Monday, 23 May 2016

Golf is a Four Letter Word



By Melodie Campbell


Golf season always fills me with awe. Not because I immediately become what is euphemistically known as a ‘Golf Widow.”  Nope.  In fact, after recently upping our insurance coverage, the concept of ‘widow’ has taken on a slightly merrier outlook.

But I digress.  My problem with golfers is that they speak an entirely different language.  For instance, take a look at the following words that are associated with golf:

Tee:  This is silly.  Not only is it spelt wrong, but golfers don’t drink tea.  They drink beer.
Club:  The place with the bar that you go to after the game.  Sometimes the object OF the game.
Caddie:  Those big cars in the parking lot that you try not to hit with your golf cart.
Hole:  The thing you fall into and twist an ankle when you’re trying to find your ball in the ‘rough’.
Iron:  What you don’t have to do, because golf clothes are made of plastic.
Putter:  As in ‘putter around the golf course’.
Driver:  The guy who has to forgo the beer after the game.  Hence ‘tee’ above.

But without a doubt, the biggest problem with golf is the way it is scored.  Obviously, the person who hits the ball the most times has done the most work.  But the rules say the person who swings a mere 67 times wins.  That’s hardly trying at all.  This is supposed to be a Scottish game, so I ask you:  Where is the Protestant Work Ethic Here??

There’s only one explanation, and it has to do with the other Scottish religion – the one I apparently married into - saving money.  The fewer times you hit the ball, the longer the ball lasts…

Melodie Campbell got her start writing stand-up.

Monday, 16 May 2016

I’m fatally allergic to bee and wasp stings – Here’s what it means

Yup, a serious post from me today.  Pretty well as serious as it gets.

When I was eight, a wasp stung me.  Within minutes, I had fallen asleep, and couldn’t be wakened. My terrified parents rushed me to Emerg, as my heart rate fell and my body went into anaphylactic shock.

What I can tell you is that people who are allergic to venom cannot ‘tough it out.’  They aren’t awake to do so.  And what happens next is often a complete respiratory shutdown.  That means death.

My cousin’s teenaged daughter had a terrible experience when she was a lifeguard.  While she was working, a man in his mid-thirties died in her arms.  He had never been stung before, and thus no one knew he had an allergy.  Such a tragedy haunts you and everyone around you, for years later.

Those people understand the seriousness of a wasp or bee allergy.  Thing is, a lot of people don’t.

Our northern culture is one that worships summer

In Canada, it’s considered outrageous not to enjoy every moment of summer.  Let me go further: it is almost considered a sin.  We are scolded for not being outside as much as possible.  Bookworm?  Get outside!  Don’t be a weakling.

Here’s what it means to be allergic to bee and wasp stings:

I can’t eat outside in bee and wasp season, which is pretty well from May until the first frost in October. 

I can’t be outside around people who have food and drinks.

Translated, this means no outside patios at restaurants.  No backyard or corporate BBQs.  No pool parties.  No large events outside where food is being served.  No Wonderlands and CNEs.

In September, it doesn’t matter if food is being served.  I don’t spend much time outside at all during the day, because of the yellow jackets.  Doctors warn me that if you are allergic to bee and wasp stings, you are most likely allergic to spider venom too.  Avoid them. Never touch them. Have someone else remove them.

I can’t go camping.  I can’t travel to third world countries.  My specialist tells me not to be more than twenty minutes from a hospital at any time. 

I’ve adapted pretty well to these restrictions.  I carry an epi-pen at all times, which will give me ten minutes.  Enough time to get me to the closest hospital (if I’m awake enough to inject it.  Hopefully someone else will be with me.  I try not to think about that too much.)  It sucks, but better safe than dead.

Don’t make it difficult for people with bee and wasp allergies

No, we can’t come to your BBQ.  I’m sorry you decided to have your book launch or wedding outside.  Please enjoy it, but don’t insist that I be there, or make me feel guilty for declining. 

Please don’t shame me into taking a risk on my life, so that your plans won’t be upset.

Don’t say the following:

1.  ‘Don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you’

Of all the things I get told, this useless statement angers me the most.   And yet, I can’t count the number of times people have said this to me.   I’ve been stung four times.  On none of those occasions did I deliberately bother the wasp/bee in question beforehand.  I didn’t even know the insect was there.

4.  ‘If the wasps are bad, you can just go inside.”

I’m sure people don’t realize how cavalier this sounds.  They can’t know how little value they are putting on my life, right?  Would you knowingly go to a party where rattlesnakes are commonly found in that patch of grass at this time of year?  Would you say to someone, ‘don’t be silly, they hardly ever strike…’

My allergist said it best: “Tell people, ‘would you be comfortable eating dinner outside with a rattlesnake lying six feet away from you?’  Because that’s the sort of danger we’re talking about here.”

Thank you for reading this!  You may save someone’s life.

On the other hand, you may come up with a really neat plot idea for a murder mystery.  Remember to credit me in the acknowledgements.


Monday, 9 May 2016

My Novel is a Mess (again...repeat...one year later)

My Novel is a Mess
(How to survive the chaos point in your novel)

By Melodie Campbell  (Bad Girl)

(Most of the words are the same.  But here I am, a year later, working on book number thirteen.  And just like eleven was at this time last year, my book is a mess.  Which just goes to show that the blog post written below is dead on the mark.)

Yes, I’m at that point.  Writing to a specific word count, three-quarters written, and my eleventh novel is an unqualified mess. 

If you are a veteran writer like me, you say it’s not going to happen this time.  But it does. EVERY FREAKING TIME.

Here’s why:

The Linear Approach:
This time, you are going to write linear, by gawd.  One chapter after another, in mathematical order, until you reach the end.  Each chapter will have an outline.

But here’s the problem with that.  You signed a contract that specifies a pretty exact word count.  Is your story going to magically end at the precise word count you need?

Damn straight, it’s not.  It’s going to meander along, minding its own business, taking little side trips, refusing to stay on course.

Because, of course, outlines are just that.  They’re a guide.  You don’t know whether the story is really going to pull together with sufficient motivation and all the goodies until you actually write the thing.  And here’s what happens mid-writing:

You need a new character to make the plot work.  You just thought of a fab new subplot.  Orlando doesn’t work as a side-setting.  You need to move it to Phoenix, and that means a whole lot of changes…

And before you know it, you’re scribbling on the outline, adding this, subtracting that, and then it happens.  Your book is a mess.

Scene plus Scene

I write comedy, and comedy is finicky.  Those good lines come when they come, and you have to get them down fast.  Sometimes they’ll present themselves to me when I’m in a restaurant.  Sometimes, when I’m already in bed.  (Yes, I keep a pen and paper on my bedside table. Ditto, by the loo.)

I always have an outline.  But when writing a highly comedic book, you have to write those funny scenes when you are inspired.  This means hopping around the timeline, writing the scene that works for you today, thinking of another great line, hopping back to an old scene to insert it, when you should be moving forward. 

Which brings you to this point: the important scenes are written, and they present themselves like completed sections of a jigsaw puzzle.  You need to put them together.  Find the pieces that are missing and write the bits to connect them.

Because Sister, your novel is a mess.

That’s the point I’m at now.  The comedy is there.  The conflicts are in place.  The climax is written.  Now I need to take that kaleidoscope and move those pieces into the pattern that works best.

How to cope?  I think the best thing you can do is accept that this is going to happen.  Unless you are a robotic automaton lacking inspiration, you are going to veer from the plan more than once. 

At some point, every novel you write is going to be a mess. 

My advice: just accept it.  And understand that part of your role as writer is that of clean-up artist. 

That’s where I stand today, staring at a story that looks like a tornado just ran through it.

Time for the cleanup crew. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Comedy and the Older Woman – How far can you go?

Today, I’m writing a serious blog.  (‘NO!  Don’t do it!  Don’t’ <sounds of heels screeching on floor as body dragged offstage>)

I write comedy.  I wrote stand-up, and had a regular column gig for many years.  My published crime books and most of my short stories are (hopefully) humorous.  My blog…well, that sometimes goes off the wall.

But I’m noticing that as I get older, the comedy seems to become more shocking.  Or rather, I am shocking people more.  They don’t know how to take it.  I see them gasp and act confused.  Did I really mean what I said just then?  Was it meant to be funny?

I don’t believe it’s because I’m writing a different level of material.  Nope. 

So why?  Why does my comedy seem to shock readers more than it did twenty years ago?

It’s not the readers.  It’s my age.

Writing comedy when you are thirty is ‘cute’.  I can’t tell you how many people told me that I ‘looked cute on stage’ as I innocently said some outrageous things that made people laugh. 

Saying outrageous things on stage when you are over 50 is not ‘cute’.  Women over 50 are never described as ‘cute’ (unless they are silly and feeble and quite old. Not to mention petite.)  Women over 50 cannot carry off ‘innocent’ (unless portraying someone very dumb.)  Women over 50 are expected to be dignified.

Phyllis Diller was a wonderful comic.  She did outrageous things on stage, and we laughed with her.  But she dressed like a crazy-woman and had us laughing AT her as well as with her.  Some women I know dislike the fact that Diller made herself ridiculous in front of an audience.  I don’t, because I know why she did it.

Forgive me while I pull a Pagliacci.  Yes, I still write comedy.  But I don’t do stand-up anymore.  I’ve found that women my age are not well received by crowds (especially liquored-up crowds). 

Women who are young and pretty can get away with murder.  Even better, they can get away with comedy.

BUT: A woman over 50 who makes fun of younger women is (often) seen as jealous.  A woman over 50 who makes fun of men is (often) viewed as bitter. A woman over 50 who makes fun of other women over 50 can get away with it, but the big audience isn’t there.

So my hat goes off to women like Rita Rudner, who do it still. I admire her so (and not just because she is slim and petite.)  I’ll stick to combining comedy and crime on the printed page.  At least that way, I won’t end up murdering my audience.

Postscript:  I pulled a tribute to Phyllis Diller, at the launch of my latest book, The Goddaughter Caper.  I wore an outrageous hat and a sign that said, "Return to the Holy Cannoli Retirement Home."  Everyone laughed and loved it.  I made myself look silly.  Which demonstrates that when a woman over 50 engages in self-deprecating humour, it is approved by audiences.  'Nuf said.


Friday, 29 April 2016

THE GODDAUGHTER CAPER Launch raises $400 for the Hamilton Literacy Council!


Many thanks to everyone who came out for the launch of The Goddaughter Caper last night in Ancaster! We had a blast. Ran out of cannoli.

Thanks to Joan O'Callaghan for the hearse and coffin cookies, and to Pam Pamela Blance for the dark chocolate truffles!
And a special thanks to Gareth Bond, Don Graves and Cathy Astolfo for the kind roasting of the author.
(Unfortunately, the McGodfather (Dave in kilt) forgot to bring the camera, so pix may be slow in coming.)
Congrats to the two winners of the Best Mob Costume (immediately below)

Sunday, 24 April 2016

THE GODDAUGHTER CAPER Launch Take 2! Barring hurricanes, tornadoes, this book WILL LAUNCH this Thursday!

Okay, the weather gods didn't like me much in March.  (Snow, ice, frogs, locusts, on the scheduled day of book launch.)

 Don't make me eat 50 cannoli by myself again!
LAUNCH THIS THURSDAY - All welcome!

Registration is only required if you want a cannoli.  Come Anyway.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Where have all the Readers gone? (in which our Bad Girl gets serious for a change...)

Read interesting stats today from Kobo.
Apparently, 75% of ebook readers are women.

(Back in the days when I first started teaching about writing, the early 90s, the stat was 60%. That is, 60% of readers were women .)

Back to the Kobo study:
Of that 75% of readers who are women, 77% are 45 and older.

The largest single group (30%) are 55-64 years old.  (I now fit in that age group. Curses.)

The reports states that the average prolific reader (that would be me) buys on average 16 print books a year and 60 ebooks.

For all you math types, that's a total of 76 books.

Back up to my college class two weeks ago.  I ran a quick poll.  "How many books do you read in a year?"  I asked.

The poll was confidential.  I ripped up pieces of paper and had them write down their total.  They dropped the anonymous slips on a table on the way out.

The results were shocking.  Let me state first that this is a college credit continuing education class, so we have students of all ages in it.  Crafting a Novel is at the top end of the Creative Writing Certificate - most people take it last, because it is rigorous.  (You have to write a full synopsis and many chapters of your novel by the end.)  So these aspiring novel writers would be avid readers, right?

Books Read in a Year:

Most number of books read:  26
Average number of books read:  7
Least number of books read:  1

Yes, in a writing class of 20, only one person reads 2 books a month.
And one fellow manages to read one book a year.  But he wants to write a novel.

By now, if you are a writer, you should be hitting your head against your desk.

So who is reading books out there?
Women
Aged 55-64

And what are they reading?
Romance
General Fiction (whatever that is)
Mystery
(But twice the number of romance books as the other two categories.)

I have 20 students in my Crafting a Novel class.
No one is writing romance.
No one is writing mystery.
Almost everyone is writing a Hunger Games clone.  (Not the exact title. You know what I mean.)

Stephen King said it best.  "If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things: read a lot and write a lot."

For established writers, reading is part of our professional development.  Every published novelist I know reads several books a month.  I read an average of two books a week.  That's over 100 books a year.  (One hour a night, people.  That's seven hours a week.  Not unreasonable.)

I weep.  I weep for the waste of time, effort and paper.  Can somebody please tell me why anyone would set out to write a novel when they don't read and read and read as a hobby?