Practicing Dialogue–A Grandmother’s Advice

Today I am using the Three Word Wednesday prompt to practice writing dialogue.  The three words this week are:  error, jingle and vindicate.

A Grandmother’s Advice

Dave shifted from one foot to the other.  He stuck his hand into his pocket and tried not to jingle his keys.  He knew the charges were in error, but he wasn’t sure he’d be vindicated.

Judge Bean, a scowl on his face, sat rigidly in front of the courtroom.  “David Johnston,” he began, “You are charged with attempting to drive a vehicle while intoxicated.   How do you plead?”

“Not guilty, Your Honor, and I would like to explain.”

The judges eyes softened, but only slightly.  His voice did not.  “Were you intoxicated?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Were you behind the wheel of the car, and were the keys in the ignition?”

“Yes Sir, but….”

“It sounds to me like you were trying to drive while intoxicated.”

“But Your Honor….”

The judge frowned at Dave’s interruption, but said, “Your story better be good lad.  Let’s hear it.”

“Your Honor,” Dave began, “I left the tavern a little after midnight.  I knew I was too drunk to drive.  I planned to crawl into my car and sleep it off.”

Eyes stern and unwavering the judge demanded “Then why were your keys in the ignition?”

“Y-y-your Honor,” At this point Dave realized he had pulled his keys from his pocket and the entire courtroom had heard them jingle.”  Dave could feel the heat as his face turned red, but he started again.  “Your, Honor, out of habit I stuck my key in the ignition.  I did not start the car.  I just grabbed my quillo, covered up and fell asleep.”

The judge continued to stare, “What  the heck’s a quillo?” he asked?

“It’s this little quilt my grandmother made,” Dave replied.  “It’s sort of a blanket that folds up into a pillow.”

Eyes wide with disbelief, the judge almost smiled.  “You’re kidding?” he asked.

“No Sir.  I just covered up with the quillo and fell asleep.  Gram gave it to me when I started driving.” Dave raced on, “She told me it was to remind me to not drink and drive.  I’d always have this blanket to cover up with.  That way, even if it was cold, I would have no excuse for drinking and driving.”

At this point the judge turned his head away.  Covered his mouth and tried not to laugh.  “How old are you Dave?” he asked.

“Twenty-one Sir.”

Judge Bean shook his head and glanced out at the courtroom.  Everyone was smiling or worse yet laughing.  “Young man,” he said, “My advice to you is to drink less.  And David, if your grandmother is still alive, do something nice for her today—Charges dismissed.  Next case….”

Dave shoved his keys into his pocket.  Relieved to be vindicated he vowed to never make that mistake again.




     Recently I read a self-published novel by an award-winning author.  I was disappointed.  It was obvious that the author either tried to self-edit or used an independent editor that was not up to the task.   As I read through the book, I found numerous errors that were probably caused by relying on a word processor and blindly allowing changes.  Some examples:   the word except was used instead of accept; I was used instead of eye; and by was used when the word should have been buy.  There were also numerous places where words were omitted or a word was split improperly on the page.

     I think the story was probably a good one.  However, every time I ran into an obvious error, and they appeared in nearly every chapter, I was distracted.  I am not sure if the story really has places that need work because the transition from time period to time period isn’t working or if I was just sidetracked by the mistakes.

     Reading this novel reinforced my belief that self-publishing isn’t an easy route.  Although at times it may be the most profitable route; and sometimes it may be the only possible option—such as the publishing of specialized works.  It still requires that someone perform all of the steps that are typically required when a book is published by one of the large publishing houses.

     Editing any written work is a critical element. “Poor editing” results in “poor quality.”’   It is very difficult to proofread ones own works.  We tend to read what we think we wrote, not what is really on the page. In this new world of self-publishing it is imperative that, as writers, we recognize what we are good at and what we need to have some one else do for us.   I hope this author finds a good editor before he/she attempts to self-publish another book.  It would be a shame to see a career derailed by poor editing.


Cool, Powerful and Provocative–

All writers would like to believe that their writing is cool, powerful and provocative.

Cool—as in the slang of my youth, meaning very good or pleasing

Powerful—meaning strong or intense; with the ability to persuade

Provocative—meaning with the ability to excite, stimulate or arouse

A presentation by Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, made me think about how, research infuses our writing with these three qualities.  It also made me think about how often we fail to use the resources readily available to us.

Dr. McConaghy was talking about her new book, New Land, North of the Columbia, however when I returned home I realized that my notes contained as many references about her process for researching the book as they did  to the contents of the book itself.  I must admit this didn’t dampen my spirits at all.

Dr. McConaghy’s book is a historical study of Washington through the documents stored within public archives and museums.  She said that she approached each archivist and curator by asking them what they had in their collection that was “cool, powerful or provocative.”

The more she spoke  the more I realized how important the documents stored in our public archives can be to both fiction and nonfiction writers.  As she reminded us, political and legal documents in a local archive can reveal insight into the past to help us understand the present.  Vintage brochures, pamphlets and even art work on an old can found in a local museum, tell us something about the community and why the population believes what it believes and holds the ideals it holds.

For example, in her book Dr. McConaghy shared some promotional materials from an era when federal programs brought irrigation to Eastern Washington in hopes that the “desert would bloom”.  Irrigation, of course, played a major role in turning parts of Eastern Washington into the agricultural centers that they are today.

Don’t tremble at this point because, as Dr. McConaghy points out, these public archives are part of our public inheritance and many are free.   Some of the data, such as land records and patents can be accessed online.

Dr. McConaghy encouraged us to honor the documents and archives of our state and to honor the collection managers charged with the responsibility of maintaining the collections.  This I will do.

I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities and finding inspiration as I spend more time accessing our public archives.  I plan to keep my mind open as I look for ideas that will help make my writing cool, powerful and provocative.



[Note 1:  This piece was written for Three Word Wednesday.  This week’s words are: dampen, tremble and keep.

Note 2:  Dr. McConaghy is an engaging speaker with a delightful sense of humor.  It is clear that she has thoroughly researched her books and can provide delightful antidotes about both the subject matter and her research.   She is the Public Historian at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry.  More about her and her work can be  found at the following sites:




Now What? Writer’s Block!

I have discovered that writing a novel is sometimes like wading through a creek in the dark.  At some point you will run into a rock or stumbling block.  You’ll have to decide if you can step over it; write around it; or if you must go a whole new direction.

I’ve also discovered that sitting in my chair and staring at my computer screen does not help.  Lately I find myself stepping over the obstacle and writing a different scene.  Upon completing the new scene I often realize that the transition or solution to my previous quandary is perfectly clear.

On other days I take a whole new direction.  I get out of my chair and go for a walk….

Scenes and Settings — Seabeck, Washington

The following is written for three word Wednesday:  generous, penalize, and just.

There are times when I wish I was an accomplished artist or a fantastic photographer, but alas, I am not.  At times I struggle to find the right words to convey not only the sights but the sounds and the feeling of a town I visit, or a place that exists only in my mind.

Seabeck is one of those towns.

I spent this past weekend at a retreat at the Seabeck Conference Center.  I had to smile as I drove into Seabeck.  The business district, if I don’t count the Conference Center, consists of only about a half a dozen buildings, but when I arrived in town I was greeted by a small gray building with a bright blue door.  White trim around the window caused the red   “Espresso” sign to pop.  I decided to go inside.  The usual rows of flavors were lined up on a shelf; an espresso machine and a barista were visible from behind a tiny counter.   Five or six wooden stools filled the remaining floor space– stools that were all occupied by the locals.   They are a generous lot.  I discovered that they will tease anyone.  They didn’t penalize me for being a visitor; locals and visitors are all teased alike.

With my vanilla latte securely in hand I stepped outside and looked around.  The marina is under construction or reconstruction, I am not sure which.  But it is aptly named the Olympic View Marina.  Although I have seen this view of the Olympic Mountains several times, I still had to pause, reflect, and allow it to take my breath away.   Crests of silver rose above the Hood Canal and reflected off the water below.

Just up the road, not more than a few steps away, a large white building stands near the beach.  This is the Seabeck Landing General Store.  A hint of color fills the planter boxes hanging below its oversized windows.   The red door with its “OPEN” sign welcomes patrons inside.  I didn’t go in this time, but I know that there is also a small café inside to feed the hungry.   It is hard to imagine that this store was once part of a community with a lumber mill that was so busy that the mill built its own shipyard to handle its shipping needs.

Across the street the planks on a wooden bridge enticed me across the lagoon and into the conference center grounds.    On prior trips the scene was reminiscent of an old village beckoning the weary.  This time however it was obvious that changes were being made.  Two or three new buildings, large enough to house multiple occupants have emerged on the hillsides and landscapers were busy hydro seeding the disturbed areas.  It wasn’t the same.

Although I know that economically things have to change, it didn’t seem just.  I missed the restful feeling of the grounds.  The old buildings are still there.  The historic inn with its massive dining room and welcoming lobby still offer the nostalgic feel of an era gone by; and the yellow house at the edge of the woods still stands two stories tall; and the older buildings named  Reeser and Cedars and Tamarack still dot the landscape;  but I couldn’t help but feel that  somehow it’s different now.

Saturday morning I arose early and joined a friend for an early morning walk.   I noted that towering conifers still inhabit the hillside, the little white chapel still provides a quiet place to meditate and tulips still fill the planting beds.  The quiet was suddenly interrupted, as it has been in prior years, by the  “rat-ta-tat-tat, rat-ta-tat-tat,” of a pesky old woodpecker  as he tapped away on a metal pole.   As we crossed the bridge over the old mill-pond a blue heron swooped down out of the sky, made a cursory glide across the lagoon and disappeared again.

To me Seabeck is once again like society, a contradiction of the old and new struggling to see which will survive.