Tim Smith

Say What?

Perhaps I’ve been doing this too long, but I recall when people spoke to each other using complete words and sentences, either verbally or written. Remember that? Now, it’s all done in a digital shorthand called acronyms. Once upon a time, we also composed notes and letters using cursive writing. Do they still teach that in school?

An acronym is a pronounceable word formed mostly (but not always) from the initial letters of a descriptive name or title. Its origin is from the Latin words “acro,” meaning “beginning,” and “onym,” meaning “word” or “name.” These are not to be confused with initials or abbreviations.

Acronyms, initials and abbreviations–oh my! From texts to in-person convos (see how I snuck one in there?) to the post-it you leave your roommate to turn off the lights, we all use shorthand. But is your truncated way of expressing a thought an acronym? It depends on how you say it. For example, “you only live once” is shortened to YOLO, which you’d say as “yoh-loh.” This is not to be confused with BOGO, the retail shorthand for “buy one, get one,” or COB, meaning “close of business.” Damn—this is confusing, and we haven’t scratched the surface!

Acronyms have been around for decades, particularly in the government and military. Think AWOL (absent without leave), C-rations (c for canned or condensed), GI (government issue), FUBAR (fouled up beyond all recognition), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Navy SEALs (Navy Sea Air Land forces), POTUS, SCOTUS, and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). They all entered the lexicon long before the digital age, along with ASAP, SRO and BOLO. It wasn’t until cell carriers began charging customers for their digital usage that acronyms became a necessity. The abomination formerly known as Twitter also shares some of the blame with their message character limits.

There’s been some debate about whether initialisms are acronyms, or if acronyms and initialisms are types of abbreviations. If any of that made sense to you, please raise your hand. An initialism is an abbreviation that uses the first letter of each word in the phrase it’s describing (like an acronym), but you still say each letter individually (unlike an acronym). For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is shortened to FBI, but you say it as “eff-bee-eye,” not “fuh-by.” Here are some common examples of acronyms you probably use or encounter.

AFK (away from keyboard); BBL or BBS (be back later or soon); BRB (be right back); DM (direct message) or PM (private message); BTW (by the way); IDK (I don’t know); DFK (don’t f***ing know); IMO/IMHO – (in my opinion/humble opinion); IRL/IRT (in real life/time); LMK (let me know); NOYB (none of your business); OMG (oh my God); SMH (shaking my head); HTS (here to stay); TTYL (talk to you later); WTH (what the hell). There’s also the ever-popular LOL (laughing out loud) and ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), along with ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off) and the shorthand version, LMAO.

Everyone has their favorite car, and many people have that car they’d never own again. For the latter, consider these acronyms.

BUICK – Big Ugly Import Car Killer; CHEVY – Cannot Have Expensive Vehicle Yet; DODGE – Drains Or Drops Grease Everywhere/Dead On Day Guarantee Expires; FORD – Fix Or Repair Daily/Found On Road Dead; HONDA – Hang On, Not Done Accelerating; JEEP – Just Expect Every Problem; PORSCHE – Proof Of Rich Spoiled Children Having Everything; TOYOTA – Too Often Yankees Overprice This Auto; VOLVO – Very Odd-Looking Vehicular Object.

(Emits big sigh). All these different forms of language, abbreviations, acronyms, slang and so forth, and we still can’t communicate with each other. It’s getting to where I’m almost afraid to say “I woke up this morning” for fear that it will be misconstrued, since “woke” seems to rile so many people. I heard a new word on a morning talk show recently—“mentation.” It refers to cognitive functioning and being mentally alert. You learn something new every day.

I’d like to propose a compromise. Let’s keep this one (which makes some degree of sense), and ban “conversate” from the lexicon. It drives me crazy when I hear that one, so let’s be clear: you have a conversation, or you converse. Those are your choices. Period. You cannot “conversate” because there is no such word.

Speaking of words that need to be retired (no pun intended), I nominate “elderly.” I know many people who have passed middle age, but they don’t huddle under a blanket in a rocking chair watching soap operas or doing crossword puzzles, they don’t nap three times a day, and they haven’t graduated to textured food. According to a survey by MedicareAdvantages.com, 57 percent of people older than 65 object to the word. The same poll found that 70 percent also dislike “geezer.” That word is probably sexist, since no one refers to women in that age bracket as a “geezerette.”

IDK if you use acronyms to communicate, but IMHO, it’s HTS. I SMH sometimes when I try to read what someone has texted me, but I’ll have to GWI if I want to stay competitive, I guess. OMG– I’m late for an appt. and will be AFK for a while, but I’ll TTYL. IRL, IDFK WTH I just said!

Go For It!

“The things you regret are the risks you don’t take.”

I wish I could claim credit for that bit of wisdom but the truth is, I heard it in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.” It was spoken by Ann-Margaret to Jack Lemmon about relationships, and not being afraid to offer your heart to someone. It seemed like good advice but I think it applies to other things in life, too.

As writers, we’re obligated to take chances and push boundaries. Some of us pushed our limits simply by finishing that first book and getting it published. That’s not as easy as some people seem to think. It requires a lot of commitment and hard work, and that’s just the creative part. Once you decide to make writing a career, you really have to push your personal limits with regards to promotion and marketing. Some of us also push the limits of our bank accounts.

Think back to when we were kids, and fearless when it came to trying new things. If you liked someone’s music, what did you do? You rounded up your friends and formed a garage band. Were you obsessed with the latest superhero movie or TV series, like “Batman” or “Star Wars”? Nothing stopped you from making your own costumes and props, then acting out an adventure in the backyard. When you got hooked on reading and decided you wanted to write a story just like your favorite author, did anything get in your way? Our imaginations were fertile and boundless.

What happened to us? We grew up and became aware of a thing called adult responsibilities. Suddenly, things like getting a good job, paying the rent, putting grub on the table and paying attention to family took priority over frivolous adolescent pursuits. Sometimes we need to go back to that childlike naivety and innocence.

It’s important to recall the special excitement you had when you realized your first book, short story or blog was about to be published. That giddy feeling of “Wow, someone likes what I wrote and wants to publish it. How cool is that???” Remember how you felt when you saw your book cover or byline in print for the first time? How about reading the first good review you received? Goosebumps, anyone?

Do you know why you felt that way? Because you ignored the negative internal voices and the people in your life who jealously said that you wouldn’t make it happen. In short, YOU TOOK A CHANCE on something that was important to you, and it paid off. If you’re fortunate, you may experience it more than once in your lifetime. The trick is to keep pushing boundaries to challenge yourself and stay fresh.

I like to try new things with my writing. I become bored easily and if I don’t flex my creative muscles, that malaise will find its way into my stories. I think this is why I switch between mystery/thrillers and romantic comedies. It puts my brain in offense mode, and challenges me to take chances. My dislike of cliches also keeps my mystery readers on their toes. I’m really happy when I come up with a unique “Gotcha!” or last-minute “Aha!” twist that catches people off-guard. One of my regular reader/followers pointed out something to me. In many of the mysteries, I write a sort-of climax three-quarters of the way through, then follow it up with a bigger finish. I wasn’t aware I was doing this, but he pointed it out in online reviews as “the Tim Smith double climax.” I haven’t taken out a patent on that yet.

One of my early books, “The Vendetta Factor” (Nick Seven series), had me going retro by using chapter titles. Since it was an old school pulp fiction-style crime thriller, it seemed like a good fit. The fact that no one had used chapter titles in fiction for thirty-odd years increased my desire to flaunt current trends. My first romantic comedy, “Anywhere the Heart Goes,” took the title thing one step further. I began each chapter with a quote about love and relationships, to set the mood and preview what was coming. Some of the quotes were funny, while others were poignant.

The Vic Fallon retro private eye mystery “Lido Key” pushed my limits with adult content. I made the female lead bisexual, enjoying a relationship with her cute Latina housekeeper, and both of them are attracted to the hero. In looking back at that book, it’s probably the steamiest story concept I ever came up with. Not only is the heroine a switch hitter, she’s a former lap dancer turned rich trophy widow who is being blackmailed because of her past indiscretions. During his investigation, my leading man encounters a crooked strip club owner and a famous tough guy writer with a taste for booze and women. As I said, a sleazy concept with a cast of characters to match. I think Mickey Spillane would’ve been proud.

Speaking of characters, that’s another way I push limits. I like creating personalities that are unique and off-the-wall, thus making them memorable. I pay attention to people and take note of their fashion statements, physical characteristics and speech patterns. I also pay attention to the way an actor played a character and file it away for future use. My realistic caricatures have gotten me into trouble on occasion, when someone I know is convinced that I based a character on them or a mutual friend. This is patently false, because my characters are composites. What people want to think beyond that is up to them.

I really like to see how many fireworks I can set off when I give interviews. I have a lot of fun when I can go for a laugh with my responses. It plays into something I learned a long time ago—any publicity can be good if it gets people talking about you. As proof, search the name Kardashian and see what pops up. It also verifies that I don’t take myself seriously. One blog interview I did nearly cost me an invitation to a family reunion, though, because a relative was embarrassed by my answers to a few of the questions. They dealt with my opinions of certain sexual fetishes, some of which were unconventional, and I felt obliged to give funny off-the-wall responses.

During a live podcast interview, the hostess suggested that the book I was plugging might be good for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I viewed this as another opportunity to make waves. I stated, live on the air, that I had no desire to be in Oprah’s book club because I didn’t think she or her audience would appreciate my writing. A long silence followed while the hostess pondered the future of her program.

The biggest limit-pusher for me resulted in my becoming a published author in the first place. I had recently reached a crossroad in my life, and was feeling restless. I recalled an idea for a story I had always wanted to tell, and challenged myself to either write the damn thing or stop talking about it. The result was the first entry in my popular Nick Seven spy series, “Memories Die Last,” which continues to sell many years later and has cultivated a nice fan base.

The second-biggest was my decision to use my own name when I began writing contemporary erotic romance. That was 20-plus years ago, and there have been many occasions when I felt I should have ignored Ann-Margaret’s advice, and adopted a pseudonym. Sometimes I think it was one risk I definitely regretted taking.


Where Did the Time Go?

Over the summer, I attended my (GASP!) 50th high school reunion. I’ve adjusted to the shock of how many years have passed since graduation, and it was fun trying to identify old classmates that I hadn’t seen in years. After we got past the great lie that starts with “Gee, you look good!” some of us talked about what used to be. The passage of time might make you remember things as being simpler then, and perhaps they were because we didn’t have grown-up responsibilities, but I realized that some things in the world haven’t really changed.

In 1973, we had a Republican President (Richard Nixon), who authorized a break-in of the Democratic national headquarters to ensure his re-election in ’72. Hmm, a President tampering with an election to win a second term…what a dreadful notion! Following a Congressional investigation, Nixon resigned the following year rather than face impeachment and possible jail time. At least he knew how to take a hint.

Many of us who grew up in the late 60s/early 70s took an interest in ecology and the effects of air and water pollution on the environment. I attended school in the Cleveland area, and it was during this era that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire after years of pollutants being dumped into it. Environmentalists also began using the term Greenhouse Effect in reference to the deteriorating ozone layer and global warming. Fifty years later, we’re still paying the price and fighting the same battles regarding the climate.

Speaking of paying the price, the average cost of gasoline was 38.5 cents a gallon, up from $.34 the previous year. By the Spring of ’74 it had increased to $.55, due to the Middle East oil embargo. Remember gas rationing, something that hadn’t been done since WWII? Shortages of crude oil and fluctuating gas prices still remain a fact of life. I recall some economist predicting in the late ‘70s that gas would stabilize once it reached $1.00 a gallon. Riiiiiight!

On the lighter side, we got our music fix from AM radio, vinyl records (albums and 45s), and cassettes. FM radio was still the refuge of easy listening, classical music, opera, and NPR talk shows. That year, a bouncy little folk tune called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, captured the Billboard number 1 spot.

Further down the chart, Jim Croce warned us to beware of a cat named “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” while Roberta Flack moaned about her man “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” She might have been referring to Marvin Gaye when he sang “Let’s Get It On,” Kris Kristoferson asking “Why Me,” or Paul McCartney and Wings performing the slow dance favorite “My Love.” Diana Ross extended an invitation to “Touch Me in the Morning,” while Carly Simon chastised someone with “You’re So Vain.” Rumor has it that she wrote that song about her one-time lover Warren Beatty. Listen to the lyrics and judge for yourself. For contrast, Elton John coaxed us to get down with “Crocodile Rock,” Billy Preston asked “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles,” and Vicki Lawrence told us about “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” This was also the year that Bette Midler broke out with her update of an Andrews Sisters hit from the ‘40s, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Broadcast TV via rooftop antennas was the primary form of home-based entertainment, since we were a few years away from cable and home video. We still delighted in hearing Archie Bunker yell “Stifle!” on the number 1 show, “All in the Family,” while Redd Foxx did a Black version of the character on “Sanford and Son.” All things being equal, Bea Arthur’s “Maude” put a feminist spin on topical events. The other top shows that year were “The Waltons,” “M*A*S*H,” “Kojak,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Sonny and Cher,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Cannon.” Compare those to what we’ve been watching over the past few decades and see how our tastes have changed.

The too-hip-to-be-square comedy show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” finally ran out of jokes after six years. Does anyone remember presidential candidate Nixon’s appearance in ’68, when he posed the question “Sock it to me?” ‘73 was also the first year for the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” still churning out angst and sexual hijinks after 50 years.

One thing that has remained constant is our appetite for movies, and we had some great ones to choose from. The American box office was dominated by “The Exorcist” (the #1 movie), and “The Sting,” a reteaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford that also renewed interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. “American Graffiti” (#3 on the list) struck a chord with many of us, thanks to its plot about high school grads enjoying their last night at home before leaving for college and the real world. Love the soundtrack album.

The rest of the top ten consisted of “Papillon” with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, Redford and Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were,” Clint Eastwood reprising Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force,” the Depression-era comedy “Paper Moon” (starring Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum), and Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond in “Live and Let Die.” The list also included two unlikely films, both rated X—the controversial “Last Tango in Paris,” which nearly tanked Marlon Brando’s reputation, and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” a holdover from the porno chic era.

Some of the other flicks that brought us to theaters and drive-ins were “Walking Tall,” “Serpico,” “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” “Enter the Dragon” (Bruce Lee’s big screen debut), “High Plains Drifter” (Eastwood on horseback this time), “Dillinger,” “Save the Tiger,” “The Seven-ups” (a sequel to “The French Connection”), “Shamus” (Burt Reynolds trying to revive the private eye genre), Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” and one that achieved cult status, “Soylent Green.” Bet you can’t remember the last line of that movie, screamed by Charlton Heston.

The Oscar ceremony that year was noteworthy for the stunt pulled by Marlon Brando. He was the favorite to win the best actor prize for “The Godfather.” Brando decided to boycott the ceremony as a protest against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. Rather than communicate this by sending a letter, Brando asked a little-known actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to appear on his behalf, and explain his reasons for declining the award. Her speech was not well-received.

Did you know that year marked the debut of Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s fictional private eye? His first caper was the novel “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Mickey Spillane continued his comeback with a bestselling action thriller, “The Erection Set” (yes, that’s the real title). We also read “Breakfast of Champions” (Kurt Vonnegut), “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (Richard Bach), “Once is Not Enough” (Jacqueline Susann), and a little thing called “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.

Speaking of debuts, although it sure didn’t look mobile, the first cell phone was invented by Motorola. The introduction of the Xerox 1200 Computer Printing System is significant as being the first commercial Xerographic printer used to create computer output. Never mind that it took up roughly a third of a standard office. The ‘73 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was crowned Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, thanks in large part to its “Euro-style ride and handling.” With nearly a quarter-million cars sold that year, the model set a new sales record for Chevrolet.

The World Trade Center opened that year, FedEx began operations, and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency was founded. In what was termed “The Battle of the Sexes,” Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a televised tennis match attended by 30,942, the largest live audience to watch a tennis match in U.S. history. It was also seen by several million TV viewers around the globe.

That was the year the BIC lighter was first sold. The company boasted that it could be lit up to 3,000 times before wearing out. I don’t know if anyone actually counted. Television commercials told potential consumers to “flick your BIC,” something that is still heard today. The sexually charged slogan was an attempt to compete with the leading lighter manufacturer at the time, Gillette.

And that’s the way it was. On to the next 50 years!

Cult Classic Confessions

People tend to get attached to certain films, books, TV shows and music to the point of obsession. We find something we like and just can’t get enough of it. Facebook groups, fan conventions and online clubs sprout up over just about anything. For proof, look at things like “Game of Thrones,” “Star Trek,” the Marvel superhero films and the James Bond flicks, to name a few. Many of these fall into the category of cult classics.

A cult classic is defined as something that is obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences, but develops a dedicated fanbase through repeated exposure and word of mouth. After failing at the cinema, some cult films have become regular fixtures on cable television or profitable sellers on home video. The term cult film was first used in the 1970s to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies. With the increase in cable TV channels in the ‘80s, and the need for inexpensive programming to fill air time, many of these films got another shot. Some movies that fit into this category are “The Night of the Hunter,” “Toxic Avenger,” “I Spit on your Grave,” “Mad Max,” the 1940s noir crime films “Detour” and “D.O.A.” and the Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It may surprise you to know that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was once considered a cult classic. It bombed at the box office and didn’t become popular until the copyright expired and TV stations could show it free every year at Christmas.

Sometimes, a film will develop such a following because, in the words of critic Michael Medved, “It’s so bad it’s good.” Many of them were made on a minus-zero budget which made cheap special effects necessary, with wooden acting to match. “Night of the Living Dead” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are prime examples, but a better one is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959). It was made by Ed Wood, probably the worst filmmaker ever. He was responsible for the forgettable gems “Bride of the Gorilla” and the cross-dressing melodrama “Glen or Glenda.” Wood began “Plan 9” with a home movie of his idol, Bela Lugosi, made shortly before his death. He listed him as the star to increase box office appeal, even though his screen time was less than two minutes. Wood then doubled the actor with a guy who was taller, thinner and younger than Lugosi. He also used hubcaps suspended from thread to mimic flying saucers. You have to see this one to believe it.

I found a DVD collection of films from the 1970s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that were shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college midnight movie fests. The casts are comprised of C-list actors, the kind that popped up as supporting players on TV shows or in commercial crowd scenes. These were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put out just about anything.

The plots are confusing, most of the acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and some of the sex scenes produce more laughs than heat. One featured a bedroom encounter between a husband and wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his naked spouse. How realistic is that? Gratuitous nudity also abounds. In another film, an actress walked across the screen topless for no reason. That scene came at a place where the story bogged down, and the director probably couldn’t think of anything else to do.

And those titles! “Pick-up,” “The Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and “Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:

“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most immoral act imaginable!”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

A prime example of a cult classic is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). A local theater used to hold midnight screenings of this one every year as part of their summer classic film series. I’d seen people showing up in costume and reciting dialogue along with the actors, so it wasn’t surprising. What did surprise me was when I attended a Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t expect to see so many kids dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with brooms. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe.

I guess a cult classic can be anything you’re passionate about. What’s yours?

Well, Excuse Me!

I read a post on a reviewer’s website that made me rethink online courtesy. This woman went on a rant about authors who aren’t considerate enough to say “thank you” when she reviews their books, often at their request. She held the opinion that after she spent “hours reading and reviewing” a book, the least the author could do was “take a few minutes” to send a follow-up e-mail, especially if it was a good write-up.

Wow – I thought we were all on the same page! I used to write book reviews for a romance site and I didn’t expect flowers when I favorably critiqued someone’s book. That isn’t why I did it and I can count on one hand the times an author reached out to thank me or question my parentage. If they did drop a line, I appreciated it, but it wasn’t what I lived for. I know a lot of authors who don’t communicate with reviewers because they don’t want it to look like they’re sucking up or influencing the outcome. If I hold a contest and offer a book as a prize, I always ask the winner to let me know what they thought of it. I don’t ask them to post a review, but just share their opinion so I’ll know if I’m reaching my audience. This is something else I don’t count on because people say they will, but usually don’t. It’s all part of the game and no, I don’t take it personally.

I make it a point to follow up with bloggers who have interviewed me or featured my books, because it’s common courtesy, and often results in a return invitation. I was raised by a generation that believed in sending “thank you” notes, and it’s a habit. The one time I received a terrible review on a blog, I actually left a comment for the reviewer, thanking them for their honest opinion. I didn’t like what they said about me or my book, but I chose to take the high road and show them that I wasn’t bothered by their negative comments. In other words, “Screw you and your ill-informed opinion!”

A friend once asked me to review one of his books when I was contributing to that online review site. We had appeared at the same author events, and supported each other’s literary endeavors. The problem? I wasn’t into the genre he writes and I didn’t think I’d appreciate his story. I tried to explain this but before I knew it, a package arrived in the mail containing his book. Autographed, of course.

I read it, found it to be better than I expected and wrote a four-star review. Actually, that was generous because he had self-published and there were numerous problems, which I didn’t mention in the write-up. I sent him a separate email summarizing my observations in a constructive way. Apparently, he expected a rave review because he didn’t communicate with me for a year after I posted it. I looked up some of his reviews on Goodreads and discovered that many were less flattering than what I wrote. In fact, a couple of them were downright nasty. Beats me why he wasn’t happy with four stars.

One of my Lodge brothers liked my books and asked if I would critique a few draft chapters of his first endeavor. He was a retired Fire Department Chief and wrote a fictionalized story based on his career. It sounded like an interesting concept, but had we not been friends, I would’ve told him I was too busy. As it turns out, I should have. My comments were constructive and designed to help him produce a better manuscript, but he didn’t see it that way. When I suggested that he might want to “dumb down” some of the technical jargon and insider references because readers might not understand them, he took an attitude with me, claiming “Everyone knows what those are!”

Apparently not everyone, because I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Ever since then, I’ve been “too busy”—unless someone hires me to edit their work.

The remarks I mentioned earlier gave me cause for pause. The person referenced “hours spent reading and reviewing” books, but I wonder if she has any idea how much time and effort an author invests in getting that book ready for her to read. We agonize over every word, comma, revision and rewrite. We worry that the cover might not convey what the story is about. We sweat out a release date then become sleep deprived from promotional activity once it’s released. We anxiously await feedback and when we get it…we’re chastised because we didn’t say “thank you”?

As I said, it’s all part of the game and there is no right or wrong approach. Some people express themselves beautifully through the mouths of their characters but fumble when it comes to speaking from the heart. I fall into that trap myself at times. I suppose that’s why we choose to write, to express our feelings and opinions, and that’s a great skill.

For what it’s worth, I don’t expect a “thank you” note for this post, either. Just buy one of my books. And a nice review wouldn’t hurt!

Pass the Popcorn

It’s summertime, and the living is easy, according to the old song. Among the many warm weather activities many of us will indulge in, movies still make the list. There have been a lot of films that use this time of year as a backdrop, and many of them rely on standby tropes like summer camp or vacations. Romance usually plays a big part, too, along with funny situations. Here are a few good ones, in no special order. How many of these have you seen?

“The Parent Trap” (1961) – This Disney production has Hayley Mills playing a dual role as teenage twins who were separated at birth when their parents divorced. They meet for the first time at a summer camp for girls, and plot to get their parents back together by switching places when camp is over. Yeah, I know—too cute, right? Just accept the premise and roll with it. Along the way, enjoy watching Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara as the clueless parents. This was remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan, in her film debut.

“Gidget” (1959) – “Hey, gang—surf’s up!” This is the original beach party and surfer flick, starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, and James Darren. It’s about a teenager’s introduction to the California surf scene and her romance with a young surfer who teaches her how to hang ten, among other things. In addition to inspiring a television series, the film is considered the beginning of the “beach party’’ genre, and is credited as being a big factor in the mainstreaming of surfing culture. It also popularized the nickname Big Kahuna, for Chief (Robertson’s character, a professional surfer and beach bum the kids look up to).

“A Summer Place” (1959) — This romantic drama is a prime example of a steamy soap opera, loaded with melodrama, angst, tears, and sex. Infidelity, pre-marital sex, bigotry, class snobbery, alcoholism, teen pregnancy out of wedlock—there are enough vices here for two movies. The plot, for those who care, concerns two teenage lovers from different social classes who get back together 20 years after a summer vacation at a resort. They must then deal with the passionate love affair that’s developing between their own teenage children from previous failed marriages. It stars Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire as the middle-aged lovers, and Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as their respective children. Percy Faith’s recording of “Theme from A Summer Place” spent nine weeks at number one on the Billboard singles chart. You might not have seen the movie, but you’ve probably heard the song.

“Summer School” (1987) — This Carl Reiner-directed comedy stars a pre-“NCIS” Mark Harmon as a high school gym teacher who is forced to teach a remedial English class during the summer break. He’s a former pro athlete who lucked into a Phys-Ed job, but doesn’t have a clue about how to teach or motivate a class of underachievers. The film co-stars Kirstie Alley and Courtney Thorne-Smith. If you’ve seen “The Breakfast Club” or “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the group of misfits Harmon is assigned to teach won’t provide too many surprises, but they seem like a fun bunch.

“Summer Rental” (1985) – Here we have another Carl Reiner comedy, this time starring John Candy, Richard Crenna and Rip Torn. Candy is an overworked air traffic controller who takes his family to the resort town of Citrus Cove, Florida, where he clashes with local big shot Crenna. There are a lot of good sight gags and enough quirky characters to make up for the one-joke plot. Candy is great to watch as the put-upon family man who finally gets pushed to the limit. And speaking of John Candy…

“The Great Outdoors” (1988)– This vacation comedy, written and produced by John Hughes, pairs John Candy with Dan Aykroyd. Supporting roles feature Stephanie Faracy, and Annette Bening in her film debut. Candy once again plays a harried family guy who looks forward to their annual summer getaway at a Wisconsin lake resort. A dark cloud appears in the form of Aykroyd as the brother-in-law from hell, who seems to exist only to make Candy’s life miserable. There are some very funny bits, and the comic timing between Candy and Aykroyd is just right.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)—The first and still the best of the series (with the possible exception of “Christmas Vacation”), this features the Griswold clan on a cross-country summer road trip to enjoy some quality family time. At least, that’s what Chevy Chase has in mind until they’re actually on the road to Wally World amusement park. Along the way, they take a side trip to visit his mentally-vacant cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). The whole thing is one mishap after another, with some hilarious gags. Chase’s meltdown and rant toward the end is classic. Like all of the “Vacation” films, you’ll see things that will make you think “Been there, done that.”

“Meatballs” (1979) – This Canadian comedy, about a ragtag group of teenagers at a second-rate summer camp, is noted for being Bill Murray’s first starring role, and for launching the directing career of Ivan Reitman. The two would team up again for “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (1984). Murray is a camp counselor, whose personality and manner will remind you of his lounge lizard character on Saturday Night Live. There really isn’t much to the plot, elements of which were reprised the following year in “Caddyshack” (“The slobs versus the snobs”), but it’s all very funny. The film was hugely successful, and followed by several sequels that had no connection to the original except the name.

“Jaws” (1975) — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Summer had traditionally been the dumping ground for low-budget drive-in flicks until this one broke box office records and became the must-see movie of the year. A quaint New England island is terrorized over the busy July 4th holiday by a huge shark with an equally large appetite. Director Steven Spielberg supplied plenty of suspense, thrills and adventure, and the cast plays it beautifully. Legend has it that the line about needing a bigger boat was ad-libbed by star Roy Scheider, and it became a popular catchphrase.

“American Graffiti” (1973) – The marketing campaign for this coming-of-age movie posed the question “Where were you in ’62?” That’s considered to be the end of the ‘50s American rock-and-roll era, before the British Invasion. The story takes place on the last night in town for a couple of recent high school grads who are leaving for college the next day. Or will they? Cruising, drag races, sock hops, make-out sessions by the lake, carhops on roller skates, and oldies from car radios announced by Wolfman Jack make this a nostalgic and bittersweet look at more innocent times. Director/writer George Lucas (“Star Wars”) based the story on his own post-HS summer experiences. The cast includes Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark and a little-known actor named Harrison Ford. Look for the film debut of Suzanne Somers as the blonde in the T-Bird who catches Dreyfuss’s attention.


Behind the Mask

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like an eggs and ham breakfast—the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.”

That quote was credited to Anonymous. I don’t know who this Anonymous guy was, but he sure got around, judging from the number of quotes, stories, poems and songs credited to him. He must be getting on in years, because you can trace his credits back to the 1600s. If you look around, you’ll see that he’s still putting stuff out there, but in a different forum.

The anonymous persona continues to get a workout online, largely on social media pages that focus on political topics. People love to rant and rave and post outrageous rhetoric. Not many are brave enough to use their real names, though, and prefer to hide behind pseudonyms. It makes you wonder why they’re afraid to take credit for their opinions. Maybe it’s a feeling of false security, thinking “I can say what I want, and no one will know it’s really me!” That’s also SOP on dating websites, chat boards and adult entertainment sites, but for different reasons. A lot of people still think there’s a stigma to admitting you went online to get a date. That isn’t the only reason folks play it cool, however.

People have figured out that potential employers, colleges, lending institutions and friends use social media as a character reference. Law enforcement agencies monitor sites, too, especially in this era of increased domestic violence and human trafficking. When I worked in civil service, I was careful with my social media pages. I didn’t “friend” anyone who was in a subordinate position, and I didn’t use my real first name, the one that appeared in my personnel file. My friends know me by my middle name, and I publish under that moniker. I listed my occupation as “writer/photographer,” working at “self-employed.” Nowhere on my profile does it say which state agency I worked for, or what position I held. I set it up solely to promote my writing, and to network with friends in the business and some former classmates.

I took these extra measures because word came down that the good folks in Administrative Services were monitoring the online postings of state employees, whether they were on the clock or not. Big Brother was compiling dossiers on the worker bees to see what they were up to. Did one of them post an unfavorable comment about the current administration? Put a red checkmark next to their name. Did someone indicate allegiance to a left- or right-leaning organization? Better keep an eye on them. Did anyone endorse a candidate in the upcoming election or donate money? They are so screwed!

I think one of the reasons for this is the ongoing push for transparency by news organizations, especially those investigative teams that boast about “holding government accountable.” The Freedom of Information Act allows them access to the records of public employees. When I was still working, one such request resulted in a major metro newspaper publishing the name and salary of everyone employed by the state. Most of us looked at it to see how much our co-workers were being paid. The result was a lot of bruised egos, and comments like “That slug is making how much more than me???”

It seems that the majority of authors who write romance (whether it’s erotic or vanilla) use a pseudonym. This can be for a variety of reasons, especially if they pen hot erotic romance. Using an alias for that kind of writing could save you some embarrassing explanations at family gatherings or in the workplace. I’ve found that for some reason, many writers don’t want people to know that they write books or blogs in their spare time, no matter what genre they write. When I’ve asked some of them about this, the responses I’ve received ranged from a desire to separate professional from personal (I get that), to a shrug and an awkward silence.

The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez said “Everyone has three lives—a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” There’s more truth to that statement than many of us like to admit. I once had a psych professor who claimed that everyone was guilty of harboring “secret sins,” things you did that you would never, ever tell anyone about. I’ve also been told by friends in the legal profession that criminal attorneys take their client’s secrets to their graves because they’re ethically bound to do so. That may explain why many of them fall prey to substance abuse, like alcoholism.

There are several online sites where people can post erotic fiction. Naturally, no one uses their real names. This anonymity allows their id to concoct outrageous fantasies involving a variety of fetishes. Some of the posts I’ve read weren’t half bad from a writing standpoint. Others, though, were so poorly written I hoped none of those folks ever pursued a publishing career. I made the same observation about some self-published romance writers when I reviewed books. I realized why they were self-published, because many of them would never have made it past the submission process for a good publisher. A lot of those writers didn’t believe in hiring an editor, either.

I have a good friend who has been writing erotic fiction for nearly 50 years. He began with “one-hand books” in the 1970’s and he’s still cranking them out, but in self-published digital format now. He’s always hidden behind a pseudonym, and the only time he used his real name was when he attempted a mainstream romantic adventure novel. It didn’t catch on, so he went back to writing what I call porn with a plot. When I asked him about it, he explained “I write under this name, and I sell books. I write as myself and nobody cares!”

There’s something to be said for anonymity.

The War on Words

A year ago, I published a blog containing a list of banned books from the American Library Association. I compared their list to one I ran across from 40 years earlier, and was surprised to see many of my alma mater’s “required reading” titles. To put this in perspective, that was the era when American history books told us all about the Civil War, slavery, the Holocaust, the Communist menace, and the civil rights movement. No one felt the need to withhold the facts about these historical events that shaped our country.

Lately, the culture wars have been heating up to the boiling point. For those who might not be clear on the concept, a culture war refers to a disagreement between groups about the value something has for society. Book banning is still the rave, but now it’s acceptable to rewrite school textbooks and classic literature. Within the last year, we were informed that the estate of the late Dr. Seuss would discontinue publication of six of his biggest selling titles, and would revise others due to what is now perceived as unflattering portrayals. The latest salvo fired by the Radical Right landed broadside on another popular children’s book author, Roald Dahl.

In the case of Dr. Seuss, the business founded by his family announced that it would stop publishing six of his popular titles because they include racist and insensitive images. As a sort of consolation prize, they will release some previously unpublished works and illustrations by the late writer that are considered “safe.” This decision drew mostly criticism from all corners of the industry, with one publication calling it “corporate safety-ism.” The company line was that the books in question “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

In “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” an Asian person is portrayed wearing a conical hat, holding chopsticks and eating from a bowl. “If I Ran the Zoo” includes a drawing of two bare-footed African men wearing what appear to be grass skirts with their hair tied above their heads. The other books affected were “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.”

Roald Dahl’s firing squad-worthy offenses include the children’s favorite “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Dahl had the audacity to refer to Oompa Loompas, the diminutive staffers of Willy Wonka’s candy emporium, as “small men.” In the rewritten version, they are now “small people” to make them gender neutral. Another favorite story character, infamous glutton Augustus Gloop, is now called “enormous” instead of “fat.” Why not just say “calorically challenged” and play it safe?

Dahl’s gender references have also been neutralized to not offend women or the transgender community. In “The Witches,” a section saying witches are bald beneath their wigs has a new disclaimer: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” That sounds like the punchline of the old “Seinfeld” bit about being gay.

Adding insult to injury, Dahl’s original version of “James and the Giant Peach” contained the character rhymes “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat, and tremendously flabby at that,” along with “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire, and dry as a bone, only drier.” After being scrubbed, the text now reads “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute, and deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and “Aunt Spiker was much of the same, and deserves half of the blame.” Don’t feel bad—it didn’t make sense to me, either!

This trend has added a new profession to the publishing world—sensitivity readers. Their job is to look for perceived offensive content, stereotypes, and bias, then create a report for an author or publisher with suggested changes. Examples include those listed above, plus works by Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie, among others.

The practice has been around since the early 1800s, but under different names, like expurgation and bowdlerization. During this earlier period of politically correct ass-kissing, Shakespeare’s plays got the treatment, and you couldn’t find an unexpurgated edition of D. H. Lawrence’s novels (like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) until 1960. The wholesome all-American Hardy Boys children’s mystery novels (published starting in 1927) contained heavy doses of racism, and were extensively revised starting in 1959 in response to parents’ complaints about racial stereotypes.

A fig-leaf edition of a book is another name for a bowdlerized text, derived from the practice of using fig leaves to cover the genitals of nudes in classical statues and paintings. Author Upton Sinclair thumbed his nose at this practice when the city of Boston banned his novel “Oil!” (1926), owing to a motel sex scene. As a publicity stunt, Sinclair assembled a 150-copy fig-leaf edition of the book with the offending pages blacked out.

Recently, Ian Fleming Publications announced that Fleming’s James Bond series was being re-published, with many references to race removed from the original text. A disclaimer will be added at the beginning of each book, reading “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.” I guess you’re supposed to use your imagination to get what Fleming really intended.

A related development comes courtesy of the Associated Press style guide. Apparently, it is now politically incorrect to use the word “mistress,” because it implies submissiveness and a subordinate relationship. I don’t mind retiring that word because mistress is really a bit old fashioned. The guidebook suggests that terms like companion, friend, or lover are acceptable substitutes. They didn’t mention “friend with benefits,” “girl on the side,” or “f***-buddy,” so I assume those are still safe. Some Realtors have also been told to stop using “master bedroom” and “master suite” when they write home listings. The thinking is that the word “master” could be construed as not only sexist, but racist, and reminiscent of slavery. Where does this end???

We who write adult romance for a living now need to add these two m-words to our list of unacceptable euphemisms. It’s becoming a long list. We already have the n-word, f-word, s-word and c-word, among others. Soon, we may be using letters and acronyms to communicate. That would make news reporting a lot of fun, wouldn’t it? “The President declared that the opposition was a bunch of c-words, and the opposing party leader replied that his speech was a steaming pile of s-word and that he was an a-word.” That’s as frustrating as deciphering text messages from a teenager.


Words to Live By

A group of university professors released a list of words they feel we should use on a regular basis. They’re convinced that the ten words they focused on will make us sound smarter. I’m glad they included definitions, because some of these were unknown to me. Perhaps I didn’t attend the right college.

Just think, my friends—within this blog you’ll find ten words you can use to dazzle people! Drop some of these into your daily discourse and they’ll be positively beaming at your newfound intelligence. Either that, or they’ll wonder which meds you took this morning. Read on.

Acedia – Spiritual or mental sloth; apathy. “When she broke up with him, he fell into a state of acedia and didn’t go out for two months.” I once had the same problem after one of my books didn’t do well.

Anfractuous – Indirect and containing bends, turns or twists; circuitous. “The road to the castle was anfractuous.” I believe this can also apply to the male medical condition known as PED (penile erectile dysfunction), so use it carefully.

Blithering – Senselessly talkative and babbling; used chiefly as an intensive to express annoyance or contempt. “His Twitter posts were the confused ramblings of a blithering fool.” The next time you get a bad book review, at least you’ll know what to call the reviewer.

Bombinate – Buzzing, humming or droning to the point of distraction. “A fly bombinated in the sun porch, making it difficult for John to relax.” Personally, I apply this to the dozen-and-two robocalls I receive every day.

Bucolic – Of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life. “Sitting in his office, Jack felt a twinge of longing for his bucolic childhood on the farm.” I use this same technique, but substitute a sandy beach in Key West.

Effulgent – Shining brightly; radiant; emanating joy or goodness. “Her beauty was enhanced by her effulgent personality.” If I were on the receiving end of this word, I’m not sure how I’d take it.

Gauche – Lacking ease or grace; unsophisticated and socially awkward. “His gauche demeanor made Tom stand out at the party.” See my comment above about book critics.

Guttle – To eat or drink greedily and noisily. “As the man sitting across from her guttled his meal, she knew that the blind date was a mistake.” This could also be applied to Thanksgiving dinner in most families.

Mugwump – A person who remains aloof or independent, especially from party politics. “Ever the mugwump, he refused to take a side in the partisan bickering.” For a real-life example, go back to the last election.

Stultify – Cause to lose enthusiasm and initiative, especially as a result of tedious or restrictive routine. “The stultifying clerical work robbed the young intern of the enthusiasm she’d felt on the first day.” You could also apply this to most publishing contracts.

There you have it. Ten words to a better you through an enhanced vocabulary. Personally, when I write, I tend to shy away from words that necessitate a Google search. I do that on purpose, not because I think my readers are gauche or blithering, but because when I read something with uncommon words, I find the experience stultifying.

I’d like to add some new words I came across. I thought I was fluent enough to write contemporary fiction but after reading these, I’m not so sure.

People are “throwing shade” (saying something nasty or unkind about someone), “dishing tea” (spreading gossip) and “getting punked” (being the victim of a prank). The internet is infested with “trolls” and “memes.” Just when I began to understand the difference between “ghosting” and “gaslighting,” along comes “glamping,” which has nothing to do with the other two. It refers to camping with better accommodations than merely pitching a tent and building a campfire.

I thought “hacking” was something bad people did to you on your computer, but then I discovered it’s now a synonym for a helpful hint. I also learned that musicians no longer release new records, they “drop them.”

And just in time for Valentine’s Day, how about these new dating lingo words?

Benching–The dating version of being on a sports team and waiting for the coach to put you in the game. With dating, it means you’re into someone but not enough to take it to the next level, but you don’t want them hooking up with someone else while you make up your mind. Confusing and inconsiderate? I think so.

Cushioning—Have you ever had a few potential partners just a text away, in case your current relationship doesn’t work out? That’s called cushioning, because you’re making sure you land without hurting yourself too badly. I’ve known people who have used this technique when they had an important function to attend and couldn’t find anyone to accompany them.

ENM (Ethically non-monogamous), or CNM (Consensually non-monogamous). Looking for an open relationship. Translation: Afraid to commit to one person, while trolling for a one-night stand.

Ghosting and Haunting—Ghosting refers to avoiding someone (not answering texts or calls, breaking off all contact, disappearing like a ghost). While this may seem bad enough, Haunting is almost worse. This is when the person cuts off contact, but subtly lets you know that they’re watching you, perhaps in the form of a “like” on Facebook or by following your Instagram story and commenting on it. Stalking, anyone?

To be fair, each generation makes its own contributions to pop culture language. The biggest ones from recent decades were “cool” (still used today), “groovy!” (not heard much since the 60s), “Far out, man!” (another 60s holdover), “Dy-no-mite!” from the 70s, “Totally” and “Well, like, duh!” (a couple of 80s California Girl remnants), and “bad” when it also meant “good” (as in “You’re so bad!”). The same with “sick,” and not like “That was really sick, man, like a dream come true!”

To represent the flip side, I have my own list of words that I wish some people would stop using so often: witch hunt; fake news; misinformation; recount; tweet; very, very bad; terrible, terrible thing; biggest, most awesome ever; stolen.

On a final note, I would like to apply a few words to our elected office holders. You can insert whichever names you want.

“I wish our politicians would be more like mugwumps instead of blithering on social media and bombinating on cable news shows.”

Wow, I feel smarter already!

Full Disclosure

I have a confession to make: many of my stories were inspired by personal experiences.

I’m sure you’re as shocked to hear that as I was to admit it. Writers hide behind the disclaimer “This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons or events is unintentional.” If the truth were to be told, how many authors can say that with a straight face while not crossing their fingers?

While it’s basically true in my case, I must concede that many of my characters are composites of people I’ve met. They’re not exact clones, but I’ll take a physical trait or hairstyle from one, a speech pattern from another, an interesting quirk or habit from someone else, mix them all together, and presto—I’ve created a character. The other thing I’ll cop to is when I’m writing a scene, I may have a favorite actor or actress in mind, and will draw on their likeness for inspiration. I just don’t reveal who the model is.

The same is true for many of my plots and situations. Something may happen and I’ll play the “what if” game. I’m reminded of a story about the creation of the classic ‘60s sitcom “Get Smart.” When Mel Brooks and Buck Henry pitched the idea, they said “What if James Bond and Inspector Clouseau had a child together?” Thus was born bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart.

One of my holiday romances, “Mistletoe and Palm Trees,” was inspired by something that happened to me. I had planned a trip to Siesta Key, Florida to do a few book signing appearances and spend a week on the beach. At the last minute, my traveling companion was unable to go, and I took the trip alone. I thought “What if a guy ended up in the Florida Keys alone during the Christmas holidays because his girlfriend broke up with him and he met a woman who left her fiancée at the altar?” That experience was good for a book and a sequel, and it was fun showing these two fractured souls getting together and developing a relationship.

Another romance, “Who Gets the Friends?” resulted from something that happened during the break-up of my marriage several years earlier. I discovered that once we split, some of the so-called mutual friends we had no longer wanted to associate with me. They took sides, and some of them outright ignored me in public. I had to start all over, not only with my life but in making some new friends. This was the plot for my story, and to say I had fun with it is an understatement. Have you heard the phrase “Don’t get mad, get even”?

Many of my spy thrillers and private eye mysteries may not reflect actual personal exploits, but some of the situations in those stories incorporate real events. My private eye mystery “The Other Woman” (Vic Fallon Book Four) is an example. At the beginning of the story, Fallon runs into a politician from his hometown while on a layover in an airport, and the man is murdered shortly after they speak. In my own case, I once had a long wait in Atlanta on my way home from a trip. I saw our state’s Attorney General at a departure gate and we spoke for a few minutes. He wasn’t killed afterward, but again, I played the “what if” game.

The Nick Seven spy thriller “Catch and Release” (Book 5) is another example. I was having lunch at a restaurant with waterfront dining. Many boats were docked nearby, including a yacht. Servers from the restaurant took out food for four people, but I only saw three on board. One of the trays was taken into the cabin where the curtains were closed. “Hmm,” my devious mind thought. “Who’s inside and why don’t they want to be seen? Possibly a celebrity, or a criminal in hiding? Is it someone on a watch list who isn’t supposed to be in the country? Is the person too ill to come out?” That jumpstarted the story and my imagination took over from there.

Some authors throw caution to the wind when they substitute fiction for fact. I know one writer who has made no secret that the main criminal in his political soap opera, named President Ronald Rumpke, might be mistaken for a former officeholder. At least when I picked on that same person in “The Big Fall” (Nick Seven Book 7), I changed the name and physical appearance so I couldn’t be sued. Did this unnamed individual influence the character I created? I’ll plead the fifth.

I’m always amused when someone says “I’d better not wind up as a character in your next book!” It’s also funny when I get asked if a character is based on someone real, or if the sexual exploits were inspired by personal experiences. In both cases, I just smile and remain silent.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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