Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End of the . . . Year

The end of the year is a good time for endings.

Please do not be stopped by my profundity. I mean it. And so, the end of this year brings about an ending for me. I am changing jobs. I will still be working for the same company, at the same hospital, but I will be doing something entirely different. It is so different that I don't even know exactly what it is yet.

My new job is the Risk Review Coordinator. Yeah, I don't know much about it, but it involves abstracting data. This may sound very boring, but I don't think it will be boring. The non-boring thing about it is that I will not have to work any more NIGHTS, WEEKENDS, or HOLIDAYS. It is - tah dah - a Monday through Friday 9-5 kind of job. I have never, ever had one of those. Seriously.

I will also never talk about said job in the blog. Just that I will be doing it. It kinda involves stuff I can't talk about on a blog. Whatever it is.

The end of this year also brings about an end of a personal streak (of sorts). I have a cold. I have not had a cold for two years, and I have subsequently forgotten what a wussy I am when my face hurts. I think that is about all. Anyone interested in more cold details must have had too much cold medicine themselves. 

At the beginning of the year, I will post my resolutions if for no other reason than having something to NOT accomplish next year. I think it will have something to do with string theory and alternate universes (thanks, Dad). 

I know it is only December 29, but I figure it is close enough to the end of the year to count. Besides, this is one of the last times and last places where I can say "close enough." Data people are supposed to be exact, calculating, precise. I think that's also why it is a good thing that I'm a Pisces. Two fish - one is the data fish and one is the creative fish. 

Let's hope there are no data sharks (or Query Sharks) in the New Year, or it will be the end.

Jo Taylor

P.S. Query Shark is an inside writer's joke.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peas On Earth

When I was young, I heard words differently. I could spell anything, if I knew what the word really was. Yes, I was that kid who got all the song lyrics messed up, and thought the Pledge of Allegiance was to the Republic for Witches Stands. 

So, you can imagine the  thrilling discoveries that awaited when I learned to read, and realized that it was "Happy Birthday," and not Hippo Birdie. Or that I was supposed to be saying "Hail Mary, full of grace," and not Hail Mary, full of grapes.

The range of misunderstanding was far and wide. Christmas had lots of words that were misunderstood, mostly because of the singing involved, but I'm pretty sure some of those people didn't know the words either. 

Angels we have herded nigh
Harp, the Herald Angel sings (I thought Harp was the name of one of the Angels)
Deck the Halls with bells of folly

Eh, you get the idea.

Merry Christmas to all
and let there be Peas on Earth. 

(I swear I still see, in my imagination, snow with little peas all over the top - I looked everywhere I lived and never saw Peas on Earth. It must be a very rare and wonderful thing).

Jo Taylor

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I've been writing a lot of poetry lately and I haven't the foggiest idea why. My best guess is that November saw me writing (just a little) over 50,000 words. So, now I want to be able to work, but finish something shorter.

When I was a nurse (I'm still a nurse technically, but I supervise - so in effect I just watch others nurse), the type of nursing I was attracted to was the kind where I could complete tasks and then go on to something else. At first, kicking and screaming, I was made to work in an intensive care unit for a year. It was too intense. And I never got done with anything. I did a task over and over and over. Ahhhhh! It is kind of like the rationalization of making the bed in the morning. I'm just going to mess it up again tonight - why bother?

Then, when "they" deemed my skills acceptable, "they" let me work in the ER. Yes. This suited me. It still does, except for the fact that I'm kind of done with the ER. But, what I mean by this is that I like, and my personality excels at, task oriented / completion oriented work.

I am finding this to remain true now with my writing. I think poetry, in its structured forms, requires thought and work to get it right. It isn't my favorite thing to read, but in thinking about fitting words and what I want to say into a certain structure, it works for me in sorting out the bigger story. I don't think I am particularly good at it either, but my reason for doing it isn't poetry as an end result. I wonder how many other writers use a different form to hone their skills in their preferred form?

If you have read all the way to the bottom and are the least bit curious about what I've written recently, I submit this sample. This is blank verse which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. It is the hardest form I've tried to write, but I'm pretty happy with this. I did it to help flesh out how I want to approach this story in its longer form. This is the little book I talked about finding a few posts ago. I'm fascinated by this old book of someones tiny details of life. I know there is a story in there somewhere.

Time Book

The record lay among archaic notes,
a 'Time Book' from your days of railroad work. 
Your name, address, and occupation there
in faded, penciled script upon the page.

The writing started January one.
The year you wrote was nineteen twenty-nine.
A movie cost you fifty cents back then,
and 'sweets' a nickel, taken from you hoard.

A cook for Southern, paid in twenty bills,
the engine logged was G-R-O one-two.
Twelve, fourteen, twenty, ten: the hours hard.
The column added up to fifty-six,
just thirty-five one-hundredths by the hour.

A Memorandum page tells why you must
have felt the need to write minutia down.
"I married her in nineteen twenty-three"
was followed by a separation date
mere days before you first put words on here.
It breaks my heart, your lonely, wistful hand.


Jo Taylor

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Okay, sometimes I crack myself up.

We writers have heard it said (even if we don't follow the advice) that sitting at the writing place and being present for the words to come is part of the work. So, sometimes I sit in front of the computer for an hour or two to test this theory. It kind of works for me, but a deadline is the thing that makes me produce.

Yesterday, I needed to do some Christmas shopping. A task, and if you look at it a certain way, work. The only problem was - it was raining. Hard. It does not rain here and it was raining rats and frogs (or is that cats and dogs?). Anyway. So, I drove to the place where the shopping was to occur. I turned the car off and waited for the rain to let up a little. It didn't.

Rain does not usually make people melt, but I have lots to do lately, so I decided not to take any chances. I waited in the car for 5 minutes. It then came to me in a flash that I was present and available for the shopping, so that counted as doing the work! A writerly rationalization if ever there was one. I started laughing while I sat in the parking lot. What a bunch of hooey. It didn't change my mind about actually going into the store through the pouring rain, but at least I recognized my silliness as it was occurring.  

Funny how no shopping was ever accomplished, just considered and prepared for. Yeah, it doesn't work for shopping and I'm getting the feeling that it doesn't really count in writing either. Prove one idea wrong and the rest fall like dominos. 

So this little real life experience showed me that the real work of writing is only accomplished when you WRITE. Sitting at the computer for 2 hours DOES NOT COUNT. Writing counts. I thought about this in terms of telling my son, "Well, I went near the store, and I intended to buy you a Christmas gift . . . "

I'll be going to the store tomorrow. It will be 22 degrees (which is really, really cold for here), but I will actually go inside and purchase something. Perhaps I shall write something too.


Jo Taylor

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Long Time

It's been a long time between posts and I have no good excuse. It just is, or has been (?) a long time.

Right there. In that very first two-sentence paragraph you can probably tell WHY I haven't posted for a bit. My brain is mushy. It kind of hurts a little too. I'm still deciding if writing basically non-stop for 30 days was a good idea or if I have permanently pulled the brain muscle.

In the month of November I also received two very nice form rejections which I added to my neat little (okay, getting big) stack . . . of rejections. If this was dating, I'd decide to be a nun. Ah yes, character building. How fun.

I'm ready to be excited about something again and it is all in the way you choose to look at things. Christmas shopping, that could be exciting. Curling up on the couch with a blankie, the fire going, and reading a good book -- that's definitely exciting. Having a few days this month to spend with my family -- thrilling I tell you!

In the writing arena, a few ideas are floating around looking for a format. I found this small log book in an antique store, and it was a Railroad Time Book. The man who owned it wrote very neatly his name, address, work place, and the prices he paid for things like milk, movies, and insurance. In 1929! I love this stuff. The Internet, being the amazing, people-finding thing it is (Facebook, anyone?) will be the start of some kind of interesting story. And if not, I'll make something up.

I just don't know if it will be a short story, or a novel. Who knows what I might find. That is the kind of exciting I like -- the start of a new story and the possibility that it will be fabulous. I think that is the most fun part of anything -- anticipation. When you are anticipating something, it can be perfect in your mind.

I'm trying to not end every paragraph with a sarcastic remark, and for those of you who enjoy them, they'll be back. I will find something honestly exciting to write about next time too. I think I'm just sick of myself lately. So, it may be a long time before I post again. Or it may not. Being quiet has never been my strongest quality.


Jo Taylor

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NaNoWriMo Progress, Day 25

Holy cow, may I just say that doing anything for 25 days in a row could, perhaps, make you crazy? 

Besides the brownie interlude, I have successfully tap tapped my way to oh, about 44,000 words so far. I'm close enough to make it, but never has 6,000 words seemed like SO MANY.

Thank you for listening, again, to the whining. It will stop soon. Or it may not. A glass of very nice red wine was just placed in front of me by my dear husband, so I guess that should tell me something: my whining is ever-so-much more tolerable after I've had a few glasses of wine. Or not.

My spelling is definitely worse.

I think that means I need to stop blogging now and go back to the NaNo novel and finish it. Should be interesting reading in a month or two, or ten. 

Peace, and have a glass of wine :)

Jo Taylor

Monday, November 23, 2009


My son came home from school today and made brownies for me. I love brownies. I've been hard at work on school, writing, work . . . all sorts of stuff, and so my son decided I needed a treat. I happily agree with him. So a brief break for brownies . . .

There now, don't they look wonderful? They smell good too.

Oh, and here is the brown dog pitifully waiting for a taste of said brownies . . .

Ahhh, much better.

Before I was distracted by the wonderfulness of food, I was contemplating how amazingly weather parallels human mood. You read it in fiction all the time, you see it in movies, and people make comments about how the weather affects them. I personally think the only thing that affects people more than weather is music, but that may be only in my own little world.

I looked through various photos I had to see if it would help me to mood-set as I wrote, seeing as how it is almost always sunny here on the Central Coast of California. I found out that I don't take many pictures that show the weather.

But, I have noticed that I use weather very often to mirror or intensify my characters moods. I don't know if that is an amateur move or not, but it works for me right now.

Sunsets? I have tons of those. Dawn? Hardly any. Clouds and troubled skies? I found one from just recently when rain threatened but never came. That happens here a lot. We don't really have weather. As a matter of fact, if it rains here, people stop what they are doing to go look at it. I'm not kidding.

Here is a picture of that one cloudy day -

I thank you for your patience, most of this post was to facilitate figuring out how to put pictures up on the rare occasion that I don't have much to say, but still want to show something.

Goodnight . . .


Jo Taylor

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Being Brave

The novel I am writing, Road Clothes, has a main character that is the most not-me of anything I've written to date. If you are a writer, writing variants of yourself is common, though not mandatory, and I found it works as a way to learn to write character. Start with what you know.

This girl, Cassidy, is not intentionally like me at all, nor is she the antithesis. I gave her things to do that I have done, but her qualities are not meant to be a version of me. It is turning out to be harder than I thought.

The blatant dissimilarities are:

She is 25, I am . . . not.
She is auburn haired, fair skinned, I am . . . not.
She has snappy comebacks . . . I realize two days later the thing I should have said.

(Writing is cool for making retorts be just the way you imagined them. It gives me great selfish pleasure.)

Her ideas about love and family and truth are not necessarily mine. She is a younger generation and thinks differently due to the experience and influences on her life being something I've only watched in others. It makes me wonder if I'm getting it right. Is she congruent and believable despite her made-up-ness?

So, it has made me think a lot about how generations view each other. Do I really understand, given the environment she grew up in, her motivations for action? Or will someone that age read her with the knowledge that an older author wrote it? Only time and 27 revisions will tell.

But, I'm working hard to get it right. I have friends her age and I have always been an observer of people. Even if I cannot have empathy for someone and agree with what they think or feel, or how they see a situation, I usually know what they are after when certain behaviors show. And I think writing from the point of observation lets me simply write the characteristics and let them drive the actions of the story.

My stories are not usually about happening, but about character. I spend most of my writer-thinking-time (sort of like nap-time in kindergarten), on their desires and motivations to bring about a logical story. Something that elicits their best, their worst, and allows the reader to see someone familiar in there.

This isn't to say I don't try to have a good story too. I see it as a picture and a frame. For me, the character is the picture, the story is the frame in which that character finds himself. Most frames and pictures are interchangeable, and either can stand somewhat without the other. But often there is that one combination that looks and feels best.

Unfortunately, in the current times we live in, we have the luxury of choice: too much choice. I'm one of those people who would like 3 or 4 choices and leave it at that. Same goes for stories. I have been too dependent on similar characters and stories, the frames and pictures all have a certain style. So, this time I'm trying to be brave, do something different. Every once in a while, you have to put the Picasso in a plain wooden frame.


Jo Taylor

Friday, November 13, 2009


My night shifts are completed, but it has taken me literally three days to recover. During those three days I was still trying to write because I have a deadline, and this morning I made the mistake of reading back over some of what I wrote. Bad idea.

So, I'm following Dory's advice to "just keep swimming" and cranking out sentences. Pitiful, wasted sentences that will require months of revision. Sentences that are truly cringe-worthy. But, it's all good because I am soon to finish the story. I know where I'm going. Once I get it all written down, I can re-write to my heart's content.

This will be a huge accomplishment for me as I've never finished a novel before. I've started three or four (or five) but haven't covered the entire length of the story. Once the ground is covered, it can be retraced, backtracked, reviewed and revised. Re-covered. Recovery.

I'm starting to get sick of my own words. I'm only now beginning to understand the value of pushing myself to complete a project in a certain time frame. Just do it. It is painful and humbling and a whole lot of fun. It is, in my opinion, very worthwhile. I'm learning something about the way I write that will help me in the long run.

I've also had the premise for two new short stories come up in the times when I was stuck for some direction or dialog or setting. Things I thought of that wouldn't fit in the current story, but are great ideas for later. So, I just jot those down too and "keep swimming."

My writer friends have been very vocal and encouraging and I've failed on my end to be as much of a support for them. I realize that, but cannot pull myself out of the viewfinder to look around and acknowledge those near me. It is a very different thing for me, social animal that I am, to be sort of insular in order to accomplish my goals. I'm not sure what it says about me.

Perhaps it is that I've taken on too much at once, and in order to finish everything, as any good over-achiever knows is the only acceptable outcome, I've had to put blinders on the other parts of my life that are not time sensitive. This too shall pass. I think I've heard that somewhere before.

It is 1pm, as in 1 in the afternoon and I have yet to get dressed. I've been writing all morning. I don't know yet if that is a good thing, or if I've just developed the best excuse in the world for my inherent laziness (you know I am, really I am). I promised myself I could post to the blog if I finished 1500 words for the day, and I did, so I did.

Now it's back into real life: groceries, walking the dog, getting the kid from school, making dinner (nah, let's go out), school, work . . . what was I talking about? Ah yes, recovery. Also known as writing.


Jo Taylor

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Night Shift

I've been absent from posting for a little reason I like to call NaNo (22,000 some odd words - yeah!) but tonight I am doing the unthinkable. I am working a night shift.

Yes, I did this (work night shift) for 15 years, but I have not done it in a while, and I am not only doing 1 of them, but I am working 4 night shifts in a row!

It is yet another sign of the apocalypse.

How in the bleep did I do this all those years. Years which, I might add, I barely remember. I liked it once upon a time, but that fairy has died and I do not like it now. Only because I love my co-workers (and hope they work for me so I can go to Jamaica again), do I do this.

Thank you for listening. I'm done now.

Road Clothes is coming along nicely. I've had a few things happen that surprised me, and the word count is rising without undue angst. If I get stuck for some transition, I have the characters go out to dinner, which is what I do in my real life for almost any reason. It is all about food.

I'm sorry that I don't have anything interesting to say. That does not mean that I will not stop talking or writing, but I won't be so offended if I am tuned out. All of my effort is going to my novel and my writing classes, so the blog necessarily takes a back seat for a bit. I thought about putting up an excerpt from the book, but it is really a first draft and while not horrible, it is not in show-off shape yet.

But maybe just this one paragraph, some of you will know the setting:

It was 4:17 pm and 74 degrees on the 12th of November when Cassidy left the impound yard. She eased the Mustang out of the steep drive and headed east toward Union Road. Top down, radio up, Cassidy was taking her pony for a ride. It was the sole reason she loved fast cars, for the feel of the wind in her hair and road humming by beneath her. Some people drank beer to relieve stress, some smoked or yelled at their wives or beat their children. Cassidy drove. And sang. The driving she did well, the singing, not so much, but it was the release that pleased her, not the act. A few miles out Union and the road narrowed too much to be safe at high speeds, so she turned left at Geneseo and then headed east on Highway 46, the complete opposite direction from where she’d found the arm, away from her mother and sister, but closer to something. Closer to herself maybe.

There. I'm not sure that will even be in the final draft, but I'm happy with it for now. I think I just want to prove to myself that I'm making progress in my writing. So that is all for now. After I finish my night shifts, I think I will take some new "character stage" pictures with my dress form and show how Cassidy dresses. That is the goal for the weekend.


Jo Taylor

Thursday, November 5, 2009


In Jo's little world:

5 Days
10 Chapters
15,931 Words

In Fort Hood, Texas where I lived from 1969 to 1972:

13 Dead
30 Wounded

I am proud of the first stats and horrified by the second.
There are no words or chapters or days . . .

Jo Taylor

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNoWriMo (Again)

Yes, I know, boring title. I can't manage anything pithy right now.

Sarcastic, maybe, but not pithy. I believe there is a difference.

It is 7 pm or so and I have been writing all day. I got stuck for a few hours about getting from here to there but I think I solved my problem. My total word count is now 12,611.

As a very sweet and thoughtful reward, my son brushed my hair for twenty minutes. I think I hear angels singing.


Jo Taylor

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo Progress, Day 3

The National Novel Writing Month has begun and so far, so good. I've prepped the family (that I will be busy writing), cleared my calendar (not really, I'm working 15 days this month instead of my usual 10), and set a schedule (not really on that one either).

So, what have I done, you ask?

Written 10,064 words so far, that's what! It is amazing what thinking about a story for 3 or 4 months and not being able to write it will do to you. Word spillage all over. Not that it is necessarily readable, mind you.

Notice that the title of this post is blah, blah, blah, Day 3. Do not look for a Day 1 or Day 2 as they do not exist. I skipped blogging those days. Oh, horrors.

My brain is pretty much fried as far as anything intelligent to blog about after sitting at the keyboard all day. But, I wanted to congratulate all my writer friends for their progress so far, encourage them to keep it up (or step it up), and offer a toast for the next 27 days . . . may they be filled with coherent words!

Jo Taylor

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Lieu of Costumes . . .


That is all.


Jo Taylor

Friday, October 30, 2009

Loving Language

Today's post is about language. It is written in a language (English), and it (hopefully) will do the job of language: communicate. My husband said to me the other day, (when I told him to stop "kvetching"), that I loved words so much, it didn't even matter what language they were in. He then asked for the meaning of "kvetch" to see if he should be insulted or not. Kvetch is a Yiddish word that means to complain, so of course I Americanized it by adding -ing. He was not insulted as indeed, he was complaining.

I thought on that for a moment and realized how true it was. I LOVE words. I love how they sound, I love how they look. I have a rather eclectic background when it comes to language, so I'll share a little bit about it. Then maybe you will all know why I'm fascinated, but only speak ONE language (I think it's an American failing).

My dad is descended from the Pilgrims. Really. That makes him English. My mother was fully German, but since she died when I was two, I have no real recollections of her family. I do know her parents spoke German.

My first wicked step-mother was Polish and she and all her family spoke - um, Polish. I remember them speaking and that I didn't understand anything for awhile. I was very young then, three or four, but I distinctly remember going to visit her grandmother in a nursing home one day. When we got back to the house, one of the ladies there (no idea who she was), asked what we talked about and I told her everything. Dad just looked at me funny because the entire visit was in Polish. He looked at my step-mother and she nodded that yes, I had gotten it right.

In high school, I got interested in classical music and of course, most of the songs are in German, French, Italian, and Latin. I liked Latin a lot. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time grounded in my room by my second wicked step-mother. So, I translated a bunch of the Latin texts. They lined up with the Mass (as almost all of the songs were sacred Latin as opposed to secular). By the time I was 16, I could say the entire Mass in Latin. This was a very useful thing to learn.

It made my Presbyterian father a bit verklemmt that I continued in my first step-mother's religion of Roman Catholicism, but he liked it better than if I had followed the second step-mother's Jack Mormonism. Are you still following?

At that time in my life, the choice was all about the words. Prayer just sounded cooler in Latin. It still does to me. Now my son is learning Latin too, and my poor husband does not yet realize that there is a gene for this kind of odd language fascination. My writer friends get it.

The weird thing is, I never learned to speak any language other than English. I'm around Spanish a lot, as I live in California. I understand just enough to get me into trouble. I can ask questions in Spanish, but my eyes glaze over when the answer comes. I have not put all the components together. I think doing that requires immersing yourself in the language for awhile.

Last year, we had a wonderful foreign exchange student stay with us for ten months. His English was fabulous. He spoke a total of nine languages. OMGosh! Where he lived, and the family and business he came from, required him to be able to communicate with many different cultures.

Sometimes it is not just the desire, but the opportunity that makes a difference as to whether or not we can pick up this skill or that one. If I had to go live somewhere and no one spoke English, I would be MOTIVATED to learn whatever language surrounded me. That is where I think the American culture fails it's people. We are not surrounded by anyone, except US! In reality, we are, but most of us could live our entire lives without ever needing to speak any other language. I find that sad.

And yet, when in my life, because I love words and language, have I forced myself to learn a language other than my own? A little Latin here (um, dead language Jo, pick another one), a little Spanish there, a bit of Danish, some German, oh yeah, and Gaelic. Gaelic (and maybe Welsh) has to have the hardest spellings. I can say the words, I cannot read them. And that's about it. The ability to say words in all those different languages, but not really communicate.

Here, after writing those words, it hit me. I am not really fascinated by language at all. I am, as my sweet husband said, fascinated by WORDS. To the point where I don't care what they mean. Just how they sound, and look, in ANY language.

I'm free! I now know why I want to hear people speak in different languages. I love the sound of words. Music. Words. It makes sense that I frequently read my writing out loud and change things by how they sound. I wonder how many other writers have this aural component to their creative process? Perhaps they all should?

You would think that with all this musical and language background, that I would write music. You would be wrong. I've tried it. I suck. It is weird that musicality and the ability to write do not converge in the ability to write music. I wish it did.

Someday, when I am very old (and wealthy), I will sit in different cities around the world, at small tables in sidewalk cafes, sipping tea and eating whatever I want, and listening to the language that surrounds me, whatever it is, loving the words.


Jo Taylor

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gotham Writers' Workshop

I'm back at Gotham (ooh, that makes me sound Batman-ly). Gotham Writers' Workshop is an online and real life (in New York City) writing school. I discovered it soon after being bitten by the writing bug and it has shaved years, perhaps centuries, off my learning curve.

The curriculum is taught by writers. Ten weeks. No grades. Perfect-for-me!

We read a lot, we critique each other's work, and the instructor gives us stand up criticism or praise as they deem necessary. I actually have to work hard to get good responses, but they are EARNED, and that counts for much in my book.

I've learned more in that environment than anywhere else. It's made me think that maybe what I want to do when I grow up is be a writer. I'm lucky to be at a place in life where I can pursue this idea. I also feel it is leading me to get an MFA (Master's in Fine Arts - Creative Writing).

Do I think that everyone needs to take this path? Not at all. Do I think I could be a good writer without one? Yes, I think I could be. So, why the degree?

I have this delusion that someone will be helped by my disclosure and decision making, so humor me.

First, my father, a great influence on me and a very smart person, always said that he didn't care if I got degrees, he just wanted me to be well-educated. I took that to heart and have been in school for most of my adult life. I'm just now finishing my Bachelor's degree, but I have some 210 quarter units under my belt (most degrees are equal to 120 or so). There. Well-educated.

In the writing department, I want to write Literary Fiction. The heavy stuff. The stuff of complex constructs, and intelligent discourse on the trials of humanity, you know - life. I think the way to learn this particular type of writing is best done through a master's program at a university. I think I could learn it on my own, given enough time, but I started this whole thing with about half my life (I hope) behind me, a full-time job and a family. School will shave years off the learning curve again.

I think anyone can benefit from more education. It's one of those things you can never have enough of. I haven't yet applied to any MFA programs, and maybe I'll change my mind over the next few years, but for now, Gotham is filling my need for intense learning and growth. Thanks, Gotham.


Jo Taylor

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I swear, the thing I like most about any day is laughing. Specifically those things that cause laughter again and again and again.

Cake Wrecks.

Look for it under blogs I read. I laugh out loud every single time I go there. It takes all of about thirty seconds to peruse the new day's offerings and get my laugh for the day. Then I get to show my son when he gets home from school, and I laugh all over again.

Some other things make me giggle occasionally, enough to check them out fairly routinely.

The Fail Blogs

There are about fifty of them, but they are various and sundry pictures, videos, and quotes of funny things. They are not consistently as laugh inducing as Cake Wrecks, but they are worth a few seconds of my time.

A few social media giants exist specifically to give me free and easy access to things that make me smile for sure, laugh sometimes. This too is worth a few seconds of my day.


I follow a few people I don't know simply because I found them somehow and they made me laugh. My Twitter name (or whatever it is called) is (hold on, I have to look it up): JoTaylor776.
If you want to see who I follow, feel free to look, but I don't necessarily want to post them all here.

I think I need to laugh every day. When I was little, I wanted to be a comedian. Yeah, like a standup comedian. I told my Dad this one day and he said, "But honey, you aren't very funny."
That burst my bubble in a big way but luckily I went on to be a successful, well-adjusted grown-up despite Dad's horrific handling of my secret desire.

He's funnier than I am.

I'm usually one of those people who is only funny when I'm not trying to be. Yes, one of THOSE people. So, I revere those who can make me spit coffee out onto my monitor screen in a single sentence.

To the people in this world who see it as a funny place to be, I salute you.


Jo Taylor

Monday, October 26, 2009

People Watching

I've always been a people watcher. Seriously, one of those who could sit on a park bench and watch someone or multiple someones for hours. I can even go to a restaurant by myself because I like to be in those situations. Watching, waiting for you to do something I can use in a story. Heh heh.

Since December of 2008, when I started writing, this habit has kicked into overdrive and I've noticed more quirks, or people have just gotten more weird. It's a toss up. First, let me start with the odd things I do so that no one thinks I'm picking on them. This is for character development after all.

I say "actually" all the time. I don't like it, I try to stop, but it is a habit born of my smart aleck childhood. If I get frustrated, I stamp my foot. Yes, actually (oops, there it is again) stamp my foot like a little kid. I cry very easily - like at Kleenex commercials.

Now, put those characteristics into someone who is a boss, and you will either see their employees disrespect them if they allow it to show, or amusement when it sneaks out very rarely in a usually controlled personality. The latter is true for me. I control my quirks well. On a very rare occasion, one will slip out and generally, people laugh. It is hard to write a character that has characteristics that they choose not to show very often. You have to set it up early that they do it, then show them in situations where they've controlled themselves, then let it fly at just the right time for effect. Otherwise, it's just a character with an annoying habit that does nothing for the story.

If you put habits into a story, it is helpful to have the character struggle with that habit, because we all do in real life. (If you happen to have a really cool habit, then you work on doing it more often, so still a struggle).

Comedians are a great resource if you are wanting to come up with something that sets your character apart. They've done all the research. How many of them start with, "Did you ever notice . . ."? Frequently, those are the observations that get laughs. Yes, we noticed, but never quite thought of it that way. You can do that in your writing, and that makes the character memorable. Seinfeld is a perfect example: The Close Talker, The Fast Talker, etc.

For writers, it's not about saying something new; it's about saying something in a new way. I've got the noticing part down, which I would say is at least twenty percent of the battle. Now I have to work on writing about them in such a way that readers see it through new eyes - mine (or rather, my character's). At this point, I've almost done too much noticing and my poor characters are being experimented with in every which way. I have to make them interesting, but not twitchy. So do you think a main character who blinks constantly when she's nervous, clears her throat, has a lisp, stamps her foot, says "Ha!" all the time, drums her fingers, chews her nails, talks with her hands, talks loudly, and invades personal space is too much?

What about a character that pushes up her glasses with her middle finger?

A few well thought out quirks go a long way. I'll have to just pick one or two, and go from there.
I think characters should have more influence from things like generation, family, work as opposed to personal quirks. But the few that you pick are important. Subtle, telling, individual.
I'm not sure what I'm giving Cassidy for my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel that I'm starting in November. I want her to be likable, so it will be subtle, or funny. I'll keep looking and I'm sure I'll notice something in the next few days that will be perfect. I'll let you know after November.
Jo Taylor

Friday, October 23, 2009

Learning Things I Thought I Already Knew

I had to spend four hours of a day off at a class today. Usually it is an annoying but necessary part of life, like sitting in the doctor's office. Today, I actually learned something about people; in particular about their character.

That makes me a happy girl. The class was about increasing levels of customer satisfaction, but the difference in this class (from the usual boring drivel) was twofold. One, we had a nice, personable, enthusiastic, and interested teacher. Two, she brought up the idea of relating to people the way THEY want, not the way YOU want to relate to them. This has great ramifications for writing and creating character.

If we look at all the external and internal forces that affect someone's personal style, we cannot overlook things like inherent personality, age, culture and the like. But we often do, because WE are a certain personality, age, culture. Can you see where this is enlightening? I thought I knew this already, because the pieces-parts are fairly instinctive for me. I don't have trouble communicating with others.

In my writing, my characters tend to be variations of me. While that may be interesting for a short time, unless I can develop characters that are multidimensional, yet act in a congruent manner (i.e. they are believable), my stories will go nowhere. If I define them at some level by all these factors that real people have, a full, dynamic character will rise off the page.

In class we took tests that told us what "type" of communication style we had. It occurred to me that my CHARACTERS could also take those tests, or I could make them fit a certain style because, hey, they do what I say (most of the time). I can use this information to create depth and subtle traits which will round out their action for an engaging, character based story. THAT is what I want to write.

These personality tests have been around for ages, but I never thought of using them in terms of defining a character. I will certainly take back everything I learned and use it to my company's advantage. Seriously. I like being a team player and having a job right now is a good thing. I'm just thrilled that I can use it in my writing also. I might as well, I use just about all the rest of my life.

So, personality tests - check. I'll give it a try. It seems so logical, I don't know why I've never thought of it before.


Jo Taylor

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Mini Post

This will be a mini-post today as I experiment with a blog feed to my Facebook page. Now that I've gotten more brave (braver?) about being social, I feel the need to play with all the toys and see what works for me. I have Facebook, and Twitter, and of course, this blog, but all of that is really just testing the public waters. Not public like the bath house, but public as in anyone can be on the Internet now. It's really kind of weird.

I've "met" many people online, and tomorrow I'm going to Los Angeles (hereafter, LA) to meet a few of them in real life. We will be having lunch. A very real, very normal thing to do. It strikes me funny though, that if the Internet did not exist, I wouldn't be doing this. Most of the girls do not live in California even, and one is here from Australia!

Still, it is necessary to make the effort, the attempt to "connect" whether online or in person. It is the same, but different. And that is about as profound as I can manage today. But, like I said, it is only a mini-post, so a mini attempt at Sophist ideals is all that can be expected. I don't know how this will post to Facebook, so if you are my friend and you are wondering why you are getting this, rest assured I will change how it posts if it seems invasive. I think.


Jo Taylor

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wandering Back

I've wandered away lately from the whole reason I started this blog. Today, I shall wander back. I called it Characteristically Speaking for a number of reasons. One reason is that I write character based stories. I think of the character first, then I tell about who they are and what made them that way (also known as a plot), and in the process love them and hug them and squeeze them and call them George (an obscure Bugs Bunny reference, sorry). This makes me happy.

I also like to learn about what makes a character come alive on the page. The device and voice and technique that creates this alchemy. I tend to talk a lot, so those who know me personally would say that this blog is characteristic of me speaking, and speaking, and speaking.

So far in this post, I've used a particular device three times. Can anyone tell me what it is? Not humor, that isn't exactly a technical device. Okay, give up? It's called polysyndeton. It means using a succession of conjunctions when they could be deleted and commas used, but the effect is different, not the meaning. So all those "ands" were on purpose. Now usually, I would use it once in a story, let's not go overboard. Some people despise it, and some, like me, like the effect in certain stories. I think it mimics real speech, as bad as that can be when it is supposed to be dialog. I use it as one of the ways to show a character thinking and speaking at the same time, or even speaking before thinking.

The thing that started this whole agenda for me today was a recent critique from one of the sites I participate in online. The critique writer said I needed to learn how to use commas correctly and not rely on conjunctions; this in reference to a passage much like the above. Well, yes and no. I am doing it on purpose. I want the effect. It reads differently and has the effect of slowing, of emphasizing, what is being put together in succession with the conjunction instead of the comma.

While I treasure the feedback I get from others that helps my writing, I am discovering that I am starting to nod politely, and then do it my way anyhow. Again, those who know me personally will not be surprised by this behavior. I always do it (ignore advice) when I know a certain amount about the subject matter. It tells me that I have a higher level of confidence in my writing than before. Before: when I would change anything because I assumed I was wrong and they were right. Now, I am not so quick to change. And that, dear readers, is so characteristic of me.

Jo Taylor

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Word of the Day

I didn't have a particular subject in mind when I started my writing day this morning, so I tend to get time-sucked by the Internet on such occasions. I do actively look for something though. I try Stumble, or the random page on Wikipedia. Sometimes I actually turn to the English homework I'm supposed to be doing to see if anything catches my fancy there.

Today, good old English came to my rescue. I love words. I like to collect them and pin them up on my office cork board in pretty fonts because to me, words are art. I also like being the smart aleck I was born to be by learning any kind of new and/or hard words that I can actually sneak into daily conversation.

My favorite word is obstreperous. It means being a pain in the a**, basically. I identify with that word. Today though, I was reading an essay about Poe and stumbled across two words that I had heard before, but they somehow struck me in a different way. You know how you can pick a word, say it over and over until suddenly, it doesn't mean anything anymore? Did you ever do that when you were a kid? Well, if you did, then you may have some understanding of why "indefinitiveness" struck me funny today. Not haha funny, funny strange. Both that word and "suggestiveness" were used in the same sentence describing Poe's writing.

Sometimes I love Poe, and sometimes I think he's a weird dude. I love The Raven, but The Tell-Tale Heart is messed up. So for this literary reviewer to say that his writing has "suggestiveness" and "indefinitiveness" in the same sentence gave me the giggles. Why can't we just say it's weird? Why do we go to the big words and use them in such a way that no one knows what we are talking about? I mean, of course, the collective "we."

I like scholarly essays as much as the next girl (which is not that much), and sometimes I get a lot out of them. But for this one, I wanted to yell at her after fourteen pages of using language this way (snooze worthy), and implore her to "just say he's weird and we don't know what he meant half the time!"

Which brings me to my current thought - what if I do this sometimes? What if, because I like words and enjoy showing off that I love them, I write stuff that makes readers want to yell at me? I certainly hope that is not the case. In fact, I would say that my style of prose is rather spare and simple. I like to move the reader with the idea, the thought behind the words, and not necessarily the powerful words themselves.

It is an odd realization about myself, that my current style belies my vocabulary. I think this is a good thing. I can learn to weave a fabric of language that is more precise, more intense. I'm not sure anyone can learn to have the intent of writing. Once I know what it is I want to say, the entire language is at my disposal to convey it. If I have nothing to say in the first place, no thought, or stance, or invocation unique to me, then all the words in the language could not fill that void.

Funny how far you can go from finding a word of the day, to realizing something about yourself you never thought of before. Thought, language. I'm very glad to have both.


Jo Taylor