Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A Courageous Pioneer

Monday, June 4th, 2012

New attorney, Sharon Hansen

Recently, I had the privilege of going to the State Capitol building in Lincoln to attend the ceremony where my friend, Sharon Hansen, was sworn in to practice law in the State of Nebraska and in Federal Court.

This comes a year after she graduated from law school. My husband and I attended the hooding ceremony (graduation), as well. Over one hundred students ended an important phase in their lives eager to begin a new career.

Sharon’s mother and I laughed at the part where the speaker wished the group quick success at passing the Bar Exam and finding a job so they didn’t end up “moving back in with their parents.”

You see, Sharon moved out of her parents’ home to marry husband, Bruce 35 years ago. I was at their wedding, too.

UNO Connection

Sharon and I met in in college. She was a friend of a friend. From our first meeting I knew she was destined to conquer every challenge life dared to throw in her path.

The year was 1974 and Sharon was feminism personified—assertive, competitive, determined. Often, she was the only woman in her business classes. She seemed to like it that way—going head-to-head with men. They respected her intelligence, logic, and tenacity.

From the start, I enjoyed her…

My dad and Raisin

Sense of Humor

The first time she met my parents, she arrived early to pick me up for a Halloween party. She was dressed as a raisin. She’d designed her own costume—black tights and a black garbage bag stuffed with crumpled newspaper. It was cinched at the neck and taped closed at the thighs with black electrical tape.

After quick introductions, she freely shared her experience deflecting the stares from strangers as she’d stopped to fill her gas tank on the way to our house. Her chortles bounced off our kitchen walls. She’s always been the first person to laugh at herself.

My dad never called her anything but “Raisin.”

She was the matron of honor at my first wedding. And my second. She’s godmother to both of our daughters. When Allen and I started our business, Right at Home, Sharon told us that when we were ready to take on investors she wanted her name at the top of the list.

Eventually, we did have need of additional capital to begin franchising Right at Home. After reviewing our business plan, she and Bruce invested and now they share the table with us at our Board of Directors meetings. Even before law school, Sharon always gave wise counsel.

Her Early Careers

Sharon started working for the telephone company during college as a customer service operator taking requests for telephone repairs. She took a break from the company after gaining her undergraduate degree in accounting. Very quickly, she determined a career in accounting wasn’t for her. I suspect the solitary task of crunching numbers didn’t fit her personality. She needed to work among people and create.

She went back to the telephone company and bridged her service.

She was one of the first women who qualified and was selected to become a programmer when COBOL was the operating language. I know she was a pioneer because all her co-workers were men. And so were her mentors.

That’s always been the way. It was two male friends who convinced Sharon to apply to Law School. At age fifty, she studied, took the LSAT, and sent the results to Creighton Law School.

Her application was rejected.

One of her mentors, a graduate of Creighton Law School went to bat for Sharon and spoke to the dean on her behalf. Creighton tested her commitment by offering her admission if she retook the LSAT and received a higher score. She studied, took it again. Her score improved and she joined the freshman class of law students in 2007.

Sharon, her mentors and favorite law school professor

The Silver-Haired Law Student

Because she wanted to ease back into her study habits, Sharon chose the four-year program. As with everything else, Sharon had a plan—to study six days a week. Often, she was in the law library on the seventh day, as well.

She put many of her life activities on hold during that time. For years she’s belonged to a running club called “Ladies of the Evening.” She started running in her 40’s and completed three ½ marathons in her 40’s and 50’s. Although she still worked out at Creighton’s gym several times a week, she suspended her activities with the “ladies.”

I’m sure they missed her.

Two obligations Sharon kept on her schedule were her non-paying positions on both the Sarpy County Board of Adjustment and the Bellevue Planning Commission.

I snatched whatever time I could with Sharon in those four years. Often that meant a quick breakfast at a mid-town diner on a day when she didn’t have class. I could have hung out drinking coffee for two or three hours, but as soon as we’d exchanged news of current life events, she headed to the law library.

I wasn’t angry. I hardly even moped that our friendship had to be put on hold. Because I knew in the end my friend would achieve her goal, be satisfied with her accomplishment and return to me.

Another Hurdle

I’ve never seen her break down and cry, not even when she told me she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. The discovery was made right before finals in her second year of law school. She waited two months before telling me. I suspect it was her way of keeping it together. She was about to fall apart and trash all her hard work. Her lumpectomy, treatment plan, and prognosis were completed before she even told me the diagnosis. Then she couldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t demand it. She chose to tell me at “our” mid-town diner where she knew she couldn’t break down. I didn’t push.

I didn’t worry about her, either. You’d think I might panic at the thought of losing my best friend. But it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t beat cancer. She’d tackled and won every struggle she’d ever undertaken.

Thankfully, Sharon’s cancer is in remission providing her all the opportunity to pursue her next career in the practice of law.

Sharon reading to Kellini

I’ve only seen Sharon shaken one time. We asked her to watch our four-year-old daughter while we went away for the weekend to Louisville, KY to our friend’s 40th birthday party. Sharon picked up Kellini from pre-school convinced that the child wouldn’t eat lunch or dinner because of the Valentine’s candy she’d eaten during the class party. Sharon knew differently when Kellini awoke in the middle of the night vomiting. Sharon called her mother and then my mother (who was watching Kellini’s younger sister, McKenna.)

They were of little help.

Reluctantly, Sharon called me early the next morning and Allen and I hurried home. We were only gone 30 hours. It was the only time I’ve ever seen Sharon flustered. We didn’t blame her though, Kellini WAS sick, as was her sister and they remained sick for the rest of the week. I have no doubt that if Sharon and her husband had chosen parenthood; she would have easily handled Kellini’s illness, as competently as she handles everything else.

The Professors’ Contemporary

Sharon earned the admiration of many of her law professors. She worked for one, proofreading his law text manuscript. Her thoroughness and dedication earned her space on the acknowledgement page.

Another professor encouraged her to compete in mock trials. One team she joined competed at nationals; another team took first in its brief and third in oral argument.

For several spring breaks, Sharon joined a group of students who hiked with another professor in Minnesota and South Dakota. She matched the twenty-three-year-olds step for step.

I only really worried about Sharon once during this phase in her life—when she became so discouraged by the results of her first Bar Exam. She missed the passing cut-off score by one-half of a point. At the encouragement of her professor, Sharon appealed the score, writing and presenting an argument in front of the Nebraska State Bar Commission.

They ruled against her.

Disheartened, Sharon threatened to quit. I honestly didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t want the last few years of study to go to waste, but I knew her disappointments had taken a toll. In the end, all I could do was to offer my support—whatever her decision.

She jumped back into studying for the Bar Exam. Took the test again; this time feeling more relaxed about the process and more optimistic about the outcome.

I was the first person she called when she opened the envelope congratulating her for her success at passing the Bar Exam. We hooted and hollered for ten minutes over the phone.

Sharon and I celebrate

My Heroine

The strong, no-nonsense women of my first novels were all modeled after Sharon Hansen. One so closely matched her life story that I probably need a signed release so her family won’t sue me. If I ever sell that novel, I now know a great attorney who can draw up that release—Sharon—my heroine and my best friend.


Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

When I was a little girl, special time with my mom meant drying the dishes after supper while she washed them. We would chat about the day’s happenings, who I tagged on the playground, whether I would try out for the track team in the hop-skip-jump or the softball throw. We discussed all topics relevant and extremely important to a grade-schooler.

Many times we practiced the multiplication tables or reviewed my spelling list for the week. When I didn’t want my mom to know I hadn’t studied my spelling words, I begged to play the “Opposites Game.”

I think my mom made up the game; I’ll never know for certain. My mother said a word and I said its opposite.

Mom—“What’s the opposite of hot?” Me—“Cold.”

Mom—“Up?” Me—“Down.”

Mom—“Over?” Me—“Under.”

It was my favorite word game because I could always come up with the right answer. North? South. Right? Wrong.

I was Brilliant!

Sometimes, when my mother wasn’t too tired after her long day scrubbing floors at the nursing home, she’d challenge me. “What’s another opposite for the word ‘right’?” she asked one day.

Scientific opposites

I scrunched up my brows in confusion. “What do you mean? There’s only one opposite for right, ‘wrong.’ Right?”

Mom smiled. “I can think of another.”

I thought and thought and asked for a hint.

She motioned a letter in the air. “You write with your right hand… ”

I was only seven and had to process that clue. The homonyms puzzled me. Was it a trick question? I shrugged my shoulders.

Mom continued. “And some other people write with their other hand. Their…”

“Their LEFT hand,” I shouted.

She nodded. “Right!” she said.

TRIUMPH! I was brilliant again.

I learned a lesson that day. Sometimes the opposite of “right” is not “wrong.” A heady lesson for a child. The lesson stayed with me. Sometimes lurking. Sometimes in my face.

A New Millennium—A New Perspective

When my own daughters were young, we had an updated version of “special time.” Dishwashers replaced hand-washing the supper plates. Sometimes the evening meal was taken on the run with burgers from a fast food restaurant. (I know. I shake my head, too.)

Thankfully, we still had plenty of time to talk about life. While commuting. To school. Home again. To after school lessons. Home again. You know the drill.

In the car, I tried to play the Opposites Game with Kellini and McKenna. They loved it. Me? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, they were exceptionally good at it. One of the two always came up with an answer. It’s just that the world seemed more complicated than it was when I was a child. I couldn’t find it in my heart to paint the world in opposites anymore.

For instance, sometimes the opposite of “man” isn’t “woman.” It’s “boy.” The pairing of “husband” isn’t always “wife.” In some families my children knew, the couple consisted of two “husbands.”

I couldn’t tolerate the idea that my children would think the opposite of “black” is “white.” Many people would suggest the world exists in shades of gray, but I believe in a beautiful rainbow of colors.

I’d come to realize from my own experience that sometimes the opposite of “love” is not “hate;” it’s “fear.”

Those realizations took all the fun out of the Opposites Game for me and I didn’t play it after that initial drive with my girls. They were disappointed. I held steadfast and soon made up a different game, called “Holidays” where I jumbled descriptions of holidays and the girls corrected me. Great fun for small children.  Later, I substituted a game where they could learn Spanish vocabulary.

Words Hold Power

I didn’t want to be responsible for setting up dichotomies in a child’s mind. Those are the ideas that stay with a person. Words are powerful. Repeated often enough words shape thoughts and mold attitudes.

It’s best to consider carefully the words we use so we build bridges, not walls between people – or between cultures. It’s dangerous when people believe they live at opposite ends of the world. I’ve traveled enough to know that despite growing up in different climates, continents, societies, or religions, we all love our children the same.

We know there is a whole range of experiences and realities between “success” and “failure.”

It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it, between “trash” and “treasure?” It’s those different perspectives I choose to explore with my children.

All or Nothing

To this day, I struggle with the dichotomy of “all” or “nothing.” As a recovering perfectionist, it’s been a life-long battle for me to adjust my perspective to include the infinite possibilities that aren’t at one end of the spectrum or the other.

HOW much for those jeans?

When Kellini was twelve, she learned not to see things in absolutes. A few short days after Christmas, she wanted to go to a pricy clothing store to shop for jeans. I pointed out that I’d just given her two new pairs of jeans for Christmas. She responded by stating they weren’t the “right” kind of jeans. The ones she wanted were at Abercrombie and Fitch.

Convinced she hadn’t even tried on the jeans and knowing I wasn’t about to spend that kind of money for clothes she would out-grow in six months, I held my ground.

She committed three critical mistakes.

Mistake #1 – Kellini said, “Fine. Then I’ll ask Dad to buy them for me.”

I knew Allen would have my back on that one. I countered with, “How many times has your dad reversed my decisions?”

Kellini snorted and rolled her eyes. (The answer was “zero.”)

Mistake #2—Kellini said, “You NEVER buy me anything!” She punctuated that with Mistake #3. She slammed her bedroom door.

I sighed, made myself a cup of tea, and planned…

Kellini’s Lesson

For three months I made Kellini’s statement “you NEVER buy me anything” a truism.

When we went to the grocery store and she slipped something into the cart that only she enjoyed, I sighed and shook my head and pretended I was as tortured as she. “Kellini, your sister and I don’t drink Diet Coke. Since I NEVER buy you anything, you’ll have to put that back on the shelf.”

The scenario played out several times in that long, three-month period until her birthday in April.

It was as much a lesson for me as it was for her. I came to realize just how much I spoiled that girl. Younger sister, McKenna, learned from Kellini’s mistake and never made that same error.

All I had to do to get the girls to rephrase their “always” or “never” declaration was to sigh and ask, “Do you really want me to make that a true statement?”

“Good” vs. “Bad”

Another seemingly contradictory idea is “good” and “bad.” How often have I labeled a situation using one of those words? A “bad” day, a “good” critique, “bad” traffic, a “good” meeting. As if declaring it one way or another made it so.

It’s possible to tag anything with those terms: medical test results, an association with someone or something. It’s even acceptable to label PEOPLE that way. She’s a bad student. He’s a bad… “fill-in-the-blank.”

For many years I’ve studied a philosophy that asks me to see all things as “good.” All experiences and relationships have value. The most valuable lessons are wrapped in discomfort or pain. While not easy, I’ve grown the most from difficult experiences as long as I can find ways to appreciate them.

Putting Theory into Practice

Maybe that’s how Allen and I have stayed good friends, business partners, and co-parents for these past 10 years.

People often ask, “How do you do that?”

I’ve heard several versions of “Do you know how rare it is to get along with your ex?” and “I could NEVER do that.”

For once, Allen and I chose differently from the “all” or “nothing.” We had too many people counting on us. Too many common links. Two wonderful daughters. Two loving extended families. Many friends in common. Two growing businesses.

Cake and ice cream. Yummy!

We were committed to making our divorce work.

We shifted our focus to our children. We told them they didn’t have to choose “mom” or “dad.” In fact, because they were only 8 and 10 years old, we framed it in a familiar way. For their birthday, they didn’t have to choose “cake” or “ice cream.” We explained, on special occasions they could have both. Both desserts. Both parents present.

It was easy, really. We thought of what was best for the children. Together, as parents, we attended after-school sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, high school orientation, college visits. Together, as a family, we celebrated birthdays, Christmases, and graduations.

In 1997, I wrote and Allen delivered the eulogy at the memorial services for my older brother. Some years later, even though we were no longer married, we repeated our roles for the funerals of my younger brother and my mother. I couldn’t have imagined things any other way.

Even Weddings

Coincidentally, within months, Allen and I remarried different people five years ago. Each of us wanted small weddings—only the girls, and essential family members.

Yes, we attended each other’s wedding. In fact, with the exception of his mother at his wedding and one step-daughter and two grandkids at my wedding, we were the only people in attendance. Our daughters were our witnesses.

Wedding of Alden and Teryl

Allen chose an amazing woman in his current wife, Vivian. I chose an equally amazing person to be my husband, Alden.

Our spouses understand it doesn’t have to be “all” or “nothing.” Marriage or divorce. Love or hate.

We respect one another. Support one another. Take up the slack when necessary. The children benefit when both sets of parents, both families get along.

We ALL benefit. We make that an absolute and true statement every day.

Time Travel

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

From the time my teacher read us Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I’ve been spellbound by the concept of time travel.  Not only did my eleven-year-old self find the idea enticing, I wanted to do it.  Every day.  Then.  Now.  And forever.

H.G. Wells’ book The Time Machine introduced a possible means.   How cool would it be to climb into a machine, select a specific moment in time, pull a lever, and—whoosh—arrive there in the beat of a hummingbird’s wing?

Revisit the past or zoom ahead in time?

In childhood, I sometimes imagined my sandals slapping against a well-worn path in the jungle as I carried water to our family’s hut in seventeenth century Cameroon.   (I never set limits for time or place in my day dreams.)  Other times, I’d be suctioned along tunnels through space to planets in other galaxies.  These future cities were filled with glass skyscrapers ringed by metal landing ports for personal space shuttles.

Later, I became addicted to anything written by Rod Serling.  He often fooled with folding time and space in on itself for the plots of his “Twilight Zone” television series.  I remember one simple story where a young brother and sister escaped their bickering parents through the bottom of their modern-day swimming pool.  They resurfaced in a pond one hundred years in the past.  They’d entered a simpler era when collecting enough apples for a pie was the toughest assignment any child faced.

How does time travel work? 

I want to understand it all.  No matter how many books, movies, and discussions I have, I can never pin down answers to important questions.

Back to the Future--1985

If I travel back in time, could I meet my mom when she was a teenager like Marty McFly did in “Back to the Future?”  Could I stay long enough to convince her never to smoke cigarettes?

Could I leave a letter for my future parents?  Could it include a financial tip like one character gives to another in the movie, “Frequency?”  The police officer, played by dreamy Jim Caviezel, instructs his 10-year-old childhood buddy to remember the key word “Yahoo.”

Better that I travel further back to leave a note for my parents urging them to buy Berkshire Hathaway stock when the price per share is less than the cost of a new car.   It’s doable, right?

I’m not the only person fascinated by the topic.  Hollywood has made numerous movie versions of Wells’ story.  My favorite is the 1960 film with Rod Taylor playing the lead.  Running second is 2002’s adaptation starring Guy Pearce, because of his romantic motivation for using the machine.  I didn’t care much for the 1979 version, “Time After Time.” The premise of Jack the Ripper skipping through time to escape capture was too dark.

I liked how Robert Zemeckis changed the traditional mode of transportation to a DeLorean in “Back to the Future.”  I thought 2004’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” took things too far.  That version was crass.  I’d buy a ticket to see the star, John Cusack, read a grocery list, but I wouldn’t recommend this movie.

Why Make the Quantum Leap?

In 1966, there was a short-lived television series called “The Time Tunnel.”  The pilot episode sent the heroes back to April 14, 1912 to try to prevent the sinking of the Titanic.  They failed.  Of course.

Why don’t writers understand plots that use time travel to change catastrophic past events don’t work?  Why do they fail?  Because the audience knows the ending!  If the writer changes an infamous, historical event so the mission succeeds, the audience will heave the book or DVD against a wall.  No hero, no matter how powerful, is going to save Lincoln, JFK, or prevent the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  At least, not in my lifetime.  Unless….???

Somewhere in Time--1980

I especially like movies where a time shift happens in the name of love—like in “Kate and Leopold,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and “The Lake House.”  What do the poets say?  Love transcends time.  I believe it.

“Groundhog Day” gives its main character all the time he needs to change from an egotistical jerk to a likable hero, deserving of love.  The movie’s writer/director, Harold Ramis, believes Bill Murray’s character is stuck in Punxsutawney between ten and forty years, although if you count (and I’ve tried) February 2 repeats 34 times on screen.  Yet, it would take several years to reach mastery of the piano and befriend all the town residents.  Phil accomplished both feats by the end of the movie.

The Language of Spirit Conference

Leroy Little Bear

In August 2010, I attended a three-day Time Travel conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was hosted by members of the Navajo Nation.  I went because I wanted to learn how to shuttle through centuries without using a special machine.  I expected to gain insight into the Native culture.  I hoped I’d hear stories of shape shifting, as well.

The 12th Annual International Language of Spirit Conference was amazing in all aspects.  Leroy Little Bear, former director of Native studies at Harvard, facilitated.  The Inner Circle (the speakers) was comprised of over two dozen Native American elders, theoretical physicists, and linguists.  They engaged in deep dialogue about many underlying principles of Time, not from an adversarial point of view, but out of mutual respect.

I joined over seventy other meeting participants in the Outer Circle.  Our role was to listen and learn.  Over the three-day conference, less than six members of the Outer Circle were invited to ask a question. Their participation was restricted to a special dialogue session.

I’d be lying if I said I understood or remember even half of what the physicists said about Newtonian, relativity, quantum, or string theories as they relate to Time.  I’m probably demonstrating my profound ignorance just trying to explain the scientists’ efforts.

I fared better understanding what the linguists said, since they discussed how the syntax of our grammar still demands beginnings, middles, and ends in our communications and that process significantly influences (limits) our perception of Time.

I learned that for Indigenous societies, bi-location, teleportation, shape shifting, and time travel are not only possible; they were once considered commonplace.  These experiences are sacred in the Native culture, and vivid details of those occurrences are rarely shared.

I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the conference format.  I’d hoped for a reality show, “tell-all” forum, but only one Native person talked about traveling back in time to a previous life, and how in doing so, she’d relived a harrowing event on the prairie.  She spoke of the incident with profound reverence and gratitude.

Cynthia Sue Larson

A Kindred Spirit

Cynthia Sue Larson, a physicist and intuitive life coach, (also from the Inner Circle) detailed a visit she once had from her future self.  Cynthia is one of the main reasons I had decided to attend the conference.  I’ve been following her work for many years through her newsletter, found at  My discussions with her over breakfast and at breaks were so insightful.  Meeting her made the trip a complete success for me.  It was a great pleasure talking with her.  She is the gentle, down-to-earth, enlightened soul I’ve always imagined she would be.

If only I could truly master time travel, I’d return over and over again to August 2010 to re-experience the three-day Language of Spirit Conference.  I’d listen more intently, each time soaking in more scientific information and more understanding of Native culture.

And I would write down Leroy Little Bear’s jokes.  I could fill an entire blog with his subtle humor.

Let’s Start a Discussion

Tell me –Where and when would you travel in your Time Machine?

Here is Cynthia’s blog about meeting her future self.

You can learn more about the this year’s Language of Spirit Conference at the following link.


Let the chills run through you as you listen to the opening of the “Twilight Zone.”

Does Your But Look Big?

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

I’m a writer, so it’s no surprise that I love words. I love long words like “onomatopoeia.” Short words like “we.” Active words like “scamper.” Passive words—well, they are sometimes necessary in writing, but they’re not my favorites. I do like the word “is” and sometimes I use it too much. I love concrete nouns like “toddler.” And active verbs like “whispered.”

Even saying “whisper” is fun. Try it. Now. Go ahead.

I’m waiting. Say it out loud, but not too loud. Whisper it. “Whisper.” It’s soft and airy. I dare that word to be anything but gentle.

The Spelling Bee


I used to be a great speller. Consistently, I was one of the top two students left standing in Mrs. Cudley’s fifth grade spelling bee. Steven Stiles was my keen opponent. I even learned to spell “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” just in case the teacher pitched it to us as a tie-breaker.

You stopped reading at Mrs. Cudley’s name, didn’t you? I swear that was my teacher’s name. She was a hoot. She’d prop her hip on a student’s desk and tell us the most hilarious stories. Fifth-grade humor isn’t easy for an adult to master, but Mrs. Cudley was an expert. Yep, she was funny AND she knew how to build volcanoes that really erupted. No wonder Mrs. Cudley was everyone’s favorite teacher. Did you notice how much I love typing Mrs. Cudley’s name and it’s even more fun to shout. From the back of the room. While waving an eager hand in the air. Stiff-armed.  Which I often did.

I say I used to be a great speller because my brain mutinied when I began studying Spanish in the eighth grade. So many Spanish words are similar to their English counterparts and sometimes I’m confused—for a moment—on which language I’m using and which spelling is correct.

Take the word, commence—English for “to begin.” In Spanish, the word is “comenzar.” To say “she begins her class at 8” in Spanish is “Comence la clase a las ocho .”

See what I mean about the confusion? Commence and comence? Even as I typed that last phrase, spellcheck corrected commence. Drat! It did it again!

I don’t usually curse spellcheck because it helps more often than it frustrates me, but honestly, couldn’t it just once give up correcting me when I string together more than three words it doesn’t understand? I’m writing Spanish, for Pedro’s sake. Don’t you see? Instead, I get the red squiggly lines under the Spanish words.

Red—the editor’s stop sign. Red—it always means “You’re WRONG. STOP. FIX THIS.”

This takes me to a topic that might be interesting to people who don’t manipulate words for a living. You people who don’t have multiple characters living in your heads.

I’m talking about the overuse of the word “but.”

I deliberately used “but” several times in the initial paragraphs.  Did you notice?  It’s a necessary word to link contradictory clauses in a sentence. Too heavy for the non-word-nerds?

I’ll break it down.

Take the statement I used above when I asked you to repeat “Whisper.” I wrote, “Say it out loud, but not too loud.” It’s a pretty benign statement, right? “But” is part of the instructions. However, you probably didn’t feel pushed around or insulted by the “but.”

Who caught the fact I used “however” as a synonym for “but?”

In space, no one can hear you scream

How about this statement muttered in horror movies? “Scream all you want, but no one will hear you.”

Ooh, I just shivered. But not as much as I shuddered the first time I heard this line from a popular movie, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

In the first movie line example, the word “but” weakens the fear factor.

Watch your but…

The word “but” can get you into a lot of trouble if you’re not careful. I’m thinking of the scene where the poor husband is caught off-guard by his wife returning from the hair salon. When pressed, he answers, “Sure, I like your new hair color, but it’s a little too orange.”

Seriously? Does the man really think his wife won’t be insulted? The “but” used here negates his comment about liking the hair color in the first place. She’s not stupid and he won’t get away with that attempt to soften his comment. Because he used the word “but.”

What if he said instead, “Hmm, your hair is the same shade as my basketball and you know how much I love shooting hoops with the guys. In fact, that’s where I’m headed now.”

He might get away with it.

Try on this statement, “Daisy is a good girl, but she’s such a tramp.”

See the contradiction? Can Daisy really be both? The “but” totally reverses the first clause. Better just to call a tramp a tramp and be done with it.

Parental Guidance

Parents sound very wishy washy when they pepper their statements with “buts.” Like when the mother says, “Of course you can go to the mall with Tiffany, but only after you clean your room.” Her teenager shot out the door right after she heard the first two words.

It’s better when the mother takes control of the situation from the outset. No “buts” about it. She should say, “Clean your room first.” Teenagers only listen to the first few words their parents speak. Make them count.

And while we’re on the subject of teenagers, you should know that they have their own version of “but.” It’s the phrase “I’m just sayin’.” It sounds like this, “Sure, I like your hair. I’m just sayin’ it’s a little too orange.” Most of the time, the phrase “I’m just sayin’” is accompanied with a hand held up in the air to stop any sass back.

“In my opinion” and “just so you know” are interchangeable phrases for “but,” “however,” and “I’m just sayin’.”

You can use the word “but” and any of its synonyms anytime you want, but if I were you, I’d be careful.

Using “but” willy-nilly works; I’m just sayin’, it’s better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Fill up your intimate conversations with all the “buts” you want, just so you know the consequences.

Try this instead

Imagine all the “buts” you use in conversations have red squiggly lines beneath them. Stop. Examine the comment to see if it’s really what you mean to say. Do you really want to negate the first part of your comment?

Like in the comment, “I really enjoyed your blog, Terry, but I didn’t understand the point you were trying to make.”

Try the word “and” instead. Or make your comments two separate statements. “I like your new hair color. It’s so orange.”

Just like Lucille Ball.

Romance with a Side of Bacon

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I won’t apologize; I love country music. My grandfather, Leck Sammons, used to play and sing in a band. Back then, they called the genre “Country/Western.” Sadly, I only heard Leck play once, when he grabbed my six-string Gibson, propped his boot heel on our kitchen chair, and crooned a short ballad.

Seven years ago, a man I dated introduced me to the new country music. He played guitar and sang in a local band. Come to think of it, he looked a little bit like Leck.

I like many popular country artists today. Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood—I can’t possibly name all my favorites.

My husband and I saw Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, in concert when they opened their Soul2Soul 2007 Tour in Omaha. The concert broke sales records in the Midwest. I suspect that was due to a combination of musical talent, stage presence, and their unique love story.

Reba McEntire

Reba McEntire is a marvelous story-teller. She’s an amazing, multi-talented woman. Singer. Song writer. Television star and producer. Stage/ screen actress. Entrepreneur. Author. I really respect that she shows the world how accomplished and hot a woman our age can be. Yes, we were born the same year.

I especially enjoy songs whose lyrics weave a story. If the story is a boy-meets-girl tale, and ends happily-ever-after, so much the better.

One of my all-time favorite romantic songs dates back to 1975. The hit, “The Old Home Filler-Up-An’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Café” was written by C.W. McCall (Bill Fries) and Chip Davis, the genius behind Omaha’s own Mannheim Steamroller.

The Keep on Truckin' Shuffle

The song tells the autobiographical story about an over-the-road truck driver (C.W.) whose best friend and traveling buddy is his dog, Slone. One day, C.W. meets a waitress, Mavis Davis, who serves him a BLT and captures his heart.

It brings a tear to my eye each time I read the lyrics and listen to the music.

This is C.W.’s description of his lady love. “This girl’s built like a burlap bag full of bobcats; she’s got it to-gether.”

Finally, he works up the courage to ask Mavis out. “How’d ya like to go for a ride with me and old Sloan: I just had my truck warshed.”

Yep, he said washed with an “r.”

Her answer?

“She allowed as how it sounded like a whole lot of fun. But we was gonna have ta wait until the dishes was done. And was it all right with me if she brought along her mother as a chaperone?”


The music builds at this point. Races, like the pace of a well-written novel.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But, it IS a romance, so of course, they live happily ever after.

Some people say romance novels are formulaic. The plots are all the same: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Sometimes the roles are reversed and the girl does all the work.

I’ll argue that opinion in a future blog.

I write mysteries which don’t have to have a happy ending. They are supposed to have at least one dead body, many suspects, twists and turns, and a climatic ending that reveals the murderer.

In a future essay, I’ll explain the nuances between the types of mysteries—the sub-genres. You won’t want to miss that riveting blog.

Back to my point.

I love romance stories. Some of my best friends write romance novels. I wouldn’t be published today if not for the help of the Romance Writers of America and, specifically, the generous support of the women of RWA’s local chapter, the Heartland Writers Group.

While, I write mysteries, there is always a romantic element to round out the book. Like in real life, good, fleshed-out relationships add dimension to the characters, connecting the reader with the story.

In my Harmony Hills series, the widow Kay Powers (age 71) falls for a much younger man, Detective John Vendetti (age 61.) The age difference fills Kay with doubt. However, most of her angst comes from the fact that she hasn’t had a first date since Jimmy Carter was president.

Her dilemma also sets up some pretty funny situations.

I wrote Kay’s feelings straight from the heart. Eight years ago, when I returned to the dating scene, I was younger than Kay (age 49,) but my insecurities were just as real. In Still Kickin’, I translated some of my own anxiety into Kay’s reactions to Vendetti’s romantic pursuit. Like in my own experiences, Kay’s uncertainty leads to some comedic moments.

You might wonder how much of my own experiences I put into the book. I’m not telling. I will say… I write fiction. And good fiction is always an exaggeration of life.

One last point.

I like following celebrity romances. There are so many dynamic couples in the country music industry. Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, the late Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash. In real life, there’s not always a happy ending. The marriage of George Jones and Tammy Wynette ended in


Faith Hill & Tim McGraw

That never happens in a true romance novel.

When Tim McGraw and Faith Hill took the stage together on that summer evening in 2007, there wasn’t an empty seat in the auditorium. Their chemistry electrified the arena. Their love—expressed through their music—brought the crowd to its feet.

See how the romance of Kay Powers and Detective John Vendetti begins in Still Kickin’—a Harmony Hills Mystery. Due out in late March, 2012.

Old Home Rolls

Here’s some trivia. The song of C.W. McCall’s romance with Mavis Davis played out in regionalized television commercials. I enjoyed them in Omaha during the mid-1970s.

The product advertised? Old Home Bread. Check out the YouTube video below. The video’s grainy, but the audio’s great.

Old Home Filler Up and Keep on A-Truckin’ Café.

I have the URLs for RWA and the Heartland Writers Group on my Links page.

Until next time…Keep on Truckin’.


Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Fred and Barney? Some characters’ names are self-explanatory. Others require contemplation.

My blog, THE NAME GAME, explained how my father named me after a character in a Zane Grey western. The character, Terrill Lambeth, carried the name of her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

This is how Grey described the event on the first page of West of the Pecos.

“The baby came and it was a girl. This disappointment was the second of Lambeth’s life, and the greater. Lambeth never reconciled himself to what he considered a scurvy trick of fate….He never changed the name Terrill. And though he could not help loving Terrill as a daughter, he exulted in her tomboy tendencies…”

I don’t want to imply that my gender disappointed my father. It didn’t. I had an older brother already and my dad had hoped for a girl. He called me his “little princess.”

Grey sets up Templeton’s motivation to raise his daughter to have the strength and courage expected of a man. She needs to be as tenacious as a man to save the family’s Texas ranch.

(No arguments, please. I agree with you about those qualities being equally present in men and women. Grey wrote within the parameters set by the social culture of his time. Forgive him.)

Do you see how giving Terrill a man’s name sets the reader’s expectations? With a man’s name, she must be as strong and daring as any male hero.

Let me give some more examples of crafty character naming.

Movie Characters, Daisy Buchanan & Jay Gatsby

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Characters, Jordan Baker & Nick Carraway

If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby by the American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, I highly recommend it. Or rent the 1974 movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s a bonus to see Redford in his prime. He’s dreamy even in the pink suit costume designer, Edith Head used for the movie’s tense climactic scene.

Of course, the book is better than the movie.

Fitzgerald chooses names wisely to reflect his characters’ personalities. I’ll examine three.

We know little about Jay Gatsby, the New York millionaire who gives lavish parties, but never attends them. Some say he was a war hero. Some say, a murderer.


By the end of the book, we discover Gatsby had been born poor and made his fortune illegally as a bootlegger, all to impress Daisy, the wealthy, society woman he lost and wants to win back.

We learn from Gatsby’s father that Jay was born James Gatz. (His father called him Jimmy.) The fact that he changed his name aligns well with his goal to reinvent himself. Lengthen your last name, shorten the first name and, voila—you’re a new man. It’s interesting Fitzgerald didn’t even give Gatsby an entire first name. The initial “J” is more mysterious, don’t you think?

I saw the Gatsby movie in the summer of 1974 in Iowa City, IA. I was visiting my friend, Pam Lyons. We had been editors together on the Benson High News. A freshman, she was studying Journalism at the University of Iowa. The U of I is home of the famous creative writing program—the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

After the movie, Pam and I grabbed a Pepsi for our critique. We were just two literature nerds discussing the foreshadowing, symbolism, and character names. Good times.

Here’s where my memory has played tricks on me. Pam was taking a German class and we looked up the name Gatz and Gatsby in her German dictionary. (Yeah, that’s what writing geeks do.) I could have sworn that we had discovered one of the renditions meant “host” in German. Today, when I Googled “Gatz/Gatsby” to fact-check, I couldn’t confirm that definition.

So, if anyone has a German dictionary or is fluent in German, drop me a line. It would be great to know if I have a faulty memory or whether I’m just fictionalizing again.

If Gatz/Gatsby does mean “host,” it’s a perfect name for the character.

Daisy Buchanan is Jay Gatsby’s one true love. The name makes perfect sense. Daisy is a summer flower, delicate, beautiful. Just like the character. By the end of the summer—in real life and in the book—Daisy is lost. Until another season.

Jordan Baker is Daisy’s wild friend. Daisy wants Nick, (her cousin and Gatsby’s only friend) to get involved with Jordan. Timelessly beautiful, Jordan is a professional golfer, who isn’t beyond cheating to get what she wants. She plays life fast and loose.

1909 Baker Runabout

It’s rumored that Fitzgerald combined the name of two popular car companies to form the character’s name.

Jordan Motor Company produced a model called the Playboy, projecting the image to support the woman’s “fast” reputation.

Baker Motor Vehicles provided automobiles for the White House fleet, promoting the image of the character’s elegance and high social standing.

I tend to simplify the symbolism in the names I choose for my characters.

Amanda Cash is the heroine in Luck of the Draw. She needs money. Doesn’t have enough. Gets to decide who deserves $200 million that an anonymous lottery winner wants to give away.

For my Harmony Hills series, I get to use names from my mother’s generation. I love this opportunity. Simply, love it!

Kay Powers—I want her have a strong name.

Vita Orsi—She’s Italian. Vita means “life” and she’s sure full of that.

Audrey Campbell—I want to invoke the grace and softness of Audrey Hepburn. Then I turn that image on its ear by dressing her in Gothic black corsets and fingerless, leather gloves.

Here are a couple of resources on my bookshelf.

100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky

Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I also like to run a name through this website to check the description.

Take a minute to look up your name. Does the meaning match your personality?

For more information about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for creative writing, here’s the link.

Until next time…

Read some fiction. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

Beginning the Journey

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Sometimes, people ask me how I got started writing fiction, professionally. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. You can read about the birth of my passion in the blog: FROM DREAMS TO REALITY, February 29, 2012.

The Mighty Benson Bunny

I wrote for my high school newspaper, the Benson High News.  I’ll be forever grateful to my journalism teacher, Mr. Gunnar Horn, for selecting me, in my senior year, to be co-editor of the Feature Page.  I happily shared that privilege with Doug Nelson.  (Thanks again, Doug for covering my assignments the week I was laid up with a judo injury.)

As editor, it was my job to fill Page Two of the four-page paper with compelling articles.  Not the editorials; that was Randy Wright’s job.  My mission wasn’t to dig for the hard news, either.  That was News Editor, Barb Boyer’s job.  I was tasked with rounding out the edition with softer, human interest stories.

Mr. Horn hoped for articles about interesting hobbies the teachers had, or maybe a biography of a heroic janitor.  What he got, were my essays.  Fiction.  I didn’t officially get my own column, but I did get a byline.  I published my musings, disguised as human interest stories.

Many times, Mr. Horn assigned Bill Shaffer to illustrate my feature articles.  I liked working on those issues because Bill is a talented artist, and because his graphics took up space for which I didn’t have to scrounge written material.

The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett

At that time, there were two newspapers in Omaha.  The daily was the Omaha World-Herald.  (Now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.)  The defunct, weekly paper was the Omaha Sun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper owned by… Warren Buffett.  This smaller publication was broken into neighborhood editions. The edition delivered to my house was called the Benson Sun.

The Teen Beat page appeared in the Benson Sun.  It held news articles written by teens, for teens.  I vividly remember the most popular teen girls wrote one particular column.  The entire article was paragraph after paragraph of the names of the couples dating that week—Marcia Duncan ‘n’ John Bowenkamp; Barb Decker ‘n’ Jim Fullerton; Jodie Fratt ‘n’ Jim Young.

The clever editors at the Omaha Sun made a contraction of the word “and” to save column inches.  See how “Mickey ‘n’ Minnie; Jack ‘n’ Jill” takes up less space than “Mickey and Minnie; Jack and Jill?”  BTW, it was a precursor to modern-day texting.

But I digress.  Hang with me, I’m about to make this relevant.  Not to you, but to me.

I suspect, to compete with The Teen Beat, every other Friday, the Omaha World-Herald reprinted articles published in high school newspapers.  Many times the editors reduced the copy, abridged the reports, but not always.  At least that was my experience when they reprinted several of my feature articles—giving me full credit—in their “big city” newspaper.

My parents were proud.  I felt honored.

My point being, I was “published” by the time I was seventeen, albeit, no money exchanged hands.

I took one journalism class in college which convinced me I wasn’t cut out to be a reporter.  I believed there were no viable career options for an English major, except to teach, so I eschewed that path, as well.  I went a totally different direction—I majored in Spanish.


In hindsight, I realize that I took the same number of composition, literature, and speech classes an English major would have taken, but I did all those things in Spanish.  Ole!  My goal was to work in a multi-national corporation.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I began my career in adult training and development.  It (kind of/sort of) gave me the opportunity to create.  At least, I earned money by writing.  My self-instructional, computer-based training programs taught sales associates how to book hotel reservations.  The text wasn’t as glamorous as a novel by Fitzgerald, but I always sprinkled fun scenarios into the skill exercises I produced.

Here’s a sad fact.  During a fifteen-year period at the start of my career, I didn’t read recreationally.  If I had any time after work, I spent it reading non-fiction books, business journals, self-help magazines, and newspapers.  Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a good mystery or romantic comedy.  I just didn’t use my time that way.

Isn’t that a shame?  I wonder how many young people, hungry to climb the career ladder, did (and still do) the same thing?

Then, one day, after co-founding a company and co-founding a family, I woke up to find myself out of a job and out of a marriage.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina!  These were very healthy changes.

A friend, Margery, invited me to visit her in Coos Bay, Oregon for an extended weekend.  I went.  Neither of us had much money and she had planned some activities that didn’t cost much or were free.

My first night in Oregon, we went to a church for a free, public meeting to hear an author from Portland read from her current, published mystery.  Margery had thought she needed to entice me by mentioning the complimentary cookies and punch.  But she had me at “author.”

NY Times Best-Selling Author, April Henry

As it turned out, the author, April Henry, didn’t read from her book.  She did, however, talk about the craft of writing and how she adjusted her schedule to accommodate her creative passion.  I was struck by her approachability, warmth, and humor.  She seemed like an ordinary person, not at all intimidating.  When I chatted with her after the lecture, I didn’t feel like I was conversing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but rather my next door neighbor.

Of course, Margery and I both bought copies of April’s book, Circles of Confusion.  For three evenings, we read her mystery, in our separate rooms, and compared notes in the morning.

April Henry made writing a novel look so easy that I ran right home and finished composing my first mystery in eight weeks.

Proud as I could be, I gave it to all my friends to critique.  Not!  I should say, my close friends teased, pulled, and then finally yanked it out of my tight fists.

My author colleagues agree: It’s scary to show a first manuscript to anyone.  What if they don’t like your production, your baby?

A quick eight years and four rejected manuscripts later, I published Luck of the Draw.

This is what I learned.

1)    Always take the opportunity to sample free cookies and punch.  You might fall into a new career.

2)    Treat yourself to a fictional read.  You’re worth it.

3)    A successful anyone—writer, painter, baker, teacher, mom—makes it look easy.  That’s because she’s mastered her craft and loves what she’s doing.

4)    Publishing a book does not mean you’re “home free.”  You still need to continue polishing your craft and studying the publishing business.

5)    Mastery takes a lot of practice.  That’s not so insightful, but it’s true in all professions.  I have a little magnet on my desk lamp.  It was given to me by a colleague in the Heartland Writers Group.  It says, “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”

Inspriational quote for a writer

Don’t you love lists?  Here’s another one.

For more info about writing fiction, check out

1)     April Henry’s website.  Thank you, April for your inspiration.

2)    Romance Writers of America

3)    Heartland Writers Group


Do yourself a favor today and choose something fictional to read.  Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

Did I make that line up?  Or did someone else?  I read and write so much, sometimes I forget.  If you know that answer, let me know.


Thank you, Darrell Klein for posting this link to the archives for the Benson High News.  Go Bunnies!

The Name Game

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with my name. My paternal grandparents, whom I saw often, proudly called me Teryl or Teryl Diane. Not because of anything I did to deserve admiration, although I was a pretty amazing kid. They liked the name because their son tagged me with it.

Author Zane Grey

My dad named me after the heroine in a Zane Grey western he’d read as a boy. West of the Pecos was copyrighted in 1931 and reprinted in 1938, when my father was eleven. It is part of the five-book collection he received for his birthday or Christmas. I assume it came from his parents, or possibly his Aunt Irene, as she doted on him. She had more money than my grandparents, but that’s not saying much since my father grew up in the Depression. Most everyone my family knew lived hand to mouth. How the books became his “library” is pure speculation since there is no surviving relative with whom I can verify my assumptions.

Notice how I used quotation marks around “library?” It’s a writing device to catch the reader’s attention. Did it work?

These five Zane Grey novels, which proudly sit on my shelf, were the only books my father ever owned as a boy.

Impossible to imagine, right?

Getting back to my love/hate relationship. Everyone called me Teryl through kindergarten. On the initial day of first grade, tragedy erupted. This is how I remember the scene.

Teacher: “Is James Miller in the room?”

James: “Here.”

Teacher: “Debra Moore?”

Debra: “Present.”

Teacher: “T..Te..Ter…Turtle.. Tur-rell Myers”

You can see why the children laughed and I cringed.

Embarrassed, I clarified it for her. Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated often as most people have never run across my unique moniker. I don’t want people to feel stupid if they mispronounce my name, so I try to preempt the embarrassment.

Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. Everybody knows a Cheryl.

For a while, in the last decade, I joined some dating services. I wanted potential suitors to be surprised, a little jolted, definitely intrigued by my unusual name. I hoped to stand out in the crowd. I updated my mantra to sound more alluring. “Teryl rhymes with Meryl—as in Meryl Streep.” Imagine my sexy impersonation of the great actress—in say, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Teryl, as in Meryl—Meryl Streep.

I never want to leave a reader hanging, so let me finish the story of poor Turtle Myers. The teacher gained control of the raucous six-year-olds with a firm, “Settle down, now.”

Snickers lingered.

My parents, Clarence and Frances Myers. I'm there, too.

On the spot, I made up my nickname, “Terry.”

You might think it odd that I chose the boy’s spelling of the name. I didn’t know any better. Most girls, as I soon discovered, spell the name with an “i” –Teri or Terri. After several people pointed that out, shame forced me to switch the spelling to Terrie. That iteration lasted the first semester of third grade.

I could tell you that I’d cleverly extracted the “y” from Teryl for my nickname. At six years old, I wasn’t that shrewd. I spelled it that way because my mother spelled her nickname with a “y.” My mom, Frances Jeraldean Myers, had been nicknamed “Jerry.” (That’s a story for later.)

Over the years, a few friends have called me Teryl, and I like it, but most people call me Terry. I sat in a quandary for months trying to figure out what name to use for publication. Terry or Teryl? Or maybe a pseudonym.? For a while, I spent more time trying to decide on my pen name than I did writing the book of my heart.

One friend, Joe Lipsey, suggested the nom de plume, “Palmer Grayson,” because he thought it sounded very sophisticated, gender neutral, and could work with whatever genre I finally decided to write—romance or mystery. I hadn’t chosen one yet. (Yes, I was at that confusing stage of writing.)

Another friend, Ann Adams, suggested I use “Mya Dane” – cleverly crafted from my maiden name, Myers, and my middle name, Diane. It sounded like a perfect pseudonym until I Googled it and found a porn star had already snagged the name for her professional use.

The same witty friend also suggested the pseudonym, Stephen King, since that author had suspended (temporarily, thank God) his writing career.

When push came to shove, and I’d finally found a publishing home for my first novel, Luck of the Draw, I had to make a decision on the name for the cover. My author name. To be recorded forever in the Library of Congress. On my first book.

To honor my father, I chose Teryl. To honor my husband, I chose Oswald.

For this essay, I Googled famous Teryls. None. A quick search of all derivations found Terrell Owens and Terrell Thomas. Both professional football players.

Read the book West of the Pecos. You’ll discover the heroine, Terrill, (as it was spelled in the novel) was named after her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

I had never come face to face with another Teryl (male or female) until recently when I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of Terryl’s Flower Garden in Omaha, Nebraska. I felt a kindred spirit despite the fact she spells her name with two “r’s”. I told her the story of how my father chose my name. She admitted, amazingly, Zane Grey was her favorite novelist when she was young. Check out her beautiful floral work.

There was a popular song released in 1964 called “The Name Game,” written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase. Shirley Ellis recorded it.

Come on, you remember it. Sing along.

The name game!


Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!


Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

My brothers and I played the Name Game on car trips with our folks. We would start with our own names –Steve, Terry, Tim, and then insert a variety of first names. We laughed and feigned innocence when a “naughty” rhyme echoed throughout the 1966 Pontiac.

What’s in a name? A lot, as you can see.

One of my favorite parts of writing is choosing the characters’ names. Successful naming is important because it helps to develop the reader’s image of the character. A carefully chosen name helps to determine the emotion the reader feels for the character.

I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog. And by the way, the baby name book I use to research character names reports that “Teryl” means “Thunder Ruler.”

Yep. That’s me.

Until then…choose something fictional to read. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

I found “The Name Game” lyrics on the following website. Thank you, very much, Digital Dream Door.

I credit Wikipedia for the photo of Zane Grey.

All That and More

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In casual situations, I think in terms of linked clichés. When I’m talking with my neighbors, my dentist, and my family, clichés spill from my mouth like water over a dam.

As a professional writer, I spend hours and considerable effort to compose fresh narrative, vivid descriptions, and snappy dialog. I strive to use concrete nouns and active verbs, but it’s not something that comes naturally. I admire those authors who think clearly, write quickly, and speak as elegantly as they write.

I’m just not one of them.

Recently, I wrote a rather firm, but professional email to a business group of which I’m a member. Mulling their reactions in my head, I found myself getting more than a little worked up, wondering if the organization would rue the day they had elected me to their Board of Directors. Although I would never throw in the towel, leaving the group in the lurch, to change horses in mid-stream, I toyed with the idea of finding greener pastures.

Teryl's grandparents

For me, thinking in clichés is as easy as falling off a log. That’s probably why I enjoy writing the Harmony Hills Mystery series. The characters are the same age I remember my grandparents were when I was growing up. It’s not fair to generalize, and I hardly ever do it, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but people of my grandparents’ generation talked in clichés. At least that’s how I remember it.

Reasonable people might disagree with me, saying my assessment is a lot of hogwash, a product of muddled thinking. They might say I’m full of baloney, barking up the wrong tree, and I don’t know what in the world I’m talking about.

But, I digress. I’m putting the cart before the horse and it’s time I get my ducks in a row to get on with it. I need to explain myself.

Ducks in a row

I had a blast writing STILL KICKIN’, the first novel in my Harmony Hills Mystery series. To have any hope of understanding why I was as happy as a pig in mud, I need to bring you up to speed on the plot of the story.

When Marvin Stemple, the richest man at the Harmony Hills Retirement Village dies in his penthouse apartment, the police rule the death accidental. Resident Kay Powers suspects murder and sets out to dig up the evidence to reopen the case.

That blurb is called a log line in the business. An elevator pitch. My ten-second spiel. It’s quick. Concise. Meant to sound professional. Supposed to sell books. Get the job done. Bring home the bacon.

But it’s nowhere near, not even in the ballpark, of the pitch I really wanted to write for the back cover of the book. What I wanted to say, my editor had been hard-pressed to print. In fact, if truth be told, she flatly refused. Not even when I begged her pretty please with sugar on top. She wouldn’t buy it, not for all the tea in China.

My publisher said we’d get hauled into court. Thrown in the slammer. For something, that in my humble opinion is no big deal. But lawyers have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills. And it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the big boys upstairs, in their ivory tower. Who are the powers that be? The head honchos of network television, of course.

On the back cover, would if I could, I’d write:

Still Kickin’—The Golden Girls become Charlie’s Angels to solve a murder in an old folks’ home in Omaha, Nebraska.

Did I mention the story takes place in the Heartland of America? The Nation’s Bread Basket. Right in the middle of the Bible belt. Where people, one generation removed from the farm, like to kick back and settle down, in front of a roaring fire, on a cold winter’s night, to read a tall tale, set in their own back yard. A story right up their alley. In amber waves of grain.

Happy as a pig in mud

Want to know the best part? The thing that tripped my trigger? Put me in seventh heaven? I wrote the entire book, the whole shebang, the kit and caboodle, in the first person point of view. Yours truly got to crawl into the head – the heart and soul—of my heroine, Kay Powers.

Kay is a dream come true. Everything rolled up into one neat package. Jack of all trades. Leader of the pack. Amateur sleuth. Loving sister. The best friend you could ever have. She has never met a stranger. She’s stubborn as a mule, smart as a whip, honest as the day is long. A good egg, with a heart of gold. She wouldn’t take any wooden nickels. As my father used to say, she’s been around the pump handle a few times.

Kay has celebrated seventy-one birthdays, but doesn’t look a day over sixty. That’s a lucky break since a man ten years her junior has his cap set for her. Will Kay get off the fence and jump head first into a romance with the handsome detective, John Vendetti?

One can only hope.

Ever vigilant, Kay knows in her heart of hearts that something’s not right about Marvin’s death. She smells a rat. She’s not buying what Detective Vendetti is selling. He’s got it all wrong. Marvin’s death, an accident? In a pig’s eye.

As sure as God made little green apples, someone killed Marvin Stemple. Who’s the murderer? Well, that’s the $64 question.

Now, all Kay has to do is rally the troops. Forge ahead. March up the hill with her best friends, Vita Orsi and Audrey Campbell.

Well, what I can say about those two spitfires? They weren’t born yesterday. They’re no spring chickens. In fact, Vita’s a little long in the tooth at seventy-five years old. That’s six bits, to you, son. And Audrey, she sits just shy of eighty. But she’s not one to let the parade pass her by or let grass grow under her feet. She keeps up, you know what I mean?

Nope, Vita and Audrey didn’t just fall off the cabbage truck. No-siree. They’ve been around the block. They know the score.

You can bet your bottom dollar, by hook or by crook, Kay and her friends will solve the case and save the day.

Fortunately for me, Kay frequently thinks the way I do—in clichés. Here’s her rundown of the major players in Still Kickin’:

Marvin Stemple—Sweet as honey. Dead as a doornail.

Vita Orsi—Red-hot mama. Hell on wheels.

Audrey Campbell—Going through her second childhood, but she’s right as rain, and nobody’s fool.

Detective John Vendetti—Handsome as all-get-out. Salt of the earth. Could he be Kay’s knight in shining armor?

Barbara Finnegar—Kay’s nemesis. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Too big for her britches.

Mary Dodson—Big boss of Harmony Hills. Kay can’t quite put her finger on it, but Mary’s up to something.

Marilyn—Kay’s big sis. Got the short end of the stick when Alzheimer’s cut her down in the prime of life.

Arthur Stemple—Marvin’s son. Milquetoast, hen-pecked. Or, do still waters run deep?

Donna Stemple – Marvin’s daughter-in-law. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Up to no good.

Walt Garvin—Marvin’s best friend. Not playing with a full deck. Is he the murderer’s patsy?

It’s been a barrel of laughs writing this blog. Jotting down whatever popped into my head. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Check out this book for more idioms

I can’t wait for you to read about Kay’s adventures. Cross my heart and hope to die, the book isn’t filled with clichés. I cleaned up my act, kept my nose to the grindstone to write a fun mystery. I did take some poetic license to sprinkle in a few endangered phrases—but only when I was camped out in Kay’s head.

Stay tuned. I’ll drop you a line when my book hits the shelves. See you later, alligator.

Later, Gator

From Dreams to Reality

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I am a writer.

While that has always been the case, I’ve not always freely admitted it. Over the years, I’ve met many other writers, some published and several pre-published, who hesitate to confess their passion or embrace their talent. And it’s a shame. Because, like all creative people—artists, photographers, dancers, singers, actors—we can deny our ambitions, but we can’t survive without practicing our obsession. So, I’ll say it again; I am a writer.

I wrote stories in my head even before I knew how to put them on paper. One of my favorite activities was to plot my dreams before falling asleep at night.

After I snuggled into bed, and my mother had turned out the light, my four-year-old self would conjure up the fantasy du jour. I started my dream before I fell asleep, hopefully to continue the adventure once slumber overtook my conscious mind.

Teryl, Nancy, and Teryl's brother, Tim

I wrote and rewrote one dream story every night for a season—like reruns of a favorite television program. The tale always began the same. With head on the pillow and my eyes closed tightly, I pictured myself passing through a hole in the retaining wall belonging to my best friend, Nancy Wilhelm. She lived across the street and we played together every day. On sunny afternoons, we pumped our legs skyward on the homemade rope swing tied to a cottonwood tree branch at the edge of a suburban cornfield. If we felt brave, at the apex, we launched ourselves from the safety of the wooden seat to sail through the air and land in the cool, black dirt below. When it rained, we moved indoors to play school, taking turns being the teacher.

Those afternoons in Nancy’s home introduced me to the fact that houses not only have different families living in them, but different textures and smells, too. I coveted her aluminum Christmas tree. It had a light with a revolving wheel, covered with multi-colored cellophane. At night, through their gigantic picture window, I watched the silver needles glow, turning from pink, to purple, and then blue.

The pink/purple/blue aluminum Christmas tree

Nancy’s family used different hand soap, too, that smelled flowery and didn’t have pumice beads in it like ours did. But the best thing—her mother always served us chocolate, not plain milk, for a snack.

Back to the dream—I floated through the hole in Nancy’s wall. I never worried about impossibilities. I simply adjusted my size to fit the four-inch space of the concrete block.

Did I mention I’d flown through the hole? No walking through passageways in my dreams. That was much too boring and insufferably slow, since my destination was Deepest, Darkest Africa. I still recall the bass voice announcing I’d arrived in “Deepest. Darkest. Africa.”

My dream jungle was as lush as any I’d seen in the Tarzan movies, except the leaves were vivid green instead of black and white. I climbed the closest vine to sit on the highest branch in the canopy. My first duty was to feed a bag of peanuts to the brightly-colored toucan on my left and the chimpanzee on my right.

After that, I fell into a sound sleep and the next morning I couldn’t remember how the story had played out. I suspect, I had numerous, heroic adventures, running with the cheetahs and saving naïve English hunters on safari as they tramped, unaware of danger, along the dense jungle floor.


Later, I had the great fortune to be in the sixth-grade class of Mrs. Carol Loucks. She understood the creative spirit, as she was a consummate musician and singer. For a spring project, she directed and staged our class production of Brigadoon. What I enjoyed most in her class was the weekly writing assignment.

On Monday, Mrs. Loucks announced the theme of the week’s composition, due on Friday morning. She cleverly tied the theme to a current event or a topic we were discussing in our studies.

One week, we had to write a story about the French explorers we were studying in Early American History. I sat baffled by how to work Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Groseilliers of the Hudson Bay Company into a compelling plot. I turned to my mother for help. Frances Myers was my first muse, my constant collaborator, and a terrific poet and writer in her own right.

My mother suggested a different perspective. Why not stage the story in a modern-day museum and construct a conversation between two exhibits side by side in a display case? Why not write dialog between the worn leather shoe of French Explorer Radisson and the shiny new boot of Astronaut John Glenn? The inanimate objects could share their discoveries in a fun way with each other and the reader.

Point of View – it was the first of many lessons my mother, my mentor taught me about writing. It’s easy to see the roots of my passion.

Now, when asked, I clearly proclaim my joy and my profession.


Watch for the release of my next book, Still Kickin’–A Harmony Hills Mystery. Due out in March 2012.