Category Archives: Stuff That Defies Categorizing

Thank-you Notes Trip up This Writer

The other night I was talking with my niece Carol Loucks about writing, and I said I’d rather write a novel than a thank-you note. My approach to thank-yous is to procrastinate forever because the writing will come easier in the future than it will right now. Anyone else share this rationale?

Is there help for people like me? Surely Google has the answer. I dug up several sites that want to help, most of which have the same basic advice. Here’s one from Hallmark: “How To Write a Thank-you Note,” by Jeanne Field.

OK, she has six steps, beginning with the greeting to the sign-off. I get that I’m supposed to say “thank you,” specify what I’m thanking them for, and offer details about how I’ll use the gift. I generally cover all six. Where I get stymied is that the message just feels so stilted. I seal the envelope and stick on the stamp, knowing that it lacks personality. It sounds dumb.

What do you do? Leave a comment. Thank you.


Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write fifty-two bad short stories in a row.

–Ray Bradbury

How To Read a Novel

I just signed up for my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It’s called “How To Read a Novel,” hosted by the University of Edinburgh. The eight-hour, four-week class begins July 24th.

How To Read a Novel will explore plot, characterization, dialogue, and setting. I’m looking forward to interacting with a community of readers, potentially from all over the world.

The course is free. For $64 you can upgrade, which means you get a certificate and have unlimited access to course materials for as long as they exist online. With the free version, access extends just 14 days after the course ends.

I’ll keep you posted.


Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.

–Ray Bradbury

Celebrating Chuck Berry’s Words

When Voyager went into space in 1977, its cargo included a gold 33 1/3 record with 27 songs. Curated by a committee under Carl Sagan, the representative music included Mozart, Stravinsky, a Navajo chant, and “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. At the time, Saturday Night Live and Steve Martin played with the idea of aliens’ response to this musical treasury.

Chuck Berry, who died March 18th at the age of 90, lived long enough to see his music leave our solar system and enter interstellar space, a fact NASA confirmed in 2014. Wow.

To bring this blog post back to earth and somewhat consistent with the mission of NovelWords Cafe, I’d like to look at Berry’s lyrics. He’s been called the Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll. For example, here are the last lines of “Memphis”:

Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee

There are several YouTube videos of “Memphis,” the most unusual being one featuring Berry and John Lennon.

Berry also wrote and recorded poetry. You can listen to “My Dream,” recorded in 1971.

Can’t Put That Book Down?

OK, readers, I know some of you get so caught up in a novel that you can’t put it down.  It would be fun to hear your real-life examples.  How would you complete  this sentence: “I was so riveted by (name of novel) that I (blank.)”

I thought of this recently when one of the writing blogs I follow (sorry, I’d link to it if I could remember which one) featured an article that encouraged writers by asking them to imagine how they’d like to have their book reviewed.

Well that got the old adjective factory spinning our of control. “Gripping, mesmerizing, shocking, sensational . . .” I could go on.

Then I took it to the next level. Here’s my favorite imagined review: “This important historical novel speaks to our times and held me spellbound. When the tornado sirens sounded I stuck fast to my favorite reading chair instead of taking shelter. Talk about riveting. I’m writing this from heaven.”

Please leave a comment, even if it’s to tell me I should get back on my meds.



What’s the True Meaning of “America First?”

In light of Trump’s latest assault on innocent human beings & on values decent Americans hold dear, I’m departing from my planned post & posting a day early. “America First” is hardly a new idea, as this 1941 political cartoon by Dr. Seuss illustrates. It was an ugly sentiment then, & it’s ugly now.

Dr. Seuss, PM Magazine, October 1, 1941










Banished Words List–What Would You Add?

Photo source: Weird Tales
Get your dandruff up?

We all have them: words & phrases that make us wince or groan whenever we hear them. Mine include “snuck,” “anyways,” & “on a daily (hourly, weekly, whatever) basis.” Isn’t it almost a bonding experience when you discover someone shares your bias?


Enter the Banished Words List. The 2017 list, released on  New Year’s Day, includes these words along with comments by the committee that selected them from thousands of nominations:

  • “Get your dandruff up”–The Committee is not sure why this malapropism got nominators’ dander up in 2016.
  • Frankenfruit–another food group co-opted by “frankenfood.” Not to be confused with other forms of genetically modified language.
  • Dadbod–The flabby opposite of a chiseled body male ideal. Should not empower dads to pursue a sedentary lifestyle.
  • 831–A texting encryption of I love you: 8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning. Never encrypt or abbreviate one’s love.

I can’t say I’ve heard of any of these words, but the list is enlightening.

The Banished Words List began as a publicity gimmick on New Year’s Day 1976. The late W. T. “Bill” Rabe, then publicity director for Lake Superior State University in Michigan, thought the list would help put the little-known school on the map. New Year’s Day made sense as a time to reflect on the past year. Besides it was typically a slow news day.

Of course banishing words is an exercise in futility. Take a look at lists for bygone years, e.g., 2010, which included

  • app
  • sexting
  • tweet
  • friend, as a verb

So what words would you like to add to the Banished Words List? Leave a comment.


Photo source: Weird Tales magazine, September 1941. Photo is adapted from an ad for a Listerine dandruff treatment.


Hero of Your Own Life?

In response to last week’s post “Memorable Words,” Nancy commented with this quote from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens: “Whether I will be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show.”

My curiosity piqued, I googled & found an enlightening blog called Quote Investigator whose author, Garson O’Toole, has traced the quote’s pedigree.

The first mention is in 1812 (Copperfield was published in 1850) in “Voyages and Travels in 1809, 1810, and 1811,” by John Galt. “Every traveller is necessarily the hero of his own story, especially if he travels alone. If he has the felicity of a companion the unavoidable egotism is obscured by the use of the social pronoun.”

John Barth used the “hero” concept as the basis of “mythotherapy” in his short story, “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner,” & novel, End of the Road, both published in 1958. The doctor explains: “‘In life,’ he said, ‘there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent all fiction and biography and most historiography is a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.'”

My favorite example is from a 1920 editorial about a man accused of one murder confessing to seven. “Whatever we may say, whatever we may think we think, down at the bottom is the fundamental craving that each man must in some way satisfy–the craving to be the hero of his own story. And so, some of us die at the stake for a holy principle and others of us confess to seven murders and 1000 burglaries, and the rest of us find ways equally satisfactory, if less sensational, of making ourselves heroes in our own eyes.”

Speaking of murders, I could easily kill a few hours wandering about the Quote Investigator site. I may need to buy O’Toole’s book: Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.





At a Loss for Words

uvulaEnglish is a funny language. We have words we never use, like the word for the little thing that dangles behind your tongue. It’s called the “uvula.” Have you ever had an occasion to use “uvula” in a sentence? I know this is my first time.

But here we are, a civilization in which family has historically been the bedrock, yet our language is clumsy in the way it handles familial relationships. So we end up having to explain that “My sister-in-law is my brother’s wife” because not to explain leaves the question, well is it your brother’s wife or your husband’s sister?

Similarly, is your uncle your father’s brother, mother’s brother, or the spouse of one of those relatives?

And as I realized in writing my opus in progress, while we have the terms “widow” and “widower,” we have no word for the parent of a deceased child.

Do you know if other languages do a better job of differentiating or naming these relationships? Are there other concepts for which there are no English words? Leave a comment.

Unplugged Gifts for Writers & Readers

gift-geode-bookends-etsy-jpegI realized after compiling this gift list for writers & readers that there’s nothing on it that’s digital or requires a power cord. Hmm. I’m sure that’s significant, but this post isn’t about my psyche.  It’s simply about getting the gift-buying juices flowing. For starters, check out the stunning geode bookends at the AmethyaShop on Etsy.

gift-leather-notebook-amazonHere’s what I want. It’s a leather-bound, refillable journal from Amazon. I really like the closure. This item would be a big improvement over the little spiral notebook which likes to flop open in my purse. How classy is that?

I’m a fan of leather. I’m also a fan of words. In our junk snail mail this week was a pitch for an attractive, not-inexpensive handbag of “premium faux leather.” You gotta love copywriters (I was one once.)

Blog readers Patsy Shepherd & Susan Mayson like the journal gift as well. Patsy suggests printing out a list of suggested books–why not tuck the list inside for a personal touch? Susan would like a fancy pen as well.


T-shirts for writers & readers abound. Check out “I’m a writer. What’s your super power?” from Shirt Candy on Etsy & the “If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up at the bookstore” from Look Human.


I love the vintage bookplate sets offered by Oiseaux Vintage Paperie on Etsy. Styles are available for kids & adults. I like gifts that say something about the giver as well as the recipient, & I think these bookplates would be a good way to impart your love of books & reading. Take time to browse the extensive selection.


If vintage isn’t your style, at Zazzle you can order personalized bookplates from a selection of designs for both kids & adults.


Ok, this may look crazy, but don’t you get some of your best ideas when you’re in the shower? There’s a reason for that. Just as when you’re falling asleep, waking up, driving a familiar route, or otherwise zoning out, your enter a natural hypnotic state in a relaxing shower. The Eureka Shower Idea Whiteboard on Amazon sticks to your shower wall with suction cups.


gift-book-light-miles-kimballHere’s a cool idea, a hands-free reading light. It’s called a Hug Light, & it looks to me like a big improvement over clip-on reading lights.

You can pose the flexible arms any which way. The promotional copy suggests placing it on a table or anywhere else you need to shine a light.



More stuff:

Where the Wild Things Are tote bag from Out of Print; eBook cover & throws from Huffington Post.

Let’s hear what you’d like to get or give. Leave a comment.


This just in . . .

Select from a variety of covers for the WriteMind Planner.

I was meandering the web & came across another cool gift for the writer on your list, especially someone who’s in the early stages of writing a novel or teetering on the brink of writing one (identifiable because he or she is still fully functional).

It’s the WriteMind Planner from Perry Elisabeth Design. (For you plugged-in writers, this is the anti-Scrivener tool.)

I like the size: 7.25 x 8.75″. It has the advantage of being able to move pages around as with a three-ring binder, but it’s not as bulky. Check out all the features. My favorites include idea pages for characters, settings, story & scenes.

I should credit K. M. Weiland for leading me to this planner. She’s been writing a series to guide people participating in NaNoWriMo.


“Get Over It” With Bibliotherapy

color-purpleAs if you needed another reason to read novels, now there are “therapists” who  will prescribe books to help you get through a rough patch. These “bibliotherapists,” who are not trained professionals, offer services to people who might be struggling with issues such as a career change or a break-up.

I know this because of a Time magazine article, “Read a Novel: It’s Just What the Doctor Ordered,” in the November 7, 2016 issue. Ella Berthoud, an artist, & Susan Elderkin, a novelist, met at Cambridge University where they helped fellow classmates deal with problems by leaving books in brown paper bags outside their dorm room doors.

Now they have clients who fill out a questionnaire about their reading interests & personal challenges & pay $125 to lie on a virtual couch for 50 minutes via phone or Skype. At the end of the session, the therapist “prescribes” books, usually fiction.

Some examples:

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker–for falling out of touch with siblings

Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins–for helping you embrace life

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin–for wishing for a Valentine

The bibliotherapists are capitalizing on something I think a lot of readers have experienced: the healing power of fiction.Let’s hear your thoughts in the Comments.