Mr. Bones

When I was a child each October my mom would decorate our house for Halloween. By today’s standards she didn’t do much. There were some window clings and a few cardboard decorations, mostly of black cats, that she would hang up. But the one I remember the most was a small, cardboard skeleton. Even after we stopped celebrating Halloween (for religious reasons) we would still hang the skeleton up.

Why? Because we, my brothers and I, insisted on it. Why? We loved “Mr. Bones.”

You see, when I was quite small I was afraid of that skeleton. Skeletons were and are scary. They represent death and death is scary. As a preschooler I couldn’t verbalize that, but I didn’t need to. Such is hardwired into the human brain. Certain things are scary. And Halloween recognizes those things, and both mocks that fear but also celebrates human mastery over that which frightens us.

My mom didn’t want her children frightened of a simple Halloween decoration. So she gave it a name. She said, “This is nothing to be scared of. This is Mr. Bones. He’s a nice skeleton. He’s a friendly skeleton.” She personalized the cardboard skeleton, giving it a name, giving it a personality. He was posable, meaning his arms and legs move, and she let me play with it for a bit, moving its arms and legs, before she hung it up. At first I remember I didn’t like looking at it, but always, Mom reminded me that this was “Mr. Bones.” And a skeleton with a name couldn’t be as scary as one without, could it? Gradually I lost my fear. Mr. Bones was a friendly skeleton.

Each year I looked forward to getting Mr. Bones out and hanging him up. I delighted in introducing him to my brothers as they got old enough to be frightened of him and watched them overcome their fear and embrace the friendly skeleton decoration, Mr. Bones, as I had. For me, even though I would not have and could not articulate it, Mr. Bones was a symbol of overcoming fear, of the scary being made familiar, even friendly.

And so, this year, I decided that I would decorate my house for Halloween. I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew I wanted a skeleton if I could get one. A plastic one would be fine if I couldn’t find one like my childhood “Mr. Bones.” So I went to a Halloween store in my area, and I not only found a skeleton, but a cardboard, posable skeleton, just like Mr. Bones! Only my Mr. Bones is quite a bit larger than the original Mr. Bones.

He is now hanging proudly on a nail just by my front door where I can see him each time I come in. (He’s protected from the weather by a covered, glassed-in front porch, for those who were wondering. That’s the sort of thing I would wonder.) He still looks alarming, but I just remember he’s Mr. Bones. He’s a nice skeleton. He’s a friend.



Hero Post 1: Anthony Barrett (and Mom and Friend)

The definition of a hero is someone who is admired for his or her courage, strength, and noble qualities. But I think the definition of a hero is broader than that. To me a hero is anyone who overcomes adversity or obstacles to do the right thing or to achieve his or her dreams or goals. Even ordinary people can be heros. That’s what being one’s own hero is all about — overcoming the obstacles life places in our path and not letting adversity defeat us.

Anthony Barrett is one such everyday hero. So is his mom, Deborah Barrett, and his friend and personal assistant, Mike Hamm. Anthony has autism. There are people who believe those with autism will never be able to have any kind of meaningful life, and before anyone gets mad, I do recognize that there many different “levels” or degrees of autism. That’s why they call it a spectrum. But this is one family that didn’t let autism keep them down. Deborah Barrett and Mike Hamm are helping Anthony Barrett start his own business, Anthony At Your Service. He travels around Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, delivering items for customers. That’s amazing! It’s amazing for anyone to start their own business. It can be scary and takes discipline. Anthony, however, is not only showing courage and self-discipline, but the kind of unstoppable determination to meet one’s goals in life regardless of any adversity that makes him a hero.

Check out his video:

My Blog is Getting Ready for Halloween

So I changed my blog’s theme for Halloween. In case you are wondering what it’s called (especially if you are reading this after I change it again, which I will do after the holiday, although knowing what my schedule is supposed to be, probably won’t happen until the middle of November), it’s a WordPress theme and is called “Strange Little Town.” I really like this theme — the pink color and the sparkly stars — but the spooky houses and ghosts at the bottom make this more suitable for Halloween than other times of the year, at least for my kind of blog. So each year I usually change my blog’s theme to this one for part or all of October. Happy — in advance — Halloween!

Shh, I’m trying to hear!

Plinky, a site that supplies writing prompts, had this prompt today:

Do you eavesdrop on people in public places?


Yes, I do eavesdrop on people in public places. Most of the time people don’t say anything very interesting or memorable, but those few times they do make it worth it. I know it’s generally considered wrong to eavesdrop, so when I do I try to keep it a secret by pretending I’m totally focused on something else like eating a meal or having a conversation with someone. But I will continue to eavesdrop when I have an opportunity because I’ve found the practice helps me in writing fiction.

Writers are often encouraged to listen on others’ conversations in order to improve their dialogue writing skills. And it works. To write believable dialogue a writer needs to be familiar with how people actually talk and the sorts of things they say and the ways in which they say them. But reproducing actual speech doesn’t make dialogue. The writer then has to filter and interpret what is said — in other words, when writing down a conversation as dialogue, a writer writes down the good bits and leaves all the boring bits out.

A writer does the same thing with other aspects of writing like plotting. We all wake up in the morning and go through some sort of morning routine, but such minutiae is usually boring to read about. So writers just write down the interesting bits of their characters lives and leave out all the boring bits. Now that may be a bit simplistic description of both plot and dialogue, but that’s essentially what happens. Dialogue is the talking that moves the story forward. It is not the “ums” and “uhs” and other filler words people say. Nor, usually, is it conversations like the one I overheard tonight in a restaurant between mother and daughter where the mother asked the daughter if she wanted apple pie or banana pudding for dessert. It was a very normal thing to hear in a restaurant, and I didn’t give it another thought, but it would be abnormal to read it in a novel. And if I did, I’d expect it to be in the book for a reason — it would have to matter to the plot whether the daughter chose the apple pie or the banana pudding.

And that’s the real difference between dialogue and talking. In real life people can and do talk about whatever they want, and, our lives being what they are, what we mostly talk about is everyday, mundane things. But in books, every word is there for a purpose. So the only “talking” that’s written down, the only dialogue, is the words and conversations that move the story forward. And eavesdropping can help you learn the flow of speech, can help you learn how you might make characters react to one another as you observe real people reacting to one another, can teach you how people give and receive information from each other and how they seek to obtain information from others or prevent others from finding out information they know. Just, be discreet when you’re eavesdropping, and when you turn conversations into dialogue, remember to leave out the boring bits.

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