Story Ideas and Techniques

Where do you get ideas for stories? Many of mine come from observations I’ve made and experiences I’ve had. Once in awhile something will just pop into my head. When I am on a “roll” and things are moving along,  it’s so exciting to me. I lose all track of time. Does that happen to you?

I recently wrote a short story (and I think it’s a work in progress) and ideas came so quickly, I couldn’t keep up. My fingers were flying across the keyboard. I couldn’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain.

I am grateful for my education in journalism in the 1970’s at UNL. As a student, I learned to type and think. It was much different than the leisurely handwritten thoughts that I was used to. I had to sit at the typewriter and, in rapid fire, put down my thoughts. It was daunting. But now I have difficulty putting pen to paper because my hand is slower than my brain when I write.

I have discovered that I like to write mystical stories. I’m a reader of mysteries, thrillers and spy novels so this has come as a surprise to me. My latest short story is called “Dream Catcher” and it’s about a museum curator who has the uncanny ability to sense things “other worldly.” I got the idea while looking at the dream catcher that hangs in my bedroom window.

Dream catchers started with the Native American of the Great Plains, the Lakota and Sioux. They believed the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. Dream catchers were hung in the tepees and on the babies’ cradle boards for protection.

According to legend, good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. Bad dreams are caught in the web where they die in the light of dawn.

Traditionally, the frame was made of willow hoops and animal sinew or cordage made from plants. The circular shape represented the sun and moon (and time) as each day moves across the sky.

Now, soft leather cord or synthetic materials are used. The hoop is likely wooden or plastic. They are often decorated with feathers and beads. Mine has an arrowhead in the center.IMG_3865

I have several dream catchers in various forms. I’m not sure when my “collection” started. Like many of my collections, it was inadvertent. I received some from the St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota after making a donation. I continue to receive them now and then, even if I don’t send a donation. I bought the one I have in my bedroom while vacationing in Colorado Springs. I also bought a dreIMG_3868am catcher necklace on another trip to Colorado. I’ve had one of my dream catchers so long, I don’t recall when or where it came from. It is made of leather and is very simple but beautiful with pinkish webbing. It’s one of my favorites.

http://www.dream-catchers.org/category/history/

In my story, the protagonist, Frank de Salle, is a museum curator who was born with microtia. The character is loosely based on my brilliant younger brother who is deaf. My character’s name is Frank de Salle, named for the patron saint of deaf persons, St. Francis de Salle.

Frank and his sister, Christine, a reporter, travel to the Pine Ridge reservation where they attend a powwow. Things happen as they journey onward to the Black Hills and into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower. All culminates when Frank returns home and is visited by a ghostly figure one night.

Excerpt from “The Dream Catcher”

Frank de Salle was born with a missing ear.   He could speak but he knew he didn’t articulate very well. Strangers treated him as though he was retarded. He sensed it was because of his slurred speech and very loud nasal voice. But he held advanced degrees in both anthropology and history.

 He worked at the college museum as a curator where he set up traveling exhibits,  cataloged museum pieces, and conducted research on artifacts. He worked alone and lived alone and he was fine with that.

His modest two-bedroom home sat ten blocks from campus. He had a drivers’ license but preferred to walk. Pedestrians didn’t cut in front of one another or flip each other off as they hurried down the sidewalk. A nod or smile made it a much more genial mode of getting from point A to point B. Oh, he’d drive in the winter sometimes but leave early in the morning before there was much traffic.

When he spoke, he could hear his words echo in his head and thought they sounded fine, even though strangers looked at him in an odd way. “Don’t yell so loud,” Christine would say, but then he couldn’t hear his words. His speech therapist explained that, with his hearing aid on, he could hear about as well as someone underwater in a swimming pool might hear, whatever that was.

Sometimes he’d feel a vibration before hearing a sound through his hearing aid. Doctors told him that his other senses were heightened. He overcompensated because of his deafness. An oncoming car felt like he was holding an electric razor with the sensation passing through his entire body. He liked vibrations, his connection to the world.

Want to read more? Let me know. Leave a comment below. 

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“Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.” Lakota Proverb

“A man’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood, and thus it is in everything where the power moves.” Black Elk

 

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Fighting the Bad Guys

Since the Paris attacks last week, people have posted all kinds of negative things on social media. But today, I watched a very touching video of a Parisian father whose wife was killed in the attack. He is a now a single father of a 17-month old son. He has vowed not to let the terrorists win. He will do this by doing every-day things and teaching his son to be a caring person.

I was raised in a small town in Nebraska in the 1950-60’s. I felt safe. Why? Because I knew people. People watched out for me. I knew people who knew people. We didn’t have electronic devices to communicate, so we learned to watch and observe. We could recognize strangers. We learned to recognize potentially dangerous situations. We knew there were risks of going to certain parts of town after dark. We were taught to observe people, places and things that might harm us. We knew our environment and people watched out for one another.harvest time Cozad 1958

I went off to college to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. But I still felt safe because I lived in the college community. I knew practically everyone in my dorm and many people in the other dorms. I knew classmates and professors, cleaning people and cafeteria workers. I recognized other college students as we passed, taking the same route to classes every day. We often nodded and greeted one another. I was in organizations on campus and I went to Sunday Mass at the Newman Center where there were more familiar faces. I knew a lot of people in the student section of the stadium, cheering the Huskers to victory. (It was 1971-73 and a great time to be a fan!)

On campuses today, people seem much more isolated, walking around with their heads down, texting or looking at their smart phones. We have not taught our children to be aware of their surroundings, to pick up on signs of danger.

I married a small town boy who had grown up in a more isolated area than I did. He took a job in Omaha. Scared me to death. Big, bad Omaha, where they shoot each other. At least, that is what we read in the newspaper. I soon discovered that Omaha people were friendly. Many of my friends were much like me—raised in a small town, but ended up in the city as adults. I felt safe. My childhood rearing had paid off. I knew what to watch for and how to avoid risky situations. Or at least, recognize that the situation might be risky before I did it anyway.

A few years ago, we moved to Chicago and it was quite a shock.
People in large cities are anonymous. Most people don’t give  eye contact. With all those people, it can be a very lonely place. If you don’t care to know your neighbor, you can have 100 neighbors but no contact with them.IMG_1957.JPG
Our new neighbors must have thought I was a crazy woman because I made cookies and took them to the houses around us and introduced myself. I got to know my neighbors, at least by name, because I took the initiative. Had I waited for them to introduce themselves to me, we would have waited a long time.

Four years later, we were transferred back to Omaha and moved into an established neighborhood.

Immediately, the neighbors came over with cakes and cookies and introduced themselves. One couple had an evening “coffee” with all the neighbors there to meet us. They wanted to know more about us, not in a nosy manner, but an inviting way. And they told us about their jobs, families and situation.

Our society seems to be losing that sense of community and neighborliness. We are so focused on work and making money, that we are becoming more isolated and within ourselves and small group.

The old adage “There is safety in numbers” is true. The more people you know and understand, the better off you are.

So, what does this have to do with terrorism? I think one of the biggest deterrents we can use against terrorism is being neighborly. Get to know people. Don’t be afraid to ask their names. Get to know their backgrounds. Show an interest.

Imagine if people had made an effort to know some of the guys before they shot up movie theaters or college campuses. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe someone would have recognized that this person was dangerous or was “on the edge” and got help or reported their behavior.

Same with the terrorists, who were members of a cell living in Belgium. Belgium, not Syria. NOW people share stories about these people, telling us how bad the neighborhood is, how they felt uneasy around these guys, how they witnessed suspicious behavior. What if these “witnesses” would have shown the same concern before the attack happened?

Of course, there are no guarantees that someone won’t attack, but it might help if we were a little more aware of our surroundings, aware of our neighbors, aware of potentially dangerous or risky situations. And act on them.

  • Get to know your “part of the world.” Observe your environment. Don’t walk around with your nose in your smart phone.
  • Notice things.
  • Ask people about themselves. Be friendly. Get to know them.
  • Become less self-absorbed and more interested in other people.
  • Protect and help those around you. Teach your children what to look for without frightening them.
  • Remind them of their strengths and abilities so they grow to be confident, aware individuals.
  • Focus more on others than your bank account. Check your priorities. What is really of value to you?
  • Broaden your circle of friends. Get to know friends of friends.
  • Don’t let the terrorists or shooters “win.” Live your life without fear.
  • Avoid lumping any group of people together. We Americans are all different. America is a country of refugees and our family roots show us that, at some point, we, too, were refugees. No color, religion, or form of dress defines us. We should not define others by color, religion or dress.

Our country was founded on freedom. We want to protect that freedom but we should also want that freedom for others.

Many times in our history, we have helped others find freedom. Americans helped free the world from Nazi terror in WWII. Our example helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Numerous people are living free today because of American sacrifice. We haven’t always gotten it “right” but we shouldn’t let that stop us.IMG_2872 (2)

Our forefathers didn’t say “Only Christians can come” or “America belongs to only certain people.” One person’s freedom isn’t more important than another’s and we need to show that to the terrorists by living as we always have, an open society willing to give others a chance at freedom.

As I wrap up this blog post this morning, I overhear a gentleman being interviewed on television about how to fight terrorism. He said “Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid.” He must have read my mind.

“Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid” should be our mantra.

Friday the Thirteen, Again

March 13th lands on a Friday, just like last month. This piqued my interest and I decided to look into common superstitions and what their origins are.

My mother was a Pennsylvania coal miner’s daughter and she had so many sayings and superstitions. I don’t think she truly believed in bad luck or good luck, but she told the superstitions much like parents and grandparents pass on adages and folklore. On a whim a few years ago, I wrote a short story based on Mom’s folklore. I called it “I Itch” because it seems that my mother had a superstition for about every part of the body that itched. (Well, I take that back–there are a few places that itch that I won’t mention and that she had no saying for.)

A few of the itchy places and their reasons for doing so include:

  • Nose–you will kiss a fool
  • Ears–someone is talking about you
  • Right hand–you will meet a new friend
  • Left hand–you will receive money
  • Feet-you will travel

My little story included all of these and at the end, I said, “And if you itch all over, you need a bath.”

While looking up superstitions, I found some of Mom’s itchy ones so they seem to be well-known.  I wondered about Friday the 13th. Why that date?

Turns out, long before Jason and the slasher movies, Friday the 13th was considered unlucky. It is tied to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Since tradition holds that Jesus and the apostles gathered for the Seder meal the evening before the crucifixion, the Passion of Christ occurred on a Friday since the meal would have taken place on a Thursday. There were 13 people present at the Seder meal, 12 apostles (until Judas left) plus Jesus. Therefore, Friday the 13th was considered unlucky. Mention of Friday the 13th being unlucky first appears in the written work in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

What about other common superstitions? Last month, I took a couple hundred pennies to work and put up a sign that read, “Lucky Pennies–Help yourself. Happy Friday the Thirteenth!” I decided to look up the reason why picking up a penny  would be considered lucky. Here’s what I found:

Lucky Penny

“Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.” This superstition probably goes back to ancient times when it was believed that finding metal was a gift from the gods.

Black Cat

The black cat was revered until the Middle Ages when black cats became associated with witches. Some believed witches could turn themselves into black cats. Having a cat cross your path and bad luck may have started in the 1500’s when people saw a cat cross the path of a woman and she was limping the next day.

Walking under a Ladder

There are several possible explanations for this:

  • In medieval times, when people were going to their death at the gallows, it was believed that if you walked under the hangman’s noose, you would die.
  • The ancient Egyptians revered the pyramids and if a ladder was against the wall, it resembled the shape of a pyramid. Walking under it “broke” the good “vibes.”
  • After Christianity took hold in Europe, the ladder reminded people of the Trinity and to walk under it was considered blasphemous.
  • Obvious, it is unwise to walk under a ladder since it could be dangerous. No one ever mentions the guy ON the ladder. Seems it could be really bad for him if someone jostled the ladder as they walked under it!

Breaking a Mirror Brings 7 Years Bad Luck

This superstition can be traced back to the Romans, who were the first to create glass mirrors. If the user broke the mirror, it meant that his or her soul would be trapped inside the glass. The Romans also believed that a person’s physical body renewed itself every seven years, so in seven years the soul  would be fully restored to the body.

Lucky rabbit’s foot  (Not for the rabbit!)

The belief of the lucky rabbit’s foot has probably existed in Europe since 600 BC amongst the Celts. The “donor rabbit” possessed certain attributes, had to be killed in a particular place and in a special  manner. Rabbits were considered “shape changers,” with the ability to change into other animals or people. Carrying one around protected the person.

Opening an umbrella inside

In ancient Egypt, royalty had umbrellas to protect them from sunlight. The Sun God was a very powerful god. They felt it would offend the Sun God if they opened the umbrella indoors where the rays of the Sun God couldn’t reach them.

 Step on a crack

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Most of us know the old rhyme. Whether the rhyme is the cause of or a result of this superstition is uncertain. Of course, avoiding uneven sidewalk and cracks is probably a good policy if one wants to avoid tripping.

Spilled salt

A widespread explanation of the belief that it is unlucky to spill salt is that Judas spilled the salt at the Last Supper. “The Last Supper” by Davinci shows the salt knocked over by Judas.

Salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. A friend would not spill your salt since it was a symbol of friendship and trust.

Salt is also a religious symbol.  Jesus referred to the “salt of the earth”.

The most common belief or “ritual” these days requires you to toss a pinch of the spilled salt over your left shoulder, into the face of the Devil who lurks there.

“Blow out the candles and make a wish”

Birthday candles have been around since ancient Greece who put candles on round candle to honor the moon goddess, Artemus. The cake represented the moon and the candles, moonlight. People came to believe that the smoke from the candles carried their wishes and prayers to the gods and also warded off evil spirits. Eventually, making a wish and then blowing out all of the candles meant your wish would come true.

What other superstitions can you think of? Whatever they are, they are simply that—superstitions!

Good luck to you all! Enjoy your Friday!

Now where did I put my lucky four-leaf clover?

 

 

Summertime is Class Reunion Time

This past weekend, I returned to my small hometown in the middle of Nebraska and met with former classmates and friends from high school.  We have been out of school long enough that we no longer try to impress each other with fancy cars, clothes and prestigious careers or opportunities.  We are in the “glad to see you are still alive and kicking” stage.  We have all had our ups and downs and no longer feel the need to discuss our achievements (unless you count getting out of bed in the morning) or status symbols (unless you count the number of surgeries or joint replacements).

This year I had the honor of coming up with the “awards.”  Here is what was presented at our banquet.
Marco Polo Award to the classmate who traveled the farthest to the reunion. A photo album with a map cover on it was given.

The One-Step-Ahead-of-the-Law Award for living the most places since graduation – received “Change of Address” cards

“Thank You for Your Service” Award to the classmates/spouses who served in the military – received American flags

The Home is Where the Heart Is Award to the classmate who has lived in their current home the longest – received a Home Sweet Home plaque

The “Go Forth and Multiply” Award for having the most children – received a little wooden sign that read “You can’t have too much fun!”

“Greatest Legacy Award” for having the most grandchildren – received Washable Magic Markers.

The “For Better or Worse” Award for being married the longest – received a lovely little white picture frame with doves on it.

“Foot Loose and Fancy Free” Award for being single the longest – received “The Party Is Here” banner.

The E-Award went to the person with the most electronic devices and social media signons (Facebook, Twitter, etc) – received a “Connect the Dots” game.

The “Auld Lang Syne” Award went to several people. It was for attending the most reunions. -received their very own “Hello, My Name Is…” name tag.

The “Six Million Dollar Bionic Person” Award went to the person with the most joint replacements – received a toy “reacher” and mechanical hand filled with candy.

“The Doctor Is In” Award went to the person with the most surgical procedures in a lifetime – received a doctor’s kit.

The “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends”Award went to everyone who requires any assistive devices such as glasses, hearing aids, canes, pacemakers – all but three received this award, a pair of dark glasses, but no canes.

The “Cheer, Cheer Award” went to the person who could remember all the words to the school – received a memory game.

The crowd enjoyed the awards and I enjoyed coming up with them. Fun times!

“Fifteen Minutes of Fame” and Other Adages

 

IMG_0972Most people know that the saying, “Fifteen minutes of fame” originated with Andy Warhol.  The expression was first used when a catalog of an exhibition of Warhol’s work was published in 1968,  In it, Warhol discussed the nature of celebrity and wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”  The phrase caught on and was shorted to “fifteen minutes of fame.”

It is interesting to research the origin of common expressions.  Some expressions are so ingrained in our language that we don’t give them much thought.

After being out the night before, celebrating their birthdays, my adult son and his friend debated the practice of having a “hair of the dog” and it’s efficacy or lack thereof.

“Where did that expression ever come from?”  his friend asked.

In this world of SmartPhones and the internet, they found their answer in a flash.  It comes from ancient Rome where similia similibus curantura was common medical practice.  Back then, if one was bitten by a rabid dog (or even an uninfected dog), treatment was putting a hair from that dog onto the wound and bandaging it up.  The thinking was, that the very thing that caused the illness could cure the illness.  The practice of the dog hair on a bite wound was in use for nearly 200 years before it was called into question.Funny_dog (2)

In time, the popular saying came to mean taking an alcoholic drink in the morning cures a hangover.

What adages interest you?  Here are a few of my favorites:

“I’m on cloud nine.”  This expression means that a person is extremely happy.  The U.S. Weather Bureau is responsible for this one.  Clouds are classified by the Bureau into nine types. Cloud #9 is cumulonimbus, a cloud that becomes very large and high.

Cloud

“Pass the buck”  Meaning to blame someone else, “passing the buck” originated as a poker phrase.  The “buck” was the token passed to the next person up to deal the cards.

Originally, the buck was a buckhorn knife.  The handle of the knife was made from the horn of a male deer or “buck.”  The phrase was written down by Mark Twain in 1872, the earliest recorded version.

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“Sleep tight.”  There are a couple of theories of origin for this one.  The first explanation I ever heard was that it was a nautical phrase.  Since sailors slept in hammocks, they tightened the ropes at night.  Thus, “sleep tight.”

Another theory is that “tight” is old English for soundly, properly, efficiently.  Personally, I like the sailors’ version better.

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“Snug as a bug in a rug.”   It is hard to pin down this expression, but it can be broken down word by word.  The origins may not have anything to do with bugs or rugs.  The expression means to sleep comfortably and soundly and is thought to be a whimsical adage from the 18th century.  “Snug” can be traced back to the 16th century when it meant a parlor inside of an inn or pub.  This form of “snug” is still used in Irish pubs where small walled off areas provide privacy for couples and small groups.

According to several sources, “snugge” meant “neat, trim, well-prepared” until 1630 when John Lane used the word “snugginge” to mean comfortable.  “Bugge” meant ghost or ghoul.  In 1642, Daniel Rogers used the word “bugge” to mean insect.

It is believed that the expression “Snug as a bug in a rug” was in full use in 1769, but rugs as we know them were not around.  At the time, a “rug” was a thick woolen cover for a bed–basically, a blanket.

So, the origins of “snug as a bug in a rug” could actually translate as “well-prepared as a ghost in a blanket.”

Benjamin Franklin is usually credited with the adage. However, evidence shows that the expression was around long before Poor Richard’s Almanac.  Benjamin Franklin used it as a epitaph in 1772 for a pet squirrel named Skug.  “Here Skug lies snug as a bug in a rug.”

In 1769, a Shakespeare  festival advertisement in the Stratford Jubilee printed, “If she has the mopus’s, I’ll have her, as snug as a bug in a rug.”thWH1180F4

Many adages are from the Bible.  Some are verbatim while others are based on words or stories in the Bible.  These include:

  • An apple of one’s eye (Psalms 17:8)
  • To the bitter end (Proverbs 5:4)
  • By the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)
  • Cast the first stone (John 8:7)
  • The eleventh hour (Matthew 20)
  • An eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24)
  • Kiss of death (based on Judas’ kiss in Gethsemane)
  • Old as Methuselah
  • Pride goes before faith (Proverbs 16:18)
  • Wash one’s hands of it (based on Pilate’s washing of his hands)
  • Wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15)open-bible-hi

Can you think of others?

Some adages are ancient while others are fairly new.  It is fascinating to look at our language and its roots, contemplating how we, as writers, create our stories.  Who knows?  A sentence you write may become the next popular adage.

Write your list of adages in “comments” below.