Monday, August 12, 2019

Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov

We've all read craft books which explain that in our writing, we should show, not tell.

Okay, so I admit it, I thought I could get away with telling and not showing! I'm rewriting a novel I started over 10 years ago. A chapter I read to my critique group over the weekend started off with three pages of back story.  Needless to say,they wouldn't let me get away with that!  I was told that I was depriving the reader--which is true!

So today I'm rewriting again, and actually looking forward to it.  Describing a scene, and interweaving back story into is much more exciting for the reader--and won't put her to sleep.

Instead of me explaining what two weeks in Oberlin, Ohio has been like for a newly escaped slave, I can show her interacting with another character.  In my original draft, she merely thinks about this particular character, and how said character shows disdain for her.  She also reflects upon her new life and all the changes she's seen.

Now I'll need to create a scenario that enables me to show the newly escaped slave with the character who doesn't like her.  This will make for a fun interplay, and the dialogue between them (when not catty) can reveal some of the back story.  More elements of the back story can be woven in at a later time, and some aren't really necessary at all to keep the story moving.

So, no shortcuts, please!  Avoid that dreaded info dump, and show, don't tell!

Have you done an info dump lately?  Thanks so much for visiting today!

Originally published 1/24/11

Monday, August 5, 2019

John Howard Griffin: Before He Was Black

I've been doing some research for a project, and in the process I've learned about the author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffen. I had no idea he'd led such an interesting life!

If you're not familiar with Black Like Me, here's some information regarding it from Wikipedia:
In the fall of 1959, John Howard Griffin decided to investigate firsthand the plight of African Americans in the South, where racial segregation was legal; blacks had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century and closed out of the political system, and whites were struggling to maintain dominance against an increasing civil rights movement.
Griffin consulted a New Orleans dermatologist for aid in darkening his skin, being treated with a course of drugs, sunlamp treatments, and skin creams. Griffin shaved his head in order to hide his straight hair. He spent weeks travelling as a black man in New Orleans and parts of Mississippi (with side trips to South Carolina and Georgia), getting around mainly by bus and by hitchhiking. He was later accompanied by a photographer who documented the trip, and the project was underwritten by Sepia magazine, in exchange for first publication rights for the articles he planned to write. These were published under the title Journey into Shame.
Griffin published an expanded version of his project as Black Like Me (1961), which became a best seller in 1961. He described in detail the problems an African American encountered in the segregated Deep South meeting the needs for food, shelter, and toilet and other sanitary facilities. Griffin also described the hatred he often felt from white Southerners he encountered in his daily life — shop clerks, ticket sellers, bus drivers, and others. He was particularly shocked by the curiosity white men displayed about his sexual life. He also included anecdotes about white Southerners who were friendly and helpful.
The wide publicity about the book made Griffin a national celebrity for a time.
However, before Black Like Me, Griffin had lived a rather extraordinary life. Here's some of what I learned from an article in Smithsonian:
Born in Dallas in 1920, Griffin was raised in nearby Fort Worth. “We were given the destructive illusion that Negroes were somehow different,” he said. Yet his middle-class Christian parents taught him to treat the family’s black servants with paternalistic kindness. He would always recall the day his grandfather slapped him for using a common racial epithet of the era. “They’re people,” the old man told the boy. “Don’t you ever let me hear you call them [that] again.”
Griffin was gifted with perfect pitch and a photographic memory, but his most vital gift was curiosity. At 15, he earned entrance to a boarding school in France, where he was “delighted” to find black students in class but appalled to see them dining with white people in cafés. “I had simply accepted the ‘customs’ of my region, which said that black people could not eat in the same room with us,” Griffin later wrote. “It had never occurred to me to question it.”
Griffin was studying psychiatry in France when Hitler’s troops invaded Poland in 1939. Finding himself “in the presence of a terrible human tragedy,” he joined the French Resistance and helped smuggle Jewish children to England. When he told an informer of a plan to help a family escape, his name turned up on a Nazi death list. Fleeing just ahead of the Gestapo, Griffin returned to Texas in 1941 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor.
While working as a radio operator in the Pacific, he was sent on his own to the Solomon Islands to ensure natives’ loyalty to the American war effort. For a full year, Griffin studied tribal languages and adaptation to the jungle, but still assumed that “mine was a ‘superior’ culture.”
After getting blasted with shrapnel in an enemy air raid a few months before the end of the war, Griffin awoke in a hospital, seeing only shadows; eventually, he saw nothing. The experience was revealing. The blind, he wrote, “can only see the heart and intelligence of a man, and nothing in these things indicates in the slightest whether a man is white or black.” Blindness also forced Griffin to find new strengths and talents. Over the next decade, he converted to Catholicism, began giving lectures on Gregorian chants and music history, married and had the first of four children. He also published two novels based on his wartime experience. Then in 1955, spinal malaria paralyzed his legs.
Blind and paraplegic, Griffin had reason to be bitter, yet his deepening faith, based on his study of Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, focused on the sufferings of the downtrodden. After recovering from malaria, he was walking in his yard one afternoon when he saw a swirling redness. Within months, for reasons that were never explained, his sight was fully restored.
That's just a portion of the article, but I must say his life reads like a novel! To see the entire piece, click here.
Did you know anything at all about John Howard Griffin? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lazy (No Boil) Lasagna

"When the lasagna content in my blood gets low, I get mean." Garfield the Cat

Lasagna used to be one of those dishes I'd only make for company because it was too labor intensive! Browning meat, preparing sauce from scratch, boiling the noodles, only to have them tear--ugh! The whole process was a major pain!

But ever since I discovered the no-boil method, lasagna has become a staple in our home.  Nowadays I use sauce from a jar, along with a pack of prepared Italian meatballs that I run through the food processor.

Without further adieu, here's my Lazy Lasagna recipe. Enjoy!

Lazy (No Boil) Lasagna

2 26 oz jars pasta sauce
12 oz. lasagna noodles, not boiled
1 pack prepared Italian meatballs (chopped through food processor)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg
8 oz. mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan cheese and egg.  Set aside.

Spread one cup of sauce evenly over bottom of glass baking dish. Place a layer of noodles on top. Spread half of ricotta cheese mixture over noodles, then over this, sprinkle about 1/4 cup of the mozzarella. Top with half the chopped meatballs and another cup or more of sauce.

Repeat layers. Cover and bake one hour.  Remove cover, top with remaining mozzarella, then run under broiler until cheese melts.  Makes 8 servings.

Do you have a favorite pasta? Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Peg Entwistle: A Tragic End

If I were to mention the name Peg Entwistle, it might not ring a bell. However, if you're familiar with Hollywood trivia, you'd remember her as the actress who committed suicide by leaping from the Hollywood sign.

It's a shame that twenty-four year old Peg Entwistle, a talented and accomplished stage actress, is most remembered for her death. An unsuccessful attempt at a film career led her to a tragic end that happened nearly eighty-seven years ago.

Here's an account from About.com:

On the night of September [16], 1932, actress Peg Entwistle made her way up the steep slope of Mount Lee in Los Angeles to the site of the famous Hollywood sign (back then it spelled out "Hollywoodland"). She took off her coat and neatly folded it, put down her purse, and climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H. She stood atop it for a moment, looking over the lights of the glamorous city below, then leapt to her death.Peg probably died instantly, and her body was found [on September 18]by a hiker. 

Born in 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales, U.K., Millicent Lilian Entwistle, nicknamed Peg, saw more than her share of tragedy. She was just a child when her mother died unexpectedly, after which she moved with her father to New York City. A few years later, he was struck down by a hit-and-run car on Park Avenue and killed.


In her late teens, Peg began to pursue an acting career on the stage and was talented enough to win roles with the Boston repertory company and on Broadway in the renowned Theater Guild productions. (Bette Davis said that Peg Entwistle was her inspiration to pursue acting.) At age 19, she married actor Robert Keith, only to discover that he had been married previously and had a six-year-old son [Brian Keith, later of Family Affair fame]. They divorced.

Peg was able to find stage work in productions featuring such stars as Dorothy Gish and Laurette Taylor, but was already battling the demons of depression. Nevertheless, she set her sights on Hollywood and moved to Los Angles in 1932 in hopes of landing roles in motion pictures. 

At first she found work again on the stage, but then it seemed her destiny had really changed when RKO signed her to appear in the film Thirteen Women (click here to watch her appearance), starring Irene Dunne. When previews of the film received poor reviews, the studio re-edited it, and much of Peg's part was left on the editing floor. RKO subsequently dropped the options on her contract.  And on the night of September [16], 1932, after a bout of heavy drinking fueled by her depression and despair, 24-year-old Peg Entwistle told her uncle (with whom she was living) that she was going to meet some friends at a local drug store. Instead, she made her way to the Hollywood sign to meet her fate.

Not long ago I learned that Peg's grave site is in Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio, a small town close to Cincinnati.  A few summers ago, the kids and I took a field trip there to find it.
   This plot is shared with her father. For many years it was unmarked until a Facebook campaign raised funds for it.

   With my youngest at the grave site

                         The boys at Peg's family plot, probably wondering why their mother is so morbid

Although this song wasn't written for Peg Entwistle, I'm using it as a little tribute to her, compliments of Steely Dan:   

I've seen your picture 
Your name in lights above it 
This is your big debut 
It's like a dream come true 
And when you smile for the camera 
I know they're gonna love it 




I like your pin shot 
I keep it with your letter 
Done up in blueprint blue 
It sure looks good on you 
So won't you smile for the camera 
I know I'll love you better 


Peg 
It will come back to you 
Peg 
It will come back to you 
Then the shutter falls 
You see it all in 3-D 
It's your favorite foreign movie


Were you familiar with Peg Entwistle's story?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sometimes It's Okay to Tell and Not Show

Writers have been hearing about the importance of 'showing' for so long that they've begun to forget the value of 'telling'--of exposition, of summary, of omniscient narration." Robert Masello, Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 12. Tell, Don't Show

This rule sounds contrary to anything most writers have ever read or been taught.  It's of course important to show everything worth showing, such as dramatic interaction and heated dialogue.  But it is acceptable to tell a few things, too.


Utilize the power of description about surroundings, what's going on inside a character's head, or in the world of your story itself. Masello points out the opening of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  So if Dickens can do it...

Also, things that don't need to be seen don't need to be shown.  Who wants to read about a heroine getting ready for work? We know she'll shower, style her hair, put on makeup, get dressed, make coffee and eat breakfast.

Only show these things if something important happens to affect the story. Perhaps she slips in the shower and breaks her leg, or spills hot coffee and scalds herself, etc., etc.

Masello mentions something that Elmore Leonard, a master of pacing, once said.  He keeps his books moving briskly along leaving out all the parts readers don't want to read.

Anything in your current WIP that can be told and not shown? Happy writing, and thanks for visiting!

Originally published 3/14/11