The X-Factor by Dellani

ABC ChallengeI’m always looking for ways to expand my vocabulary and this X Challenge gave me a good reason to go looking for new words. I don’t know a lot of X words, apart from Xylophone, X-Ray and Xanadu. Xenon and Xenophobic also are ensconced in my vocabulary. However, I wanted to expand upon that, so I went to Collins Dictionary and did a little excavating.

I recently watched a silly show on Netflix. One of the characters was named Xanthippe. I found it interesting to read that Xanthippe was the name of Socrates’ sharp tongued, spiteful, harping wife. They writers had obviously chosen this name for a reason, because the character was all of that and more.

I discovered, in my explorations, that xylophagous is an adjective pertaining to certain insects, crustaceans, etc feeding on or living within wood. With xylo as the root of the word, I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that xylobalsamum is the name of the dried, fragrant wood of the Balsamodendron gileadense that produces resin known as Balm of Gilead. And just as logical that xoanon is the name of a primitive image of a god, carved, especially originally, in wood, and supposed to have fallen from heaven.

If that weren’t enough, the x-factor, a noun (informal) an unknown or unexplained element that makes something more interesting or valuable, the excellent apogee of this exciting article, we come to the last X entry in the Collins Dictionary. I didn’t know that a xyster is a surgical instrument for scraping bone; surgical rasp or file. To be honest, I never thought about it having a name. I’m not surprised such an instrument exists, as I’m sure it’s extremely important.

I believe I’ve had enough of X today. Perhaps another time I’ll be more interested in extolling the excellent exigencies of X, but until then I’ll relax, enhance my Xi and plan my trip to Xochimilco noun a town in central Mexico, on Lake Xochimilco: noted for its floating gardens. Pop: 364 647 (2000).

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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What Happened to the Cat? by Dellani

ABC ChallengeMy husband is a detail oriented person. As a medical professional, he has to be. It amazes me, however, what details his analytical, scientific mind will latch onto when he reads my novels. He’ll read the entire story and start demanding clarification. Some of it I’ve thought of, other things I make up, glad of my improv experience, because I honestly hadn’t thought of it.

It’s not unusual for me to make up some BS answer out of thin air just to get him to quit asking. Sometimes, if the subject really interests him, he’ll expand on it to the point where I’d pay real money just to get him to shut up.

Often, these sessions are helpful, clarifying those nebulous ideas that I hadn’t fully considered. A typical exchange:

“Have you thought about insert random weird concept?” he asks me.

“The readers don’t need to know that,” I reply, somewhat miffed.

“But it’s interesting. You could….”

“Yes, maybe, but why? It’s not the least bit important. Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Ask about the most unimportant elements?”

“I don’t do that. Now, what about…?”

He’s gradually learning not to ask what I’m working on, because ninety percent of the time it’s something I haven’t told him about. I shuffle projects and might work on a dozen different stories in a week. I love the fact that he’s interested, but I don’t always want to stop what I’m doing and explain what the book is about.

Once, in a weak moment, I told him about one of my unpublished novels where the psychotic ex-wife of the hero breaks into the heroine’s apartment, shaves her cat and duct tapes it to the hood of his car. Yes, it’s messed up, but the neighbors find the cat a short time later, call the police and take the cat to the vet. I mention in passing that the cat is at the vet’s and he’s fine. I read the passage to him, pleased with how well it came together.

NEW AT LOVE

“Someone broke into your place, Mandy.”

“My – what?”

Pale and shaking, she leaned against Derrick for support. He and Jasper helped her sit on the bench just inside the entry way.

“Why? What did they do in there?”

“They took your cat,” Jasper said quietly.

“What? Muse? Where is he? Is he okay?”

“Yeah. He’s okay. We sent him to the vet. Someone shaved him and taped him to the hood of Derrick’s car.”

“My car? Why the hell would they do that?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

Apparently, there wasn’t enough information for my husband. “What happened to the cat?” He asked when I got to the end of my explanation.

“What? Which cat?”

“Amanda’s cat, Muse. What happened to him?”

“He’s at the vet’s. I said that. He’s fine.”

“But you don’t mention him again.”

“So? You don’t even like cats. Why are you worried about the cat?”

“I was curious.”

“Forget the cat. He’s fine!”

“Whatever you say, baby.” There’s a long pause, to the point where I’m busy again and have forgotten about the conversation. “You really need to clear that up.”

“Clear what up?”

“The part about the cat….”

The point I’m making is that little details, things we forget about or think are inconsequential, can bother our readers if left unresolved. My husband, who positively loathes cats, was worried about Muse to the point that it detracted from the climax of the story. So I gave him a little more to help satisfy him

When Amanda opened the cat carrier door, Muse came out. He looked hopelessly thin in his shaven state, but rubbed against Derrick as happily as ever. Amanda looked inside the carrier.

“Where’s your friend?” she asked Muse.

The cat, as if he understood her, went to his carrier, nosing at the door, mewing softly. An answering mew came from inside the carrier.

“He made a friend at the vet’s. They were both traumatized and the little one latched onto Muse. He comforted her, wasn’t that sweet?”

She reached into the carrier, gently pulling out a small, scrawny white cat with blue eyes.

“She’s beautiful, Amanda. What did you name her?”

“Aphrodite. I couldn’t resist.”

Muse hopped into Derrick’s lap as he lounged on the couch with Amanda snuggled next to him. Aphrodite leaped prettily into her lap, turned three times and settled into a comfortable mound of white fur.

I’m not suggesting that every reader is quite so easily misdirected as my husband, but some are. Those are the people we have to satisfy by tying up the loose ends. Make sure the subplots are resolved. Give enough of an explanation that it sticks with the reader. Keep distractions to a minimum so that the thread of the story isn’t lost along the way. A few moments spent on housekeeping will prevent the inevitable question: “What happened to the cat?”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Velda, Vivica, Victoria, Viktor

ABC ChallengeI like unusual names for my characters. Yes, I have typical things like Jack, John, Joseph or James, but I like interesting names like Velda, Vivica Victoria and Viktor.

I’ve written a lot of books – well over a hundred. Some will be published, others will never see the light of day. In all those books, I have characters. These characters need names. I’ve noticed, over the years, that I have a tendency to use the same names for minor characters with alarming frequency.

I didn’t realize how alarming until I decided to take a tally. Considering I have 113 finished novels/ novellas, and roughly 50 unfinished works (not including short stories) that’s a lot of names! I try to keep the main character names unique, but there are, apparently, some I loved so much, I used them for more than one character. At least they are in worlds which will not collide, or I’d be in serious trouble. I can change a minor character’s name, or even a main character, if I catch it before he or she has fully evolved. I’ve done that four times, that I can think of. Once a story is finished, I won’t change a main character’s name, though I have altered the names of a few adjunct characters.

To get back to my little OCD moment…. I wondered how many times I’d used certain names, so I went through my notebooks, checking cast lists, and counted. The results shocked me. I have now made myself a list of names never to use again. I’ll have to find alternatives. The list below includes only the names of those I had remembered to write down. There could very easily be a few more Bobs, Williams or Toms around, for which I cannot account. I will, eventually, endeavor to change out some of these names, because there are only so many Bobs anyone can possibly know. In my list below, I included only the names I’d used 15 times or more.

Dellani’s Most Used Names:

Cindy 15

Paul 15

Richard 15

Sam 15

Charles 17

David 17

Ed 17

John 19

James 20

Tom 20

And the top two names were (drumroll please):

Coming in at #2 Most Used Name was – William at a rollicking 29

The #1 Top Used Name was – Robert! At a whopping 32!! I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that many people named Bob.

Keep in mind, these totals include combination names like Joe Bob, Billy Bob, Jimmy Joe Bob Earl…. (I had 7 Earls, 4 Joes) I’ve made a complete list and the top contenders have a list of their own Names Never to Use Again! Meanwhile, I need to come up with alternatives…. Bother.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Under the Western Sky & Undiscovered by Dellani

ABC ChallengeI have two books that begin with the letter U and I couldn’t choose between them, so I’m going to talk briefly about them both. The only thing that these books have in common is that they are both romantic suspense, and they both begin with U. Other than that, there are no similarities at all.

Under the Western Sky is what I call a retro-romantic suspense, set in 1976 in Western Nebraska. Set in an uncertain time, sometime after a major FBI snafu at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, racial tensions are high. Libby Marshall and Bobby Menendez have just started dating. Her friend, Toni, is seeing Bobby’s cousin Ramon. One night on his way home, Ramon is caught and beaten by a bunch of white boys. Though he lives through the beating, he is seriously injured.

Unfortunately, Bobby runs afoul of the same group, only this time they’re armed with guns, not baseball bats. With the skills his father taught him, Bobby is able to fight back, but now he and his family are marked for death. With the help of some friends, they take flight into a very uncertain future.

Undiscovered is a contemporary romantic suspense, set in Florida. It was my NaNoWriMo novel for 2010. It was inspired by a dream a friend of mine, Micky Hoffman told me about. She gave me permission to use it as the basis of the story.

Someone wants movie mogul Kent Griswald dead. Although the first attempt is unsuccessful, soon the killer catches up with him. It’s up to Detectives Walter Scott and Vanessa Weinstein to make sense of the clues and find the killer before he can strike again.

Cadence Stuart is their only witness and it’s the job of Walter and Vanessa, to keep her safe. Unfortunately, Walter finds himself falling for his witness. Knowing their involvement could jeopardize the case, the two try to maintain a professional distance, but being thrown together by circumstance makes it increasingly difficult.

Although these stories have nothing in common, except for the U in the title, they are both books I’m very proud of. Oh, and they were both published by Tirgearr Publishing.

Below are a couple of excerpts from each book.

Under the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 500

Under the Western Sky:

“Are you going to go all the way with Danny?” Libby asked Toni.

“I don’t know, Libby. He’s so cute and sexy, but I mean, good grief! I can’t make up my mind. Every time I even think of doing it with him, I get this vision of my mom scolding me. The thoughts go right out of my mind. She’d be so disappointed.”

“How would she know? My mom probably wouldn’t even notice.”

“This is my mother,” Toni said patiently. “The woman who always knew when we were doing something sneaky. Remember the milk and cookie incident?”

“Toni, you fell off a chair holding the cookie jar. Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what you were doing.”

Undiscovered by Dellani Oakes - 200

Undiscovered:

“Wouldn’t expect a music theory teacher to listen to that.”

“It might shock you to know that I also like Tool, Skinny Puppy and Iron Maiden.”

He clutched his heart as he slowed for a red light. “I might have heart failure.”

She giggled, tossing her head. “I suppose if I admitted that I play in a jazz band and jam with my cousins who have a bluegrass group, you’d faint.”

“No, I’ll only faint if you tell me you like death metal.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Not so much.”

“Good, then I don’t have to shoot you in the foot.”

“That’s always my first inclination when I hear death metal.”

“Thought it was just me.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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That’s So Cliche by Dellani

ABC ChallengeThere are “conventions” in writing. No, I don’t mean the great big gatherings of authors & their fans, though these are also conventions. What I mean are the things you MUST NOT DO if you want to be an author.

I’d love to know who decides these things. Who set the rules in the first damn place? My theory is that a bunch of frustrated, would-be writers got together and decided that they would set standards in order to hamper the creativity of others. Level the field by making it harder for the competition. Well played.

Grant you, there are some conventions that are valid. (I can’t think of any right now, but give me a little while. I’m sure there are some.) One standard that has some validity is the use of clichés. Not familiar with the word? I could give you a big, long dictionary definition, but why bother? A cliché is a phrase that’s over used. Tried and true. True blue. Nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. You get the idea.

As a general rule, it’s good to avoid these hackneyed phrases. They make your work look cheap and unloved. My father would have said, “Like a whore at breakfast.” That was one of his favorite clichés.

Sometimes, it’s all right to use one. When?

Dialogue. Think about it for a moment. They are as common as the day is long. There are as many different clichés as there are hairs on your head. People think and speak in clichés all the time. There are variations depending upon geographic location. Obviously, English doesn’t corner the market on trite expressions.

Because people think and speak in clichés, avoiding them in dialogue can make the words sound stilted. Not every character will use them. Not every book lends itself to them. In these cases, the clear choice is not to use them.

Don’t be afraid to use a cliché from time to time. It’s okay—really! Tell your story the way it needs to be told. Have your characters speak in a believable fashion. Too often, we are afraid to break the mold and think outside the box. It’s not a crime. What are they going to do? Send the Grammar Police? I don’t think they have jurisdiction over clichés. Sorry. No arrests shall be made today.

As with anything, use clichés sparingly. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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