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.”  http://www.theglitterglobe.com/  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 http://www.authorshylalukens.com/blog-to-me and her books at http://www.amazon.com/Shyla-Lukens/e/B00INYF9II/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1401225660&sr=1-2-ent

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 http://ajlape.com/ and her books at http://www.amazon.com/A.-J.-Lape/e/B00A4N8M8A/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1401226231&sr=1-2-ent

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 http://bluebellstrilogy.blogspot.com/ and her books at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Laura+Vosika

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: http://www.liafairchild.com/ or find her books on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Lia+Fairchild&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3ALia+Fairchild 

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 https://www.twitter.com/#!/liafairchild or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lia.fairchild.author?fref=tshttp://www.facebook.com/lia.fairchild.author?fref=ts

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I and Me Are Not Interchangeable.

Come with me to the land of instruction. It’s a lonely place—sometimes quite boring. However, I happen to know the rules for when to use me and when to use I. It has to do with subjects and objects. I’m not talking about subjects like peasants in a kingdom or objects like things on a shelf. I happen to be talking lonely, boring grammar, but give me a chance. I might be able to straighten out the confusion of my blog readers without bewildering you or causing you to nod off in a stupor.

Here is the first order of educating the confused. I is always a subject and me is always an object. What does that mean? Well, I’ll start with subjects. Find an action verb in your sentence and ask who or what did the action. The answer will be the subject. “Laura snorted pop out of her nose” (that would be “soda” for almost everyone in the world outside of Michigan). Snorted is the action. Who snorted? Laura. Laura is the subject. If I inserted the pronoun I in place of Laura, I would be the subject, which leads to the question of which would burn my nose the most when snorted, Vernors or Coke? (Vernors is a “pop” that people in Michigan recognize.) If Laura and I both snorted, both Laura and I are what is called a compound subject. Me cannot be a subject, so saying Laura and me snorted or saying Me and Laura snorted is bad grammar. Verbs aren’t always action words, however, so sometimes you’ll have to locate a linking verb—a verb that simply shows a state of being. Am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, be, or been are quite common. If a sentence said…“Bradley looks like a hairy-eared Hobbit,” looks is a linking verb. There is no action. “Hairy-eared” is just what Bradley is like. It is how he is. It is also how Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are as well, but that is obvious, and this is an amazing set of sentences that have absolutely no action, moving you into that boring grammar zone. Now, I could say I look like a hairy-eared Hobbit, but that would be unlikely because I have a phobia of hair in my ears—just ask my wife. If you asked who or what looks, the answer would be the subject. In a compound construction, Bradley and I both must have unseemly hair growing in our ears. I can’t use me as the subject because me is never a subject.

I was in a store, shopping, and a boy pleaded with his mother. “Will you come with Jimmy and me to the toy department?” I was thinking that I’d go if she wasn’t willing, but she chose not to answer his question. Instead, she determined that it was the appropriate time to give a grammar lesson to her cute little guys. “Jimmy and I,” she said. Though I wanted to tell the lady that her son knew grammar better than she did, I refrained. Instead, I headed for the toy department myself, and low and behold, the boys dragged their mother there as well. I was looking at action figures, the boys were looking at Nerf guns, and the mom was looking at balls. The smart grammar kid said, “Mom, throw Jimmy and me a ball.” Instead of tossing the projectiles, mom decided to teach grammar again. “It’s Jimmy and I,” she said. The grammar kid was now up two on his mommy because in each case, he used me as an object. I cannot be an object.

“Just between You and Me” is a song made famous by April Wine. The band got it right—which is quite unusual I have to admit when analyzing the song lyrics of the majority of music groups—because me is an object in the phrase. There are three kinds of objects in sentences: objects of prepositions, direct objects, and indirect objects. I’ll start with objects of prepositions. Those little words that usually show direction or location, showing the relationship between two people or things in a sentence are prepositions. In, on, at, of, for, with, by, near, between, beside, above, and others are prepositions. They all use objects. “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” uses river, woods, and house as objects. So now it’s time for a learning example.

“Did you talk to Boog and me at the urinal in the men’s room?” The answer to that question is no because that breaks all standards of protocol in restrooms for males with a sense of decency; however, sometimes we (um…I) forget our (my) roles. Yes, I happened to see Boog Powell, the former major league baseball player (and at the time, current Miller Light beer commercial star), sitting in a first-class seat on an airplane, and I followed him into the airport restroom to “chat” with him. I said, “Are you Boog Powell?” He was busily peeing and staring at the wall as is appropriate while I was two urinals down, being a complete idiot. “Umm hmmm,” he said. Well, that was a better-than-expected response. “I saw you on the plane and was pretty sure it was you,” I continued as he stared at the wall. “Umm hmmm,” he said. He finished, zipped up, and walked out. What was I to do? Shake his hand? Anyway, back to teaching. To is a preposition. Boog and me are objects of the preposition. I cannot be an object, so Boog and I would be incorrect. You know, if you dropped out Boog and, the sentence would say, “Did you talk to me at the urinal.” To I would be a horrible gaffe, wouldn’t it?

On to direct and indirect objects. Here’s another sample sentence. “Did you hear Mike and me singing in the rowboat?” I have to interject. You see, my friend, Mike T., and I were at a lake party in our late teens or early twenties, and we were sitting and rowing in a rowboat we had mostly submerged, singing out, “Roxeanne! You don’t have to put on the red light! Roxeanne! You don’t have to put on the red light!” Why that particular song? I don’t know except that we managed to wail out the lyrics at about the same sound quality as Sting himself. Anyway, hear is a transitive verb. If I say the verb hear and ask “hear what?” the answer is “singing.” Singing is the direct object. I can then say “singing to or by whom?” and the answer is “Mike and me.” Mike and me are the indirect objects. I cannot be an object so it doesn’t work in that sentence. If I said “My readers don’t like me,” me is the direct object. I wouldn’t say “My readers don’t like I.” I also wouldn’t say “My readers don’t like Mike and I.” I cannot be an object.

This problem with me and I really only occurs in a compound construction when there are two subjects or two objects. When it happens, just drop off the other subject or object and say the sentence with just the word me or I and you’ll know what sounds right. By the way, just as saying “with me” or “near me” or “beside me,” you would say “between me.” So saying “This is just between you and I” is wrong. Or saying “He’ll stand with you and I at the Funny Farm” is wrong. The grammar mom in the store? She was dead wrong. The rock band, April Wine? They were dead right, believe it or not. So if you’re still awake and didn’t mind my wild thought tangents, you now know how to tell the difference. Wasn’t it well worth your time? 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bonds, Clemens, and Steroids

I’m a baseball fan, and I’m fed up with all the “cheating” accusations concerning steroids. I’d like to put a little different spin on the steroid era, especially as it concerns the Hall of Fame eligible players who apparently aren’t going to get in—especially concerning Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. I know, I mentioned steroids and lost half my readers and then I mentioned how I support Clemens and Bonds and lost half of the rest, but at least some of you are sticking around to see if I have an original thought or two.

Let me start out by saying that Clemens has never admitted to the use of performance enhancing drugs, and Bonds has stuck to his guns about his ignorance of his own usage. Neither was found guilty in the trials they were forced to endure, which should cast some doubts for the haters, but regardless, I don’t care about Bonds’s and Clemens’s situations. I personally don’t care if they used them or not. I also need to say quite plainly that I’m no expert on the steroid era. I’m not even an expert on the two players in consideration. I’m just a fan who is using his blog to try to sound logical. My goal isn’t to convince you of anything, and it has nothing to do with the negative medical effects that steroids have on the body. It is simply to make some logical points about Clemens, Bonds, and the steroid era.

Point number one:  Clemens and Bonds were superstars. With or without performance enhancing drugs, they were unquestionably two of the best players in the game. Bonds’s great statistics were even greater while he was using his creams and such, there is no doubt, but with Clemens, I can’t tell when he supposedly used the stuff. All I know is that if any Hall of Fame voter looked at Bonds’s and Clemens’s career stats, they should be compelled to vote those two in.

Point number two: Let me define “cheating.” One definition is “a deception for profit to yourself” and another is “violating accepted standards or rules.”  Back in 1998, I watched a television interview with Mark McGwire who had a bottle of Androstenedione displayed visibly on his locker shelf. "Everything I've done is natural,” he said in a later interview. “Everybody that I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use," said McGwire, who also took the popular muscle-builder Creatine, an amino acid powder. Well, if the game of baseball had no rules against it and players weren’t deceptively sneaking it into the locker room or training room, why is it called cheating? If a hockey goalie wears pads larger than the rules allow or a race car driver’s roof is too low or quarter panels are too high to make his car go faster or a golfer puts too many clubs in his bag, that is cheating. Or if Gaylord Perry, who is in the Hall of Fame, puts foreign substances on the ball, substances clearly stated as being against the rules, that is cheating. If a player uses a substance that isn’t against the rules and it’s being used by the majority of others, why is it called cheating? That leads me to…

Point number three: Star professional athletes are very proud. They have big egos. They’re usually the best not just because they have great skills but also because they work harder than everyone else. They want to be the highest paid, not because they need the money, but because they are the best. Well, when an entire league starts bulking up on steroids and growth hormones and such, and players start breaking records and winning Silver Sluggers and other awards and getting commercial deals, it makes sense that the best players wouldn’t be satisfied to fall behind. My point isn’t that Bonds and Clemens used performance enhancers, however. My point is that I don’t understand why people look to those two as their punching bags when all evidence and logic suggests that they would have been in the minority if they weren’t doing it too.

Point number four: Let’s say there is a star pitcher and he hears that half or more of the pitchers in the league are using performance enhancers and half or more of the hitters are too. I would think that the star pitcher would consider using the same things, partly to keep up with the pitchers he’s being compared to and partly to keep up with the hitters who are getting bigger and stronger. And let’s say there is a star hitter and all of a sudden his job is in jeopardy or his records are falling or his position among the top players is disappearing and he learns that not only are the majority of hitters getting a competitive advantage but he has to face pitchers who are using performance enhancers too. I would think the hitter would consider doing the same thing. Here’s my point. Why are people upset with Roger Clemens for trying to get Barry Bonds out? And why are people so upset with Barry Bonds for trying to get the most out of his at bats against Clemens? Who, pray tell, has the competitive advantage if they are both using the same thing?

Point number five: This may be my weakest argument, but does anyone think that using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs will help a hitter hit a baseball or throw more strikes? Ted Williams said the hardest thing in sports is to hit a baseball. This was before pitchers all threw fastballs in the 90’s, never had to complete a game, and relievers came in to face a single batter. Carl Yaztrzemski said this about Williams. “I'm sure not one of them [the baseball greats] could hold cards and spades to Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn't see in a week." This is what Bonds was like. He worked hard. He studied hard. He faced pitchers on steroids who recovered faster and threw harder and were inserted into the lineup just to face him. This is what Clemens was like. He’s famous for his work ethic and intelligence. He faced juiced up hitters who hit the ball farther and harder than ever before and who weren’t dealing so heavily with the aches and pains of umpteen days straight of baseball games. Clemens and Bonds accomplished what they did in an age that they did it, however, not because they were cheating; it was because they were the best in their era. It was because they were great.

Point number six: Quite honestly, I haven’t spent hours of research on this topic, but I’ve done some. I keep reading that “everybody” was using performance enhancers or “most” were doing it or “estimates are that more than half” were using PED’s. I keep reading that as many pitchers as hitters were using them, which has proven to be pretty close to true when names are released. I also am not so naïve as to think that managers, trainers, coaches, GM’s, owners, and the commissioner didn’t know what was going on, choosing to turn their heads because the game’s popularity was skyrocketing. So in an era when many of the best players in the game probably used some sort of performance enhancers just like most of their peers—with the knowledge of the powers that be—insuring that they remained the best players in baseball, we still have a bunch of hypocritical sportswriters who have determined to keep everyone out of the Hall of Fame who produced during the steroid era. Yes, I said hypocritical sportswriters, leading to my last point.

My last point: If on the streets, sportswriters discovered an energy drink that made them more productive, many of them would use it. If it became apparent that the writers using the energy drink were getting more advancements, higher salaries, and more fame, I’d guess that eventually more would use it than not, especially if there were no office rules against consuming the drinks. It wouldn’t be cheating; it would be keeping up with their peers. Many of these sportswriters will refuse to ever vote for Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or any other productive player from the “steroid era,” yet they will cheat at cards to win a meaningless game or they cheated in school to get a meaningless grade or they ingested something to keep them awake and alert when traveling and schedules were wearing them down so they could perform their jobs to their boss’s expectations. Imperfect people are judging athletes who weren’t breaking the rules and who were doing what the majority of their peers were doing—and the leaders in their sport were condoning. It’s time to give up on this holier-than-thou attitude and vote the best players of their era into the Hall of Fame. Bonds and Clemens deserve a place there, and so do many others.