Compost: The Map Key

MapKeyRecently I edited a couple of manuscripts that were well-written, contained dynamic stories, and had inspirational and important topics. Yet editing them was an exercise in frustration.

How could this be? Because the authors of these manuscripts were new to the book biz, and their manuscripts contained a mistake common for first-time authors.

They were seduced by the plethora of formatting options offered by their word processing software. Different kinds of cool bullets, numerous fancy fonts and font sizes, ways to indent, easy to bold, italicize or underline, spacing, tab stops and margin options, header and footer options, tables and text boxes, pages of symbols to choose from – I could go on.

And the books I just edited seemed to use them all. Eek!

I’m not against all formatting. I’m against too many of these options used in one manuscript. And I’m especially against inconsistent formatting. If your first three subheads are 14 point bold, don’t make the next one 12 point italic. If you center a quotation in Chapter 4, then don’t simply indent one in Chapter 7. Again, I could go on.

The most important thing about formatting is consistency. A consistent format is like the Key in a road map, allowing your reader to feel comfortable that you are leading him/her in the right direction, and that s/he knows “where they are.” It allows them to feel safe, that the author can be trusted to alert them to landmarks or ditches. Inconsistent and too-busy formatting will confuse them, and can lead to distrust of the author’s message.

Another thing about inconsistent and too many different formats is that your book designer might become a little cranky. They will want everything to be as simple and consistent as possible, because they will design using professional layout software, so all your fancy fonts and different bullet shapes will be discarded anyway, and can make their job harder.

The final thing about too-busy inconsistent formatting is that it, like excessive wordiness, dilutes your message and diminishes the power of your words. If your words are compelling and your sentences sing, you do not need to use tricks to capture your readers.

Haiku Friday: Applause

haiku pic 3Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Applause:

jump flicker wave pop

candles on the writing desk

applauding the words

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Serial: Grandma’s Masks, Installment #12

orangutanHere’s another installment of my book-in-progress, Grandmas Masks. If you missed the previous  installment on April 17th, click here to read it. Or click the Serial Fiction tab to read all the previous posts of Grandma’s Masks.

Today you can read the rest of the Orangutan story …

She entered the jungle. It was so dense that she soon became lost, her map of no value. Just as she was beginning to panic, she came to an overgrown clearing. Beneath the jungle floor vegetation she saw the outlines of paving stones. She followed the stones, one leading to another, and another, in what she eventually recognized as a spiral pattern. A labyrinth, she thought with excitement. What a great discovery!

The spiral ended at a rock face with an archway in the middle that outlined the entrance to a tunnel. The archaeologist hesitated. There was no archway on the map, nor tunnel. She heard a rustle from her left, and out of the foliage stepped a large orangutan with teats hanging down nearly to her waist, obviously a mature female.

The orangutan walked directly to the archaeologist and took her hand. She then led them into the tunnel. The young archaeologist followed, as if she was in a trance. The orangutan had a kind face. Inside the tunnel it was cool and almost dark, but lit by a soft blue light coming from the depths of the tunnel.

They came to an underground room. There was a large cistern, a well, on top of a dais at the end of the room. Blue smoky light rose from this well. Stone benches were arranged before the dais, and before the benches knelt skeletons, arranged as if they were praying.

The archaeologist reached out to touch one of the skeletons. The bones had a soft feel, like satin sheets. She began caressing them, petting them over and over, feeling the heat of the bones warm her hands and arms, her chest, her legs, even her eyelids. She wanted to purr, if only she knew how.

The orangutan took her hand again, and pulled her over so they could look into each other’s eyes. The archaeologist could not look away. The orangutan reached inside the young archaeologist’s skin, past her muscles and tissue, and touched her bones, stroking them with love. All their bones began to vibrate, the vibrations sounding a low soft noise, remarkably like purrs.

Orangutan grasped an arm bone and led her up to the well. They bent over and looked into the blue smoky depths.

Orangutan blew softly and the smoke cleared. Reflected in the blue blue water the archaeologist saw their skeletons. The skeletons were holding hands. She was struck first by their beauty, and then by the recognition that they were exactly the same. The orangutan was no longer just an orangutan. The archaeologist was no longer just an archaeologist. They were a combination of both. They were each other’s pasts, each other’s future. They were more than sisters.

Orangutan took her sister by the hands and led them out of the room, through the tunnel, past the labyrinth, through the jungle, and back to the canoe.

The canoe was piled high with fruit, luscious ripe fruit dripping juice. Orangutan and Archaeologist jumped in, and the canoe continued its journey. As they lazed their way down the river, they ate the fruit and watched it make its way past their bones.

And so it ends, or maybe it is just beginning.

the future is curved

you think it will go forward

but it circles back

 

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 Check back next week for the next installment of Grandma’s Masks – Chapter 3 is coming up.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Cancer Schmancer

Vet CheckupGoody Beagle here. I haven’t been feeling so hot lately, pretty crappy really. Even my food doesn’t taste good. My human noticed and took me to that bad place, The Vet.

The Vet poked me with a needle and took my blood, and felt me all over and found something they called a lump, and poked at it and took part of it away for something called “testing”, and then they put me in a machine that took pictures of my inside. Then The Vet told my human I had something called cancer and there wasn’t too much they could do for me unless she wanted me to go to another kind of Vet called a Specialist and do something called Chemo but even then the Chemo might not help, and my human cried a lot.

After an awful afternoon at The Vet, my human came and got me and took me home again and fed me special easy-to-digest food and gave me a medicine covered in peanut butter that made me feel better, and she petted me a lot and said I didn’t have to worry because she would make sure the rest of my life was full of love and goodness.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the rest of my life. I just enjoy living it now. So that is what I will continue to do, until it’s time for me to leave.

Haiku Friday: Point of View

haiku pic 2Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Point-of-View:

when you have to pee

nothing else seems important

that’s called point-of-view

 It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Serial: Grandma’s Masks, Installment #11

orangutanHere’s another installment of my book-in-progress, Grandmas Masks. If you missed the previous installment on April 10th, click here to read it. Or click the Serial Fiction tab to read all the previous posts of Grandma’s Masks.

This week Lucy will tell another of Grandma’s mask stories – we’ve heard Flea’s story, now we’ll hear from Orangutan.

Orangutan

How to Recognize the Past

Long ago, or maybe only yesterday, a young archaeologist went searching for ruins in the Indonesian jungle. The only way to travel into the interior was by boat, where an ancient map told her some ruins might be. Although she knew little about boats – or jungles, for that matter – she bought a small canoe from a thin old man whose hut by the banks of a green and greasy river contained a family of macaques. The monkeys chattered at her as she haggled over the price of the boat. It was impossible to tell if she was haggling with the old man or the monkeys.

At last they reached an agreement and the archaeologist lowered herself into the canoe, which rocked alarmingly. As she pushed off the old man laughed and said something, although she could not understand him. He pointed at the monkeys and laughed again. The monkeys laughed too.

She shrugged and used her paddle to propel her away, toward the ruins she hoped to find.

It was hot. For hours the canoe moved turgidly down the river, and around every bend the river never changed, although the jungle got denser and the air thicker. Monkeys swung through the vines above her in an aerial dance, hooting their high pitched cries. As time went on, the vines hung lower, almost brushing her face as the canoe slid through them. Monkey faces framed by vine leaves appeared and then disappeared just as rapidly.

“They’re watching me,” thought the archaeologist. She watched them in return. It seemed to her that their dancing bodies formed a pattern, as if it had been choreographed. By whom, she wondered.

The canoe bumped into the bank of the river, although she did not remember steering it there. She checked her old map. She could not be sure, but this could be the place where she should leave the canoe and enter the jungle. The canoe wobbled gently, as if it expected her to disembark.

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 Check back next week for the rest of the Orangutan story – will the archaeologist get out of the canoe? If she does, what will she find?

Haiku Friday: Integrity

zen gardenHere’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Integrity:

if you say you will

then you must. that’s the problem

with integrity

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Serial: Grandma’s Masks, Installment #10

mask wall 1Here’s another installment of my book-in-progress, Grandmas Masks. If you missed the previous installment on April 3rd, click here to read it. Or click the Serial Fiction tab to read all the previous posts of Grandma’s Masks.

Lucy, continued

Grandma collected stories like others collect coins or stamps. Many of her own books are about storytelling and storytellers, and how our stories become history, and vice versa. She loved delving into the past and showing how it caused the future. She often told me that if she hadn’t become a writer, she would like to have been an archaeologist. “Think of all those stories buried in the earth, waiting to be found,” she said. “How wonderful it must be to help them come alive again.”

I was around thirteen when Grandma took me to an archaeology museum, to see an exhibit about the resurrected ancient culture of the Salish people, who lived where we did, by Puget Sound, only thousands of years before us. Grandma pointed to a digging stick and then told me a story about a Salish girl who used to live in the exact same place as me, near the southern shore of Puget Sound. This girl, Grandma claimed, had to collect camas roots with her digging stick every day, and hated it. She wanted to dig clams on the beach instead, but her digging stick had belonged to her great-grandmother, and could only be used for root digging. I forget the rest of that story, but I remember Grandma saying seriously, “Every artifact has a story. It is up to us to find it.”

Of course I knew that Grandma had made up the story about the little Salish girl, but the reality of that old, old digging stick stayed with me. For the past two summers I’ve interned on archaeological digs in New Mexico, sweating in hundred degree heat while squatting over an unshaded mound of copper colored dirt, brushing it away with a toothbrush. And loving it. Next month I’ll receive my bachelor’s degree in archaeology.

Archaeology tells you what happened, and how. It doesn’t necessarily tell you why, although some of my colleagues like to go drifting off into imaginary scenarios. I think they should leave that to the psychologists. All the important questions are answered there in the dirt. See this dish. This is how they ate. See this digging tool, this is how they planted seeds. See this arrowhead, this is how they hunted. See this shin bone, this is how they walked.

Yeah, I’d say Grandma had some influence on me.

My eyes wandered to Grandma’s Orangutan mask. I took it off the wall and held it up to my face, looking out the eye holes and feeling the orange “fur” brush my cheeks.

“Hey Emma,” I called. “Remember this one?”

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 Check back on April 17th for more of Grandma’s Masks. Another story coming up – what story will the Orangutan tell?

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Hoarding

beagle with ballGoody Beagle here. Sometimes the human gives Alex and me bones to chew, and sometimes she gives us toys like balls to chase. I don’t like chasing balls, but I do like chewing bones. But I treat them both the same way – I hoard them. I gather them into a pile in a corner and I guard them. Sometimes I sit on them just like they are eggs and I am a bird.

Why do I do this, you ask. It’s because I don’t want Alex to have them. This is the same reason Alex hoards them too – he doesn’t want me to have them. But I am a better hoarder than Alex, because he is a scatter-brain who after a minute or two of hoarding forgets what he’s doing and will run off to see who’s at the door (even though no one is) or run off to check on the human (usually just sitting in front of her computer) or run off to check the food bowls to see if food has magically appeared (even though the human hasn’t been near the food bowls for hours.) And while he runs off, his hoard goes unprotected, so guess what happens? Heh heh

This is just one more reason why I am the superior dog.