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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Today I ended a two-week trial using hearing aids. I'm relieved, so far, to have those things out of my ears, but the trial was more revealing than I expected.

First let me explain that I am far from deaf; I have, however, a genetic issue that makes mid-range and low-range voices difficult for me to comprehend, especially in environments where any other noise is going on or when I can't see the speakers face and lips, to get visual clues to what they are saying. My son, who is much younger than me, has the same exact difficulty, and he has worn hearing aids for more than five years now. For that reason, I can at least say my hearing issue isn't one caused by old age. I take some solace in that fact, anyway.

Probably because of my age, however, I gets all sorts of offers for free hearing tests, all given by companies that also sell hearing aids. No surprise there. When the offer for a free trial came in, though, and for a type of hearing aid that is invisible, because it is inserted near the eardrum, my interest grew. It had many advantages, in that they were a type that stays in the ear. I did not have to take them out to shower or sleep. In fact if I did take them out, they would have to be reinserted at the audiologist's office; I could not insert them myself.

Not convinced that I needed hearing aids at all, but aware of my difficulty understanding certain vocal ranges, I went in, subjected myself to all the tests, and sat while tiny yellow devices were placed deep in my ear canal. The audiologist then walked out the door and down the hallway, where I could not see her. Along the way, she asked me questions as she went. I heard each question clearly and could answer easily. Bingo! Maybe we were onto something, I thought.

I went to a party that Saturday night, my new hearing aids secretly tucked inside my hear where no one could see them. I thought I would have a great time, able to hear everyone who spoke to me. Instead I felt as if I had my fingers in my ears, but all the ambient voices attacked me anyway. I did not like the feeling. I wanted to rip those things out of my ears, but I didn't.

On the upside, at home I could turn the television volume down considerably. On the downside, my adorable parakeet's squawks made me jump through the roof. I have no loss of hearing at the high-pitch range, and the analog hearing aids amplified everything, high and low. Ugh.

The next big test came on a Tuesday, when I bowl in a league. More than twenty lanes of people bowling, bowling, bowling, unnerved me with my new hearing aids. Despite all the noise, though, if someone stood right in front of me and talked, I could hear the voice coming through all the noise. I thought it was a little improvement over being without hearing aids, but was it enough?

My ears itched at time, and I was told not to put my finger in my ear, because I could push the appliance farther into the ear canal than intended. I couldn't wash my ears, either. Ick. Although I had been told that swimming was okay, as long as I didn't put my head fully under water, I put off pool aerobics, because I like to swim a few laps, too, as long as I'm in the pool. Another drawback.

Toward the end of the trial, when I had decided the hearing aids were not for me, I called my son to ask him about his hearing aid experience. His voice, which is in the low range that is difficult for me to hear, came through loud and clear for the first time in years. Ah, a plus. During our discussion he admitted, "Mom, it's been frustrating to talk to you for many years."

I knew I often asked him to repeat himself and complained that he mumbled, but he did not sound like he was mumbling when I wore the hearing aids. Maybe I was the one at fault after all.

He quickly backtracked and apologized for saying anything bad, but I stopped him and thanked him for his honesty. I needed to know the truth. I have thought I did not really need hearing aids because I live alone, and no one has ever complained about my requests for repetition, not even my sweet son, who had been suffering in silence. He lives in D.C., though, while I'm in Georgia, and we talk to each other only every few weeks. Hm. Maybe he would call more often, if he didn't get reamed out for his alleged mumbling.

Okay, today I am relieved to have those plugs taken out of my ears, but I'm a little more convinced that I may need hearing aids. I'm educating myself about other types of hearing aids that are more programmable, so that they help me with the mid range without hurting my ears by amplifying high-pitch sounds that I already hear quite clearly. I see hearing aids in my future, but not quite yet. It's a big decision, a serious life change, to admit to any physical disability. In addition, it's a big step to get into the habit of wearing hearing aids.

I did hear my son's voice more clearly than I have in years, though, and that thought alone has kept me thinking that maybe the time has come. Or maybe I'll wait until 2014. Then again, maybe I don't need hearing aids at all. Oh, what to do?

How does anyone admit hearing defeat and spring for hearing correction? Hmm. Much to think about.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Meaning (pun intended) behind Name-calling

Something pressed on my mind this morning until I had to sit down to write my thoughts. The other day I had a conversation with a friend who took offense when someone told her she was being selfish for choosing not to have children. Of course she took offense! What a terrible thing to say to another person!

I have a personal relationship with the word selfish. Let me explain.

Born fourth in a family of six children, I grew up to be a people pleaser, one who always helped, did a little more than expected, and did everything I promised, whenever possible. I know now that I formed those traits to avoid being overlooked, to get a little praise, because most of the praise naturally went to the eldest and the youngest children in the family. Was I selfless? It depends on how you view the situation. In actuality, I was probably being selfish, doing all those things to draw good attention to myself, to feel good about myself, to get praise for my deeds. To others, though, I probably looked selfless, willing to help others, even to the detriment of myself, my time, and even my finances, at times.

Skip forward a few decades to the time when my mother was in her seventies. She had been so demanding and neurotic that my father divorced her two decades earlier. She had smoked herself into emphysema and vision loss and imbibed until her heart and liver rebelled. She lived alone, tethered to oxygen and so frail she needed someone to push her around in a wheelchair if she left her apartment. My brother and I, who lived four hours from her, made all the arrangements and paid the expenses to move her to our city, so we could take care of her. We took turns checking on her and ensuring she had everything she required, including clothes, food, medicine, and rides to the many doctors she saw regularly. Both my brother and I ran our own businesses and had other obligations and preferences for our spare time, but we donated a large portion of our time to meeting our mother's needs.

Mother always called me by my formal name when she wanted to insult, instruct, or punish me. I can't even recall the small thing I was unable to do for her one day, when she pointed at me and said, "Roberta, you're selfish." Her words crushed me. I'm selfish? How could that be, after I had done everything I could possibly do to make her life tolerable? I walked out of her apartment that day with tears in my eyes and chastising myself for being selfish. I felt a weight on my shoulders, a burden, that despite my trying to be a good person, one who helped others, I was, in fact, selfish. All the way back to my house, I felt pain in my chest while my mother's accusatory words circulated in my brain: "You're selfish."

Several days passed, while I did even more for my mother, anything to prove I was not selfish. I stopped attending to my business. I arrived earlier at her place and stayed later, doing whatever she asked.

"Count my silverware, Roberta; I think the housekeeper is taking my spoons."

"Yes, Mother." After a complete count, I found the "missing" spoons at the back of the drawer instead of the front.

"Fill my ice trays, Roberta. It's too tiring for me to do so."

"Yes, Mother."

"I need milk, Roberta, go out and get me some."

"There are two containers of milk in the refrigerator already, Mother."

"I want fresher milk."

"Yes, Mother."

Bathe me, dress me, feed me, fold my laundry, comb my hair, shop for me—I did whatever she asked, until I came home exhausted at night to a dog that had been neglected all day. I then worked until late at night to complete the editing work I should have been performing during the day.

One night as I ruminated over my selfishness, clarity struck me: my mother was being selfish, not me! She called me selfish so she could get her way, and it worked. In other words, only a selfish person would claim someone else is selfish. Holy cow! I had hit the mother lode of understanding.

I grew up with a love for words; I love examining them, learning new ones, and delving into their meanings and nuances. Despite my admiration for words, I had not considered the obvious, that name-calling reflects not on the person being called something but on the person who does the name-calling.

When writing dialogue, now, I use my newfound knowledge; when I want to show someone is being selfish, I have that character call someone else selfish. Best of all, should anyone dare to call me any name again, other than Bobbie (or even Roberta!), I will not take it to heart. I will know the problem is in the person who called me that name, and not my problem at all.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ask the Book Doctor about Sentences that Deserve Restructuring

Q: I'm writing a short story, and I need help with a sentence. Are any of the following versions I wrote okay?

1. That resulted in a fall in which she fractured her pelvis.

2. That resulted in a fall in which her pelvis was fractured.

3. That resulted in a fall that fractured her pelvis.

Here is the sentence that comes before the other sentence, in case you need to see that one too: She hesitantly took the pills, but they made her very dizzy.
A: I'm glad you sent the prior sentence, because my answer will not be as straightforward as you may have hoped. The word "that," when used as a pronoun, should refer to a noun, rather than a concept, so all the examples are incorrect. The full statement would be more understandable if the preceding sentence were linked with one of the example sentences, but the result would be awkward, such as this compound sentence: She hesitantly took the pills, but they made her very dizzy, which resulted in a fall in which she fractured her pelvis. Okay, obviously that sentence is not only cumbersome, but it also contains two uses of "which," and repetition is not recommended in creative writing. Obviously it's time to look for a more creative approach, but before we do so, let me point out that example number two, "her pelvis was fractured," is passive, and strong writers avoid using passive voice.  

Instead of trying to find the right words for the same sentence structure, recast the entire statement in a clearer, more creative way. Consider, for example, the following rewrite:

She hesitantly took the pills, but she grew dizzy, fell, and fractured her pelvis.

The rewrite uses active voice and is clear, direct, and tight. You may think of an even better way to recast the two sentences, but they definitely need restructuring.

Q: Understanding that a pronoun refers to the noun before the pronoun, I want the pronoun "their" to refer to "doctor," not "specialist," in the following sentence:

Has your doctor suggested you see the specialist who comes into their office? 

I tried rewording the sentence, but I run into the same issue. Any suggestions?

A: One problem is that "their" is a plural pronoun, whereas "doctor" and "specialist" are both singular nouns, so my response will not have "their" in it. I would also break it into two sentences. Here's how I would reword the passage for clarity:

Sometimes specialists come into a second doctor's office to see the second doctor's patients. Has your doctor suggested you see such a specialist?

Q: Is there a question mark after the following sentence? "If you did, will you let me know, because I will be waiting to hear from you."

A: Because the sentence is both a statement and a question, it is a good sentence to recast, rather than attempt to fix with punctuation. Recast it to something like this, and there's no problem: "If you did, please let me know, because I will be waiting to hear from you." Here's another alternative: "If you did, will you let me know? I'll be waiting to hear from you."

Q: If I wanted to use the plural of "yes" in a book title, how should it look? "Yeses" looks likes a foreign word. HELP!

A: Your question about the plural of "yes" is a prime example of a time when it's better to rewrite the sentence than to use odd words. Instead of this sentence: "All the yeses added up to one hundred," consider this one: "The yes votes added up to one hundred." Recast the book title and see if "yes" can stand alone without making it plural.

Q: Where do you stand on split infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions?

A: Editors have relaxed their stand on those issues, because the “rules” were leftovers from Latin and do not always apply to English. As a source, I point to Winston Churchill. Supposedly an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it with a preposition, and the prime minister scribbled the following note in reply: “That is the sort of editing up with which I will not put.”

I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out that strong writers recast awkward sentences to avoid split infinitives or ending sentences with a preposition. Doing so almost always improves the writing style.

To read more questions and answers, order the book Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing at

 Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Caveat Emptor!

Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! Oh, I know, writers are sellers, not buyers, but we also do buy services to help us get published or to help us market our books. Whether we are buyers are sellers, though, we must perform our due diligence.
Recently I received the following e-mail from a member of The Writers Network:

You once mentioned in your newsletter that Tell-Tale Publishing was looking for novels of historical fiction. My third book is called 'Mate!, a contraction of Checkmate!, what chess players say when an opponent's king is toppled, thus ending the game. It's a story about how the assassination of Lincoln is tied to Stonewall Jackson's untimely demise from (supposedly) friendly fire.
In any event, I sent the manuscript off to Tell-Tale Publishing, and it was accepted back in 2010. Its CEO, Elizabeth Fortin, sent me an advance of $25 and handed the book over to an editor. After two years of silence, I wrote to her and suggested she forget it. I returned the advance.
I am writing to you because I think this is something you should know and should not hype companies like Tell-Tale Publishing. My first novel, The Better Angels, was publishd in 2000. It was a delightful experience.

--Bob Mills

I wrote back to Bob and said I can't and don't perform due diligence on every lead I put in my newsletter. I get many leads from, for example, and it supposedly checks out its sources, but who knows? At the bottom of every one of my newsletters, I have the following warning: "With the exception of Zebra Communications, information in this newsletter is not to be construed as an endorsement. Be sure to research all information and study every stipulation before you accept assignments, spend money, or sell your work."
It's always the writer's job to check out sources, publishers, agents, editors, and others, but even after thoroughly checking these things, stuff sometimes happens to disappoint us. About ten years ago, for example, a respectable publisher in California bought two books from people I knew in Georgia. One author had a rewarding experience, won many prestigious awards with her book, and sold many copies. The other author had complaint after complaint about the publisher. His book never won anything, and sales were slow. He finally demanded and received his rights back. I might note that I read both books, and the first author's book was considerably better than the second author's book. In my opinion, author number two was fortunate to find a publisher at all, but obviously the publisher originally had faith in the book. How odd, though, that two authors had completely differing experiences with the same publisher!
In our world, it's always essential that we investigate the people who make us offers on our books, and then we have to be patient, compliant, helpful, and kind. In the end, we have to be a little lucky, too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Astrology: Can It Affect Writing?

One of my clients sent his manuscript last month and insisted that I return the edited version before Mercury went retrograde February 23. Thankfully for him, I knew what he was talking about, and I believed it enough to comply with his request.

 For the astrology newbies, I'll do the best to explain as best I understand it. Astrologers say that the planet Mercury is retrograde after it reaches a pinnacle and then appears to be going backward in the sky. It's an illusion to the eye; however, the results, astrologers say, are far from an illusion. Things related to communication and transportation, they say, go wonky when Mercury is retrograde. Because writers deal with communication, perhaps we should pay attention.

When I first heard of the concept twenty years ago, I laughed. What a silly notion! My education began when a friend chastised me for installing a new sound system in my car during Mercury retrograde. She said I would have a double whammy, considering that Mercury retrograde affects both communication (radio/stereo) and transportation (car). I shrugged and said I didn't believe in that silly stuff. The next thing I knew, one of my brand-new speakers blew, and before I could have the speaker repaired, the radio stopped working altogether. Humbled, I waited until Mercury went direct, returned to the audio shop, had an all-new system installed, and it's still working today, twenty years later, in a car that is twenty-three years old. 

After the car radio incident, I paid more attention to Mercury retrogrades. Have you ever mailed a letter that never arrived? Failed to receive an e-mail someone said he sent you? Worse, have you ever shipped off a query letter, proposal, or manuscript and never heard from the recipient? These sorts of things happen during Mercury retrograde. To be sure, they also happen at other times of the year, but the one thing I follow to the letter is that I never submit work during Mercury retrograde. I believe it is more likely to get lost or rejected during that period.  

Mercury goes retrograde several times a year, and writers especially would do well to be aware that our writing could be affected. It's a great time to produce, to write from the heart, but not a good time to communicate information to someone else. We must be more meticulous about communication during that time. 

Here's what The Old Farmer's Almanac (and who can argue with that authority, I ask with a smile) says on the subject:

"Sometimes planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac; this is an illusion. We can this illusion retrograde motion.

"Mercury's retrograde periods can cause our plans to go awry; however, this is an excellent time to reflect on the past. Intuition is high during these periods, and coincidences can be extraordinary."

If you'd like to be more aware of Mercury retrograde and see how (and if) it affects your communications and transportation, Mercury will be retrograde during the following dates:

February 23 - March 17

June 26 - July 20

October 21 - November 10

By the way, I did not heed my own warning and recently queried an agent during Mercury retrograde. So far I have received only an automated message saying she received the query, and if I don't hear from her in the next two weeks, she's not interested. We'll see what happens.
Once you become familiar with Mercury retrograde, or if you are already familiar with it, send me an e-mail relating your retrograde experiences related to writing.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Latest Newsletter Issue Coming Up

The Writers Network News, February 2013 edition, is set to be sent Thursday, January 30. If you haven't yet subscribed, it's not too late to sign up. Go to and click on Free Newsletter. It's quite easy.

This month's issue has information on a publisher of poetry books, something several clients have asked me about. It's good to know that people are still publishing poetry, because, alas, few people buy it, even those who write poetry. Ah, I'll address that issue some other time.

Back to the upcoming issue of The Writers Network News. It lists at least one competition and several markets, has two question-and-answer columns, and tips on editing and creative writing. It also reveals that I'll be speaking at a conference in Altamonte Springs, Florida, in April.

It has long been my mission to help fellow writers, because people helped me, when I wanted to get started writing, way back in the 1960s and 1970s. It's my turn to pay it forward and help other writers, and it's my pleasure to do so. Every week I get notified that I have new subscribers to the newsletter, and it does my heart good. If you know someone who would benefit from tips, techniques, markets, and other information for writers, be sure to pass along my web address,, and tell them to sign up for The Writers Network News. Do it today!