23 February 2010

To Be, or Not To Be: Getting Rid of hose Pesky "to Be" Verbs

My students have just finished that all important cultural "trial by fire" and are one step closer to being full-fledged members of the Adult Society: The Senior Research Paper.

Or, as we call it nowadays: a documented essay.

I like this time of year--the senior research project--because it gives me some breathing space to get caught up on grading and other school paperwork and it also helps me to refocus my efforts on my own writing and its flaws.

Teaching others to write clearly, properly, and with a purpose is the best way to hone your own craft.

By the time I get high school seniors, the damage done by previous English teachers has pretty well permanently set in.

One of the more egregious outrages is the over use of the "to Be" verb and passive sentences.

Here's the dreaded "to Be" verb list: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.


Any writer who doesn't know that writing in passive sentences is verboten is not doing her homework.

Because previous English teachers did not effectively teach to my students exactly what constitutes a passive sentence (S+to be past tense+action verb+prep+object), I have to try to do so in the short time I've got them.

No such luck.

So, instead of trying to teach what should have been taught in grades 7 through 11, I have one simple rule:

In your 1,500 documented essay you may not employ more than five (5) "to Be" verbs (direct quotes excluded).

After my students have completed their first draft, they hunt for "to Be" verbs like a crackhead looking for his next hit.

And they find dozens and dozens and they begin rewriting and editing furiously to rid themselves of those pesky "to Be" verbs.

"Why, Mr. Garmon? Oh, why? What's wrong with a 'to Be'?" they say, their doe eyes staring at me.

Nothing, I reply. Except you use too many and since you don't know what a passive sentence is, getting rid of your "to Be" verbs will eliminate that problem.

Here's an example of a passive sentence:

The ball was hit by the boy.

Of course, this is an easy one. The subject should be the one who is doing the "hitting" while the object should be the thing being "hit". Easy enough to correct.

The boy hit the ball.

Here's a tougher one:

I was taught not to write in passive sentences by wonderful and intelligent English teacher.

No one in the world will misunderstand the previous sentence or the passive sentence before that. However, both sentences focus on the wrong subject and separate the true subject from the action verb.

My wonderful and intelligent English teacher taught me not to write in passive sentences.

The action verb is right after the true subject, making this an active sentence.

Passive sentences are easy once you teach yourself to look for and correct them.

However, I get most upset with the following type of sentence:

There is the man who hit me.

I go a bit ballistic when I read a sentence like that, whether in a student paper or a Stephen King door stopper.

Since when is "there", "here", "it" the subject of a sentence? Okay, so "it" can be, but only if it has an antecedent somewhere in the vicinity!

Why not write the sentence thusly:

The man who hit me is standing by the bridge.

Again, the subject performing the action becomes the focal point of the sentence. The action verb is next to the subject, and the object is directly after the action verb (hence, the label "direct object").

To show my students that experienced writers make this common mistake, I took two pages of one of my stories and did a "to Be" word search.

I had 41 "to Be" verbs on the first two pages of that first draft. I had several passive sentences and a dozen sentences beginning with "Here is", "There are", "It is".

--It was a beautiful day.
--Here is the book I borrowed.
--There are several people in your office.

Nothing wrong with any of those sentences.

Except, what exactly is the subject and what action is really being addressed each of these sentences?

--The day dawned bright and clear.
--"Thank you for letting me borrow this," I said as I handed the book to Jim.
--Several people are waiting in your office.

I know what you're thinking: I don't have time to try to find all those pesky "to Be" verbs.

Really? While you will probably sell with numerous "to Be" verbs in your text, if you take a little extra time to remove them and rewrite your sentences, you'll find your writing becomes clearer and easier to write and to read.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne once opined: Easy reading is damned hard writing.

Good writing is craft writing.

MS-Word has a great and quick method to finding those "to Be" verbs.

The “Reading Highlight” feature is one of the most useful tools in the MS-Word arsenal, but the RH is an especially neat way to check your writing for passive voice use.

What Reading Highlight does is perform a search, but instead of taking you to the next instance of your search terms, it highlights all instances throughout the text.

To use Reading Highlight,

--select a highlight color from the “Home” tab, then hit CTRL-F to bring up a search window.
--Enter your search term or phrase, click the “Reading Highlight” drop-down, and select “Highlight All”.
--Click “Close” and watch your highlights appear.
--To remove the highlighting, re-open the search box, click the “Reading Highlight” drop-down, and select “Clear Highlighting”.
--Again, click “Close” and the highlighting will be gone.

How do you use this to find passive sentences and those "Here is", "There are", and "It is" beginning phrases?

Well, we know most passive statements use the verb “to be” in some form or another. So we want to search for “be” in all its variants: is, was, are, am, were, etc.

Open the search dialog (CTRL-F),
--type “be” as your search term, and click the “More” button.
--Put a check in the box next to “Find all word forms”, click the “Reading Highlight” button and select “Highlight All”, and click “Close”.
--Now, every permutation of “to be” will be highlighted.
--Not all of them are going to be passive — or too passive, anyway — but many will.
--Rewrite all those sentences to have more active verbs.

Using "to Be" verbs for anything other than linking verbs or helping verbs is a bad habit.

Any habit learned can be unlearned.

Once you unlearn to use "to Be" verbs in every sentence, your writing will improve, your prose will shine, and that agent, editor, and reader will appreciate your hard work in making their task (reading your story) easier!

PS: Don't confuse clear, concise writing with character dialogue. Characters, in dialogue or in first person POV, can use all the "to Be" verbs and passive sentences they desire. But, you, as the third-person omniscient narrator ought to know better!

20 February 2010

Crafty Critique Partner Wanted--Honesty (w/Compassion) a Must

Why do I feel like I'm on one of those dating sites looking for that special partner/buddy?


Last fall, I had the honor of being a presenter at the 2009 SCBWI-OK conference in September.

Listening to Cynthea Liu and Tami Sauter´s presentation on Revision 4-1-1 was rewarding, and this old dog learned a few new tricks, as always.

However, I was quite jealous of the critique partner relationship so evident between the two. So, I´ve decided to advertise for my own special critique buddy.

Subscribing to the principle that honesty without compassion is cruelty, anyone who is considering applying for the job should know that I have two ultimate goals as a writer: to produce the best literature I can and to help others produce the best literature they can.

Mike McQuay was my writing mentor in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He died of a heart attack in 1995. He helped me to focus my talents as a writer. The best critique he gave was about a short story of which I was quite proud. I was proud of my plot, my cleverness of word play, and the ingenious way in which I ended the story. I just knew Mike would tell me that he had contacted his agent and publisher about what a writing genius I was.

"This is shit," Mike said when he gave me back my story. "You either need to get serious about writing as a career, or just give it up."

I went home and cried. I also got quite pissed off at his bluntness (anybody who knew Mike will remember he came across as quite arrogant and a bit insensitive).

So, through the tears and the bludgeoned ego, I wrote another story. I´d prove to that S.O.B. I could write a well-crafted story, and then I´d tell him to cram his story course up his arse.

Two weeks later, Mike handed back my short story and said, "Damn. I wish I´d written that."

I was quite humbled indeed. I didn´t punch him like I wanted to do originally. I just took my short story, sat back down, and then took notes of his lecture for that evening.

Don´t worry: if you apply for the job and pass the interview, I won´t be as blunt as Mike. I will, however, be compassionately honest in both praise and suggestions, and I’d expect nothing less in return. After all: getting your work and my work PUBLISHED isn’t everything—it’s the ONLY THING!

So, here´s my ad for a critique partner:

Young Adult Speculative Fiction writer in need of critique partner--doesn´t have to be a Spec Fic writer or a published author--just someone with a passion for the art and craft of story telling--with emphasis on CRAFT.

Writing samples upon request and please send samples of your best writing.

I´m a 27-year veteran high school and college English teacher with master´s work in creative writing I´ve had 14 YA novels published by Scholastic and Simon and Schuster, but that doesn´t mean I´ve arrived by any ways or means.

Please respond to Talewright@GMail.com

Thank you.

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead--The Lost Art and Skill of Proof Reading

How many times have I written an email, letter, et cetera and sent it on its merry way only to discover later I had a grand faux pas within the text? And, then I envisioned the receiver reading it and I'm thinking, "Ha! So, he fancies himself some sort of a writer, eh?"

When I produced my one-and-only self-published novel, The Calamari Code: An Agatha Pixie Mystery, I thought I had had the manuscript in pristine condition. However, a couple of years later, a friend read it and went through it with her fine point red pen, and when she was done, I was quite humbled and embarrassed, indeed, at the all the small errors I had completely over looked!

I began my writing career as a 16-year-old photojournalist, and I still love journalism.

In one small room at the Wyoming State Tribune sat a little old man who read through each and every typeset story, scrutinizing each and every line for the smallest of grammatical, mechanical, and structural errors. I was always amazed at his quick skill and flashing red grease pencil.

Sometimes the error was the typesetter's fault, but mostly the writer had written some incoherent junk.

Those days are gone. I know of no proofreaders in the newspaper industry, and sometimes I wonder if even the biggest of the publishing houses even employ that special of all persons--the Proofreader.

I've only read three or four of my 14 novels after they have been published.

1) I've spent so much time on them previously, I am sick and tired of the story.
2) Like actors who can't watch themselves on the screen, I'm not comfortable looking at myself in print.
3) I always end up saying this: "Oh, man, I could have written that sentence that way!" Or, "Crap! I left this or that out!"
4) I've found typos in the novels that were caused by the typesetter, and I know my readers are thinking, "So, that Garmon fancies himself a bit of a writer, eh?"

I find typos in the best selling of novels, whether King, Koontz, Rowling, Asimov, et cetera. I don't know if any of those best selling writers read their works once they are published, but I can bet they get fan mail telling them about "their" errors.

While at the last newspaper for which I worked, the staff would receive anonymous letters from some little old lady (at least, I assumed she was a little old lady by the style of her handwriting and her near-perfect grammar) chiding us for all the errors we made both collectively and individually.

I finally had had enough and wrote a response in my weekly column challenging her to reveal herself. After all, I put my name out there for the public to see, and she should do the same. I invited her to work for the newspaper (although I didn't have any authority to hire anybody) as our proofreader and help us to correct our errant writing ways.

A few days ago a friend sent me an email with with classic newspaper headline errors.

After laughing my way through these, I came to the conclusion proofreading is a dead art and craft indeed.

Here are some newspaper gems:

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

He's quite a shot!

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

No crap, really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Now that's taking things a bit far

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death

No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's!

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

See if that works any better than a fair trial!

War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Who would have thought!

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

He probably IS the battery charge!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Weren't they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

That's what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Chainsaw Massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Boy, are they tall!

And the winner is....

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Did I read that right?

16 February 2010

The Doggerel of the Pitch

With spring conferences coming up, along with the angst and excitement of that nerve-wracking "agent pitch" session, my fevered mind spurted forth the following doggerel.

Whether pitching hay or pitching woo,
pitching is what you must learn to do.
It´s not the steak, it´s the sizzling
that gets that agent all a´wigglin´.
What? No steak after the pitching?
Then that haggard agent will be a´--

11 February 2010

Lucky Agent February Contest Entries

The Lucky Agent contest for February called for books targeted to children and young adults.

Here are my four entries.

Well wishes, crossed fingers, and feverish prayers to all who enter this (especially for me!).

This contest/exercise helped me clean up and tighten up my openings of these works to meet the 150-200 word requirement.

No. 1

Log Line: After being transported to the alternative world of Penteract by a hacked iPhone app, the three Swain children find themselves caught in the middle of an epic battle of annihilation between two warring Dragon clans.

A Jabberwock of Penteract: Book One--Barmaglot
Larry Mike Garmon

Chapter One

Upon observing his somewhat curt conduct towards his younger sister and brother, the acute onlooker would conclude that Ethan Swain was not quite fond of his twin siblings, Emily and Elijah. To a point, the astute spectator would be correct. Ethan didn’t actually hate Emily and Elijah: He just had no use for them; especially since the day Ethan had emerged from his chrysalis childhood transformed into a full fledged teenager. At that exact moment, Ethan realized Emily and Elijah were quite childish indeed.

And now, two days shy of his sixteenth birthday (and on the verge of acquiring that all important symbol of adulthood—the driver’s license), Ethan had even more reason to dislike the thirteen-year-old twins: since the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation the Old Man had left Ethan in charge of the two younger Swains while he was busy with his antiques shop at the Junebug Market.

Ethan protested that he had better things to do than watch The Children (as he called them), and Emily and Elijah had protested that as teenagers themselves, they could very well didn´t need a babysitter.

No. 2

Log Line: For Eternal Chaos to once and for all rule the Universe of God and the Earth of Humankind, all the Fallen Angel Geddon must do is defeat the greatest of Archangels, Nona of Nth, as well as kill a 12-year-old girl to keep her from singing the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" at her school´s Christmas pageant.

Angel Wars: Canon One--Exaltation
Larry Mike Garmon

A Whisper of God

"Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Something was about to happen.

Nona, Archangel of Nth, could feel it in her bones. She sat on the edge of the cloud, strumming her lute and wondering what the day would bring.

Of course, I know that you know for a teller of tales (or even a singer of songs or a reverend of rhetoric) to use the temporal words “bones” and “day” in reference to an eternal, spiritual Angel is rather bizarre at best and just down right stupefying to say the least.

But, there we have it: In order for you to fully understand how Nona, Archangel of Nth, was feeling at this particular moment in time, as well as all the moments in time which follow in this tale, I must use Human images, images I can describe and images you can comprehend.

If I were to use Angelic images, I’d have to stop the tale here and now as I could never truly tell the tale using Angelic images, and even if I could, you wouldn’t be able to understand such images, now would you?

For as we all know, at least most of us anyway, Angels don’t have bones as they are immortal beings made up of spiritual energy and an eternal substance known as Episteme Plasma.

No. 3

Log Line: To get to Necropolis, you merely take the second tombstone on the left and then straight on until Midnight.

The Necropolis Chronicles
Larry Mike Garmon

Book One: Necropolis

Part One

Where We Were and How We Got There

Chapter One

“I told you this wasn’t the kind of job I wanted!”

So -- there we were, my cousin Yeowzer Skelton and I, serving maggot spaghetti with roasted eyeball meatballs and garlic toasted toes to a couple of love-sick (and I do mean sick) ghouls who sat wooing each other with nauseous, meaningless small talk and quick stomach-retching flirtatious glances. As if their dead puppy-dog looks and hollow words weren’t bad enough, Yeowzer and I had to keep cleaning up the pieces of their flesh and the thick dark, slimy ooze dripping from their decaying bodies and onto the table and the floor.

Just as I sat down the male ghoul’s anti-pasta pasta, a silver dollar size hunk of his left cheek popped off and landed in his blood-red wine, exposing stringy, blackened muscle stretched over dull yellow bone. The love-sick ghouls laughed as Yeowzer growled and then pulled the bit of flesh from the wine and patted it back into place onto the male ghoul’s left cheek.

If I had eaten anything before coming to work that evening at Dead Man’s Diner, I would have tossed rainbow chunks of partially digested food all over the two ghouls.

No. 4

Log Line: Art shouldn´t be a crime, but when ace Feline sleuth Agatha Pixie gets her paws on The Omma Lisa, the world´s most famous painting, evildoers are determined to paint the town from a palette of mischief and mayhem to take the painting from her.

The Calamari Code: An Agatha Pixie Mystery


Larry Mike Garmon

Curiosity killed the Cat,

But Satisfaction brought her back!


A View from the Bridge

“What’s it going to be then, eh? Ya gonna hand over da print, or ya wanna take a swim in da East Zuopolis River? The choice is yours, Sweetheart.” The Chimp pulled his lips back into a thin smile, revealing his large yellow and brownish teeth.

So, there I was, Curious Reader, standing midway on the pedestrian walkway that runs down the center of the famous Rooklyn Bridge face to face with an obnoxious Chimpanzee who was offering me the choice of giving in to his demands or being thrown off the bridge and into the river.

I didn’t particularly like my choice, not that my particular preference mattered at that particular moment. The idea of getting wet didn’t bother me so much as the manner in which I was about to get wet. I have nothing against water, as long as it’s coming out of my showerhead or the jets of my whirlpool spa. However, taking a dive 200 feet down into the brownish, smelly, cold East Zuopolis River had not been on my to-do list for that day.


And there we 'em. More writing to do while awaiting word!

07 February 2010

A Vanity Book by any other Name

My one and only excursion into self-publishing was my alternative world fantasy The Calamari Code: An Agatha Pixie Mystery.

I had much fun designing the front and back covers as well as the inner layout. I learned how difficult packaging a book can b
e. I designed the inside to resemble juvenile mysteries of the 1930s and 40s. I even included photos of the various animal characters.

I spent many hours and much creative energy to produce the book, taking over a month until I got everything the way I wanted it to look.

I even made posters, fliers, book markers, postcards, and business cards.

I got a Library of Congress number, an ISBN number, and copyright.

I got a bar code for the back cover.

I officially published it in July 2007 and ordered a couple dozen copies.

I sold a few at a book event at the Oklahoma City Zoo. I got it listed on Amazon and Google.

I was quite proud of my finished product.

You can read it for free HERE.

However, I won't do it again.

All that time I spent on designing the book, I could have spent writing. I'm a writer, not a book designer or art director.

Also, when I sent my manuscript to agents and publishers, those that responded said they don't look at self-published books, leaving me to believe they didn't read the story because I had self-published it.

I know: some writers have become successful with self-published books. Really, though, readers, agents, and publishers shy away from the vast majority of self-published books because so much of what is self-published is just vainglory trash.

My story is good--fun, exciting, different--a witty, quick read.

I'm still shopping it around. I'm not giving up.

However, I wish I had not given in to my own impatience and vainglory.

Oh, I still self-publish some small stuff, mainly short stories and novellas I've written over the years. I've had requests from various readers for other stories and have printed them--but I don't considered them "published" and will argue with contest rules and conferences that merely printing a story and handing it out to a few friends and fans is not "self-publishing" in the largest sense of the word but merely sharing (hoping for some needed feedback).

So, what's so bad about a self-published book?

There's a reason it's called "vanity publication".

This was one of those, "Wow! What a great Idea!" moments that evolved into the subsequent, "What the Hell was I thinking?" moments of stark reality.

Self-publishing books sounds like a quick short cut to "real" publishing. After all, painters and musicians self publish their artistic works.

When a customer buys the painting, he sees exactly what he is getting. When the customer buys the self-made CD, he has already heard the musician/band several times and knows what he is getting.

However, when a reader buys a self-published book at a conference or where ever, he really doesn't know what he's getting unless the author is Stephen King or Ann Rice. Usually, the book is mediocre at best and just plain trash at worse.

Self-published books are often full of bad dialogue, misspellings, poor design, incoherence story lines and plots, and cardboard characters produced by a writer desperate for a reading audience.

Plus, self-published books are very expensive. A book of less than 100 pages can cost the reader upwards of $15-$20 dollars. Why take the chance on an unknown, desperate author at $15 when you can have the latest King or Rice for $9.95?

Most self-published writers are selling to the choir--friends, fellow writers, and lovers. That's about it.

Rare it is for the self-published writer to hit the big-time. Those who have self-published and gone on to fame can be counted on your ten fingers and ten toes.

Those who self-publish and fail can be counted among the stars.

06 February 2010

When a Snowball truly Had a Chance in Hell

The power went out around 2:30 PM Thursday, 28 January 2010.

It came back on around 2:30 PM Wednesday, 03 Feb 2010.

During that near perfect week of powerlessness, I spent up to 14 hours a day in darkness.

Winter darkness.

Cold winter darkness.

The first couple of days were spent trying to figure out how to spend the remaining unknown number of days without heat and without electricity. The temperature was projected not to get above 32 degrees.

Although the house never got below 45 degrees, the ambient temperature was quit chilly. I could see my breath if I breathed out through my mouth. I've always marveled at being able to see my breath on cold days--it's like viewing my own soul.

When we had the house built, we had an electric oven and stove installed and hooked up even though the contractor had put in a gas outlet for a gas stove along side the electrical outlet.

So, we had no heat as the heater's motor, of course, ran on electricity. And we didn't have an efficient method of heating up water for coffee or tea or any way to cook food.

Until I remembered a propane torch attachment I had bought years earlier and had used to do some minor plumbing at the previous house in which we lived.

No one knew how long we would be without electricity. The local radio station was saying from a few days to possibly two weeks.

By day three day, routine had set in.

--Up around dawn. (The cellphone alarm was helpful.)
--Turn on the radio for the latest news and, hopefully, learn that electricity was just minutes away from being restored.
--Feed the dogs, check their water, make sure they have some warmth.
--Eat breakfast. Despite the coldness outside and in, I still liked a bowl of raisin bran and cold, cold milk. Kept the milk outside because it was very, very cold.
--Sit and think, read, imagine.
--Heat up water to eat Ramen noodles (lunch and dinner) using a propane torch sitting on the stove top.

Cooking Ramen noodles on stove top with a propane torch.

--Realize how much work I'm not getting done because of the lack of electricity.
--Check into buying and installing a natural gas/propane powered house generator ASAP.
--Check into changing electric stove to natural gas stove ASAP.
--Marvel at the ice-covered world all about me.

Yard Ice

Ice Plant

--Watch the day sluff its cold light to reveal its cold dark.
--Stare at the small light from the candles, wishing the blue and yellow flicker would lick some heat into the cold living room air.
--Watch the ice fog roll in night after night.
--Sleep as darkness and cold embraced in a slow 14-hour waltz.

I had candles, which provided some light at night and absolutely no heat. The little light was welcomed. However, the candles did not produce enough light by which to read or to write.

I had a propane torch and bought some propane canisters from Walmart when it got its generator up and running by the third day, and so was able to heat water for coffee or for Ramen noodles.

Until I had remembered the propane torch and had bought the propane canisters, Nadya had used candles to heat up water for her tea or coffee; however, trying to heat even a small amount of water with a candle took a long time.

I had batteries in the portable radio and I kept it tuned to the local radio station, which was running on a generator and which plays only country music.

During those frozen days, I listened to more country music while listening to weather, ice, and electricity updates than I have heard in my entire life. I like country music, especially old, old country music, but I prefer rock or ambiance or classical musical, especially by which to think, write, or just zone out.

I kept warm by wearing several layers of clothes. My new thick bathrobe given to me by Nadya for Christmas was quite comfy. At night, I slept under several layers of blankets and comforters. Once under the covers, my body heat warmed the bed, and I was nice and naturally warm throughout the night.

Sometimes I'd awaken during the night and move my arm out from under the covers. I quickly was reminded about the lack of heat and the near freezing temperature in the house when the chilling dark air twisted and constricted around my skin like a hungry python.

On the second night, Friday, 29 Jan 2010, I had dreams about the lights coming back on. From that night until Wednesday, 03 Feb 2010, I had reoccurring dreams of the lights coming on--always at night. In the dream, I'd awaken and see a sliver of light under the bedroom door. I'd get up, walk to the door, open it slowly and let the dim yellow light seep into the dark bedroom.

On day three, 30 Jan 2010, I wondered out into the icy world at around ten AM to take some pictures. I don't have a good digital camera, but I did what I could.

Ice bending pine tree, 30 Jan 2010

Ice Car Antenna

Small Bent Tree

Across the field behind our house and across the highway sits an abandoned three-gabled farm house with several large trees nearly hiding it. The house and the trees were covered in ice and looked like something out of a horror novel.

And that's when Ice came into existence.

I took out my original laptop--a yellow legal pad and a trusty ballpoint pen--and over the course of the next two hours, I plotted a story about a junior high boy who lives with his grandmother on a farm isolated from the town. Below is a quick abstract of the numerous pages I wrote until it was too dark to see the pages any longer.

The worst ice storm in the area's history enshrouds them in ice an inch thick. The boy must leave his grandma at their isolated farm house to get help for her when she slips on the ice while walking to the barn to feed the cows. Her feet literally flip out from under her, and she hits the hard ice covered ground. The crack in the air is not the cracking of the ice but the breaking of her hip.

Against his grandma's wishes and despite her threats to "get a switch", the boy sets out in the cold and the ice to make the three-mile trek to town. The boy leaves enough water and food within his grandma's reach and positions her by the gas-burning stove.

Along the way he comes across a small SUV in an icy ditch. He discovers a family in the SUV--father, mother, young teenage daughter, and whiny young boy. The father runs the engine for ten minutes every hour to warm up the car, and they have bottled water and some snacks. They are optimistic someone will soon come by and pull them out or rescue them. The family is new to the area and was looking at rental property when the storm hit. The boy stays to warm up but leaves, much against the father's wishes (as well as his 12-year-old daughter).

Another ice storm hits, and he seeks shelter in an old pump shed. He decides to wait the storm out there, but he is soon confronted by a vicious dog, who is also seeking shelter--and food.

The boy knows this dog: junior high rumors claim the dog is the cross between a rabid wolf and a German shepherd, which had been trained for combat and had served in the Iraq war. Rumors said the German shepherd was particularly good about killing terrorists by ripping their throats out.

The combination of the rabid wolf and the terrorist-killing German shepherd produced a mad monster ghost dog which kills and devours the largest of the bulls within minutes.

The mad wild dog was said to have been the reason that several children had gone missing over the years. The mad wild dog had attacked them as the children had walked home or had rode their bikes along the country roads around Junebug. Various pieces of gnawed bones found around the area were evidence that the wild dog had indeed eaten the missing children.

The storm has hit and night has come, and the boy must find a way to share the night with a hungry vicious wild dog.

Mad Wild Dog

The next day, he is taken in for a few hours by Virgil Joe Dante, a recluse with the reputation for hating people, especially children. Again, junior high rumors have it that Dante had made a deal with the Devil for riches and had secluded himself hoping the Devil would never find him.

The boy "escapes" from Dante's run-down hellish home.

He continues his freezing journey towards Junebug. He worries about his grandma, about the pain her broken hip is causing her. He looks ahead as far as he can, hoping to see something of the outline of the Junebug city limits in the blinding whiteness of the ice.

The cold has entered his bones. He thinks, "If this were Hell, a snowball really would have a chance here."

When he finally makes it to Junebug, just after dark on the third day, the entire town is without electricity and an icy mist enshrouds it.

To the boy, Junebug looks like a picture on the cover of a Christmas card from Hell.

Hell Frozen Over

He makes it to his Uncle Walt's house. Uncle Walt hasn't spoken to his mother in twenty years and doesn't see how the ice storm makes any difference in the feud between the two. The boy must convince Uncle Walt, who works for the city's street department, to use his front-end loader to rescue the old woman.

I learned a long time ago that inspired ideas don't always translate into completed works. As with many writers, I have many, many great inspired ideas with enthusiastic beginnings that have yet to be finished with enthusiastic middles and enthusiastic endings.

So, Ice is very roughly plotted with a few dramatic scenes as they popped into my head and some characters.

For now, however, I put Ice aside while I work on my present novel projects.

If the enthusiasm is still there when I finish this project, then Ice will be thoroughly plotted, populated with lively and interesting characters, and ended with a cathartic conclusion.

Until such time, I will finish my two present novel projects.

On the third night of the ice storm and the blackout, I drove from our house to Walmart. The ice fog had waltzed in again. The entire town was enshrouded in misty white darkness that gave just enough light to see.

Altus was a ghost town, literally: no lights, only spectral images of homes and businesses and cars and signs--visible only because enough of the moon's light wafted through the icy fog to give not a real look at the things around town but a suggestive look, a look of things of remembrance past, as though these images were being projected through a foggy dream or a misty nightmare.

This is how the boy sees Junebug when he finally makes it into the small southwest Oklahoma town three days after starting on his journey to bring help to his grandma.

Funny, the boy hasn't told me his name yet. Probably why I can easily lay the story aside until I finish my present projects.

When the time is right, he will tell me his name, and he will tell me more of his journey into the great ice storm that nearly killed his grandma and him.

Reminiscence about the Great Ice Storm of 2010 and the days of cold winter darkness and gallons of Ramen noodles and pythonic cold and the story that emerged from those seven days has already set in.

I smile and marvel about those seven days and the images that wafted through my head about Ice; however, I don't wish to be so inspired in such a manner again.

I prefer a more subtle inspiration.

And less dramatic.

With something to eat other than Ramen noodles.

With light to burn away the cold winter darkness.

And warmth. Wonderful warmth.