The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

Episode Three: She Only Smells What She Wants to Smell

When we last joined Moxie, she thought she had witnessed a jewel heist, but when the dust settled nothing appeared to be missing . . .

During the rest of the parade Moxie felt accosted by stench. Every few feet brought a wave of yet another foreign smell. A hint of honey or beeswax lofted over the sawdust and dirt, but was overpowered by baskets of over-ripe tomatoes as they passed the fool in the stocks. Then they passed the food booths wafting of all kinds of edibles crisping in boiling oil. Moxie could feel a coating of thick burnt fat forming in her nostrils. As they rounded the bend near the lower theater she smelled damp moss, or was it mold and fungus? And finally, the stinging she recognized from this morning as the smell of horse dung marked their arrival to the jousting field.

At this point the parade disbanded, the majority of participants preparing for their next show at one of the theaters or the town square. Some went to work a shift at a booth. Moxie followed her fellow minstrels to the castle to play background music for the joust. The King and Queen with their court continued their regal show gliding up the front steps to their thrones.

Moxie slipped through the back of the castle and took her seat. It felt good to sit. The thin, black slippers from the costumer let every sharp pebble leave a mark on her foot. She would need to find some real shoes as soon as she got a break. She removed her music from the joust music envelope and quickly looked over all of the pieces. She felt a pang in her gut when she saw a bunch of sharps and flats, but quickly recognized a simple D-minor B pattern. Once she felt sure of the music, she looked up and saw the crowd.

There were people everywhere. It looked like a tsunami of moving colors had hit the front gate and poured down the hill. Moxie was shocked. She couldn’t believe this many people would want to spend the day re-enacting the Middle Ages. From all the people in t-shirts and jeans, she realized they were actually people watching other people re-enact the Middle Ages. She couldn’t decide which was stranger.

The jousters’ introductions caught her attention. There were four knights in shining armor. Each had a squire who introduced him to the King and Queen and to the crowd. A knight on a horse with a light colored blanket had been challenged by a dark knight on a horse with a dark colored blanket. A straight forward battle of good vs. evil, but one light colored knight seemed to have lost his script and was picking a fight with the King.

When Sir Ivan was introduced to the King, he rode his horse to the very edge of the building holding his sword to the King’s nose. The Queen’s cheeks blushed. She looked prepared to leap from her perch.

“The King abuses his power,” shouted Sir Ivan. “He takes what is not of his kingdom. He does not respect the boundaries of the land and does not repay his debts.”

The King quickly stood and moved closer to the Queen. “I believe you have become overzealous in the spirit of battle. It is not I who have brought you challenge,” he said looking to the Queen for support.

“Yes, dear knight. Save thy blood lust for the joust,” she said.

“I cannot hold my tongue any longer, my lady. The King is a tyrant and his moments for this earth are at an end.” The knight lunged forward but his horse and the building kept his blade far from the King who now stood behind his throne.

The crowd gasped and rose to its feet. Moxie was enthralled. That was some incredible acting. She really believed that knight wanted to kill the King and that the King and Queen were afraid. She would never have expected this caliber of talent at a renaissance fair. This place must pay serious bank to get that kind of talent. That reminded her that Pearl had never told her what she was getting paid. In the future, she would have to ask Pearl more questions before taking a gig.

Moxie felt a kick in her calf. Nettles said, “One, Two, Three, Four.” And the first song of the joust began.

Image of jousting on horsepack

photo from prweb.com

The first joust went as expected. Moxie couldn’t watch very closely because she had to follow her music, but it looked like the good knight was hurt, but then he rallied and won. No surprise there. The second joust, however, the joust between Sir Ivan and The Black Knight, Sir Shadivan, took a strange turn. In the middle of the second run at each other, Sir Ivan took a right turn and went straight for the King. The King lunged out of the way a second before the jousting lance pushed his throne over and put a hole in the back wall.

Megan screamed to Moxie’s left. The floor shifted like an earthquake under Moxie’s chair and she worried that the building was coming down.

An announcer came over a loud speaker saying, “There you have it, folks. Wasn’t that an exciting joust? Please exit the grounds in an orderly fashion. The next joust is at 3:30. Enjoy the fair.”

“Wow,” Moxie said. “You guys really know how to put on a show. That was my kind of joust. I’ve only seen motorcycle jousting which is, of course, way cooler. But that was better than expected.”

Megan and Ryan had disappeared. Nettles laughed nervously.

“So what now?” Moxie asked.

“It be the time of the midday repast. Returnest of an hour and a half. Then we will wander the grounds playing until the second joust. Again, I wonder if thou hast read thy prepared materials.”

Moxie ignored everything but that they had a break. “Perfect. Where can I get some shoes?” Moxie held out one of her feet to display the pathetic slipper.

“The cobbler’s booth is next to my jeweler’s booth. I’m headed that way. Prithy walk with me.”

“Sounds good.”

The cobbler wanted to measure Moxie’s foot and make her custom, leather knee-high boots, but that would take a week and $600 and she needed shoes now. Her smallish feet were just the right fit for a sample pair the cobbler had on hand. They were an unattractive pea-green short boot, but they felt like hugs for her feet. Moxie hated dropping $100 for shoes she would never wear outside of this place, but she was desperate and the cobbler had a monopoly.

While Moxie waited for the cobbler to run her credit card, she smelled the sweet smell of honey and overheard Nettles, on the other side of the tent flap, talking to someone in hushed tones.

A girl’s voice said, “Went off without a hitch. No one will ever know.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t see you?” Nettles replied.

“So what if she did? Nothing’s missing.”

“Right. So when’s the exchange?”

“Don’t you worry your little head. I have everything under control.”

“Yeah like last time?” Nettles hissed. “I think I’ll take the lead this time.”

“Sure, Nettles. Whatever you want. But I think this guy could be trouble.”

“Yeah, I think he made that clear to everyone.”

“Fine. You asked for it. He said directly after second joust.”

“So where’d you stash it?”

“Where I stash everything.”

“Guess that’s convenient enough.”

 

What is Nettles up to? Are the re-enactors just great actors or is the King in real trouble? Tune in next week for another hair-raising, action-packed misadventure full of twists, turns, anachronisms and . . . skunks?

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Write Like the Masters: Hemingway vs. Subordination

A bench by the river in Index, WA

Until it was placed at this angle, it was an ordinary bench.
It was an ordinary bench until it was placed at this angle.

I enjoyed reading Write Like the Masters by William Cane. The book included fun facts about the writing habits of some great authors and also included  interesting techniques to emulate these authors. One part of the chapter about Ernest Hemingway really grabbed my attention, the part about subordinating conjunctions. According to William Cane, “If you wish to write like Hemingway, avoid a heavy-handed style and reduce the amount of subordination in your sentences.” Personally, I do not wish to write like Hemingway specifically, but I was intrigued.

For those of you who (like me) need a refresher on dependent vs. independent clauses and coordinate vs. subordinate conjunctions, I found a couple of informative links for a very quick review:

http://owlet.letu.edu/grammarlinks/sentence/sentence3d.html  

http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/subordinateclause.htm

Using Mr. Cane’s list of the major subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, because, so that, though, unless, until, before, how, if, since, when, where and while, I perused my work in progress in search of subordination. I found plenty of examples that made me glad to be doing this exercise. Let’s start with this sentence:

          She put the key in the box and pulled out the mail before the details from her peripheral vision registered.

Which can be rearranged to read:          

          Before the details from her peripheral vision registered, she put the key in the box and pulled out the mail.

So where’s this subordination stuff and what does it have to do with Hemingway? Here’s the fun part.

A quick dissection of these sentences reveals two independent clauses: She put the key in the box and pulled out the mail and The details from her peripheral vision registered. The second clause becomes dependent when the subjective conjunction before is added.

According to Mr. Cane, to write more like Hemingway I want to start by removing the subjective conjunction which leaves us with: She put the key in the box and pulled out the mail, The details from her peripheral vision registered.

Then, replace the comma with and          

          She put the key in the box and pulled out the mail and the details from her peripheral vision registered.

What do you think? Do I sound more like Hemingway? I think I like the subordinate sentence beginning with the dependent clause the best. Let’s try another one from my work in progress:

          The club was easy to spot (independent clause) since (subordinate conjunction) it was the only white house with columns (dependent clause).

          Since it was the only white house with columns, the club was easy to spot.

We remove the subordinate conjunction (since) and have: It was the only white house with columns, The club was easy to spot. In this case I think we would switch The club and It to end up with

          The club was the only white house with columns and it was easy to spot.

The coordinating conjunction so is more to my liking than and for this example changing it to

          The club was the only white house with columns, so it was easy to spot.

A simple, but effective example. I like the final sentence the best. Since coordinating conjunctions are supposed to specify a relationship between equally important ideas (from owlet link above), I wonder if Hemingway’s style comes from a belief that all of his ideas are equally important. Ha Ha Ha . . . Hmm.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from Hemingway and do some reverse engineering:

From The Sun Also Rises

“I paid for the saucers and we walked out to the street.”

How would we make this subordinate? Choose a subordinate conjunction and add it to one of the independent clauses to make it dependent. I’m going to use after though before might make it more interesting.

After I paid for the saucers, we walked out to the street.

We walked out to the street after I paid for the saucers.

Here’s another one:

“She grinned and I saw why she made a point of not laughing”

I chose the subordinate conjunction when

When she grinned, I saw why she made a point of not laughing.

I saw why she made a point of not laughing when she grinned. (I think this form confuses the meaning of the sentence)

Let’s look at one more:

From the short story Summer People

“He was ugly to look at and everybody liked his face.”

          Although he was ugly to look at, everybody liked his face.

          Everybody liked his face although he was ugly to look at. (This example made me think about dangling prepositions and modifiers, but that is a topic for another day)

Well, I had fun. I hope I got your thinking machine churning. I know mine is. Now I’ll leave you with a couple of more challenging Hemingway examples to play with on your own.

From The Sun Also Rises

“I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Robert Cohn had never been middleweight boxing champion, and that perhaps a horse had stepped on his face, or that maybe his mother had been frightened or seen something, or that he had, maybe, bumped into something as a young child, but I finally had somebody verify the story from Spider Kelly.”

“I watched a good-looking girl walk past the table and watched her go up the street and lost sight of her, and watched another, and then saw the first one coming back again. She went by once more and I caught her eye, and she came over and sat down at the table.”

Happy Writing!

Revision: Overused Words

Whole story word cloudAn important aspect of revision is the hunt for overused words. One good way to do that is to use the “Find” option in your word processor: type the culprit in the find field and see how many times you’ve used it and where it is located. Each writer has different words they tend to gravitate toward. Creating a personal overused word list will become very helpful. I know that I overuse just which I can usually just find and remove. There are many lists of overused words on the internet to help you get started. Here’s an example:

From Claire Fallon’s article in the Huffington Post:

Here are 12 words that have been so overused they really don’t mean anything anymore:

  • literally: Originally meant “in a literal or strict sense,” but is used as a more general intensifier for things that are not strictly true. Because of this, “in a figurative sense,” the exact opposite of the original meaning, has now been added to the dictionary as a definition for literally.
  • unique: Originally meant “unlike anything else,” but is used to mean “different, to some degree, from the standard or the norm.”
  • awesome: Originally meant “causing feelings of fear or wonder,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • amazing: Originally meant “causing overwhelming surprise or astonishment,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • totally: Originally meant “completely, in every part,” but is now used as a general intensifier, much like “really.”
  • basically: Originally meant “essentially” or “fundamentally,” but is now used as general verbal filler.
  • incredible: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • really: Originally meant “actually true,” but is now used frequently as a general intensifier.
  • very: Meaning “to a high degree,” we all just need to stop using it in every other sentence.
  • honestly: Originally meant “in an honest and genuine manner,” but is now often used as general verbal filler.
  • absolutely: Originally meant “in a complete and total manner,” but is now used as a general intensifier.
  • unbelievable: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor.

I recently read a book that had a serious seemed problem.

“seems”
—This word weakens the sentence it is
used in. If something happens it shouldn’t “seem
to” happen it should simply happen.
                              from slcc.edu
 Thesaurus: seem
Jullianne Q Johnson said this about the word seemed: A new problem word arose, and I blame it on writing reports for a job I had working with at-risk kids. In these reports, we were not allowed to say anything like “Bob was sad,” because we didn’t know it, we were only observers. So we had to write things such as “Bob seemed sad.”  Seemed. Unless one is a lawyer or an eye witness in a court of law, seemed is a very boring word choice. My usage was under 100 times, but I axed quite a bit of them for being too uninteresting to live. If it wasn’t for my word cloud, I wouldn’t have known “seemed” was a problem.
She recommends using a word cloud to find overused words. She puts her whole manuscript into  Word it Out. I decided to try it with the first ten pages of my middle grade novel. Word cloud for first ten pages of My Monster is Better than Your MonsterThat was fun. Hitting the Random Settings button changed the colors and font and the Redraw button changed the arrangement. It looks about right. I’ll head back to my manuscript and “find” looked and like to make sure they aren’t overused.

Exploring the senses – Hearing

Auditory stimuli have the ability to trigger physical reactions. The calming sound of rolling waves, or the alarming jolt caused by a popped balloon can influence how we act and feel. Sounds, especially music, can also trigger memories.

Exercise: To explore hearing, each member of writing group brought a song to listen to. As we listened, we jotted down all of the thoughts that came to mind for the duration of the length of the song. I found that each song triggered personal memories and vivid imagery.

As with all of the sensory writing exercises I’ll describe, the results are twofold:

1. Sound triggers memories and writing ideas.

2. The exercise brings attention to how one’s fictional characters may react to sounds and music based on their histories and circumstances (perceptions).

Describing sounds, how they are perceived and their physical and emotional effects on the characters will add realism and depth to your writing.

Examples of my responses:

St. James Infirmary by Alan Toussaint

Railroad tracks

Otis playing piano in N.O. w/Kathleen on stand-up

I expect to hear Tom Waits start singing at any moment

The piano in that horrible apartment which I almost never played

La Belle Dame Sans Regrets by Sting

Ballroom classes at that weird dance studio in Metairie where I first met Bridget

The black and white checkerboard floor and the floor to ceiling mirrors in the middle of an empty club

Helping teach ballroom at Ruby Fruit Jungle

Drinking a tiny strong coffee at a café in Paris

The drawing Spencer did of his cousin Marie

The program from a Sting concert I thumbtacked to my wall over my desk

Like a Virgin by Madonna

Going to the record store with my gift certificate for winning the talent show and Mom making the clerk play every song on the Air Supply album, then saying it was too suggestive and making me get M.J.’s Thriller instead.

Buying Madonna’s tape from a friend at church because Mom wouldn’t let me get it

I hope this exercise triggers all sorts of ideas for you. I’d love to hear some of them. Also, if you have other sensory exercises you have found useful, please send them along. I love trying new things.