Funny phrases that make you ask, “For real?”

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It’s been quite awhile since I’ve tackled some of the idiosyncratic idioms Americans use on a daily basis. English is my first language, and I’m bemused on a regular basis by many of these expressions. If you think about the actual words, and not the implied meaning, you can’t help but ask, “For real?”

Put your best foot forward ~ make a good impression

I always wondered WHY one foot would be better than the other? As if you’d have a clown shoe on one foot and a fancy dress shoe on the other.

But I digress…

Today this phrase is often used with regards to making a good impression when meeting someone for the first time, such as a job interview or a social gathering. It also can also mean putting your best efforts into taking on a new task.

Like this little gosling…baby gosling

There is some argument over when this phrase originated. Some claim “Always put your best foot forward” dates back to 1495. Others insist the phrase was first recorded in 1613 in a poem by Sir Thomas Overbury.

However, what most people do agree upon is the misuse of “best” when comparing only two items. “Best” assumes there are three or more items. The correct usage is “better”, as in Shakespeare’s King John (1585): “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not arguing with Shakespeare.

Head over heels ~ excited, madly in love

Today this phrase is typically used to describe someone who’s madly in love, as in “head over heels in love.” But…for real? Where do you usually find your head?

This phrase actually originated in the 14th century as ‘heels over head’, meaning doing cartwheels or somersaults.

The first recorded use of “head over heels” appeared in 1771 in Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man.

However, the first recorded reference to love didn’t appear until June 1833 in an Indiana newspaper, The Lebanon Patriot:

About ten years ago Lotta fell head over heels in love with a young Philadelphian of excellent family.

Puppy love

Like nobody’s business ~ to an extraordinary degree

This is another phrase that—if you think about it too much—makes no sense whatsoever. No surprise…the origin of “like nobody’s business” is as elusive the literal meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims that P.G. Wodehouse first used the phrase in 1938: “The fount of memory spouting like nobody’s business.” It’s speculated that “like nobody’s business” was a popular phrase in the 1920’s and 30’s, used as a replacement for something more shocking. The light-hearted, carefree spirit of the times embraced humor and originality of other phrases, such as “the cat’s pajamas” and “the bee’s knees”.

If someone says you’re doing something “like nobody’s business”, it’s most likely a compliment to your energetic enthusiasm. Like these old-movie stars cutting the rug (dancing) like nobody’s business!



Blockbuster Books ~ Middle Grade Mystery and Mahem!

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Summer reads should be full of fun! Great characters with can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next adventures, and stories that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Readers of any age will enjoy these books.

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson

When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure The Parker Inheritance covershe should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

With the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, Candice begins to decipher the clues. The challenge leads them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again? [Synopsis]

What makes this Story great

This story was quieter than I initially anticipated, but also deeper and thoroughly engaging.

  • The characters: Candice and Brandon could be the kids next door, who face real-life issues we can relate to. The parents and grandparents are a strong supporting cast, creating a tapestry of family history as the backdrop for the mystery.
  • The setting: Lambert, South Carolina is small-town USA. A town intertwined with histories from generations past, revealing its secrets to those who fall in love with its roots.
  • The mystery: It starts softly and gains momentum and voice as Candice and Brandon dig into the past to uncover one clue after another. The mystery spans generations, revealing dark injustices and heartwarming resolutions. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns leading to the satisfying ending.

I’d recommend this story to anyone who enjoys a good mystery,
as well as those who appreciate realistic portraits of history.

 

The Lost Books ~ The Scroll of the Kings

By Sarah Prineas

The Lost Books: The Scroll of the Kings, coverTurn the page…and beware!

For years, all the libraries in the kingdom have been locked up. Is it to keep the books safe from readers? Or…is it to keep the readers safe from the books?

Alex, an apprentice librarian, suspects the books have a secret, powerful history. When his elderly master dies under extremely suspicious circumstances, Alex impersonates the old man so he can take up the position as Royal Librarian—a job far more dangerous than he could have ever imagined.

The young queen, Kenneret, is pretty sure this scruffy, obnoxious boy is not who he claims to be, but she gives Alex time to prove himself—enough time for him to discover that books aren’t just powerful, they’re alive. Even worse, some of the books possess an ancient magic that kills librarians.

Alex and Kenneret must figure out who, or what, is controlling the books and their power, or all is lost. The fate of the kingdom lies in their hands. [Synopsis]

What makes this Story great

An edge-of-your-seat fantasy—refreshing fun that’s hard to put down.

The characters: Alex was mysteriously marked as a librarian, a caretaker of books, and he’s not even 16. The other librarians are ancient, and no one takes him seriously, especially not the queen. Alex is strong in character, as is the young queen. Sparks fly in a battle of wills, until they join together to save the kingdom.

The setting: A medieval setting with enormous castles, warring kingdoms, dusty libraries with magical pages, and forgotten books with mystical powers. The richly crafted world sets the stage for this rollicking adventure.

The mystery: What is a Lost Book and how are they infecting other books with evil magic? Two unlikely friends must figure out who, or what, is controlling the books and their power, and stop them—in spite of the ensuing mayhem—before it’s too late.

Swashbuckling swordplay, beastly books, a snarky hero, a fast-paced and engaging adventure. What’s not to love?

20 Years of Harry Potter!

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It’s been twenty years since the release of the first book in J.K. Rowling’s ground-breaking series, and the world is a better place because of those books. The series has stood the test of time, and is now an “official” classic.

~*Three cheers!*~

HarryPotter2

In honor of the 15th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Scholastic gave the artwork for the entire series a makeover. 35 year-old American graphic artist, Kazu Kibuishi (a true Potter fan), has the honor of re-imagining the cover art for this iconic series.

If it’s been awhile since you last read the series, the following recap will refresh your memory.

The Harry Potter Series in Six Minutes


What’s your favorite Harry Potter moment?

What book, plot point, character, or scene (book or movie) in the series resonated most with you?

Wizarding minds want to know!

The magic of writing conferences ~ Fact & Fiction

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Magic Lamp

I waited way too long to attend my first writers conference. It’s my hope that this post will encourage other budding writers to take the formative step of attending a writers conference, and perhaps inspire veteran writers to keep coming back.

Writing conference reality check

Writing conferences are invaluable for connecting with people who share your passion. Writing is a solitary task, and meeting others who are on the same path is an affirmation that the struggle of words and stories is a valiant one. I always come away from a conference with a sense of kinship, that I belong to a tribe.

SCBWI LA Conference poster 2018

I had some strange ideas about writing conferences that held me back. So I was surprised when magic happened after I pushed past my fears and attended my first conference. Here’s a few things I’ve learned since then:

  • You don’t have to have a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript to attend a writing conference.
  • You can use writing conferences to workshop the first few chapters of a project, to get a barometer reading on the concept, voice, etc.
  • You can benefit tremendously from professional critiques in the early stages of a manuscript, getting feedback on concept, direction, and voice.
  • You learn the business of publishing at writing conferences, a must for anyone who is serious about following the traditional publishing path.
  • You form friendships with writers with which you can exchange constructive feedback, bolster one another through tough times, and celebrate each others successes. In short, friendships that last a lifetime.

The DOs

Books in flight

A few tips for a rewarding conference experience:

  • Seek out writing conferences in your genre. I write for young readers and just returned from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference. The Romance Writers of America have their own conference, as do the Mystery Writers of America.
  • Have a goal and focus on those areas, such as craft, genre, or what agents are editors are looking for on their lists.
  • Be open to new ideas and ways of approaching your current work in progress.
  • Be open to suggestions for projects in age groups and genres you haven’t worked in…yet.
  • Listen with an open mind. Simple, yet so important for professional growth.
  • Introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you. You never know, they could be the best friend you’ve been waiting to meet.
  • Relax, absorb as much information as possible, and enjoy the experience.

The DON’Ts

The writing community is small, and industry professionals know one another. A few tips from real-life Conference Horror Stories, and how NOT to become the star of one yourself:

  • DON’T hunt down agents and editors and force your manuscript on them.
  • DON’T hunt down agents or editors at all, unless they previously requested that you do so.
  • Don’t expect to sell your current manuscript for six figures. It could happen, but that’s the exception NOT the rule.
  • Don’t be discouraged by suggestions and feedback from a professional critique. Instead, see them as positive ways to improve so you’ll be able to land your dream agent or book deal.

Most of all, join the FUN ~ Wild Things could happen!

SCBWI Los Angeles 2018 Summer Conference

“Artists and Writers Ball”


STAY SWEET ~ Rich in character, satisfying in substance

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Summer, ice cream, and friendship…

It doesn’t get more quintessentially summer than that. Except this sweet read starts there, and then sweeps you off on an unexpectedly delicious ride.

STAY SWEET, by Siobhan Vivian

Stay Sweet, coverMay 3, 1945…

When the young men of Sand Lake went off to war, Molly Meade started making ice cream to cheer up her heart-broken friends.

What began as a feel-good whim turned into an unexpected success. The small town clamored for the flavors Molly created with her own secret recipes and surplus from her family’s dairy.

Molly started a decades-long tradition. Summer in Sand Lake wasn’t complete without a trip to Meade Creamery—the local ice cream stand she founded in 1944.

From its founding, the Meade Creamery stand was managed exclusively by local girls, who inevitably bonded into a sisterhood of best friends. The summers seventeen-year-old Amelia Triple scoop ice cream coneworked at the stand had been life changing. It’s where she met her best friend Cate and learned the essentials of life: who the best teachers were, how to dodge parental restrictions, and how to make the perfect sundae.

When Amelia is finally chosen as “Head Girl” for the summer—an honor she’s secretly dreamed of since her first day as a Meade Creamery Girl—she expects it to be the best summer of her life. That is, until Amelia finds Molly passed away on the floor of the stand the first day she’s in charge.

The stand is doomed to close, until Molly’s grandnephew, Grady, comes to town for the funeral. He’s inherited Molly’s property, including the stand, and is determined to take over where his great-aunt left off. Grady is the first guy ever to work at Meade Creamery, and he threatens to everything, including Amelia’s heart. Grady depends on Amelia to help save the business, and their budding romance ultimately stresses Amelia’s friendship with Cate and the other girls to the breaking point.

Home Sweet Home for the soul

This story had the same effect on me as Meade Creamery’s secret Home Sweet Home ice cream had on its patrons for decades: deliciously satisfying, mysterious, invigorating, and mesmerizing. What started out as a simple summer best-friend story, turned into a page-turning ride I didn’t want to end.

The intertwining threads from Molly Meade’s World War II era diary entries and the present-day experiences of Amelia, Cate, and Grady, offer a rich comparison of social expectations and mores. This, combined with the universal theme of believing in yourself and finding the confidence to pursue your dreams, is a testament to the indomitable spirit of true passion, no matter the times.

4 ice cream cones


Road trip! ~ Who paved the way for the American tradition?

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Car on a mapSummer and road trips are synonymous, with millions of Americans taking to the road in the spirit of unbridled adventure. Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, On the Road, fueled a generation with the romance of the open road.

But HOW did it all start?

WHO was the first to pave the way for this American tradition, WHEN, and WHY?

A Bet, Two Men, and a Dog in Goggles

On May 19, 1903, a heated debate at the exclusive University Club in San Francisco resulted in a $50.00 wager taken by Horatio Nelson Jackson. Horses and carriages were the main mode of transportation, and many thought the horseless carriage was a passing fancy of the well-to-do. Certainly not reliable enough to withstand a dangerous cross-country journey. Jackson had a grander vision and recruited Sewall Crocker to prove the automobile nay-sayers wrong.

Horatio Nelson Jackson in the VermontOn May 23, 1903 they set out to complete the trip from San Francisco to New York City in less than 90 days. [Horatio Nelson Jackson in the Vermont]

They packed a second-hand 20 horsepower, cherry red, Winton touring car (dubbed the Vermont) with sleeping bags, cooking gear, and supplies, then started on their daring journey. Crocker was a former bicycle racer and gasoline engine mechanic, skills they would need in the days ahead. At the time there were fewer than 150 miles of paved roads nationwide, no road signs, or gas stations. With the rigorous terrain, automobiles often breakdown. The Vermont was no different.

The Winton crossed streams and traversed winding mountain roads better suited for Bud the dog, with gogglesmules than man. They suffered mechanical failures early and often, and had to rely on stagecoaches to ferry new parts and blacksmiths to make repairs. In short, their trip was one obstacle after another, devoid of the amenities we take for granted on cross-country journeys today.

With mechanical fiasco after fiasco, it took 19 days to reach Idaho. There they met a bull-terrier named Bud, fitted him with motoring goggles to protect his eyes from dust, and hoped the new addition to their party would bring them luck. Bud wore his goggles, navigating from the front seat for the rest of the journey, but luck wasn’t quick to follow. [Bud sporting his motoring goggles]

Throughout bad directions that sent them days out of their way, getting stuck in a swamp, then lost in the Wyoming badlands, the team maintained a spirit of optimism. Possibly, due to the tremendous receptions they received along the way. For many, it was their first encounter with an automobile.

Fanfare swelled to a crescendo as they rolled into Chicago on July 17, and then Cleveland a few days later. In spite of the hoopla the adventure ignited along the way, the epic road trip ended as humbly as it began. The Vermont, and its three passengers, quietly rolled down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday, July 26, 1903, at 4:30 am. The 4,500-mile journey had taken 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes. Jackson won the $50.00 bet, but it cost him close to $8,000.00—including the price of the Winton, and all its repairs along the way.

Jackson, Crocker, and the adorable Bud in his motoring goggles became celebrities, pictured in newspapers across the country and featured in Winton advertisements for years to come. They proved a cross-country road trip was an attainable American dream, even if (at the time) it was beyond the means of any but the wealthy.

Route 66 became a reality decades later. After World War II, the American highway infrastructure expanded to support cross-country travel and cars became affordable for the average person. The dream of free spirited independence lived on, becoming a cultural ideal and American tradition. Vintage Route 66 poster


Moon monikers ~ Why so many names, and what do they mean?

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This week’s Strawberry Moon made me wonder: WHAT is a strawberry moon, WHY are there so many names for our moon, WHAT do they all mean, and WHERE did they originate? Alas, the hazards of being a writer.

Moon over lake

What is a Strawberry Moon?

The full moon in June was called a Strawberry Moon by the Algonquin tribes (one of the most widespread North American native tribes), because it signaled the time for harvesting wild strawberries. The June full moon has also been known as the Honey Moon, Mead Moon, Hot Moon, and Rose Moon by other tribes and cultures.

Strawberry moon

WHY so many names for ONE moon?

In the United States, Native Americans created the full moon names—nicknames—we know today to help in tracking the seasons. There’s a nickname for a full moon each month, even though the tribes observed the seasons and lunar months, not calendar months as we do.

Some tribes defined a year as 12 moons, others as 13. Certain tribes added an extra moon every few years, to stay in sync with the seasons. The following is a list of traditional nicknames for the full moons.

  • JANUARY—Wolf Moon—This moon appeared when wolves were hungry and howled in outside villages.
  • FEBRUARY—Snow Moon—This moon appeared when the snowfall was the heaviest. Hunting was most difficult during this time and Native American tribes also called it the Hunger Moon.
  • MARCH—Worm Moon—This moon appeared when the ground softened and earthworms reappeared, bringing the return of robins. This moon was also known as the Sap Moon, because it was time for the annual tapping of maple trees.
  • APRIL—Pink Moon—This moon appeared with the first spring flowers, wild ground phlox. This moon was also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.
  • MAY—Flower Moon—This moon appeared when flowers bloomed in abundance. It was also known as the Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.
  • JUNE—Strawberry Moon—This moon appeared when it was time to gather ripening strawberries.
  • JULY—Buck Moon—This moon appeared when a buck’s antlers were reaching full growth. This full Moon was also known as the Thunder Moon, because of the frequent thunderstorms during this month.
  • AUGUST—Sturgeon Moon—This moon appeared when the sturgeon in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most abundant. This moon was also called the Green Corn Moon.
  • SEPTEMBER—Corn Moon—This moon appeared when it was time to harvest the corn. Likewise known as the Barley Moon, because it was time to harvest barley.
  • OCTOBER—Hunting Moon—This moon appeared when the game was fattest. It was time to hunt and store provisions for winter. This moon was also known as the Travel Moon.
  • NOVEMBER—Beaver Moon—This moon appeared before the swamps froze and it was time to set beaver traps. The colonists and Algonquin tribes depended on the furs of beavers and other animals for warmth during the winter. This full Moon was also called the Frost Moon.
  • DECEMBER—Cold Moon—This moon appeared when the winter cold had set in and the nights were longest. This full Moon was also called the Long Nights Moon.

Moon over sea

Special Moons

Several moon occurrences are extremely rare and therefore have special names:

  • Blue Moon—There is a Blue Moon controversy regarding the true meaning. However, typically this is the second full moon in a calendar month.
  • Black Moon—This is a month in which there is no full Moon. It can also refer to a second new Moon occurring within a calendar month.
  • Harvest Moon—This is the full Moon nearest the start of fall (autumnal) equinox, anywhere from two weeks before to two weeks after the equinox. The moonrise comes soon after sunset bringing in an abundance of bright moonlight, which helped farmers in harvesting their crops.
  • Supermoon—A full Moon is a Supermoon when it is reaches the point in its orbit that is closest to the Earth.

Super moon


Keeping it real ~ Tackling tough topics for the youngest readers

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The sweet innocence of childhood should be cherished and preserved for as long as possible, but shielding children entirely from harsh realities doesn’t do them a service. There are levels of truth. The youngest readers shouldn’t be unnecessarily exposed to gritty topics. However, there are plenty of stories that address tough topics in a way that builds empathy and understanding.

The two books I want to focus on here broach the topics of discrimination and homelessness in a gentle way.

The Bat Boy and His Violin, cover

The Bat Boy and His Violin

By Gavin Curtis, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

The Bat Boy and His Violin, illustration by E.B. LewisReginald loves to create beautiful music on his violin. But Papa, manager of the Dukes, the worst team in the Negro National League, needs a bat boy, not a “fiddler,” and traveling with the Dukes doesn’t leave Reginald much time for practicing. Soon the Dukes’ dugout is filled with Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach — and the bleachers are filled with the sound of the Dukes’ bats. Has Reginald’s violin changed the Dukes’ luck—and can his music pull off a miracle victory against the powerful Monarchs? 

Gavin Curtis’s beautifully told story of family ties and team spirit and E. B. Lewis’s lush watercolor paintings capture a very special period in history. [Synopsis]

The Negro Leagues were United States professional baseball leagues comprised predominantly of African-Americans, beginning in 1920, with a final season in 1951. On the surface, this story is a view into racial discrimination and segregation in the United States prior to the Civil Rights movement.

On a deeper level, this story addresses the all too frequent discrimination of the arts over sports. Reginald serves as a heroic role model, in that he honors his father’s wishes without giving up his true passion. In the end, father and son strengthen their bond through their acceptance and new-found appreciation of one another.

E. B. Lewis won the Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustrations for his rich and nuanced watercolors that enliven this moving, heartfelt story.

Crenshaw

By Katherine Applegate

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And Crenshaw, covernot much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything? [Synopsis]

Katherine Applegate tackles a tough topic in Crenshaw, shedding light on the realities of hunger and homelessness. As difficult as this topic is, Applegate artfully infuses the story with empathy and lighthearted humor. I was sold with the opening paragraph:

I noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat. Thing number one: He as a surfboarding cat. Thing number two: He was wearing a T-shirt. It said CATS RULE, DOGS DROOL. Thing number three: He was holding a closed umbrella, like he was worried about getting wet. Which, when you think about it, is kind of not the point of surfing.

Told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Jackson, we watch as he shields his younger sister from the terrifying reality of their family’s financial uncertainty, and feel the shame that threatens to cut him off from his best friend. Applegate masterfully shows how the family’s problems play out through Jackson’s eyes, and finally resolve in a safe and satisfying ending that is true to the story’s premise.

The tone is warm and, occasionally, quirkily funny, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the effects of hunger and vulnerability. This novel adds a middle-grade perspective to the literature of imaginary friends and paints a convincing and compassionate portrait of a social class―the working poor―underrepresented in children’s books. ―The Horn Bookstarred review


What books that touch on tough topics
would you recommend for young readers?


Wisdom of Richard Peck ~ Writing for young readers

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Richard Peck was an influential voice for me when I started writing for young readers, and with good reason. A Long Way From Chicago, coverHe was a National Book Award finalist TWICE, as well as claiming the Newbery Honor (A Long Way From Chicago) and Newbery Medal (A Year Down Yonder). Richard Peck was nothing short of a master and commander in the art of writing for young readers.

Before becoming an author, Richard Peck was a teacher. His classrooms were filled with the young audience he’d later write for. He admitted that, “Junior-high teaching made a writer out of me.” Peck may have left teaching, but he never stopped sharing his wisdom.

I was fortunate to have heard Richard Peck speak at a couple of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conferences. SCBWI even recorded a video Masterclass with Richard Peck on writing the novel for young readers too, that you can purchase for a reasonable price.

A Year Down Yonder, coverRichard Peck shared his wisdom on craft  through essays, as well. The essay he wrote on importance of beginnings—October/November 2006, Horn Book Magazine sparked a writing epiphany for me. In it he said, “The most important secret of writing . . . you are only as good as your opening line.

At first I thought that was kind of harsh, so I did extensive research. I went to bookstores and libraries, reading ONLY first lines of books. As it turned out, he was right! The books with great first lines I took home and read.

Don’t confuse a great opening line with over-the-top drama, though. A great opening line shouldn’t be about shock-value. When done right, it sets the tone of the story, reveals character, conflict, and theme. It’s the promise of the premise…distilled into one line. Richard Peck would revise his first chapter 24 times (or more), well after he’d completed the manuscript, to make sure it was right.

A Season of Gifts, cover

Short stories comprised Richard Peck’s first published works, covering the gamut of comedy, tragedy, historical, and contemporary. In fact, his short story “Shotgun Chentham’s Last Night Above Ground” was the inspiration for his Living in Chicago series: A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts.

Peck’s collection of short stories, Past Perfect, Present Tense includes insights and advice for aspiring writers, along with some of his own notes. In the introduction, Peck reminds us that “fiction isn’t real life with the names changed. It’s an alternate reality to reflect the reader’s own world.” He also warns burgeoning writers that “a short story isn’t easier than a novel.” In truth, short stories require a type of samurai self-editing that is not for the weak of pen or faint of heart.

Writing lessons learned from Richard Peck

  • Before you write a single word, know your audience. Who will want to read the story you have to write?
  • A story isn’t what is. It’s what if?
  • Fiction is never an answer, always a question.
  • A story, of any length, is about change. The characters can’t be the same in the last paragraph as they are in the first. If there’s no change, there’s no story.
  • The essence of the entire story should be encapsulated on the first page.
  • The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.
  • The story’s beginning should answer each of the following questions with a satisfied “Yes”: Does it intrigue? Does it invite? Does it work?
  • Strong, colorful characters win over readers, like the quirky, audacious, and warm-hearted Grandma Dowdel in a Long Way From Chicago.
  • An outrageous comic outhouse calamity is often the reason a story is recommended, word-of-mouth over and over again. Memorable scenes create loyal audiences and inspire lifetime readers.

Serving fish milkshakes to elephant seals at The Marine Mammal Center

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elephant seal headshotLike many, I’ve paid my dues as a waitress. I have to say that of all my customers, the ones I loved serving were the elephant seal pups at The Marine Mammal Center.

In the early 1990’s, I spent a year volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in Sausalito, California. Being a part of an organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals (of all kinds), then releases them back into the wild, was nothing short of life changing.

I was a member of the Sunday night crew responsible for animal care. Each Sunday night we fed and treated a wide range of marine mammals. My favorite were the doe-eyed elephant seal pups. (Yes, I still have our squad sweatshirt!)

Marine Mammal Center Sunday Crew sweatshirt logo

The elephant seal pups in our care had been separated from their mothers, and as a result were undernourished. Our job was to get them healthy enough to release back into the ocean. That meant they had to gain weight. A lot of it.

What do you feed an elephant seal so it packs on the pounds…but is also nutritious and tasty? You might be sorry you asked. I can’t reveal the “secret-recipe“, but it involves whipping together (literally) frozen fish, heavy cream, and a mix of nutritional supplements. A delectable milkshake! Kind of (?) gross, but it works!

The Marine Mammal Center elephant seal

The pups needed to be fed every 3 or 4 hours, and some nights during the El Nino year we had 200 elephant seal pups to feed. This required multi-gallon batches of fish-mash (secret fish milkshake), and three people to tube-feed a single elephant seal pup. One to straddle and restrain the 100+ pound pup, another to guide the tube down its throat and into the abdomen (not the lungs!), and a third to pour the fish mash into a funnel and work it down the tube. *Current pictures and videos show they’ve streamlined the tube feeding procedure so it only requires two people.*

There were some long nights, but it didn’t faze us. I loved the direct Tube feeding an elephant seal pupcontact that came with restraining the elephant seal pups for tube feeding. When I was in a place of calm, the pup responded with trust. Experiencing that type of connection with a wild animal is everything.

You can visit The Marine Mammal Center and see the amazing work they do up close. The center is just North of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands. Check the web site for visiting hours. (PC: The Marine Mammal Center, except the photo of the sweatshirt which I took myself)

The Marine Mammal Center
2000 Bunker Road | Fort Cronkhite | Sausalito, CA 94965-2619

What’s on the menu at The Marine Mammal Center?