Monday, September 30, 2013

My Biggest Crutch - Overused Gestures

I'm going through a very gruel editing process right now, which is why I've neglected visiting everyone's blogs. I promise to get back on track. But this editing business is cruel. I have a lot of bad habits.

Many of you know I'm a big people watcher. As far as how that translates into my writing, I'm finding that each book I write is filled with a particular set of gestures that I tend to overuse. I've also been beta reading a lot, and I find that I'm not alone.

Here are my big gesture crutches:

1) Smiled. I will use the FIND feature in Word, and I'm always aghast at how many times my characters smile. It's crazy. I will try to use other ways to describe a smile, or maybe use a synonym like grin or smirk. If you are a true writing master, you can also craft proper dialog that conveys that a character is smiling.

2) Nods and Head Shakes. Sometimes, I feel like my characters have fits of Tourette's or something. Lots of head movement all over the place. Again, I hunt them down and see if I can cut them. The best thing I can do is to write excellent dialog that makes it easy for the reader to imagine a character nodding or shaking their head. Most often, I find that I'm being redundant:

James nodded. "Yes, I'll drive you to the airport."

Nodded is not necessary in the example above. He already says "yes."

3) Gazes and Glances. When I find a bunch of gazes and glances, it seems like my characters have ADD. They just can't FOCUS. If it's my POV character that's doing all the gazing and glancing, I'll cut it and just describe what the heck they're looking at.

James gazed at the swings swaying on the empty playground.
The swings swayed on the empty playground.

By directly showing you what James sees, I'm actually removing a filter between the reader and the character. As I said before, expertly crafted dialog can also help you do away with these overused gestures, including gazed and glanced.

4) Eyebrow Rumba. Do your characters' eyebrows furrow, raise, or draw together? Mine do. I try to rework as many of them as I can. I also stick this gesture to one character so it becomes part of characterization.

5) Eyes Narrow and Widen. I don't use "widen" as much as "narrowed." Lots of my characters get pissed and their eyes tend to narrow. If I find that I'm using this gesture as a crutch, I'll rework some scenes. Often, I'll just cut it and write good dialog and action that helps the reader imagine the eyes narrowing.

James found the body of his beloved on the floor, the crimson pool growing beneath his fiance's limp body. "They will pay." He pounded his fist through the drywall. "I will kill them all."

With this very intense scene, doesn't it seem anti-climatic to even include some kind of gesture here? At finding his woman dead, his eyes narrowing or brows furrowing don't do it justice. The scene itself, along with the dialog, gives the readers the freedom to use their own imagination to construct the visuals. No need to spoon feed your readers!

Like all crutches, mine change. And there's a bazillion more overused gestures out there. Many of mine also include:

arms crossed
teeth clenched
deep exhale

The key to gestures is to make sure you're not overusing them. Also, personalize a few of them. Maybe one character always strokes his beard when he's thinking. It takes more skill to write dialog that lends itself to the reader imaging the proper gestures during a scene. Like my example above of James finding his fiance dead. Obviously, we can picture him very angry and intense.

I bet his brows are furrowed.

* Thanks for all your kind words last week. Snoopy passed away very peacefully in my arms at the vet's office. I held held his blanket-wrapped body, and I felt him take his last breath. When his muscles relaxed, and the doctor verified he was gone, I felt relieved.

Sad, sure. But I was relieved that Snoopy was no longer in pain. When I came home, my 7 month old puppy jumped on me (a habit I'm working to correct), and reminded me that she needed supper.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Snoopy the Wonder Mutt

In 1996, I adopted a mutt.

Snoopy was a little timid at first, but he showed flashes of his playfulness and hyperactivity at times. But the 1 year old beagle-dachshund mix had a rough start in life. A neighbor's dog had gotten into Snoopy's owner's front yard and chewed up the puppy pretty good. The owner didn't bother to go out and get his wounded dog. A neighbor heard Snoopy yelping and crying, so he went over and picked him up. He took him to the vet where they patched him up.

The owner wanted Snoopy back, and the vet refused. Instead, he gave the dog to that animal rescue where he lived in a foster home with a bunch of cats. Yeah, I know. Isn't that terrible?

Anyway, Snoopy was MY dog, and he needed to know I wasn't going to beat him or neglect him. It took a lot of work to gain his trust, but he eventually became a wonderful dog. Although he's 100% hound, he HATES the water, and his gait reminded me of a very fanciful reindeer prancing around.

In 2000, he had a tumor removed from his side. But other than that, he's been a pretty healthy, happy dog.

Snoopy is now 18 1/2 years old, which is right around 95 human years. He started slowing down in 2010. He lost his hearing that year, and he lost a step or two in 2011. But up until then, people didn't believe me when I said that he was 16. The old man still acted like a puppy. Snoopy started losing his mind early this year, and I'd often see a void in his once bright puppy eyes. He'd get lost in corners, staring at the walls.

The last couple of days have been rough for him. He's eaten very little, and he's even beginning to refuse water.

The old man can't walk very well, and I have to carry him everywhere. When I hold his bony body, I can feel him shaking. I can hear him grunting in pain. Snoopy is suffering, and it's time to be the responsible owner.

Today, I will him take him to the vet. And I will say my goodbyes. The doctor will give him two injections. The first one will temporarily take away all of his anguish, and he'll perk up for a second. The second injection will stop his heart, and he will feel no more pain.

My 9 year old daughter had a dream two weeks ago. She saw Snoopy struggling to walk just as he has the last few months. And with each step, he gained strength and speed until he went into a graceful gallop. Snoopy smiled with his tongue hanging out, and that's when he broke into a full sprint, his legs pumping and pushing his slender body across a grassy field. And then his body began to glow a golden shimmering light, and he just kept running and had no intentions of ever stopping.

I think she caught a glimpse of Doggie Heaven.

Goodbye Snoopy, my Wonder Mutt.
Snoopy's wearing a Super Cape my daughter made for him last week

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Desert CassaStorm

Where am I? Huh. I'm actually home, for now anyway.

These last three weeks have been crazy. But no more airports for me for probably the rest of the year. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with everyone in the next few days.

Somehow, I managed to be a guest on Eve's The Desert Rocks blog. Go check it out. I discuss a few more creative ways to get out of your funk and beat Writer's Block. Eve was one of the first bloggers I connected with after returning to the blogging world from my hiatus, and she's just an awesome person.

# # # #

Also, you're going to see a lot of Alex J. Cavanaugh all over the intewebs in the next week or so. His third book in his space action adventure, CassaStorm, will take the internet by storm I'm sure. The interesting thing about CassaStorm is that Alex has said that it will be his final book, despite the great success he's had with CassaStar and CassaFire so far.

Which made me think, did Alex plan for a trilogy in the first place? Or was the very first book supposed to be a one-shot deal and that was it? So when I asked Alex, he replied:

I never planned more than one book. Fans wanted a sequel (and a female character) so I wrote the second one. Once CassaStar became an Amazon Best Seller (and especially once CassaFire hit that status) my publisher really pressed to make it a trilogy. So I never planned it, but writing that third book did help me to bring the story full circle

So there you have it! Often times, the path not-so-planned ends up being the greatest road to travel on. Congrats Alex on all your success.

By Alex J Cavanaugh

From the Amazon Best Selling Series!

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…

“CassaStorm is a touching and mesmerizing space opera full of action and emotion with strong characters and a cosmic mystery.” – Edi’s Book Lighhouse 
“…mesmerizing story of survival, personal sacrifice, tolerance, and compassion. It’s a rare jewel that successfully utilizes both character and plot to tell a story of such immense scope and intimate passion…” - Nancy S. Thompson, author of The Mistaken

"An exciting, nail-biting read which sweeps the reader off on adventures in another galaxy." 
- Nicua Shamira, Terraverum

$16.95 USA, 6x9 Trade paperback, 268 pages, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Science fiction/adventure and science fiction/space opera
Print ISBN 9781939844002 eBook ISBN 9781939844019
$4.99 EBook available in all formats

Find CassaStorm:
Amazon -

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Been Twelve Years

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001 when you learned that America was under attack? It's the day that changed my life forever, and I know it changed all of us. But it's been twelve years, and time does heal all wounds.

But many of us are scarred.

I woke up to the sound of a radio playing upstairs. I had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, exhausted from unpacking stuff in our new house. The painters had come early, and they were working on the kitchen when I came up to greet them.

"Hey, did you hear?" the painter with the long hair asked me.

I had to rub the sleep from my eyes. "Hear about what?"

"A plane hit one of the Twin Towers."

My mind had to process that for several moments. Of course I knew what the Twin Towers are. I'm from New York after all. But I still hadn't comprehended what the painter had said. "Seriously?"

"It's all over the news."

The only television I had was in the basement, so I went back down there and turned it on. I saw video images of the smoke billowing out of the North Tower. And then I saw another explosion. Were they replaying the plane accident? To my horror,  the South Tower had been struck.

In fiction, the term "heart sank" is overused. But damn. That's what my heart did. I felt it drop to my stomach. I must have screamed something fierce, because both painters ran downstairs. We all watched the scene unfold. None of us could move. None of us could even talk.

Half an hour later, a third plane struck the Pentagon.

The doorbell rang, and an old neighbor who does home improvement was there for an appointment. I ran up and answered it, and I could tell he had been listening to the news on his car radio. His eyes were red and still wet. I let him in, and we both practically ran downstairs to the television.

Maybe thirty minutes later, a fourth plane struck a field in Pennsylvania.

We all stood there dumbfounded for awhile before heading back upstairs. The painters continued their work with the radio on, and I spent the next few days in a complete stupor. I worked for a company that provided telephone and computer conferencing, and it was just crazy. My company provided free conferences to businesses in NY to help connect employees to loved ones and help them account for missing people.

I flew out to New York six months later, and we visited what was left of the World Trade Center. The smell stung your eyes. It was so sharp and acrid, you wondered how the hell the clean up crews could stand it even with those masks on. Driving down I-95 in a cab to Newark after my business trip, I looked across the bay at the Manhattan skyline, and it looked so strange without those Towers.

I later learned that a family I had grown up with lost their oldest son, Richard Salinardi. The family had moved from New York to here in St. Louis, and I played tennis with their youngest son. Richard was a general manager for Aramark, and he and another employee let others get on the express elevator on the 78th floor. The last thing those people heard from Richard was him laughing and joking, and his employees got to the first floor safely.

It's been twelve years, but it still hurts today. There's all kinds of irony during this twelfth anniversary of 9-11 that now we're on the verge of military strikes in Syria. I won't get political on here, but I will say that we are still living the nightmare in the aftermath of those attacks.

Nearly 3000 people died, and who knows how many have gotten sick or worse just from breathing in the poisonous air for months afterwards. Take into account the deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks, and your brain is just starting to wrap itself around the long term impact of that terrible day.

I will be on a plane this September 11th, and it will mark the third time I have done so on this anniversary. People are a little more anxious, but more importantly, they are also more reverent. The TV screens at the gates will be televising the memorials, and we will remember.

It will take us back to twelve years ago.