Sunday, December 7, 2014


In my second novel, Skeleton Key, the murder mystery revolved around a train wreck, a wreck where something went wrong with the brakes. I had a beta reader look over my manuscript and at one point, she wrote, “I think you spelled brakes wrong.” I did. There are two spellings with the same pronunciation, which I always thought was the definition of a homonym. I guess they’re also often called homophones. I did a search for “breaks” (the misspelling), and I found that I misspelled it seven times. The other thirty or so, I got right. Regardless, since I started The Red Pen, I’ve done numerous spelling posts. This one about homophones (I plan to stubbornly call them stupid spelling errors) was well over a year in the making as I looked for homonym/homophone/stupid spelling errors on the Internet and with my students at school. The list I made is incredible—funny but kind of sad at the same time. These are the most interesting of the stupid spelling errors.

1. I showered and shampooed my hare. (This was such a good idea, I showered and shampooed my cat.)
2. The book had a vampire and a wearwolf. (I’ve made my list and I’ve determined for myself that I shall never wear clothing that requires batteries, wear Crocs, wear Dickies, or wear wolves.)
3. I predict he’ll be the next American Idle. (Is this a thing to strive for? I have a whole slew of idle Americans in my English classes.)
4. No parking. Violators will be toad. (That’s a harsh punishment.)

5. Isn’t that a picture of Noah’s arc? (Well, God did provide a rainbow, so it’s possible.)
6. He was a pathetic heroine addict. (I resent the pathetic tag because I’ve been hooked on good female characters before as well. I think I’m a Jennifer Lawrence heroine addict, for instance.)
7. It was wrapped around his waste. (Most likely, this would be a garbage bag.)
8. The man had a balled head. (I hope it’s not football shaped.)

9. We had to shoe him from the shop. (This one reminds me of my student who wrote, “It’s nice to meat you.” I pictured him happily hitting someone with a pork chop—which is only slightly worse than whacking the guy with a sneaker.)
10. The Loan Ranger rides again. (Passing out money to
      needy criminals, no doubt.)
11. Mix it with flower. (This is how it’s done.)

12. I was mesmerized by her bear shoulders. (People have
      eagle beaks, hawk eyes, and knees like a camel, so why
      not bear shoulders?)
13. He’s a cereal killer. (Aren’t we all? Breakfast is the most
      important meal of the day.)
14. The earthquake berried the family. (It was at a Smucker’s
      manufacturing plant.)
15. There’s a leek in the boat!  (This doesn’t really sound like
      much of an emergency to me.)

16. He walks with a smooth gate. (It’s cumbersome and
      attracts a lot of attention, but it’s smooth.)
17. She has a fowl disposition. (As evidenced by how she flies
      off the handle and posts angry tweets.)
18. I disgust it with my wife. (No comment.)
19. Grab a coat. It’s chili outside. (Shouldn’t they be grabbing
      bowls and spoons?)
20. He’s the air to the throne. (Something like this, I assume.)

I had a list of probably 35 stupid spelling homophones collected, but by now, you get the point. This is the type of thing I deal with in class with my students and on the internet with careless adults. It’s funny though—funny as in curious. Almost every stupid spelling error I wrote above is underlined in my text—a sure sign to the writer that a stupid spelling error has been made. The spell check feature is pretty handy for a writer. And if a writer isn’t sure about a homonym/homophone and is wary of making a stupid spelling error, all he or she has to do is go to Google and type “bear or bare”  or “gait or gate,” for instance, and incredibly, there is an answer that’s handy within a portion of a second.

In Bulletproof in an early scene, a drunk bar patron announces to a man from whom he’d just won a bet that he needed “to take a leek.” My aunt sent me a giggling note on Facebook saying, “That’s a vegetable, Jeff.” We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t change the fact that each and every one of them is a stupid spelling error. Its time that defenders of there language stood up and said allowed, “Get you’re homophones write!” (Otherwise, it’ll look like five more stupid spelling errors.) Class dismissed. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Pun Intended


      Pet peeves are common. When I stop to think of it, I have a hyperbolic number of them—somewhere close to a zillion. One of them (or maybe it’s two) have to do with the utterance of “pun intended” and “no pun intended.” I can’t think of two phrases more unnecessarily spoken. 
      Here is the definition of a pun: "A pun, or paronomasia, is a form of word play that deliberately exploits ambiguity between similar-sounding words for humorous or rhetorical effect." A pun is basically a play on words, like in the joke, "Where do cows go on a Saturday night? The moooovies." Moooovies is a pun. I have to say, even those of us who only understand about 60% of the words in the definition above get a pun when we hear one, yet some word masters are intent on telling us they made a pun…just in case we missed it, so let me start with the egotistical “pun intended.”
      This phrase is said by a person who is so brilliant and witty that they’re fairly bursting with personal pride. People who finish their puns with the phrase “pun intended” are clearly on a different intellectual level than the rest of us dimwits. I mean, we’re so intellectually challenged that we have to be reminded by the genius punster. 
      “Uh, hey, all you stupid people. I have a categorically witty linguistic locution I’m about to execute on your unintelligent ears. It goes like this. ‘I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a mussel.’ Hahahahahahaha! Oh, by the way, pun intended.”
      And then inane people like me will clearly feel the need to kneel, stunned, in genuflective posture in reverence to the supreme intellectual being in our presence, contemplating the hilarious pun that we just missed. “Let’s see. Is it a pun to have seafood and disco in the same sentence? No…I think not. Are his muscles weak? Could be. Did he mean ‘see’food because there’s no such thing as a seafood disco is there? Wait…after further review, I think a mussel is a kind of seafood…and I believe a disco dancer could pull a muscle, hence there’s a pun. I’m certainly indebted to the word scientist for pointing out a pun I would have never recognized on my own.” 
      Like me, I’m sure you appreciate jesters wisecracking in your presence and then reminding you that their witticisms are too clever for you and any of your other companions to get. “Did you hear about the man who stole a calendar? He got 12 months.” Chortle. “Pun intended.”
      At which point all of your daft colleagues respond incredulously.
      “Entertainer man, you’re not as funny as you think. Maybe you should take a day off.”
      “Yeah, that joke is really dated.”
      “Get with the times.” 
      “That joke was week.”
      You see, anyone who has to say “pun intended” must think that they’ve achieved an intellectual superiority that the common man is unable to attain. And since puns are way up on the IQ humor pyramid (practically at the peak, I assume), they have to inform us when they’ve dropped a quip right in our laps. 
      Maybe, however, the “pun intended” people are simply so desperate for a laugh at their lame attempt at humor, they say the irritating phrase as a clue that if we feel sorry enough for them, we’ll give a polite giggle or groan or eye roll. It’s the same as saying, “Friends who feel sorry for me, I made a joke. Will you please laugh?" They should just say, “Ha ha, you get it right? I made an ill-informed attempt to be funny, and it’s falling as flat as an Iowa landscape. If you would just laugh, I won’t feel quite so humiliated.”

      Then, there are those who say, “No pun intended.” Why in the world do they do that? Let me start with writers. A writer writes a pun…unintentionally. He or she recognizes that there’s a pun.
      “I was in the Piggly Wiggly with my darling daughter, wandering aimlessly, looking for leeks. In aisle three, a one-armed man fumbled a can of asparagus which loudly clattered to the floor. My little princess charged to the rescue. ‘Can I give you a hand?’ she asked.”
      What if once the above writer completed the scene, he/she noticed that “hand” was a pun? Is there any logical reason for the writer to insert “Oh, gosh, I didn’t intend to write a pun there”? If the writer doesn’t intend a pun, he or she could revise and say something like, “Let me help you.” Or the writer could leave it and say to him or herself, I didn’t intend to write a pun, but low and behold, I did it anyway. I think I’ll leave it. I mean, I don’t care if he didn’t intend it. I’ve never once in my entire life read a play on words and stopped myself so I could speculate. I doubt seriously that the author made that pun on purpose, but I wish he would have told me by saying something clever like “no pun intended” so I could know and read on in peace. Let me say this loud and clear. If a writer writes a pun which wasn’t intended and said writer feels the need to tell me the pun was not intended, then the writer should revise the sentence and eliminate the play on words. 
      There is also the situation, reading and speaking alike, where the person obviously made an intentional pun. So why on God’s green earth do they say “No pun intended”?
      “Hey, Jeff, I have a story to tell you, set during the Cold War. Bob, from America, was arguing with Rudolf from Soviet Russia. They argued about politics, religion, their presidents—even about the weather. One night Rudolf said it was raining outside, but Bob would not agree. He said it was sleeting. So they argued all night: Rain! Sleet! Rain! Sleet! The argument continued until Bob's wife pulled him aside and said: ‘Sweetheart, you're wrong. It is raining. And this time the Russian is right, because…Rudolf the Red knows rain, dear.’ No pun intended."
      Seriously? The whole purpose of the joke was to tell a pun.
      “Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted. No pun intended.”
      Of course. Let me ponder your inane statement a moment. Are you certain two peanuts were walking? And of the two walking peanuts, who happened to walk into a drinking establishment (because peanuts get thirsty too), you happened to notice that one was a salted peanut and one wasn’t. That “a salted” play on words thing that you said at the end of your interesting, true story was totally unintentional? Thanks for clearing that up. 
      I saw some dude on Facebook make a post. He said, and I quote, “Frankly, I don’t like hot dogs. No pun intended.” I know the “pun intended” guy from the beginning of this blog thinks he’s the only one with brains, but the “Frankly” guy is even more condescending. Am I to be so naively stupid, that I should accept he said “Frankly” by mistake, noticed it, kept it in his post, and then took the time to tell me he didn’t intend to write it? “There’s a pun in my post, people (if you look closely, you’ll discover it too), but I didn’t put it there on purpose and I want you to know I’m so clever, sometimes I write in puns unintentionally. It’s crazy but true.”
      Give me a break. Pun intended and No pun intended are two of the dumbest things people can say, and yes, they are pet peeves of mine. Punners, when you make a play on words, let us groan at it of our own free will, and if you do it unintentionally, so be it.
      There was a person who sent twenty different puns to his friends with the hope that at least half of the plays on words would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pet Peeves

I’m not a bitter person, and I’m actually pretty cool. Not in the Happy Days Fonzie kind of way, but in the nothing really bothers me much kind of way. Yet, lately I’ve been thinking of some of my pet peeves. Again, the thoughts I was having weren’t raising my blood pressure any. Instead, they were making me want to share, just to see who agrees with me. Seriously. Who agrees with me on some of these? I’d like to know. So, here is a list of pet peeves that are worth mentioning—in no particular order.

1.       It bothers me when my family puts dirty dishes in the sink “to soak.” How about rinsing off your dishes before the leftovers harden on your plate and putting the dishes in the dishwasher so when I rinse things off, the sink doesn’t fill with disgusting water that I have to put my hand in so it’ll run down the drain like it’s supposed to?
2.       It bothers me when my next door neighbor mows his yard and mows about 20 feet into my yard. I honestly think he somehow thinks he’s doing me a favor, but he’s not. Who wants to look out his or her window and see a yard that’s 20% mowed and 80% unmowed? Is he trying to get me to mow too? Why? I keep my yard looking nice. Is he trying to make it look like he has a great big yard and I have a little itty bitty one? I wish he’d stop.
3.       It bugs me that ropes, cords, strings, jewelry, or any other stringy-shaped articles are alive and tie themselves in knots of their own volition. How can I untangle my extension cord, pump up my car tires, and throw my straightened cord next to the wall on my garage floor and then have it tangled in a jumbled mess the next time I pick it up? Why are my earphones for my iPod always in a knot, no matter how neatly I place them in my drawer? I have a whole blog about this topic it’s so frustrating.

4.       Driving behind someone who is going well below the speed limit bugs me—almost as much as when someone pulls out in front of me and then immediately puts on a turn signal and brakes, so I have to wait for him to turn.
5.       People who use the F-word numerous times in the same sentence. Now, I can deal with swearing. I read books and watch movies and live life out in public, but am I to be impressed when the speaker manages to use the F-word as a noun, verb, adverb, and adjective in the same sentence? I want to say, “Excuse me, there’s a book full of synonyms for your favorite word,” and then I want to present said person with the gift of a thesaurus.
6.       Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton bug me. Those two men have propagated far more racism than they’ve alleviated.
7.       People who can’t do simple math bug me. For instance, I’ll give back a paper in class that says 8/10. Kids ask me what grade that is. Then they’ll say, “I had a zero for this assignment. Will this improve my grade?” I’m always tempted to say “No, 8 out of 10 is a negative number and your grade is worse now.” I made a $9.99 purchase this summer. The cash register was down, so the cashier had to figure the purchase by hand—using a calculator, of course. Michigan sales tax is 6%, so the tax is easy (60 cents). She wrote 9.99 down on paper, used the calculator to figure the tax at 60 cents and then wrote that under 9.99. Then she used the calculator to add the two numbers together. It told her 10.59. I waited patiently for this process, and then gave her $11.00. She got all flustered so I told her that my change was 41 cents. She said, “I know.” She then wrote 11.00 on her paper and put 10.59 under it, and she proceeded to punch the numbers into the calculator twice (I assume she was checking her answer out of amazement that I knew it before she did) and wrote .41 under the number—confirming what she claimed she already knew. Now the problem was adding the coins together. She took a quarter from the drawer, hesitated, and then put it back and took out four dimes and a penny. That was easier. The transaction took over five minutes.
8.       I get a little nutty when people borrow my paperback books and return them with the binding all cracked and creased. Am I the only one who believes things should be returned in as good of condition as when they were borrowed? Books are not supposed to look like this when they’re returned.

9.       Shouldn’t people say thank you when I hold a door for them or shouldn’t they wave when I let their car in front of me in traffic? Common politeness is gradually disappearing.
10.   When your boss tells you that he/she has had “a couple” of complaints or “several” complaints, we all know that he or she got one, right? So in my case, one parent complained about something and 159 did not. So why must I change what I’m doing when 99.375% of my students’ parents are not complaining. (Yes, I used a calculator for that one).  
11.   Am I the only consumer that is irritated that every gas station in the county is selling gasoline for the same exact price?

12.   Why do half-gallons of ice cream now come in containers far smaller than a half-gallon? Do the packagers and manufacturers think I’m too dumb to notice?
13.   Daylight savings time. Need I say more? If I took a board and sawed off a foot from the top and attached it to the bottom, it would not be longer. I have a blog post about my atomic clock that will not reset for the new season. Uh, yes, six months of the year, my clock is wrong and there’s nothing I can do about it besides smash it to smithereens, which I’ve considered. I have a separate blog about this issue as well.
14.   People who call their newborn child “Baby” confuse me. Is this a new fad or does it just happen in Central Michigan? “It’s time to take Baby home…We can’t make it. Baby isn’t feeling well…Baby is sleeping six hours now.” Could it be “the” baby? Does Baby actually have a name?
15.   I have to admit I’m not a drinker, so what I’m about to say might be totally ridiculous, but why, when people have a drink and a camera is pointed at them, do they have to raise their drink in the air to show it off? I don’t do that with a can of Mountain Dew. Coffee drinkers don’t do that. Can you see me holding up my glass of milk at breakfast?
16.   Packaging sometimes is a pet peeve. Does anyone else hate that plastic sealed packaging that electronics comes in? Why should I need a knife, scissors, and a trip to emergency to get into a package? 
17.   Okay, I’ve waited long enough to admit this. I hate when people don’t know the difference between it’s and its; there, their, and they’re; are and our; your and you’re; who’s and whose; and to and too (among others). Sorry…I had to say it. But this picture makes me laugh. 

18.   Since I’m on the topic, when people say things like “I seen that movie” or “It don’t matter,” I cringe. Sorry, again, but I’m an English teacher. Should I include double negatives?
19.   I roll my eyes when golfing with people who take three or four foot “gimmees” on the putting green and then brag about their scores at the end of the round.
20.   It’s mind-boggling when people accuse someone else of being “selfish” simply because they didn’t get what they wanted.

As I’ve written this blog, I’ve come to realize I could go on and on and on. Maybe there’ll be another post in the future, but what are some of your pet peeves? I’d love to hear them. And if your pet peeve is an author pushing his/her books, let me just drive you crazy because mine are for sale at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  and 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Word for the Year

The new school year started with a day of teacher in-service. A guest motivational speaker included in his message the concept of choosing a specific “word for the year.” His thinking was simple enough. If we could choose a word that represents an area of our life that we would like to improve, and if we focused on that word on a daily basis, the word would become part of our lives. It would seep into our existence and change us. He challenged us to choose a word and commit to allowing it to impact our lives. As a teacher, words like patience, relationships, serve, or optimism might have been good words for me, for instance.

The language arts department at my school, of which I’m a member, decided to challenge our students to choose a word for the year, and the activity worked well. I’ve decided to challenge you too. Let me give you some examples first. Maybe your word could be goal or dream. Are you good at setting goals and plotting out a plan for success? Is there something you’d like to accomplish, but you just can’t seem to push yourself to do it? Maybe if you chose goal or dream as your word and meditated on it each day, you’d be able to accomplish something meaningful in your life.

Maybe your word could be moment. Do you find it difficult to not dwell on the past or worry about the future? Is it possible that if you try to focus on the moment—the only time you actually have some control over—that you might be more productive, happier, more content, or healthier?

Maybe your word could be grow. Maybe you could strive daily to learn from your experiences. Maybe you could try to see the good in things or try to use your circumstances as an opportunity to help others. We should learn from our mistakes and see the good that may come from our trials. Maybe if we looked at things as life lessons, we could be more content with our lives.

Maybe your word could be give or help. How much better would the world be if we were able to put ourselves second and think about others first? What if we decided to be a servant and actually look for opportunities to give of ourselves—our time…our resources…our love? Isn’t it possible that we could have an impact on others? Isn’t it possible that our impact on others would make our own lives more fulfilling?

Maybe your word could be positive or optimistic. What a change this word could make. If we could show more optimism, I think we’d have less stress in our lives. I think we’d be more at peace, and we’d sleep better at night. I think we’d find good things to cheer us and say good things to cheer others. I think we’d like more people and be better liked. We’d be a better friend, we’d feel better, and getting up in the morning would be easier. We’d react better to the troubles in our lives and we’d be happier.

What if our word was smile? Do you think that maybe we’d get more smiles in return? Do you think that maybe we’d be more relaxed, more joyful, and more likable? Do you think we’d make better first impressions and be better counselors? Do you think we might notice the beauty in things and see the good in others if we smiled more?

Maybe your word, like mine, could be prayer. I considered so many words, but in the end, I realized that for this year I might be able to accomplish more if I just took a minute to settle myself and consider what is important. I can pray for help to be more joyful and smile more. I can pray to be more optimistic and less stressed. I can pray for opportunities to help and serve others. I can pray to grow from my experiences and learn from them and be more content. I can pray to live in the moment and stop rehashing the past or worrying about the future. I can pray for help in achieving certain goals or accomplishing my dreams. I figured that maybe if I took a moment to stop myself each morning, I might have more peace and joy and love in my life. I might remember to be thankful for all the blessings I have, and I might be able to step out of my own selfish world and consider how as a teacher, I can have a positive impact on the lives of other people.

So what will be your word for the year? What do you need to do better? How can you improve yourself and have a better year? I challenge you to pick a word for the year and consider it daily. Take note of the changes, benefits, and impact the word is having on your life. I think it’s a challenge worth taking. Maybe you can share your word as a comment…and maybe you can share your word and a similar challenge to others in your life. You know, everyone wants to change…just very few are willing to take the steps necessary to actually create the change. That is my challenge to you. Pick a word, and tomorrow, begin making the changes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Authors Can Make More Money

As an author, do you purchase copies of your own books to sell in public? You should. When I sold a paperback copy of one of my novels on Amazon, I received slightly more than a dollar in royalties once I shared with my publisher...or less than three dollars now that I’m on my own (self-published). I got 84 cents for an ebook when sharing with my publisher, and depending on the price I list it for now, I get from 35 cents to about two dollars per book on my own.  I sell my own books in public for $10.00, which is two or three dollars off the listed Amazon price, and I make over $5.00 a book. I know there are starving artists out there who don’t think they can afford to buy copies of their books to sell, but I don’t think you can afford not to—because they’re easy to sell. That’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it? That you’ll have boxes of unsold books stored away, and instead of making money from your books, you’ll be losing it instead. If that’s how you’re feeling, then you don’t have a plan. Before I give you some ideas, do you realize that if you bought 20 books to sell, costing approximately $100.00, you could sell them for $200.00 at a reasonable price of $10.00 per book? Then you could buy 20 more books and never have to worry about losing money again.  Once you realize how easy it is to sell them, you can buy larger quantities and enjoy the profits.

So how do you sell them? Here are some suggestions.

1.       Call local libraries and ask if they have any events. These are usually free, and though I haven’t had large numbers of sales while selling at these events (which aren’t generally attended well), I’ve heard they’ve worked better for other people…and maybe the library will purchase your book.

2.       Call local bookstores and see if they will let you set up shop. Sometimes there are town festivals or art walks or other such events running, and the bookstore will invite you in to sell. Possibly, the owner will have you in just to try to drum up more customers. They will usually advertise your appearance. They may take a couple of books on consignment and sell them in the store. These opportunities are also usually free.

3.       Check the internet for author expos. There are readers who have a passion for exposing others to books. Colleges have author expos, sometimes libraries do, some art guilds do, and sometimes other organizations such as readers’ coalitions organize them. These are generally quite inexpensive to attend and may also be free.

4.       Get the word out that you’re looking for book clubs or writers’ groups. Volunteer to make an appearance and speak. Some groups pay to have speakers, and some just provide lunch or snacks and drinks. I’ve spoken to several groups that have purchased books at the end. Sales at my speaking events have been very good, and the more people, obviously, the better.

5.       Town festivals. Nearly all small towns and all larger towns have downtown events. People are wandering everywhere. They may not be looking for books, but if you’re willing to strike up a conversation, you’d be surprised at how many readers there are that are impressed to meet an actual author. And other kind-hearted people simply like to support local authors. These events are also generally quite inexpensive to sell at.

6.       Look up farmer’s markets and flea markets. If they aren’t advertised on line, try the local Chamber of Commerce or the City Hall for information. For somewhere between five and twenty dollars, in my experience, I set up a booth or a table under a canopy and sell a lot of books. People come to markets with cash in hand, fully expecting to spend money. Having an author in attendance is a curiosity. At a market, people are friendly. They stop and chat. They like a free piece of candy or a bookmark, and they’re all curious about the guy or gal that isn’t selling produce. If the weather cooperates, I’ve had lots of luck at the farm markets. I also tend to buy a lot of fresh veggies, so be prepared to spend some of your profits. Hey, it’s for your own health. The only flea market I sold at went pretty well; plus I learned that next time I’ll bring other things to sell too, since it turned out to be basically a huge garage sale. Maybe there’s a good flea market near you.

7.       Craft shows have been very good to me. Now we’re getting to the especially good events. These, in my experience, can be very inexpensive (10 to 20 dollars) or they can be expensive (like 75 to 150 dollars). I’ve sold over 50 books at craft shows numerous times. They are usually indoors, so weather isn’t a concern, and sharing a table is always a possibility. Do you know another author to split the fee with, or a crafter that will share his or her table? That’s a way to reduce the cost. Shoppers come with money to spend, and they generally spend it. Remember, lots of people love books. Plus I have an easier time not spending my profits on crafts than not buying those delicious fresh vegetables.

8.       Art in the park events are easy to find on line, and there are generally very few authors at those events, so often, they’re very profitable. They can also be expensive. I prefer sharing a booth with one of two author friends that I’ve made. Both Stacey Rourke and Julie Cassar (check out their books because they sell like hotcakes) are very outgoing and personable, and our books are different enough that we don’t invade on each other’s audiences, but when a few people stop, crowds begin to gather. Literature is art. Once shoppers realize this obvious truth, they also realize that your art is less expensive than everyone else’s. At least that’s my theory on why I’ve been so successful at these events. That and my smile and friendly personality. 

I’ve come back from events and my wife will ask me how many books I sold. I’ll sigh sometimes and say, “Only fifteen” or I’ll say, “I sold twenty-eight, but I sold thirty-five last year at the same event.” She’ll say, “How many did you sell on line today?” And my spirits will brighten. Interacting with people, hearing words of encouragement, creating smiles, making connections and getting invitations to other events—these are things that happen out in public, and I believe more authors need to take the initiative to step out and market their books in a way that happens to be fun and also works. I encourage all indie authors to locate some events and make some phone calls. Get your book into the hands of some readers. You’ll wonder why you weren’t doing it before.

Jeff LaFerney is the author of Loving the Rain, Skeleton Key, Bulletproof, Jumper, and Lost and Found  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Up and Down

I’m an English teacher and an author, and I sometimes wonder how anyone can learn English as a second language. Throwing out the languages that require us to learn a different alphabet, is there a more difficult language than English? Take our idioms, for instance—of which there are too many to count. At the drop of a hat? Beat around the bush? Barking up the wrong tree? A chip on your shoulder? Costs an arm and a leg? Can’t cut the mustard? Hit the hay? Jump on the bandwagon? Let the cat out of the bag? Off your rocker? On the ball? Piece of cake? Put all your eggs in one basket? Steal your thunder? Straight from the horse’s mouth? Take it with a grain of salt? The whole nine yards?

But those are idioms, which are figures of speech. We know they mean something figurative, so inherently we understand there is more to the phrase than the literal meanings to the words. But how does a new English speaker discern what the words up and down could possibly mean? I looked up the words (though I didn’t bother to write down the definitions). Down had seven adverb definitions while up had ten. I don’t think it’s enough, personally.

In class, sometimes I hear myself say, “Quiet down and listen up.” I give directions and the kids are mixed up. On multiple choice questions, sometimes the answer is a toss up. I have to crack down on discipline, call down to the office, speak up to be heard, dress up for work, calm down the rowdy kids who are acting up, follow up with a phone call to parents of kids who won't shut up, jazz up the lesson, wait for kids to settle down, turn down requests, lock up the room, sweep up the floor, and build up students' confidence. I have to round up missing work, shut down my computer, scale down a lesson, simmer down when I might be getting worked up, ease up when I’m getting fed up, mix up the activities before time’s up, and avoid getting tied up in politics.

What if I had a beat-up car that was a lemon (idiom)? I mean my car could break down and need a tune up. In order to get it fixed up, a grown-up service man would have to take a close-up look and size up and pin down the problems. He would hook up his computer before he writes up an invoice that breaks down the problems with my messed-up car. He might round up some guys, jack up the car, strip down the engine, break down the carburetor, clamp down some hoses, and make up some problems that don’t exist. Since all I can do is stare down a broken engine, gas up my tank, pump up my tires, and pay up my bills, I can just hope he doesn’t cook up some unnecessary costs and shake me down to cough up some money I shouldn’t have to spend.

What if I was trying to shape up at the gym with a personal trainer? He might tell me to man up and pick up the pace. He might try to wear me down to break down muscles. For me, he might have to scale down a workout he worked up or maybe he’ll ease up on me and back down when I feel like throwing up. Maybe he’ll crack down on me for eating up all the household chocolate. Maybe two trainers could gang up on me and stare me down until I can measure up. Maybe they’ll follow up by telling me to suck it up until I cramp up and need a rub down. When it’s all over, I can settle down, cheer up, strip down, shower up, mop up the floor after I’ve washed up, dress up in my pajamas, turn down the sheets, and wind down by opening up a book to catch up on my favorite characters. I can settle down until it’s time to shut down the lights, which is hands down the best part of the day.

Okay, so we use the words for uncountable reasons, which is difficult enough to understand, but we use up and down with the SAME words. How confusing is that? We touch down an airplane and touch up paint. We settle down emotionally and settle up a bet. We turn down an offer and turn up the pressure. We pay down the loan and pay up on a bill. We write down a blog post, and when we’re done, we have a write up. We crack down on criminals and crack up laughing. We bring down the mafia and bring up a problem. We wash down the dog, and when we’re done, he’s been washed up. We talk down a jumper and talk up our foolish ideas. We screw down a screw and screw up the project. We can drive down or drive up a road, mop down a floor or mop it up, be told to slow down or slow up, be tied down or tied up, soap down and soap up, lock down and lock up, pin down or pin up, and back down or back up. After a beat down, we’re beat up; or after a throw down, we can throw up. We can shoot down an idea and shoot up drugs. We can knock down a wall and knock up our wives. We can take down an empire and take up knitting. We brush down a horse, and when we’re done, it’s brushed up. We can break down an idea and break up with our girlfriend. Is it time to close down or close up?

It all seems so confusing to me with so many meanings for two such simple words. I was thinking, if you enjoyed my mental melt down, maybe you could print up my blog, pick it up from the printer, hold it up or hang it up or stick it up on the refrigerator or pin it up on the wall. Or turn down my suggestion and wad it up or tear it up. By now, you probably don’t know if you’re coming down or going up, yet more than 15% of the words used in this mixed-up article are up and down. Do we as English speakers really know what those two little words mean?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Not a Soccer Fan

As people who follow my blog, my author page, or my Sports, Movies, Books, and Music Facebook page know, I’m an English teacher, an author, and a former athlete and coach. My blog topics range all over the place, but right now my mind is on soccer. It’s World Cup Soccer season, and I’m not a soccer fan. I know, lots of people are, so my intent isn’t to offend soccer fans with this blog. It’s to tell why I don’t like it personally. It’s simply my opinions and perceptions, shared with anyone who is willing to read them. Because I’m being bombarded with soccer images, “highlights,” etc., I decided to tell my four biggest pet peeves about soccer. I’ll get right to it.

Pet peeve number one is simple. I know it’s a generalization…I know it’s a stereotype…but soccer fans around the world seem to me to be dangerously crazy—deranged to the point of absurd violence. Here in America, we have loads of different sports to watch. We get so much sports coverage that we’re bombarded with images, but there is rarely a violent incident at a game. We rarely see riots, stampedes, murders, and other senseless violence at our sporting events, and we have far more events than other countries. My first problem with soccer is the perception that its fans are overly zealous to the point of demented recklessness. I typed in a Google search for “soccer riot images” and there were literally thousands of them—police in riot gear, stadiums on fire, people being carried out on stretchers, stampeding fans plowing over innocent spectators, tear gas, armed police beating fans with sticks, blood. I typed in “American football riot images,” and the same soccer images came up. There wasn’t one with American football players that I noticed. To me, if my life is in danger when I go to a game, there is a problem with the atmosphere of the “game.” I don’t think an entertainment sport should be a life or death event.

Pet peeve number two becomes more personal. The game is such that there is very little scoring. I can respect that the pro soccer players are fantastically talented, but when Sports Center only has to take fifteen seconds of its thirty minute program to show virtually all of the professional goals scored from the previous day—all over the world, I think—to me it demonstrates an adequate reason to not like the sport. And when the majority of goals are scored directly from corner kicks, free kicks, and penalty kicks, I have to wonder what all the other running around for ninety minutes is all about. On a field that’s approximately two acres big, with gifted players, and with a goal that’s eight feet high and 24 feet long (a hockey goal is four feet by six feet), no one seems to be able to get the ball in. You need evidence? I Googled the average score of a soccer game. I don’t know if I got the “right” answer, but the “best” answer given was the winning team averages 1.63 goals and the losing team averages .54 goals—2.17 goals a game. You need more evidence? In any other sport, does the announcer yell, “Gooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!” for thirty seconds or more when one is finally scored? Goals are so rare, that announcers practically hemorrhage when they see one.

Pet peeve number three has to do with stoppage time. For some reason, the clock doesn’t stop in a soccer game, but a referee is allowed to determine how much extra time is to be played at the end of each half. How does he decide? “The most common reasons include time taken to make substitutions, the treatment of injured players, and deliberate acts of time-wasting by individual players. The referee decides how much stoppage time, if any, should be added at the end of either period.” I guess it’s random—some sort of judgment call one man makes based on what? How much energy he still has? And the irritating thing is….it used to be a secret. No one knew how much stoppage time was granted, let alone how the referee decided upon it. And the time wasn’t put up on the scoreboard for anyone to see. And zero on the clock wasn’t and still isn’t the end of the game. They can play on if the referee thinks they’re making adequate progress toward a scoring attempt. Can you imagine a referee in an American professional football game (the NFL) keeping a secret clock that only he knew about, and then at the end of the game, the players played on without knowing how much time was left? So Payton Manning would line up at center from the ten-yard-line, down three points, and while directing traffic for thirty seconds and while changing the play three times and while giving seventeen hand signals and while shouting out “Omaha” twice, the referee could blow the whistle and say, “The game is over. I just decided. We’ve had enough stoppage time. You made two hand signals too many and don’t seem to be making progress toward the goal line. New England wins!” My son has informed me that stoppage time is now displayed on the scoreboard, and that I would have known if I ever watched any games. Someone—probably someone who didn’t like soccer—convinced the rest of the knuckleheads that displaying the time should be a normal and acceptable practice in the world’s most popular game. But why don’t they just stop the clock when it’s deemed necessary? The ref could just blow a whistle and make a hand signal. And then when the clock hits 0:00, he could blow his whistle again, and the period could be over like in other sports that actually have scoring as part of the competition.

My fourth pet peeve makes all the others pale in comparison. I hate, hate, hate that soccer players flop and act like they’re dead. This happens all the time in an attempt, I suppose, to persuade the lone referee who can make a call that something horribly awful just happened. This is either cheating, in an attempt to draw out a yellow or red card for the opposition…or it’s cheating, in an attempt to give the cheater’s team some sort of free kick so they might attempt to score the only goal they can possibly score…or it’s cheating so the player can rest. After all, there will be stoppage time later when he might not be so exhausted. Everyone knows this is happening, and any true football, hockey, basketball, boxing, wrestling, X-games, or baseball fan (whatever American sport whatsoever) is irritated by the absurd fakery. Let me give two examples from this year’s World Cup. First, U.S. offensive star, Jozy Altidore, suffered a life-threatening hamstring pull—apparently. He was running, pulled a hamstring, grabbed his leg, fell on his back, and nearly died—I guess. He never moved. Too much pain, certainly. He lay on his back like he’d suffered a heart attack. He never tried to sit up, roll over, or stand on his good leg. A hockey player could have had his leg ripped off, and he would have continued playing. Jozy? He needed a stretcher. Six men tried to lift him and failed. Jozy didn’t help whatsoever. They had to tip the stretcher sideways and slide him in because Jozy was too injured from a pulled leg muscle to move any part of his body. Now, I’ll give him credit. Unlike other stretcher injuries I’ve seen in soccer, he didn’t get to the sideline, bounce off the stretcher and run back into the game, but days later, I saw him jogging with his team. Here’s video evidence of the horrendous injury and stretcher humor.

The other example is Luis Suarez’s biting incident. I’ll show you some pictures, but I have to hand it to Luis. He has quite a set of choppers. He’s been gifted with an incredible set of teeth, so I can understand the need to use his gift. His nickname is Dracula…and The Cannibal…and Chewy Luis. So he ran down the field and chomped into his opponent’s shoulder. The victim, Giorgio Chiellini, was in such agony that his legs discontinued working, and he fell to the ground like he was shot in the head or possibly hit by a truck. I watched Mike Tyson literally bite part of Evander Holyfield’s ear right off. Holyfield stayed on his feet. A soccer player would have had to be hooked to emergency IV’s and transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. Amazingly Chewy Luis also fell straight to the ground in an attempt to persuade the referee, I assume, that he was illegally shouldered in the teeth, rendering him temporarily lame. When poor Chiellini finally managed to stand again, he was able to run all over the field (I guess he wasn’t hurt so badly after all), showing the bite marks. The skin wasn’t even broken. No blood. Just a mark.
I’ve seen hockey players take a stick across the face—broken nose, blood dripping—and keep playing. Football players have collisions that could kill someone, and they get up and play on. They don’t run around the field showing off their bruise (generating who knows how much stoppage time). Can you imagine a catcher, after taking a 100 MPH foul tip off the shoulder, being sympathetic to the soccer player with bite marks? Can you imagine a professional basketball player who just took an elbow to the teeth being sympathetic to the Cannibal who was rolling around the ground, holding his fangs because he bit his opponent too hard? Can you imagine anyone besides LeBron James or Paul Pierce getting carried or wheeled off the court and then heading straight for the scorer’s table again to re-enter the game?

Honestly, I have my reasons for not liking soccer. If you’re a fan, you’re not alone, but I’ll watch almost any other sport before I’ll watch soccer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blog "Project Pushover"

I was invited to participate in Project Pushover. At least that’s what I’m calling it. It’s a blog share venture that one of my favorite authors convinced me to do because, well, I’m a pushover. She has two awesome books and an always entertaining blog called “The Glitter Globe.”  We’re hoping that sharing ideas on the writing process serves to both inspire us and make us not feel so weird because yes, we're weird. S.R. Karfelt, the “Project” manager and author of the Warriors of the Ages series, writes action/adventure with a twist of fantasy. Check her out because her books are riveting.  

Last week S.R. published her blog and introduced three authors. One of them was me. Today it’s my turn to use “The Red Pen” to write about my books for the very first time and to introduce you to four other authors whose terrific novels I’ve read and whose friendships I value. We all have our own way of writing. It’s like getting ready for work in the morning. Everyone has a different routine, but the end result is simply marvelous—at least for my author friends, I’m sure it is. Today I'm going to answer four questions about my own writing, and a week from now, my featured authors will do the same on their blogs. I'm going to give you the links, but will that mean you'll just scroll down to them and ignore what I have to say? Before I lose you to the gifted authors, here are four questions for which you must be dying to know the answers.

What am I, Jeff LaFerney, working on?  My latest book, Jumper, has been my best-seller. It’s a time-travel adventure, and though I was excited about writing it, it was difficult to write. I was planning on continuing the series with a completely different set of characters, but sales and reviews have led me to change everything I was planning, and because of it, I’m not making much progress. I still write for “The Red Pen,”  I’ve done some planning for a YA mystery (which will probably be my next completed project), and I have a start on the next book in my Clay and Tanner Thomas mystery series.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  The Clay and Tanner series has a father and son “amateur detective” combination. I think that’s unique in and of itself. What makes them especially unique is that they share parapsychological abilities. It’s not science-fiction, though. They are regular guys. Tanner is a college basketball player. Clay is a professor and a coach. They have to deal with the morality of their powers as well as struggle with relationships. They obtain clues in unusual ways, but they solve the mysteries like detectives. The time-travel book is more of an adventure. It involves some spiritual warfare between angels and demons and includes miracles bestowed by the Staff of Moses. The hero is a motorcycle-riding, tough-guy loner with a heart of gold. I think they’re all entertaining and filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Why do I write what I do?  First of all, I love mystery and humor. I also love characters who have real problems but overcome them while putting others before themselves. My stories are appropriate for readers of all ages, and I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’ve written clean stories that appeal to all kinds of readers. I try to incorporate life lessons while simply entertaining my readers, but I don’t like to be predictable, so my stories generally are surprising too. I think I write what I do because I write what I like…what I believe in…what I think keeps the pages turning, and so far it’s worked pretty well for me.

How does my writing process work?  I’ve written four novels and the process was different every time, but there are a few things that I’ve done pretty consistently. One is I research everything. I get even the littlest details (what birds are still around in the fall in Michigan, what the signs say at the tourist attractions on Mt. Nebo, how a patient is put under during a brain surgery, what the traditions say the ghosts at the Fenton Hotel behave like). Another is I keep time lines. I find time is tricky in novels, especially time-travel novels, and timelines keep me from making mistakes. I also revise as I’m writing, so I keep notes of each scene and the characters involved so I can easily find the scenes when I make plot changes. Some people can’t revise while writing, but it works for me. I even make edits for punctuation and grammar as I go along, but that’s the English teacher in me. Then I find really good beta readers and I ask them to content edit. I’m not afraid of constructive criticism. I edit professionally, so once the readers are done (7 or 8 of them), I re-read the book several more times making minor adjustments. My goal is always to have a completed version with no errors.

Finally, it’s time to introduce my talented author friends. First in the writers hall of fame is Shyla Lukens. Her first book is a YA fantasy/mystery/romance. Her Jessie Billows romance/mystery kept me guessing (and laughing) throughout. You’ll become a fan as soon as you crack one of her books. Check out her blog at and her books at

Shyla Lukens worked as a paralegal in a local law firm until opting to become a stay at home mom to her five energetic angels. She is a full time writer whose passion for the art of creating stems from her belief that if you dream it and have a passion for it, it will happen. Shyla’s first novel, Enraptured, a YA fantasy mixed with mystery and romance, was published in 2012. Just Paying the Rent, a chick lit romance novel was released this year. She has two more books being released this summer including Day Moon, a YA fantasy, and the second book in the Jessie Billows series.  Shyla lives in Dubuque, Iowa.

A.J. Lape is the awesome author of the fantastic Darcy Walker Series. Shall I throw in a few other superlatives? Darcy is a nut who will keep you on the edge of your seat laughing or wondering how she’ll ever survive. A.J. is a hardworking author whose books keep you on constant entertainment alert. Check out her webpage at and her books at

AJ Lape is the Amazon bestselling author of the Darcy Walker Series. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two daughters, an ADD dog, a spoiled hamster, and an unapologetic and unrepentant addiction to Coca-Cola--and a lifelong love affair with bacon. If the FBI ever checks her computer, she'll be wearing prison orange due to the various "wiki" articles she looks up. She swears the dead body, mob, and drug related stuff is only career research.

Laura Vosika is the extraordinarily talented writer of the Blue Bells Chronicles trilogy. Her best-selling books are set in Scotland and are time-travel treasures. The research is amazing and the suspense will keep you turning the pages. Check out her blog at and her books at

Laura Vosika is the author of The Blue Bells Chronicles.  She has spent many years as a freelance musician on trombone, flute, and harp, and as a private music instructor and band director.  She is the mother of nine children, currently living in the Twin Cities.

The last inductee to the writer’s hall of fame is Lia Fairchild. Lia is a gifted writer whose characterization and plot twists are as good as it gets. Her best-seller, In Search of Lucy, is a wonderful debut, but Vigil Annie, Emma vs. the Tech Guy, and Circle in the Sand show her mastery of a variety of genres. Check out her webpage here: or find her books on Amazon here: 

Bestselling author, Lia Fairchild, writes women's fiction and romance. Fans of her books praise her endearing, real characters who come to life in stories that will touch your heart. Fairchild is addicted to the warmth of Southern California and holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a multiple-subject teaching credential. She is a wife and mother of two teenagers. Follow her on Twitter at!/liafairchild or Facebook at