Five words every writer should use

Don’t let the title fool you. I’m not talking using the words in your writing. I’m talking using the words as you are writing. I lived in the Boro this summer, almost quite literally, and picked up some great wisdom from my graduate classes. I thought I’d share.

I loved my literacy class. Felt right at home in there. The vibes among the professor, the doctoral students, and the outcast, me, were all in sync. My professor opened my eyes to one word that makes all the difference when it comes to learning—curiosity. We teachers can’t teach natural curiosity. We can inspire and encourage, but the really great learners have a natural curiosity that drives them toward answers. So writers, let loose your curiosity and feel free to explore. I love it. I could spend hours researching online. I could spend hours traveling across country to visit special places. I could spend hours reading or hours talking to people who have their own natural curiosity.

Conceptual metaphors
Most entry level English students know what a metaphor is. It’s like a simile—without the like. He is a dog. She is a social butterfly. The guy who sits next to me in class is a vulture. Conceptual metaphors exist on a more subliminal level. Take the novel Heart of Darkness, for example. The novel itself expresses a theme of uncertainty or ambiguity. The author uses numerous vague words throughout the novel to create a sense of dimness. The metaphor runs through the entire work and adds a deeper level of meaning to the story. I like using conceptual metaphors in songs. Crafting the conceptual metaphor is a great mental work out for every writer.

Speaking of ambiguity, here’s a word that was foreign to me until I stepped into my stylistics class. Liminality literally refers to a state of ambiguity, that feeling of being stuck in the middle, on the threshold, too far to turn back, too close not to keep going. Liminality is a vital element of YA fiction. The characters find them in a state of liminality as they cope with transcending from adolescence into adulthood. Not an easy place to be. I suppose teen angst is a by-product of liminality. But liminality isn’t just limited to teens. Adults find themselves there too. We change every day. Who I am today is not who I was yesterday. Adults find themselves stuck in the middle of caring for the children and caring for their aging parents. It’s hard watching your parent grow old. The inner turmoil that comes with change creates a sense of liminality. Liminality creates tension. Tension keeps the reader turning the pages.

I picked up this word totally by accident. Some might say by fortunate discovery, ah, serendipity. Actually, I was writing a paper on liminality and clicked on the wrong term as I Googled. But the word limerence is quite similar to liminality, but it very specificially deals with romance. So romance writers take note. You probably already know this, but now you’ll know why your writing techniques work. It’s a psychological thing. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov came up with the term. Limerence refers to a romantic state of mind that occurs when one person is so attracted to another that she or he becomes obsessed with the need for reciprocal feelings. When these feelings are not reciprocated, the limerence goes away. Limerence can develop into true love. Or not. The concept is worth researching if you are writing about relationships. Human beings are weird, obsessive, sensitive, emotional, dramatic creatures. When one of these creatures suffer from limerence, a story naturally evolves. And limerence involves tension, lots and lots of tension, again a key ingredient in what makes a novel a success.

Of course, I had to include my favorite word. But writers beware. Too much serendipity in novel makes the work unbelievable. Having the right people or tools to magically show up just when they are needed to solve a problem seems a bit unrealistic. Serendipty, of course, is a happy accident, something someone discovers without looking for it. Sometimes you can search your entire life for the answer to a question, and then almost miraculously when you finally give up looking, you stumble across what you’ve been looking for. A happy accident? Happy, yes. Accident? I don’t think so. God orchestrates everything. I believe in divine appointments. I believe in answered prayers. I believe in miracles. He knows our hearts desires, especially when we’ve honored Him. So open your eyes, and roll with the serendipity when you find yourself face to face with it.

So, folks, it’s your turn to get to work. Share your thoughts with me. I’d love to hear what you think  every writer needs to use—or know.

Part 2 — My Top Ten List of Mysterious Writing Adventures

Fall is almost here, and I can’t wait to go exploring! For me, fall is my favorite time of year and my favorite time to write. I think Edgar Allan Poe and I would have been kindred spirits. Although he is a bit more melancholy and macabre than I, we both share a liking for the beauty of the mysterious, the twilight hour, the chills and the thrills. Poor Edgar was so heartbroken that he wrote only of the dark side. I tend to find the light the dark tries to hide. Most of the time, I discover it through laughter. Most of my weird adventures have hilarious resolutions. But for now, let’s get our imagines primed for a great season of writing. Let’s take a look at few more fun places to visit, physically or mentally.

So here goes: Part 2—My Top Ten List of Mysterious Writing Adventures

6. Memphis, Memphis, Memphis
I could write an entire blog on the mysterious places of Memphis, starting with Voodoo Village. But I’ve already talked about that one too many times. How about starting with the Phantom of the Orpheum. Supposedly, a ghost haunts the grand Orpheum Theater. Witnesses say they have spotted a little girl named Mary skipping about the mezzanine in a white dress and stocking feet. History reports state that a little girl the age of the apparition was struck down by a street car and later died in the theater lobby, where she was carried after the accident. Of course, the story is legend, the subject of one of several walking history tours. But it is an interesting story.

Everybody knows Elvis has left the building—and this dimension. I believe he is in heaven. But did you know that ten days after his death several men tried to steal his body and hold it for ransom? However, they were soon caught. The “explosives” the men had planned to blow up the mausoleum turned out to be fireworks, and the charge was dropped to trespassing. I do know for a fact that if you look hard enough you will find Elvis (or one of his clone tribute artists) in many places in Tennessee, for starters either on Beale Street or downtown Nashville. There is an Elvis “fortune teller” machine in one of the souvenir shops near Legends. Ask Elvis a question, and, hey there, pretty mama, he’ll tell you your fortune. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Speaking of Elvis, did you know he really liked the rollercoaster called Zippin Pippin at the now abandoned Libertyland theme park in Memphis. Sometimes he would rent the entire park so that he and his friends could play without being bombarded by fans. A week before his death, he lost the buckle off the belt of one of his famous jump suits while on that ride. The roller coaster was sold, and where it is now, who knows?

And while we’re on the subject of Memphis, ever heard of the Dark Day of Memphis, when for no reason the entire city was blanketed by darkness? The event happened December 2, 1904, and lasted for 15 minutes. Weirdings!

7. Voodoo Hill in Rutherford County
According to legend, there is a shooting range in Rutherford County called Big Springs Target Sports, a place that has lured celebrities as famous as Charlton Heston. But that’s not the weird part. About ten miles from this spot is a mysterious spot that has skeleton heads in trees, monstrous guard dogs chained to a tree, a myriad of bats, and coyotes roaming the place. Anybody who knows me well knows I’ll be the first to suggest exploring the scariest of places. Bring it on. But this place? From what I’ve read, the people at this place are even more strange than the animals. I’ve heard the place is scary at night, but even scarier in the daytime. As adventurous as I am, I’m doubtful about checking out this place. It would be a great setting for a story, but I would like to live to write about it.

8. Booger Swamp
Here’s a story for all the recent grads who are going to Tennessee Tech this fall. According to legend, there is a place on Dry Valley Road, about a half mile north of the intersection with Black Mountain Road, where lies an old swamp that is said to be haunted by an apparition with a pure white body. On a personal note, I do not suggest going for a romantic ride in the country in this area. You might bring home an unwelcome hitch hiker.

9. Giant Bones of Williamson County
Back in 1821, when explorers found giant bones in graves, rumors of an “oversize race of monstrous humanoids soon swept across the region.” Where the bones those of giants? Probably. Where they human? Probably not, at least according to scholars, who claim the bones belonged to mammoths or mastodons that had been buried by Ice Age hunters. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see them. I wonder where they are now.

10. Egyptian artifacts in Nashville?
Wouldn’t it be great to be Indiana Jones for a day? When I was young, my mom filled my authentic canteen with Kool-Aid, and I set off on my banana seat bike to discover new adventures. I came back with all sorts of cool junk that I imagined to be long lost artifacts. But in the early 1890s, a man named George Wood found more than what he bargained for. He was turning up the ground on his farm and unearthed a stone box that contained a skeleton holding a small disk inscribed with what appeared to be Egyptian markings—at least that’s what Harvard zoologist Barry Fell believed after examining it. It was also his belief that the ancient Egyptians had taught the people of the New World how to build pyramids, “passing along the mythology of the ancients.” What do the symbols say? Fell believed the symbols were an IOU. I wonder who owed whom what. If you want to see if for yourself, you can find it in a very safe spot—the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.

Want to read more Weird Tennessee? Check out the book by Roger Manley. If you like adventure that’s just a few miles down the road, then this book can take you on a wild ride close to home.

Part 1—My Top Ten List of Mysterious Writing Adventures

Admit it. How many of you older readers ever wished you could be Nancy Drew or a Hardy boy? Me? I always wanted to be Trixie Belden. She traveled to strange places and solved mysteries. I want to do that.

That’s the great thing about being a writer. We CAN do that. We can live out our fantasies vicariously through our characters. Ever watch the show Castle? Then you know what I’m talking about.

So, here’s the deal, pickle, grad school is over. I’m back to a regular schedule, and it’s almost fall, my favorite time of the year, my most productive time of the year. And I’m inspired.

Our school offers a Books for Fun program that sells unusual books to teachers for a low, low price. I’m always in! I picked up Weird Tennessee at the end of last year, and I can’t put it down. Written by Roger Manley, the book is a travel guide to local legends and secret places.

Oh, yeah! My kind of book! One day I’ll have a cabin that I can steal away to and write and research, but for now I’ll clear a spot on my cluttered desk, and share with you a few places on my “adventure list.” I’ll leave out the most common spots and ones I have already mentioned in previous blogs.

When writers visit a place, they ignite their imaginations with all of their senses, and stories seem to organically appear. I have a favorite get-away I like to visit, a place filled with mystery and intrigue. I’ve been visiting this place for quite a long time. Then out of the blue one night, I dreamed an entire novel about the place. Isn’t it peculiar how the mind works? But in case you are in need of new material, here are a few spots to fuel your imagination.

So here goes:  Part 1—My Top Ten List of Mysterious Writing Adventures

1. Ebbing and Flowing Spring 
Ever wished a love potion really existed? The people in Hawkins County believe a place in their community may hold special powers to bring lovers together. Ebbing and Flowing Springs maintains a constant 34 degrees F year round, but it goes from a small trickle into an impressive gush of more than five hundred gallons a minute. Of course, there’s a legend that provides “proof.” The story dates back to before the American Revolution when Col. Thomas Amis discovered the spring. His daughter  fell in love with Joseph Rogers, of whom the colonel was not particularly found. The two young people shared a cup of water from the spring, and, well, their story ended happily ever after.  I’m no romance writer, but I like love stories. Okay, so maybe you don’t. Here’s an interesting fact for you. The spring is only one of two cyclical (tidal) springs in the world. What this means is the underground channel makes an s-bend, so the spring kind of flushes like a toilet. There. Does that make you feel better?

 2. Ley Lines of Tennessee
You say you never heard of them? I bet you have. You’ve heard of places like Stonehenge that are supposed to possess unusual psychic or mystical energy. Old Stone Fort in my little town has been said by some to be one of these weird places. Fantasy writers incorporate places like this into their writings quite frequently. For example, L. J. Smith refers to ley lines in his book series the Vampire Diaries quite frequently. My line of writing is better suited to the Christian Book Retailers, so I’m more familiar with the writer Stephen R. Lawhead, who refers to ley lines as portals to travel through various universes in his Bright Empires series. It’s related to string theory, which I know nothing about, but if you’re into sci-fi, Google it. What I do know is that Lawhead was the former manager of the Christian rock band DeGarmo and Key and a former Northern Baptist Theological Seminary student. He’s really into celtic fiction and has won numerous awards as a Christian writer.

But back to the story…ley lines. There’s a place in Monroe County where mysterious crop circles appeared. Although copy cat hoax circles appeared later, the original circles were deemed authentic. Researchers found a large number of springs, caverns, and archaeological sites in the area, including a ley line similar to those found in Europe.  No one knows how the crop circles were created or who created them. There’s an opportunity for a story. Turn on those critical thinking skills. Ask yourself how and why, and let your imagination flow. You may end up in an alternate universe.

3. The Vanishing Farmer
Here’s another story that reminds me of the Twilight Zone. On State Road 174 (Hollow Pike) near Gallatin, there is a place that is the site of a mysterious vanishing. Farmer David Lang disappeared into thin air in the presence of two witnesses. No one can explain what happened to him. He was in midstep. Then poof! He was gone. There are no logical explanations—no sinkholes, no underground cavities. Did Lang wander into a black hole, or is there another explanation?

4. The Wampas Cat
Okay, my students have been telling me about the Wampus Cat for years. Supposedly it resides near in the mountainous areas of Chattanooga, Erwin, Bristol, and Knoxville, but a few of my students claimed to have seen one in Middle Tennessee. The Wampas Cat  is a large, catlike creature that has large, glowing yellow eyes, mottled fur, and erect ears. It supposedly walks on its hind legs. The Cherokee legend describes the Wampas Cat as a half-woman, half-cat, who was cursed due to her jealousy.

5. God’s Tree House
Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of living in a log cabin. Both my dad and I used to draw pictures of cabins. Sometimes when I’m rummaging through his belongings, I’ll find his drawings.There’s just something special about living in the middle of nature. Other people have different ideas of dream homes that are close to nature. How about a tree house? There’s a place near Crossville in Cumberland County at the end of Beehive lane where gawkers can gaze at a “ten-story ark of a building” that is, in fact, a tree house that’s wedged in an old beech tree. The tree house has one floor that is a sanctuary big enough for a basketball court. And has been used as such. The tree house contains a spiral staircase, a bell tower, and more than 258,000 nails. According to Horace Burgess, the owner and architect, his mission to build the house came from God, and, thus, he says the house belongs to Him.  In some ways, he is like a modern-day Noah. Only God didn’t give him exact dimensions. I think it would make a great setting for a novel, especially YA. I’m definitely going to have to check this one out.

Stay tuned for the next blog:  Part 2—My Top Ten List of Mysterious Writing Adventures

Ten reasons to ask your friends to visit my blog

It’s been a long, difficult summer. I had glorious plans of sneaking off to a cabin to complete my WIP, but life had other plans for me. GRADUATE SCHOOL. I have my Master’s, but in order to maintain my job as an adjunct instructor for a community college, I needed to add more graduate hours in English to my resume. So off to school I went. I push the cliche’ here, but I do believe things happen for a reason. There was a reason why I had to drive to the Boro every day this summer and leave for campus around 8 a.m. and sometimes return home around 8 p.m. and THEN do homework. I needed to cross paths with some of the people in my classes. They added additional brush strokes to the picture of life I’m painting.

But back to the blog. There are CERTAIN types of people who might just benefit from the ramblings of a psycho writer chick. Here we go. Do you know any of these people?

1. People who need to make a connection…
I am probably the most emotionally vulnerable person in the world. But I know there are other people like me out there. Perhaps your friend is like me too. I say things in my blog that I can’t say to anyone else, and because I use deeply constructed metaphors, most people don’t really get what I’m talking about. But sometimes various words were meant to be heard by just the right people. Perhaps your friend is that person. Perhaps not. But there is always perhaps.

2. People who don’t like being baited into argumentative situations…
What I write is definitely differently. I purposely stay away from topics that tear people apart. I avoid politics, and I avoid religion. I believe God loves us with a love so deep we cannot fathom, but only you can develop that personal relationship. God calls YOU to him. He doesn’t tell me whom to condemn. If I could wrap each of my readers in a great big hug and tell each one, “Hey, you’re loved,” I would do so. Seriously. That empty feeling of having no one is unbearable, but we don’t have to feel alone.

3. People who are incredibly geeky, silly but are too shy to admit it in person…
Hey, I’m the poster child for adult dork. I still play make believe and wonder “what if.” I have an unquenchable sense of adventure that I really have to rein in because I know most people simply would not understand. I do NOT take myself too seriously. I spent my summer (when not studying) questing for Steven Tyler. I say questing because I do not want to be arrested for stalking. I coerced my students into make a Video Plea for me, that he would allow me to meet him at his concert. I posted comments on every Atlanta radio station FB, pleading for someone to help me make the connection. I contacted his booking agent and tried to book him–then found out that my VISA card would be declined. I could not pay the $100,000 fee. Sigh. Oh well. No luck for me. But the fun was in the adventure.

4. People who are afraid of EVERYTHING…
I am fearless on some days. On other days I’m afraid of everything. Most of all, I’m afraid of lies. The worst thing for me is dishonesty. Everybody fails to live up to expectations. Those faults are forgiveable, but premediated, intentionally hurtful lying is crushing. I fear being suckered in. But don’t we all? But isn’t it silly to not to take a chance for the fear of rejection? Rejection stings for a little while. Regret may last forever. I’m also afraid of frogs. They are Satanic little creatures that scare the dickens out of me. I am afraid of trains. I panic at every railroad crossing. I am afraid of flying, but I am going to Ireland. I have made peace with my maker, and should the plane go down, well, I am ready to go. I also fear bugs with a lot of legs. I fear scorpions, unless they play guitars. And I fear missing out on my most important dreams. It’s easier to accept yourself as being “normally unnormal” when you realize your fears aren’t any weirder as anyone else’s.

5. People who make the most out of unfortunate situations by adding a little quirkiness…
What is so wrong with being quirky? I work with teenagers because quirkiness is a natural part of their character. Adults don’t understand. That’s why I feel I fit right in with adolescents. We think alike. But quirky is fun. Quirky people take of their shoes and walk in the rain during a thunderstorm because they don’t want to get their shoes wet. Quirky people carry a can of Febreeze around a stinky classroom as if were an Olympic torch. If one must deal with with moldy, mildew carpet, one can surely find a way to make the experience “interesting.”

6. People who can’t say how they really feel so they let music do their talking…
I don’t open up to people. But I have an advantage. I’m an English major! I understand metaphors–conceptual metaphors, now, thank you MTSU summer of stylistics. I can say what I want through the lyrics of a song, mine or someone else’s. So can you. So can your friend.

7. People who believe their animals talk back to them…
Sometimes my best conversations aren’t with humans. I mean, who else do you know who will lick your face after a bad day of school? Who else will show you that you are needed by pawing at your backdoor, demanding to be let in, refusing to eat his meal, until you arrange it just right in the bowl?  It’s nice to be needed. Our four-legged friends let us know we’re needed. I could write a novel based on the feline and canine characters in my neighborhood. But I think that’s been done before, i.e. “twilight barking” in One Hundred and One Dalmations.

8. People who do stupid things…
Okay. Here’s one of the best reasons for your friend to read my blog. We all do stupid things. But I do a whole lot more stupider things than normal people. I can make ALL PEOPLE feel good about themselves if they compare their antics to mine. Allow me a few examples of proof. I hotglued my lips together while hanging posters in my classroom. (Long story.) I sprained my ankle while talking on the phone one night on a warm summer’s evening. I thought I would go for a walk and chit chat. I missed the pavement and ended up in the ditch with my leg in the culvert. I had to claw my way out. I dress inappropriately. Only I could wear a button-up shirt inside out to school. Feel better?  I bet your “challenged” friend will too after reading my blog.

9. People who believe in serendipity…
I believe we sometimes stumble on the most important things in our life. Sometimes we’re too stubborn, jaded, or blind to see the obviousl. Sometimes we have to run face first into the wall of fortunate discovery. Simply put, I believe in hope. Usually, we can’t make situations work out the way we plan them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work out.

10. People who need encouragement…
Do you know friends who feel as if they’ve done too much damage in their lives for anything good to happen? Do you know fpeople who feel no matter what they so, they’ll mess up anything good that happens in their lives? I may be the geekiest, quirkiest, clumsiest, goofiest, awkardest, shyest, least confident person on this planet, but if I can do anything right, perhaps I can convince your friend that hope, love, and happiness are out there, waiting.

As I try to jump back into writing, I would appreciate your vote….I mean your endorsement. Please encourage someone who needs a friend to read my blog. I appreciate every reader, and I appreciate your support.