Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Your Chapter One

Okay, I'm going to take a break from my Confederacy of Dunces word project to help out some aspiring writers; not with the actual writing which could be impeccable, but with plot stategy.

After being a judge for a fiction manuscript contest, I found a method soon developed. The ten page, fifty page and hundred page method. I would assume this would be a generous method of rejection for most agents and editors. I learned pretty quick that if the novel doesn't start off good, it generally won't get better.

Let's just focus on thrillers, mysteries and suspense. You may have heard this but bare with me, please.

....start with a backstory. Read the start of your manuscript up to the part where something exciting happens and then start there. Plus, it's beneficial to have that total character development to refer to.

...start with a dream. You ever hear someone tell you their dream from the night before? An agent told me it's worse for them read least as a chapter one.

...start with a mundane activity believing the reader will get to know the character. No one wants to read about grocery shopping.

....start with a love scene.

....start with a murder

....start with a conflict

....start with a chase, a mugging, a fight, an operation, a verdict, a bank robbery, a prognosis.

Get it? An agent or editor is going to throw your manuscript in the slush pile, no wait, this is the digital age, they will delete your manuscript into oblivion after two pages if you do not grab them. If you're smart enough to write a novel that you believe will sell, then read the start of your novel with fresh eyes and judge it honestly. HONESTLY. If nothing is happening, nothing is going to happen.

You may say, but why do some published novels start off slow? I can't comment on how each individual author's manuscript's journey ended. I'm just commenting about those manuscripts searching for an agent.

For those who decide to self publish, these rules still apply. Word of mouth will not spread if no one is talking about it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


In Ignatious' personal notes to himself, or his "Manifesto" (so to speak) he uses the word PHANTASMAGORIA, which first conjures an image of Micky Mouse on a mountain waving his magic wand wearing that space-robe or maybe Pink Floyd's The Wall. says:


1. a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination.

2. a changing scene made up of many elements.

3. an optical illusion produced by a magic lantern or the like in which figures increase or diminish in size, pass into each other, dissolve, etc.  

In writing one's manuscript, there would be many instances where this would be applicable and yet, I believe this is first time noting this word. Of course, I know of 'phantasm' but not with the 'magoria.' It seems like a lot of effort to describe an LSD trip.  

Looking at definition number 2, could the changing landscape of publishing be called a phantasmagoria? You know, with ebooks, self-pubbing, Amazon, etc. It would probably never be considered a phantasmagoria as the emmergence of ebooks and the ereaders is not an illusion.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

An exemplum

The next word up on our journey through A Confederacy of Dunces is EXEMPLUM. On page 42 of "Dunces," Ignatious talks about an exemplum for the youth of America, furthering the cause of Clearasil.


1. An example.
2. A brief story used to make a point in an argument or to illustrate a moral truth.

I didn't even know they had Clearasil back then, but it had been created in 1950. My acne was so bad in the early 80's, I wish I would have known about it. There was one girl in high school that was my ultimate crush. Of course, I had no chance. My senior year, my dermatologist cured my pizza face with a prescribed cream, pills and sun lamp treatments over the course of a year. Yeah, it was bad, but it got cleared up.

I ran into this girl years later and miracle of miracles, she was interested in me and my smooth tan skin from Spring Break. Too bad. Let that be an exemplum to her. Ha ha. That word just doesn't sound right.

So, exemplum. Yes, sounds close to example so maybe I didn't need to add it to the blog, but I did not know about the moral truth part. So, it's an anecdote with a message. And how often have you used this word or seen it in a written passage?

Unless you're Latin.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Pyloric Valve

I'll admit that I read all of Confederacy of Dunces before looking this up. Ignatious often referred to his pyloric valve closing or having serious problems whenever he was stressed (and that was often). I figured it had something to do with his stomach or having gas build up.

Here is a definition I found:

The pyloric sphincter, or valve, is a strong ring of smooth muscle at the end of the pyloric canal which lets food pass from the stomach to the duodenum. It receives sympathetic innervation from the celiac ganglion.

He used this condition on par with Fred Sanford clutching his chest and yelling for Elisabeth. One of the things I liked about this book is how others reacted to this fool, which was basically not to challenge him (except maybe for his mother). This cast of characters truly fit the title.

I doubt if I'll ever use this conversation, but I'll certainly remember if I hear someone on Grey's Anatomy say it (if I ever watch it, I mean). And if anyone reads this and then reads one of my future novels that has pyloric in it, then you will certainly get the private joke and tribute to Ignatious.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Third word is "spurious"

spurious - adjective says:
1. not genuine, authentic, or true; not from the claimed, pretended, or proper source; counterfeit.
2. Biology . (of two or more parts, plants, etc.) having a similar appearance but a different structure.
3. of illegitimate birth; bastard.

Page twelve into the book and three words I've had to look up. It's so...refreshing to read something from the 1960's. There's no internet, no social media and no cell phones. These characters talk in conversation that most times had little meaning but mean so much. Can this generation imagine a life where you didn't watch hours of television and you didn't play video games or sit in front of  laptop? Can they imagine no cell phones? I grew up at the end of that era, when a pick up game of football or baseball was our entertainment. I rode my bike to my friend's houses to talk or play board games or swim. Obese children wasn't a concern on the nightly news.

There was an arcade called "Space Port" in the Plaza mall by my house that was filled with pinball machines and I remember going in there one day when I was in my early teens and seeing a Space Invaders machine amongst all the pinball machines. It looked like a sports car sitting on a lot full of junkers. I remember thinking that this is going to change everything. My favorites were Defender and John Elway's football, but that was "spurious" to say the least. Ha ha.

But, in Confederacy of Dunces, once you adjust to the thought processes of these characters, it becomes very addicting. If it wasn't for the "comedic" value in this book, the sad reprocussions of Ignatius' psychological problems and dillusions would just be too troubling.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Word #2 - Onanist

Okay, so a few pages into A Confederacy of Dunces, I ran into the next word I'd like to showcase:

Onanist - Masturbator - Someone who masturbates.

Well, well. The definition I found doesn't say how often, but I guess no one can escape from this word. DON"T DENY BEING ONE. Ha ha.

It comes from a sentence where Ignatious J. Reilly describs the residents of New Orleans. He says,

"This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, Antichrists, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft."

I love this guy! He's a nutcase with visions of granduer and a superior education. The thoughts and declarations he comes up with are hysterical.

Plus, it makes one wonder why another word for masturbator is needed. Maybe the upper crust needed a way to say it without feeling so dirty and without having to whisper at cocktail parties. "I heard he's a practicing onanist." If someone had said that to me before today, I'd have to reply, "Oh, he's a musician? That's great."

Well, you can say he does play the organ.

Hard to work this one into your vocabulary because no one would get the joke or the insult and your friends might wonder how you know this word. You can only hope someone else uses it and then you can explain and garner a few laughs in the process.

Monday, September 3, 2012


My blog posts have been rare to say the least.

Normally, I'm the type of person that doesn't have a lot to say in group conversation and writing a blog is so...exposing. If something isn't stated just right, the meaning could easily be misunderstood or taken out of context. And once it's out there, it is out there. And since not much has been happening on the publishing front, I haven't had much to say other than my current manuscript is being shopped around by my agent.

I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm not very smart in some areas...or in a lot of areas. As far as my writing goes, I have a big imagination, real characters with great dialog and thanks to the Internet, I'm a good researcher when I need to plow through a subject I may be covering.

So, I had an idea on how to continue to blog regularly. I recently read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. You may have heard that a movie is being made and Jack Black will be Ignatious J. Reilly. While reading the novel, I was amazed at how much vocabulary I didn't know. Then, the idea hit me. At the risk of showing my ignorance, I decided to re-read the novel, picking out each word that I wasn't sure of the meaning and post it with some random commentary. It's an idea I want to try to see if it can find traction or be an epic failure. So, here goes...

On the very first page of the first chapter, I found:

SUPERCILIOUS - adjective - haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression.

I had a vague idea of what it meant, but I looked it up anyway to be sure. Toole was describing Ignatious' eyes. He paints a very descriptive portrait of his main character and using supercilious gives a vivid description of his world view...and it also gives the reader an idea of the type of ride they're in for. The opening scene takes place in front of a D.H. Holmes. Those older residents of New Orleans will know this department store very well.

I also found this description: displaying arrogant pride, scorn, or indifference...sniffy.

You may be reading this, saying that I must be a moron not to know this word. If that's the case, then stop reading and please move on to your MENSA test booklet. I'm a novelist trying to help out other aspiring writers, not writers who feel intellectually superior to hacks like me.

But, finding a place for this word in my fast paced, thriller novels would be a chore. I think one of my characters would have to say it in dialog. I feel if I was to insert a word that I wouldn't normally use in my own everyday conversation, it would just look out of place. But, my intention is to feel comfortable enough to do just that.

So, in conclusion, if you didn't know what this word meant, your homework is to work this word into everyday conversation and then feel the superiority of telling your friends what it means. After that, create your own drinking game. You can add all the words that are sure to follow in the near future blogs.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The house I grew up in had been demolished, the foundation and all. I flew into New Orleans, rented a car and decided to drive around my old neighborhood to see how things were going. UNO was still there and had actually grown since I had graduated. The winding Lakefront looked the same. I crossed over the Seabrook Bridge and turned onto Hanyes. Things began looking pretty bad, but that's what I expected.

When I reached my neighbood, which was between Read and Bullard and Haynes and Morrison for those who live there, I saw my elementary school had been bulldozed. However, there were pylons stacked on the property, which meant there were going to rebuild the school...that or a rehab center.

Most of the houses in the neighborhood seemed okay as I continued on, but it was hard to tell how many were inhabited. I expected to see my old house, the one I lived in since I was three and my parents lost after Katrina, to be in a delapidated state with crazy grass reaching to the knees. No, it was gone. The only thing remaining were the two short palm trees that my Dad had planted on the front lawn. They are probably worth some money to someone.

Otherwise, I stared blankly at the plot of dirt. I actually looked at the houses on the left and right to make sure I was in the right spot. It took a moment to adjust to the fact that it was gone. It shouldn't have surprised me. Everything my parents didn't take with them to Baton Rouge for the hurricane had been destroyed by the flood. The more I thought about it, the more it felt right. It was closure. There was no reason to ever go back again, but I know I will. One day I'll be writing about the new house that's taken its place.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Just a rant about privacy

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Pick your nose in the wrong part of the building and your boss will might see you on a video feed. Pull your pants out of your butt in the aisle and K-Mart will know it. Have a quickie in the high rise elevator and Maintenance Man Joe will have a nice ten minute clip to show his friends. Hell, better make sure your blinds have maximum coverage when you're in the apartment alone with a porn. You are being watched.

There was a movie with Will Smith and Gene Hackman called Enemy of the State that offered a glimpse into how scary surveillance and tracking has come (and that was in '98). You can be tracked by your credit card, by your IPASS at tolls, GPS in your phone or in your car. An alibi can be established on every errand you run by time-stamped video. I just got a ticket along with a video of my car going through a red light! And if you happen to be under investigation and all else fails, the IRS already has you by the balls.

Do we care anymore? Are we desensitized? We should be or it might drive us crazy contemplating it all. In the '40's and '50's everyone was made to be so scared of communists that invasions of privacy were the norm. What was it, the McCarthy Red Scare? Our government had a field day prying into the private lives of otherwise normal citizens. Today, the terrorist card can be played as if the government even needed an excuse. Sure, these are private companies that record your movements and track your spending and websites your browse, but that information is out there. Every text, every email. You might hit delete, but it doesn't ever go away.

Facebook - Oh, Lordy Facebook. I'm all for social media. I like Facebook for the mere fact that it's like an address book that everyone else keeps up to date for you. But kids these days don't seem to want privacy. They want everything to be known. GPS doesn't have to track them, they'll tell you right on FB that they're going to Starbucks. They'll tell you their kids have a cold. They'll post a picture of themselves, or what's worse - YOU, drunk at the party, hanging off the ceiling fan in your underwear. Good luck at your next interview. And then it will be there for as long as the Internet is in existence.

I'm trying to be an author; a successful author. And I had a rather extroverted life in New Orleans, but thankfully, that was in the late '80 and 90's before YouTube. If I become a household name, I worry that something might surface because I have a feeling it is out there; a picture, a video, an arrest warrant (just kidding), waiting to embarrass the hell out of me.

And finally, in playing devil's advocate, the one thing I can rationalize is that there are so many people to keep track of, who cares if Joe Blow knows you rent romantic comedies on the weekend? At least those that need to be watched, probably are.