Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The Cliche is Dead, Long Live the Cliche

Or, How to Write Copy Like a Trained Journalist – Part 1

I spent a lot of years working as a reporter. I find writing like a reporter is perfect for writing for the Web, and in most instances, can help to bring your fiction alive as well.

Journalistic writing is characterized by spare prose (“just the facts”), with the most important information at the beginning of the piece. There are other rules, usually found in a style guide (more on that in another post), which characterizes other parts of the writing.

One facet of journalistic writing is to avoid cliches.

A cliche is a phrase or an expression that has become overly familiar through use. Two cliches should be evident in the following sentence:

The car barreled down the road at breakneck speed.

Which of the following cliches haven’t you heard?

  • a note of warning
  • beat a hasty retreat
  • black as night
  • cool as a cucumber
  • dazed and confused
  • flood of tears
  • green as grass
  • hard as nails
  • in the nick of time
  • long-suffering
  • made ends meet
  • very much in evidence

(My original list was much longer…but it just looked silly on the page… I think you get the point.)

Cliches should never be used in a news or feature story (or fiction!), no matter how great the temptation–and temptation will beckon. (Trust me on this…it’s so much easier to write the cliche than to think up something new!)

And, there’s a reason why cliches are so popular: they’re familiar and easily understood by an audience. They bubble to the top of your thoughts when you’re considering what to write. And if you’re facing a deadline, it’s easy to rely on tired phrases to get your point across, rather than write fresh copy.

It’s much harder (not to mention more time consuming) to think up something new (especially if you’re like me. I like to dither over phrases and make them “perfect” before moving on.) But the use of cliche represents poor use of language, and in some cases, can identify the author as either inexperienced or, worse, lazy.

Appearing lazy can lose you commissions.

The problem with cliches is they make all stories sound the same:

The robbers terrorized their victims and made their escape on foot, fleeing with the loot.

So, the rule is: avoid cliches like the plague.

When writing fiction, don’t let your characters resort to cliched thought. Avoiding trite phrases will allow their personalities to develop. (And you may find that you learn more about your characters themselves if you have to work hard to make them think on their own, rather than relying on tried and true expressions to get their points across.)

When writing Web copy, keep your thoughts fresh and your words crackling. Cliches allow your reader to skim the writing, but if you use new language, your readers will actually have to think about what you write.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Shiny Kindle Version

Cover: Dragon's Clause by Kelly A. Harmon
The shiny Kindle™ version of my story, “The Dragon’s Clause” is now up and running at Amazon!

Amazon is telling me that it’s “still in the publishing phase” according to my account. Yet, there’s a purchase link!

Go see it here, and then come back and tell me how nifty it looks up on the Amazon Web site. 🙂

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Attack of the USS Arizona - Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941

I’m remembering history today, as the attack occurred decades before I was born. I can only imagine the anguish it caused– and the sheer pissed-offed-ness — that this kind of attack engenders…

Thank you, WWII Veterans. Thank you, service men and women of today.

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I spent a few hours at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights, Arts and Craft Fair today with fellow members of the Maryland Writers Association. We sold some books, chatted with lots of people and (I think) had a good time.

I know I did.

If you’re in the area, and have some time, you might want to stop in…I could have spent some serious cash on pottery, jewelry and books – in the “Humanities” room – which is where we were, along with the Greenbelt Writers Association.

(I did buy a necklace from Jellybug Artworks. VERY KEWL. Lots of black and white bead-shaped stones whose names escape me along with a hematite pendant. You’ll probably see me wearing it at my next reading….)

The big thrill of the day was snow. We watched it turn from flakes to sleet and back to snow again in the large classroom windows of the Greenbelt Community Center.

In my neck of the woods, the weatherman was calling for “1.8” inches of snow. I laughed about this all morning. Most days, the weather-folk can’t accurately predict whether it will be rainy or clear – but today they knew were were going to get 1.8 inches. Ha.

They were partially right. I have about 8 inches of snow on my deck….(which means we probably got at least six – it tends to collect a bit more deeply on the rails…)

First snow of the season always takes my breath away…especially when it’s such a good one. I played kid again this afternoon: had a snowball fight, built a snowman (snowwoman, actually) and went sledding.

Between that, and the hour-plus drive in the snowfall on the way home…I’m done in. Nighty-night.

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Cover Art!

Cover: The Dragon's Clause

Cover: Dragon's Clause by Kelly A. Harmon


I’m excited!

Look at this beautiful cover art by Crystalwizard! Isn’t it fabulous?

I think she did a terrific job of portraying my dragon, Salga di Alato (he’s an Italian Dragon) fire-strafing one of the three towers of San Marino.

This cover art is for my short story, “The Dragon’s Clause,” which I’m re-issuing for Amazon kindle.

(I can’t wait!)

“The Dragon’s Clause” was originally published in the anthology, “Black Dragon, White Dragon,” by Ricasso Press under the name, “San Marino and the Dragon.”

San Marino and the Dragon received a lot of good press. If you’re interested in the reviews, check out this page.

If you enjoy stories about dragons, look into “Black Dragon, White Dragon,” available electronically and in print at Ricasso Press or from (print only).

If you want to read my story, but not purchase the entire collection, you’ll soon get your chance.

You can see more of Crystalwizard’s art at her ArtWanted site.

I’ll let you know when “The Dragon’s Clause” becomes available….in the meantime, why don’t you tell me what you think of the art?

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Guest Blogging Today – Dishin’ It Out

Grandma's Tombstone
I’ve got a guest blog post today over at Ginger Simpson’s Blog “Dishin’ it Out.”

Her theme for the month is “Thankfulness,” of course.

I talk a little about writing and genealogy and thanking “those who have gone before.”


Thursday, November 26th, 2009

It’s Not Just the Tryptophan, It’s the Carbs

Chemical Compound of Tryptophan - From WikipediaFrom Indiana Public Media’s “A Moment of Science:”

Tryptophan, commonly found in turkey, is an essential amino acid, meaning that the body cannot produce it and must get it from foods you eat. Tryptophan stimulates the production of serotonin, which is a chemical that helps keep people happy by calming anxieties, relieving depression, and promoting sleep.

But the tryptophan in a lot of foods competes with other amino acids to get into the brain. So you might actually feel more of tryptophan’s effect after eating a meal heavy in carbohydrates.

This is because carbs cause the body to secrete large amounts of insulin, which clears the bloodstream of most of the amino acids that compete with tryptophan. Thus, there’s more room for tryptophan in the brain and it ends up having a stronger effect. In addition, eating a large meal can stimulate gut hormones that cause a sleepy feeling unrelated to tryptophan.

This is the body’s way of ensuring that you’re still and quiet, so that it can better digest.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Appearance! Greenbelt Festival of Lights, December 5

I just got the word that I’ll be at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights, Arts and Craft Fair Saturday, December 5. A bunch of folks from the Maryland Writers Association will be there, talking about MWA, peddling our books, and answering all kinds of questions about writing and publishing. With luck, we’ll have time to do a short reading. We’re all planning on it.

If you’ll be in the Greenbelt, MD area on Saturday, why don’t you drop by? I’ll be there from 9 until noon (probably longer) but lots of folks will be out and about until 5 p.m. or so.

Here are the details:

Greenbelt Festival of Lights, Arts and Craft Fair
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road
Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6
9:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Why Yes, Blood Soup is a Real Recipe

Cover of the Book Several people have asked me if Blood Soup is a real recipe.

Yes, it is–an old Polish recipe, in fact.

True: Just before I submitted the story to a publisher, I removed the recipe from the book. I’d included it at the end, just for fun, to give people an idea of what was actually being served in the book. However, I removed it on the advice of a fellow critique group member. Now, I sometimes wish I’d left it in.

For your personal edification, here’s the recipe:

Blood Soup


5-6 lb duck OR 3-5 lb spare ribs or pork loin ribs
Fowl trimmings, if available
1 gallon water
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
4 T flour (Add more if a thicker soup is desired.)
1 T sugar
2 T salt
2 T pepper
1/2 c vinegar
1 c sweet cream or whipping cream
Fresh Apples, Pears or both. (Peel, core and chop into pieces less than 1/2 inch.)
Dried fruit: 1/2 lb pitted prunes and 1/2 lb raisins
2 c duck or goose blood OR 1/2 c pig blood

(If you’re squeamish, 32 oz prune juice with pulp may be substituted for blood.)

1/2 tsp crushed marjoram


In a soup kettle, cover meat and foul trimmings with water and boil slowly 1-3 hours depending on the size and age of the duck. Skim off foam from top of soup. Place spices in cheese cloth bag and add to soup.

Boil slowly until meat is tender.

Remove meat and spice bag from soup. Reserve meat to be added back later. Take out 1 cup of boiling stock and set aside. Add fruit to soup. Boil until apples or pear are soft.

In a separate bowl, blend the flour, sugar, salt and pepper into 1/2 c of the blood until smooth.

Add cream to the flour mixture. Mixture should be a light paste.

Add the 1 c of hot soup stock and mix until smooth.

Add vinegar and blend.

While soup is still boiling, add flour mixture and remaining blood (or prune juice if no blood was used).

Stir constantly.

If a thicker soup is desired, add 1 c of pureed prunes.

Boil another 5-10 minutes. Meat may be returned to the soup.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Allow to cool and place in refrigerator. Allow soup to stand overnight before serving.

Because of the raisins, prunes and fruit, the soup will be sweeter the next day.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Did You Know November 1 was National Author’s Day?

I didn’t! To boot: it was the 80th anniversary!

Let’s be fair: none of the many author/editor/agent Web sites I frequent mentioned the date. I hadn’t heard it advertised anywhere. Only by mere chance did I learn of it. Even Web searches turn up very little.

I did learn that National Authors’ Day was adopted by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1929. (Note: but apparently the holiday has slipped under their radar, since I could find no mention of it on their Web site.)

In 1949 the US Department of Commerce awarded the observance a place on its list of special days, making it official.

The resolution states: “by celebrating an Authors’ Day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty, and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible, but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America…”

(This information from Jane Sutton on her Web site, Jane’s Ride. –Thanks, Jane!)

If you missed it, it’s not too late to celebrate!

Here are some ideas:

  • Buy a new book! How about mine? Here’s a link to Blood Soup.  😉


  • Have a book party! Ask everyone to bring their favorite and read a few passages from it. (Better yet: ask people to read from things they’ve written… a poem, a short story, a novel, even a term paper.)

  • Swap books with someone (or ask your guests to bring some to swap). This is a great way to learn about new authors and take a chance on reading genres you might not have picked up otherwise.

  • Get kids involved by reading with them. I recommend anything by Edith Nesbit and Edward Eager and (almost anything) by Shel Silverstein.

  • Email your favorite author.

  • Write something yourself!


    and, my favorite, from Janette Rallison’s blog:

    • Yes, pull out your Mark Twain centerpieces, your Jane Austen wreathes, and those life-size twinkly Bronte Sisters for the yard. Then let’s all sing a few Thank-goodness-we’re-not-in-school-anymore-so-we-don’t-have-to-read-Hemingway-again carols.