grandma’s Favorite Recipes.  I did this using the three recipes mentioned above and then sent it out to a magazine whose name I do not recall.  Months passed, then a year when I finally decided that the magazine was not interested in it, so I started looking for another likely market–that is when I got a letter from Quick n’ Easy Home Cooking telling me that they were going to publish the article.  The odd thing about that is that I had not sent the article to them!  A phone call later cleared up the mystery.  Quick n’ Easy Home Cooking had bought out the magazine I had originally sent the article to and while going through that magazine’s slush pile, they came across mine, liked it, and bought it.  They published it in April of 1996 under the name of Nothing Beats Grandma’s Cooking.  

By the time Amazon publishing came about, all the rights to this article and to the entire cookbook had reverted back to me so I published Grandma’s Favorite Recipes on Amazon and it has been met with great reviews (minus the troll postings that Amazon refuses to take down).  Later, Amazon started up the great Amazon Shorts program, so I published the article on the book under its original name Some of Grandma’s Favorite Recipes.  It was huge hit and sold extremely well until Amazon pulled the plug on this program.

All of this started because grandma was such an outstanding cook who decided to give her recipes to one of her grandchildren.

The following is the complete article for your enjoyment.  The cookbook is available on Amazon.com

Some of Grandma’s Favorite Recipes

I don’t remember much about the time I lived in Michigan since seven years after I was born in Flint Osteopath Hospital, my parents decided to uproot the family and move to Phoenix, Arizona.

What memories I do still retain resemble a sketchy collage of black and white pictures made up of school events, childhood friends, and visions of places where we had lived.  They are the memories that seemed very important to a seven year old boy at the time.  Now even those musings are fading.  Lately the only firm recollections that are left to me are the ones I have when I think about the times spent at my Grandparent’s farm in the rural municipality of Burton Township.

I still remember the eager anticipation I felt each time my parents drove us along the dirt road that lead to the long driveway which took us to the Duffy farmhouse.  I couldn’t wait to get out and play in the snow or pick apples from the orchard that made up the front yard.  What I did depended on what season it was at that moment.

No matter what the time of year it was, though, my Grandparent’s house was usually filled with the smells of my Grandma’s wonderful cooking or baking.  I remember Grandma always having an overstuffed recipe box with not a cookbook in sight.  Many of the recipes she had were ones that were passed down to her from my Great-grandmother who, in turn, had acquired them from her mother.

Grandma added to her hand-me-down collection by swapping recipes with her neighbors and her friends.  Often times these recipes didn’t have any particular name as they were the sole creation of the people who gave them to my Grandma.  So, she normally just referred to them by her friend’s names.

What follows are three recipes that were given to her by some of these friends.  Fixed all in one sitting, they make a fine meal.  Who Ivah, June, and Nella are, I don’t recall, but I wouldn’t doubt if they were bowling partners of Grandma’s since that was her favorite sport.

To top this meal off, I added a favorite of my favorites: Brown sugar frosting!  Yum!!

Ivah’s Chicken Casserole

1 boned, cooked chicken

1 cup raw rice

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

2 cans of mushroom soup

Use all the broth from the cooking of the chicken and place in a casserole with chopped vegetables.  Mix together well and cover top with buttered bread cubes.  Chopped onions and chopped green peppers are optional ingredients. Bake 1/2 hour at 350 degrees.

June’s Freezer Cole Slaw

1 medium head shredded cabbage

1 cup diced green peppers

1 tsp. salt

Diced celery to taste

Grated carrots as desired

While letting the above stand 1 hour prepare the following:

1/2 cup vinegar

2 cups sugar

1 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. celery seed

2 cups water

Bring to boil for 2 minutes.

Let cool.

Mix all ingredients together and freeze.

Thaw to serve.

Nella’s Cake

 2 cups flour                                       1/2 cup shortening

1 1/3 cup sugar                                1 cup milk

3 1/2 tsp. baking powder                 1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. salt                                           2 eggs

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. clove

Sift dry ingredients together.  Add shortening and liquids.  Beat for 2 minutes, scraping bowl.  Add two eggs, beat for two more minutes.  Bake in a 9″x13″ 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Brown Sugar Frosting

 1 1/2 cups sugar                              2-tsp. butter

1/4 cup milk                                       1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, milk, and butter in a pan.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Add vanilla.  Mix well.

(NOTE: This is a glaze like frosting that should be spread on while it is warm, not hot!  Let mix stand for a few minutes before frosting Nella’s cake.)

For the benefit of Mr. K

All through my blog posts I have told you of the incidents and people who have inspired me to write.  This post will be no different though I write it with great sadness.

I found out last week that one of my friends died suddenly, the cause of his death is irrelevant at this point so I will not go into it, let me just say that he was much too talented and much too young to be gone now.  Even though I went to his joyous wake yesterday, I am still in shock over his death and I will be for some time to come.

The man’s name is James Kasmir and you can visit his FaceBook page here: https://www.facebook.com/james.kasmir

James was a man with a zest for life.  To me he was always smiling, always upbeat, and always willing to entertain.  He was a comedy writer, an adept magician, one of the BEST harmonica players I have ever heard, and one of the most creative improvisational comedians you’d ever meet.  It was during my two year stint in improv that we became friends.  I could tell you of some hilarious skits we did together but that would take much too long because anything Jim was in was funny; I was irrelevant.

Since we were having a wake and since it was to be held in the Ventura Improv Company Theater and since it was to be attended by an astounding amount of talented people who would be performing in honor of Jim, I wanted to get involved as well but not in an improv setting.  So, I wrote a short poem even though my poetry is lacking.  The name of the work is Jimbo The Magnificent and there is a story behind this title that few people knew until I told it before I read this work.

As I said, Jim was a magician and I am one who has always loved magic.  I have even put on a few shows (one when I was 9 years old) but I never reached Jim’s talent level.  Well one day, in a private conversation, I told him that if he was going to be successful magician, he needed a catchy name.  So I bounced a few suggestions off him and Jimbo The Magnificent is the one he liked the best, though I don’t think he ever used it on stage even though I promised him that I would not charge a royalty fee if he did–at least one that was not too steep, that is.

So, using my favorite name for him, I wrote the following.  It was warmly received despite it’s crudeness because it celebrated all things Jim.  That is something we can all celebrate for the remainder of our lives.

I love you buddy.

Jimbo the Magnificent

With mouth organ blazing, he’d pull a rabbit from a hat

Now how in the world could you not laugh at that!

Up on the boards he’d act like he was Heaven sent,

And maybe he was, he was Jimbo the Magnificent.

He’d been known to sing and he’d been known to prance

And sometimes when silly he’d do a naked chicken dance

Whatever he did, he did for our enjoyment.

Because as we all know, he was Jimbo the Magnificent

Now that he’s gone, the lights have gone out

But we’ll all be happy and we’ll all have no doubt

That he’ll be wearing wings to where ever it is he went

And Angels, those lucky Angels, will be laughing with Jimbo the Magnificent

Fact into fiction

When I first moved to California, I lived in Santa Barbara–a town I had never heard of before relocating to it.  It is a nice place, great weather, terrific scenery, and Hollywood stars walking on the streets like all of us nobodies, but after 5 years I decided it was not my kind of town so I moved south to the beautiful little town of Ventura and that is where I have been ever since.  I love it so much here, that I will never leave it really.  I have it set up so when I die I will be cremated and my ashes will be spread just off the coast so they can slowly wash ashore (thank you Neptune Society).

One thing that I really did like about Santa Barbara was their library.  It is a beautiful facility with a large collection of books.  Well one day I was there just browsing for nothing in particular when a title caught my eye.  It was A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865 written by a man name Louis J. Weichmann.  I had never heard of this author and I always thought I knew everything about Lincoln’s assassination so I would have normally passed on this book but the intriguing title enticed be to pick it up and at least read the dust cover.  After I did that, I checked the book out, took it home, and read it is just a few days.  It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone, history buff or not.

I, for one, didn’t know all the intricacies of the plot against Lincoln which included the kidnapping of the President in order to hold him for ransom.  When that plot went astray, sadly, John Wilkes Booth took matters into his own hands.  I also did not know that there was a mystery woman who often visited Booth in the home of Mary E. Surratt, the mother of conspirator John H. Surratt.  This mystery woman has never been identified.  There is a lot in the book that I did not know but that is because the revelations in it were divulged by Weichmann–a man who lived in the same house with the conspirators but was not party to it.  Louis J. Weichmann was a clerk in the War Department at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Anyway, the mystery of the woman who Weichmann spoke haunted me for years even after I moved so one day I applied the magic “What if…” question to this lady and came up with a wild plot for a story.  I call it Saving Abraham and it is available in Angel and the Bear.

The story is a science fiction tale that revolves around a plan to stop the conspiracy and assassination; the idea is dreamed up by a scientist living in Atlanta in the year 2145.  The scientist known only as Johnson, and his partner Locke, have invented a machine called the Timatron which can not only let you travel in time, it can also transport you to specific places as well.  For his own reasons, Johnson wants to save Abraham Lincoln from Booth’s bullet but he and Locke disagree on what this would do to time. They have a spirited debate on that subject with Johnson finally hooking in Locke’s greed to get him to come around to his way of thinking and help him on his mission.  Well, things go terribly awry–in a most personal way–but you will have to read the story and it’s double climax ending to see how badly Johnson miscalculated the power of time.

Along the way to this conclusion, though, you will read a historically accurate tale that I wrote with the aide of Weichmann’s book.  The boarding house of Mary E. Surratt, where Johnson takes up residence is where it really was located in 1865, the livery he used, the events of the time, the visitors to the house, etc. are all real people and places described by a man who lived in that time period and with these people.  The only part of the story that is truly fictional is the actions of Johnson and Locke.

However, to make these dueling scientist seem more real, I based them on two other men famous for their dueling diatribes.  They were based on the movie critics, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, both of whom now have sadly passed on.  I admired them greatly and was such an avid fan, I could easily see them fitting into the roles I created for them.  At one point, Locke even gives Johnson a “thumbs up”.

This story not only shows how I used real people of the past, but real people of my time (Siskel & Ebert were both still with us when I wrote this).

Here are two links to the real people involved:

Louis J. Weichmann http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_J._Weichmann

Siskel & Ebert http://siskelandebert.org/

And now a word from our sponsor…

For anyone born in the ’50’s or ’60’s, the phrase above is quite common and well known to you.  It was uttered just before a break in a television program and often by the sponsor of the entire show (such as the Colgate Comedy Hour).  You rarely, if ever, hear that phrase anymore because breaks come just as something interesting is about to happen, which makes you hang around until the show comes back on.

Well this is one such break.  I have been writing a lot about what inspired and challenged me to write various stories and I will continue to do so in the next blog post which tells of a story inspired by a real dog, just not the one that wrote the previous post, she writes her own stories.

In the meantime, I would appreciate it you would go to my Amazon.com author’s page and look at the books I have written.  If you see any you like, then please make a purchase–and give it a review.

http://www.amazon.com/John-Darling/e/B002BM7WGA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Research: You have to love it

Unless you are an authority on a certain subject, you may have to do a lot of research to write a story or article.  Articles, of course, are usually nothing but the facts (though Opinion is allowable) but fiction can be written without them.  The problem with that, though, is that you can write a story full of nothing but fantasy and lose a reader because they have no real reference points.  I find that hard facts make a fiction story more real to a reader no matter what genre it is written in.  Take Jurassic Park as an example; what occurred in the story is highly unlikely to ever really happen but due to all the scientific facts used in the writing of it, the story certainly makes it seem like it could happen at any minute and make you feel that it is happening somewhere in our world.

In an earlier blog post, I told you about the creation of my story Woman In Black, which tell the adventures of a time-tripping better half of the Men In Black society.  In this story, Debra, our heroine, is sent back in time to deal with a pesky alien known to the masses as Jack the Ripper.  Her job is to eliminate this alien because his presence caused too many disruptions in the future—or so she is lead to believe.  The problem with this is that you cannot drop a beautiful blonde assassin, who is an expert fighter, a dead shot, and who can slice an alien up in a minute using her very non-regulation Stiletto, into the middle of the Whitechapel District of London in 1888 and not have her stick out like a strobe light in a darkened room.

So in Debra’s Assignment Package, there was suitable clothing and money for the period but there was something else that I put in there as well.  I thought about the time and place and realized that Debra’s pattern of speech would make her stand out just as much as anything else.  Jack the Ripper hunted his victims in a very poor part of London where criminals of all types roamed.  His victims were mostly poor prostitutes that sold their wares just so they could get a roof for the night.  As such, most of the denizens of the Whitechapel district spoke Cockney English.

So I inserted a copy of  “Hanson’s Cockney-to-English Dictionary” into her Assignment Package and gave her a few days to learn her new language.  Fortunately, Debra is as smart as she is sexy so by the time it was time to transport her to the Ripper’s hunting grounds, she was proficient in the verse, so much so that the following conversation took place as she roamed the streets hoping to trap Jack into an attempt on her life before he could get to poor Polly Nichols, who was his first known victim:

“Very nice, neck down, ya know.  The boat face is a problem, but then I don’t ‘ave to look a’ it I ‘spose.”

Whirling at the comment, the tawdry looking woman retorted, “‘oo you talkin’ ’bout, guvna?  Take a butchers at this.  These’ll knock yer mincers out.”

She then pulled down her neckline showing a wealth of cleavage.

“Ain’t neve’ said y’ ain’t got a bit of a body on ya; nice arse an’ all.   But a plain one y’are, I say.  Maybe a bit o’ color would dice you up.”

“Ain’t neve’ touched the stuff, an’ I ain’t gonna start fer the likes of you.”

“Oh I’d duck, ya right enough, you witch.  But I got ta get home to the trouble ‘n strife.  Maybe it’ll be I’d pass this way again.”

“Right, you get to yer troubles, she’s got yer by the barnacle bills, she ‘as.  Go on, get it on ‘ome, I got my bees knees to attend to.”

The man gave her an angry glance, she tensed, ready to act, but he only cursed at her, pulled the knot tighter around his leather apron, and faded into the fog.  Probably heading home for a warm meal and a dry bed; something Debra wished she could do at that moment.

The reference to the man’s leather apron is nod to the only real suspect the police had in this case.  Not only was a mysterious stranger called Leather Apron by terrified prostitutes in the area, a leather apron was the usual garb of butchers in that day and age.

While I was researching Cockney I discovered that it was more of a code language criminals used as a way to speak openly around Coppers who supposedly did not understand it.

I think the addition of these realities into a wide ranging science fiction story gave it some credence; who knows, maybe Jack the Ripper really was an alien.

If you want to learn Cockney and translate the conversation above, here is a link to a great site that will help you:  http://www.freelang.net/dictionary/docs/html_cockney_english.php

To read up on Leather Apron, go here:  http://www.jack-the-ripper-walk.com/leather-apron.htm