Gearing up for my fifth year of the #AtoZChallenge

This is my fifth year doing the A to Z blogging Challenge.

For those of you, who haven’t heard about it, the A to Z challenge began in 2010 by blogger Arlee Bird. It is a challenge for bloggers to post every day in April (usually except Sundays though this year we begin on a Sunday – April 1 – no foolin’). The rest of the days (Monday through Saturday) are matched with the letters of the alphabet. So on the first day you choose a topic that begins with A, the next day B and so on.

Now the organizers suggest you come up with a theme to help you get through the challenge. The first year, I didn’t pick a theme. The next year, I did a theme of TV shows followed by characters in 2016 and finally antagonists last year.

The key is to pick something that you will be able to find something for each letter. There are some hard letters Q, X and Z in particular.

I also wanted to find something that I could tie into being a writer like I did with both characters and antagonists. Since I am a fantasy author and often write about magic, I thought that might be a good topic but how to get that into 26 alphabet-inspired blog posts? The answer – songs about magic!

So in April, you can find songs about magic from Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band all the way down to Z (which may be a tricky one.) I’ve found Country songs, Heavy Metal songs, Oldies, and more to fill my almost-daily posts.

Those of you, who want to know more about the challenge or to sign up, click here. And you can look for my A to Z challenge posts about Songs of Magic beginning April 1st.

Teaching my son to swallow pills

Some children learn to swallow pills early while some teenagers and even some adults can’t do it. Lexie learned almost two years ago when she was 8 but that was out of necessity. She takes daily medication for her allergies and for her attention deficit disorder (ADD). For the first year, we did open her capsules for her ADD and put the medicine in yogurt, but this method didn’t work when away from home or on vacation, so when she stayed overnight with her Nana, my mother-in-law taught her to swallow the capsules.

Twelve-year-old Jase, on the other hand, doesn’t need daily medication and is rarely sick. Of course, their pediatrician never asks if they can swallow pills and usually prescribes liquid medication on the rare occasion they need something. But Jase hates taking liquid meds and even balks at chewable medicine so swallowing pills would open a wide range of medication he can take when necessary. (Some medicine is meant to swallowed as a whole and should not be crushed or chewed or doesn’t come in a liquid version.)

And while I do think swallowing pills is important, it isn’t something we have thought about teaching him before now.

A quick search on the internet showed that any child who can swallow normal chunky textured food such as oatmeal or applesauce can swallow a pill. No, this doesn’t mean your toddler should be swallowing pills, but most school age kids (say age 6 or 7) are ready to swallow a pill.

Basic Steps to Teaching a Child to Swallow a Pill

  • Use cake decoration sprinkles or candies such as mini-M&Ms or Nerds or small mints like Tic Tacs as your “pills.” Start small and work up to bigger ones.
  • Place the “pill” in the middle of the tongue.
  • Drink water.

(You can have your child look up at the ceiling before swallowing a pill as pills are denser than the water and should sink down first. With a capsule – which floats – you do the opposite and have your child look down. The capsule should float to the back of the mouth and be easier to swallow.)

Yes, it should be that simple. Online tips suggest having your child drink again if the pill doesn’t go down with the first swallow. You then continue with the same size pill to boost confidence before gradually increasing the size of the pill.

With Jase, this didn’t help. He couldn’t swallow even the smallest pill. We didn’t know if this had anything to do with his gag reflex (which can delay learning to swallow a pill) or if the problem was all in his head. We expected it was the latter one and that he just couldn’t get pass the swallowing something without chewing first. We even tried hiding the “pill” in some yogurt (since he doesn’t like applesauce that was the suggested on the internet). Nope. Still didn’t work.

Another online suggestion was to wait until they have already chewed something like a cookie and then stick the pill in and swallow. But with the problem being in his head, we didn’t try this one.

Finally, after moving to the smallest “pill” (grape Nerds), Jase was able to swallow one. And then we tried the largest Nerd in the box. After that we went to gummy bears cut up into small pieces figuring the soft pieces would be easier than a hard “pill.”

Soon he progressed up to the small M&M but had problems with the slightly bigger and capsule-shaped Tic Tacs. The good news is that he became good enough at the smaller pills that when he caught a cold he took small-Sudafed sized pills.

And I guess that is the point of taking the time to teach your child to swallow pills now before it becomes medically necessary because if you wait until they “must” take pills you and your child will most likely become frustrated.

For more information and tips on teaching pill swallowing, check out this website.

Today’s Featured Author – Parker J. Cole

Please welcome author Parker J. Cole to my blog. Today she is stopping by as part of her virtual book tour to promote her book Time to Say Goodbye.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The strike of the gavel against the wood block began the nightmare. Every time Gargi entered the prison, the memory of that falling mallet resurfaced with the flare-up of a chronic disease. Three years had passed since then. Four more to go.

Thursday afternoon sunlight warmed her as she walked the short path to the prison entrance. Once indoors, the coolness enveloped her and sent goosebumps along her arms. The officer greeted her as she placed her belongings in the green basket. She passed through the beige-and-brown metal detector and then stood still while a female officer used a flat black wand to swipe over her person.

Gargi subjected herself to the search and gazed over the dingy white cement walls with the iron gray stripe in the center. Paint chips littered the crevices on the floor. A mix of antiseptic cleanser and dankness filled the air. Her nose wrinkled at the combination.

She’d experienced it all before and yet, each time she came she underwent the same procedure all over again.

It won’t always be like this. One day, this will all be over.

The Michigan Court of Appeals received their appeal months ago. Each passing month forced her brother to stay in this forsaken place longer. She only hoped the appeal would work its magic and allow their attorney to argue their case against the state.

Eventually, they’ll prove her brother’s innocence. She knew it.

Book Blurb

Gargi Kapoor is the only one convinced her brother, Dev, is innocent of the crime he was convicted of. When he is sent to the hospital with an unexplained paralyzing disease she finds herself having to lean on the last person she’d ever want to depend on — a man who wants her brother to pay for stealing his mother’s life savings.

Leon Reckley is extremely satisfied to find the man who ripped his mother off suffering from an unknown disease that leaves him paralyzed and in need of rehabilitation therapeutic services. He’s even happier when he is given the opportunity to be the therapist that makes him fit enough to return to prison to finish his sentence. No one will work harder to make sure Dev Kapoor serves every minute of his prison sentence.

Gargi never dreamed the man who has utter contempt for her brother would be the man she slowly begins to trust. Leon never thought he’d be convinced Dev might be innocent, let alone be drawn to his enemy’s little sister. Together, will they find the truth? Or when Leon’s job is over, will it simply be time to say goodbye?

About the Author 

I am an author, speaker, and radio show host with a fanatical obsession with the Lord, Star Trek, K-dramas, anime, romance books, old movies, speculative fiction, and knitting. An off and on addict to Mountain Dew and marshmallows who writes to fill the void the sugar left behind.

You can find out more about Parker on her website or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Time to Say Goodbye on Amazon.

 

Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

This post is the thirty-first in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I wrote about the different drafts of your novel. And somewhere in there, you are going to evaluate the words you selected. You may want to consider replacing some of the verbs with stronger ones. And because there are many similar words, you will want to make sure you are using the “correct” word.

Stronger Words

Image result for strong arm clipartIf you aren’t sure about what I mean by stronger words, here is a simple example.

Sample sentence

Ben got a bag of chips from the shelf.

Stronger word choice:

Ben grabbed a bag of chips from the shelf.

Yes, both sentences are very similar. But the key is that in the second example you learn how Ben got the bag. The word “grab” means to “seize something quickly.” When the word “grabbed” is used, you know that not only did Ben get a bag of chips, but you understand how he did it.

So when picking stronger words, you are trying to choose words that give the reader more information. Instead of talking loudly, you shout. Instead of hitting hard, you wallop and instead of smile smugly, you smirk.

Take a look at this example:

Seething with anger, Sarah took the book from him. She walked out the door, closing it loudly as she left.

Stronger word choices:

Sarah snatched the book out of his hand. She stomped out the door, slamming it behind her.

The second example gives a clearer picture of what happened. You know by her actions that Sarah is either angry or annoyed.

In the second half of the first example, instead of picking a strong verb, an adverb was used. As a writer, using the occasional adverb is fine but in reality, you should aim to use strong verbs (as in the second example.) The use of a lot of adverbs shows lazy writing.

Quick grammar refresher: An adverb modifies a verb, adjective or other adverbs. They answer the question where, when, how and to what extent. You don’t have to eliminate all adverbs but if an adverb can easily be eliminated without change the meaning of the passage, then it should be removed.

Of course, though sometimes a stronger verb will work better, there are times when a simple word is fine. Characters can walk. They don’t always have to stomp, dash, hurry, shuffle, scurry or whatever.

You want to pick the best word for the scene. This doesn’t mean you need a big, fancy or unusual word. It means picking the right word to say the right thing in just the right way. It doesn’t mean rushing to a thesaurus to sprinkle your book with synonyms when a simpler word will do.

As you revise your draft, examine your word choices. You might ask yourself, “Is this really what I mean?” or “Is there a better word to convey this so my readers will understand what is happening?”  Finding words that capture your meaning and convey it to your readers is challenging. But you can tighten up your writing by making sure you are picking strong words.

Homonyms

The English language is filled with homonyms – words that are spelled and pronounced the same way but mean different things (example #1) or can be words that are spelled differently and mean different things but are pronounced the same (example #2). It is this second example that you have to watch out for in your writing. And you cannot count on grammar checking programs or even proofreaders to catch these mistakes every time.

Example #1

Image result for homonyms

Example #2

Image result for homonyms

Here are some examples using the correct word and then followed by the often-misused word and the definitions of the two.

Harold’s face twitched with a nervous tic.

tic – a periodic spasm

tick – a small bloodsucking arachnid or perhaps the sharp, recurring click (as of a clock)

The wording piqued my interest.

Pique – aroused or excited

Peaked – to be at the maximum (interest has peaked and will probably soon decline)

Two vases of flowers stood on either side of the altar.

Altar -the structure in a place of worship

Alter – to change something

She wore a two carat diamond.

Carat – unite of weight for jewels

Caret – a small wedged-shaped mark (^) used by editors to indicate where text should be inserted

She grabbed a box of stationery.

Stationery – writing materials

Stationary – not moving

Donna always sticks to her principles.

Principle – code of conduct

Principal – (noun) the leader of a school or main sum of money owed on a loan  OR (adjective) describes something that is prominent or important (our principal concern)

His office was little more than a cubicle.

Cubicle – a small partitioned space

Cubical – shaped like a cube with six equal square sides

My husband believed in giving his staff free rein.

Rein – to guide (or in this case to give complete freedom)

Reign – to rule as a sovereign power

Rain – water falling to earth or a continuous descent or inflicting of anything (a rain of blows)

The car has dual air bags.

Dual – two

Duel – a contest between two people

The new curtains complemented the room nicely.

Complemented – went well with, enhanced

Complimented – to give a praise

Registration fees may be waived for low income families.

Waived – voluntarily forgo something

Waved – flapping up and down

The police arrived at the grisly scene.

Grisly – gruesome, ghastly

Grizzly – having hair that is gray

She felt as if she had been put through the wringer.

Wringer- a devise for wringing something out, squeezing it dry

Ringer – a person or thing that makes a ringing noise

His lawsuit claimed there had been a breach of contract.

Breach – violation

Breech – bottom or back end of something (a breech birth)

There are MANY other words – too many to list here – that often get mixed up. When in doubt, use the dictionary to double check that you are using the correct word.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

 

Being named Alexa in a world being taken over by Amazon’s Alexa

In the beginning of 2015, the Amazon Echo joined our family. The digital assistant for this smart home device is named Alexa. The same name as my daughter. So, of course, we changed the “wake word” (the word to activate the digital assistant) to ‘Echo’ on our device to avoid confusion. Later we got an Echo Show and changed its “wake word” to ‘Amazon.’ (Recently, Amazon also offered the word ‘computer’ as a possible “wake word,” but at this point you must choose one of their pre-selected wake words.)

In the three years since we got our Echo, more and more other families have gotten their own Amazon Echoes, and they have not needed to change the digital assistant’s name from Alexa. This means the kids in these families think it is funny to try to give my daughter commands as if she is their personal assistant.

“Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes,” one kid recently kept repeating to her.

“Alexa, what is the weather like today,” another kid quipped.

And she isn’t the only one finding this frustrating. Thousands of other people named Alexa are in the same boat. I really wish Amazon had thought through the name more before deciding upon it.

It has been reported that the name was inspired by the ancient Egyptian Library of Alexandria. Supposedly, the word’s hard ‘X’ consonant was easy for the speech recognition algorithms to identify.

That is all well and good for them, but if they had taken a few minutes and checked the lists of popular girl names they would have seen that Alexa has been no lower than #87 in the 14 previous years before their release of their device.

Image result for alexa nameIn the year, my daughter was born, the name was #50 of the most popular girls’ names. Alexis was #15 (which is what my husband originally suggested naming her.) In 2015, 6049 people named their daughter Alexa. (It was #32 on the most popular list that year.)

All those poor Alexas will be getting teased by people who think they are being witty. An occasional joke may be okay, but most people don’t know when to let it go. Just ask anyone named Siri, Alexa or Cortana.

A few months ago, Lexie was very upset about being teased at school. Knowing that no matter what she says this will probably be an issue for years to come, we wanted to help her find a way to deal with it. Here are some of the options we gave her:

  • Ignore the comments. If she shows no reaction, the fun will not be there and hopefully the commenter will stop. This can include walking away with her head held high.
  • Come up with a one-liner to shoot back at the person such as “How original,” said drolly. Or “Is that the best you can come up with?”
  • Pretend you can’t hear them and transform it into a joke.
  • Look bored with the teasing. Cross her arms and tap her feet as if she doesn’t have time for this.

The main thing is that she needs to not get upset or cry about it as that will only encourage the person to continue.

It wasn’t long after we talked to her about these options that she came home. But this time instead of being upset by the teasing, she was proud to say she hadn’t gotten upset. She had simply asked the kid to stop. And this time that alone worked. But I know this won’t be the last time and certainly that other kids will be more relentless in their teasing. All we can do is continue to support her and hope Amazon soon offers consumers the option to change the device’s name to anything they want instead of defaulting to Alexa.