banned books personality quiz

the community college at which I serve as a customer service Cheerful Morning Person received a grant for Banned Books awareness work.

they created this “personality quiz” (linked above).

For an email discussion initiated at work, this was my response:

“I got brave new world which is, interestingly, the book I hate most in all of the whole wide world. Of a book that should never have been bothered to have been published, it would be that one. Dystopian fiction=not me. We cannot live without hope.
I’m totally an Alice in Wonderland girl. Weirdness Prevails.”
Let me know what you get. With your permission within the comments, I’ll alert the Librarians.

Jazz Funeral

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

You might think of this post as a book review trailer, an early comment about a great read that will get more detailed examination sometime soon. Because it deserves it.

It is also a hint to writers looking for the secret to satisfying character creation and development: Read this book. This is the way it should be done.

Julie Smith, Author

Julie Smith, Author

There is no science fiction or fantasy about Jazz Funeral, by Julie Smith, only the magic of New Orleans and Jazz and the mysteries and foibles of the human soul in all its imperfection.

Ms. Smith’s infinite knowledge and talented depiction of human nature, aided and abetted by an unwavering devotion to honesty mellowed by endless sympathy, have produced here a tour de force: the most massively dysfunctional extended family I have ever run across in literature or out.

What is this family like? Occasionally loving, but most often consciously, stunningly cruel. Variously talented. Greedy, but occasionally giving. Or, poignantly, emphatically not all those things, but creative, generous souls too young or too insecure to escape the emotional tyranny of the family long enough to discover the never-normal but at least more normal world of New Orleans just outside.

Jazz FuneralIt is important to note that each of the major elemental forces in this perfect human storm gets his or her moment of clarity, the revelation of causes (redemptive or not) where we readers may glimpse the reasons why, and occasionally the seeds of a more generous humanity waiting for one spot of sunlight to show them the way out.

I hasten to explain that there is much more to this book than the conflicts suggested here. There are imminently readable elements of love and laughter and friendship, as well as the mystery and suspense of unsolved murder.

Also, like the prize at the bottom of the box, there is Skip Langdon, a sterling, six-foot-plus, somewhat over-weight, female New Orleans police detective. Skip has her own complications, of course, but along with them come the skills and the heart to sort out at least most of this mess.

And over, under, around, and through it all are the incomparable, worldly-wise strains of New Orleans Jazz.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Links for Julie Smith:


National Public Radio


Photo Credit

Getting to Draft Two, A Cheeky Introduction.

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

illuminatorFinishing that first draft of your first novel is a genuinely splendid moment in a writer’s life. Enjoy it while it lasts. Because once your hard-earned champagne is drunk, another, less happy mood is likely to take its place.

It’s called ‘terror,’ and it can be summed up in five words (more, with appropriate expletives): “What the blanketty blank do I do now!?”

The answer to that Cri de Coeur involves a number of useful terms which most any writer at that point of experience already knows. But all of which, you now learn, require more detailed instruction:

  • Tighten: To remove unnecessary modifiers:
  • Trim: To remove unnecessary phrases.
  • Prune: To remove unnecessary sentences or paragraphs.
  • Cut:: To, remove unnecessary scenes, or characters, or subplots.
  • Unnecessary: Anything that doesn’t advance the story.
  • Fix weak verbs: To replace verb+adverb [walked quickly] with stronger verb [hurried]
  • Structure.
  • Edit: All the above, plus whatever else your book might need.*

“Wait. Hold on,” I hear someone saying. “That word, just before ‘edit’. Structure? It makes it sound like you’re building something.”

Good for you!

Structure is the thing that gives your novel shape, that arranges the logical, carefully planned, tension-building and ultimately tension-relieving chain of events that keeps your reader flicking (or clicking) through the pages till half-past late-for-work.

There are several useful structures to choose from:

ThreeActStructureFlatThe basic 3-Part structure: [1) beginning, 2) middle, 3) end]

TriangleThe 5-Act structure (Shakespeare liked this one): [1)exposition, 2) complication or rising action, 3) first climax or crisis, 4) resolution or falling action, 5) final climax and resolution.]

The 7-Act structure: like the 5-Act structure but with an extra climax and an extra falling action in the middle, Obviously it makes a somewhat different diagram!

The Six-Act Two-Goal structure: where the protagonist achieves the initial goal, finds that it isn’t adequate to the need, and sets out to achieve a better one

Oh yes, and The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. You’ll want to read this one for yourself.

And there are many more.

heroIt does take some effort to get the best results from any of these structures, as well as from the other tasks I’ve mentioned. Fortunately the details are easy to find. Just Google the general topic or question, or ask at your nearby library or bookstore, to find all the sources you need.

Of course, once you have all that down pat, along comes the correcting and refining and polishing and beta reading, and correcting and polishing some more. That’s what the rest of the drafts are for.

But don’t despair.

There is a legend — and I’ve spoken to several writers who swear it’s true — that beyond all that toil and struggle, when your book is finally on its way into the world to wreck the work habits of readers everywhere, finishing that last draft is even more delicious than the first.

*World building, character development, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc, etc all those other necessary things that never get done well enough in the first draft.

Additional image credits:

The Illuminator

The Hero’s Journey


New Words: peripatetically

(Found my dictionary… you’re relieved, I’m sure.)

Forced into a relaxing vacation away from the city, Vimes makes the best of a miserable situation and takes a walk in the countryside, quite out of his element:

After ten minutes of walking, Vimes was lost. Not physically lost but metaphorically, spiritually, and peripatetically lost.

Snuff, Terry Pratchett

per⋅i⋅pa⋅tet⋅ic /,pɛrɪpə’tɛtɪk/
noun: a person who walks from place to place
adjective: of or relating to Aristotle or his philosophy
syn: Aristotelian, Aristotelean, Aristotelic

traveling especially on foot • peripatetic country preachers

syn: wayfaring

ORIGIN: early 15c., from Latin peripateticus “disciple of Aristotle,” from Greek peripatetikos “given to walking about,” from peri- “around” + patein “to walk.” Aristotle’s custom was to teach while strolling through the Lyceum in Athens. In English, the philosophical meaning is older than that of “person who wanders about” (1617).



Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan


     Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There are plenty of ways to research a novel at arm’s length: Internet, libraries, books, conversations with practicing professionals. But sometimes you have to step in a little closer, get your hands on the real thing.

Great Pacific Octopus, Birch Aquarium

Great Pacific Octopus, photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

For some time now, that real thing for me has been a living, thinking octopus, the basis for several characters in my present-day alien-contact novel-in-progress.

I had read about these wily animals, seen video evidence of their astonishing feats of camouflage and intelligence, and asked about a zillion questions of patient professionals. Still I needed to know what the critter felt like. How slippery or squishy or cold might those eight arms be? And how tightly might those suckers grip? What would their skin, with its quick-changing colors and textures, actually look like? How might I feel, looking into the eyes of an octopus that was looking back at me?

Click for larger image

Photo by Ken Jordan. Click any photo for a larger image

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it happened. Big “Thank you!” to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

I first saw the large, reddish Great Pacific Octopus clinging suckers-out onto the thick glass of his tank in the aquarium’s Hall of Fishes. Those suckers were impressive, but it was hard to tell from that tangle of arms just what he looked like, and certainly no way I could reach in for a quick handshake.

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus!

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus! Photo by Cindy Watson

Wandering out to the seaside plaza, I found a dozen or more middle-schoolers petting the residents of a tide-pool aquarium. When I asked, one of the staffers on duty there pointed me to a sea cucumber as the next best thing to touching an octopus. So I too, the oldest kid in the bunch, reached into the chilly water and touched carefully, as directed, with no more than two fingers. Cold and soft and squishy the sea cucumber certainly was, and not too slippery for comfort.

But friends, he wasn’t an octopus.

Jenn points out larger suckers. Note triangular extrusions at left center.

Jenn points out larger suckers.  Note the triangular extrusions at left center.  Photo by Ken Jordan

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Fishes, my husband had arranged a visit with the real thing. Yay!  Jenn Moffitt, a trained marine biologist and the aquarium’s Director of Husbandry, ushered us into the dark space behind the scenes. She emphasized that it is never wise to handle any animal without proper training. Then she removed a panel from the lip of a tank, and there, in a wash of blue light, was the big guy himself.

My long-awaited handshake. Cold but very nice.

My long-awaited handshake.  Cold. Slippery.  But not unpleasant.  Photo by Ken Jordan.

I touched his arm, holding only the lower end of it as Jenn directed, felt it slide between my fingers, felt the surprising strength of even the smaller suckers near the tip. His flesh was a bit firmer to the touch than the sea cucumber’s, colder too. And really slippery. This is good, among other things, for sliding free of an attacker’s grasp while still holding tight with his suckers to whatever he wants. Another theory suggests that it keeps his boneless arms from tangling into knots. Well, maybe.

Some color shift was subtly discernible, even under the blue light, and Jenn pointed out 1-to-2-inch triangular extrusions on his head. These, she said, seem to appear when he is thinking. When she touched one of them I was surprised at how easily it flexed, not at all the rigid structure it appeared. Hmn. Interesting insight into the tricks of this master of disguise.

Sadly, I never quite achieved an eye-to-eye with him, and our visit was done.

Maybe next time.

We left him to his unimaginable thoughts.

Thank you, Jenn.

New Words: epiphytic

Wow! Caitlín R. Kiernan‘s Alabaster: Pale Horse is an excellent “let’s be excited about Halloween read.

Spook-city! ::love!::

The garden is darker than the alley, the low, sprawling limbs of live oaks and magnolias to hide the moon, crooked limbs draped with Spanish moss and epiphytic ferns.

ep⋅i⋅phyte /e’pifaɪt/
plant that derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain; usually grows on another plant but not parasitic on it 🔗
syn: air plant, aerophyte, epiphytic plant

Alabaster: Pale Horse is published by Dark Horse.

These are a collection of short stories focused on Kiernan’s character Dancy Flammarion, the daemon-hunter ass-kicking gal from Threshold

There are also comics, also from Dark Horse…

What are you lining up for your Spooky Reads? I know there are a lot of read a longs and read challenges and so forth out there.


Up to Snuff*


Snuff, Terry Pratchett**

this, I love. Typical slapstick-to-satire-to-gravely serious Pratchett:

Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity….


*ha. ha.

** ok ok. simmer down, you canonical types. I am aware that I skipped over Making Money and Unseen Academicals.

***I didn’t actually skip these. I have a bad habit of leaving appropriate reading material lying about in prime locations. For example, Making Money is upstairs by the rocking chair; Unseen Academicals is stashed in the Contraband Fiction Drawer at the work library. Thus, when I was presented unexpectedly with a pair of hours to read, I had to quickly find another Pratchett from Columbus Metro Library. … Ah, never mind, it’s a bookish life.

My Role Model Committee

For me, no one role model could ever be enough. You need different ones for different undertakings. Hence my committee.

The first is personal, my grandmother,  Mary Catherine Foster Stahls. Born only 15 years after the end of the civil war (she was more the age of a great grandmother for me) she saw nearly ninety years of the most rapid change in history. Though she never held a “job” she could do anything.

Margaret Brent Conjectural drawing  Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Margaret Brent
Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Grow anything. Sew, quilt, or reupholster anything. Repair anything. Build — or oversee the building of — almost anything. In my memory’s eye she usually holds a hammer.

For feminism, the lady is Margaret Brent, first feminist and first woman to ask for the right to vote in the western hemisphere. That was in Maryland (where she was the governor’s attorney) in1648, 40 years after the founding of Jamestown. They said no.

For courage, Sojourner Truth. Fearless. Best-known conductor on the underground railroad. A judge, demanding proof that she was a woman, once ordered her to show her breasts in court. She stood tall, and proud, and with great dignity opened her dress and showed him.

Barbara Jordan, for oratory and for legal scholarship. She should have been the first woman on the Supreme Court.

Kate Chopin The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice  must have strong wings.

Kate Chopin
The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.

Kate Hepburn, for talent, style, and sheer guts. The woman knew who the hell she was.

Sally Ride. First American woman in space.

Kate Chopin, for courage in authorship. It isn’t true, though commonly believed in Louisiana, that all available copies of her novel The Awakening were collected and burned in New Orleans sometime around 1900. However, as “[one of the] first American authors to write truthfully about women’s hidden lives,” her book was widely condemned, called morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather said it was “trite and sordid.” It has been removed from more than one library’s shelves and

Grandma Moses  (Anna Mary Robertson) on her 88th birthday.

Grandma Moses
(Anna Mary Robertson)
on her 88th birthday.

challenged even in recent years. Yet today the book is available world wide, in translations including Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Galician. And a new one out soon in Turkish.

Ursula LeGuin, for insight, excellence, productivity, and durability.

And finally, as a role model for late-blooming artists of every discipline, my patron saint, Grandma Moses.

So, who’s on your Role Model Committee?


Margaret Brent Image.  Information sources here and here.

Kate Chopin image. Information sources here and here.

Grandma Moses Image