The ‘war’ on words: does desensitized slang improve writing?




I may be sticking with a limited vocabulary this year.

I can’t subscribe to the “so bad it’s good” school of slang.

As in, “He was great. He killed!”

Or, “Awesome art. Totally sick!”

Let’s not even delve into the “War on Drugs” slogan.

I believe some writers hope for fame by desensitizing readers. These wordsmiths wish that shocking words might be more shocking in a positive context.

I’ll pass. These words have real, original meanings. Pain-filled meanings.  By jumping on the “opposites attract” bandwagon, trendy phrases disrespect what the recipients of these words experienced.

Most of all, I would compare slang to a carton of milk. Both need “best if used by…” dates.


How Harry S. Truman helped one writer

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

— President Harry S. Truman

I put Truman’s words to the test as my first literary workout of 2017.

When I learned that a local young woman had been selected to perform with the Salvation Army Tournament of Roses parade, I wanted to spread the joy.

rose-bowl-paradeSure, the weekly paper ran a feature. However, would anyone else ever know?

I vowed to query the media for a story that wasn’t my own.

I rushed an e-mail to the “news tip” address of the nearest NBC affiliate. The station carried two hours of parade coverage. Why not follow up the special event with an area angle?

I sent the URL link to the weekly newspaper feature. I jotted a couple of sentences about why the story was perfect for this TV station. Then, I included a contact number for the woman’s pastor.

Boom! Reporter Jannay Towne covered the story from three different perspectives. Her fine feature was complete just hours after parade programming ended.

Do you ever catch yourself starting a sentence with “Someone should’ve…”? Or “Why didn’t anyone do…”? Today, I stopped being a backseat driver. I grabbed the wheel.

My motto for 2017 will be “why not?” Try. Try every day.

Worry less. Write more!


Authors, want to know publishing? Local FREE experts await!

No one knows readers better than a librarian. (Photo credit: Ned Horton/Free

No one knows readers better than a librarian. (Photo credit: Ned Horton/Free

Not conference presenters.

Not self-help book authors.

If you want to know what readers are reading, ask a public librarian. These overlooked experts review pre-publication editions. They are resources for “coming soon” news.

A children’s librarian knows what kids, parents and teachers are seeking.

Other public librarians know what the book club members crave.

Library staff devour reviews. They compare notes with other librarians across the nation.

Try them. The price is right!


A Christmas present for any past (or future) author

Write it down.

Write. It. Down.

Sound advice. It’s that simple.

Too many of us were swayed by the class smartypants. “Will this be on the test?”

As if there’s a paper shortage?

Beginning in junior high, I’d write down everything. In seventh grade art, I scribbled down the heart of a sermon from the teacher.

“I want everyone standing in line in the lunchroom,” she preached. “No pushing. No cutting. I’ll stand in the back of the line with you. If any of you ever see me budge to the front of the line, you’ll be entitled to come stand with me.”

Scene two begins in the school lunchroom, the last week of school. There is pious Miss Thompson, stepping in front of hungry kids, leading the way for two other teachers.

From the back of the line, I followed. “Let me in,” I begged the put-upon student. “You won’t regret it.”

I tapped Miss T on the shoulder. I waved.

She stared at me, dumbfounded.

Her teaching cohort growled. “You get to the back of the line, young man. Right now!”

I shook my head. “Miss Thompson, you told us that if you ever cut, we could cut in line with you. Remember?”

The defeated teacher rolled her eyes, chewed her lip and nodded. “Come on,” she muttered.

Soon, kids were pointing, whispering. Then, laughing. I think I remember clapping.

Why write down a sentence? An idea?

Because, your day will come. Just like it did for me.



Writerly inspiration at Walmart?

A pre-Thanksgiving protest from 2013. (Photo credit: Benjamin G. Robinson/Wikimedia Commons)

A pre-Thanksgiving protest from 2013. (Photo credit: Benjamin G. Robinson/Wikimedia Commons)

Not a college class. Not a conference. Not a TED talk.

Character, plot, dialogue. All that inspiration may find you.

Yes, even at one of the dreaded Big Box stores.

Yesterday, my wife and I went through a checkstand at the nearby small-town monopoly. (Or, as other friends call it, “The Company Store.” Think Tennessee Ernie Ford.)

The elderly woman ahead of us talked. And talked. And talked!

However, the cashier just smiled, nodded and smiled some more.

When we had our turn, the blue-vested angel whispered, “There’s so many lonely old people. They just want someone to talk to, even for a minute.”

We nodded in admiration of her patience and compassion.

“Will you have Thanksgiving off?” my wife asked her.

The cashier shrugged. “We had our Thanksgiving early. I’ll be working here that day.”

“For time-and-a-half, I hope!” I added.

The worker shook her head. “I am working a double shift, though. If I can help someone else be with their family, it’s worth it.”

A corporate villain. Adversity. A hero.

All these literary building blocks for free? Yep. Just look and listen.

How This Book Was Made: A Picture Book Not Just for Kids

how-this-book-was-made-barnettHow This Book was Made: A True Story is sneaky, subversive fun.

Children may prefer illustrator Adam Rex’s story-within-a-story artwork. While kids might simply see a queen dining on a veranda, adults will read between of the lines as author Mac Barnett describes his New York City editor. “She is like a teacher, only she works in a skyscraper and is always eating fancy lunches.”

After all, as Barnett claims he wrote 21 drafts of his children’s book, adults will remember the subtitle promise that this is a true story.

How true? Adults will guffaw over Rex portraying himself as a leisurely illustrator who needed frequent naps before completing his assignment. Rex packs each page with action, showing a multitude of characters (including King Kong and Ben Franklin) who enjoy cameos in the behind-the-scenes hilarity.

Children who stay tuned for the entire book won’t be disappointed. It turned out THEY are the true stars. How? Barnett reminds us that “…a book still isn’t a book, not really, until it has a reader.”

Published authors and illustrators will giggle over their “been there, done that” reaction to How This book Was Made.

Just be ready to explain your inside-joke laughs with the kids you’re sharing this fun title with!

See for yourself with the book’s official trailer!