Is That a Jackass Writing Your Book?

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon

We’re all familiar with Very Famous Writers whose books are actually written by others. James Patterson’s franchise pumps out a new book approximately every fifteen minutes, for instance, with a co-author generally credited in smaller type on the bottom of the glossy, embossed cover.

Patterson’s writers work from his outlines and at his pleasure, and millions of readers don’t seem to mind at all. Some of his cowriters spin off into solo careers and others, like my seventh grade boyfriend, already have highly respected literary reputations that don’t always translate into a living wage.

Yes, my seventh grade boyfriend. You can’t make this stuff up.

The idea of farming out the writing of popular fiction is nothing new. Those of us who grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were shocked as adults to learn that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon were pseudonyms. Those…

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Listening for Structure

Get It Write

 

By Taffy Cannon

When I first started listening to audio books, I had no particular plan beyond enjoying some of my favorite authors in a new format.

I knew I couldn’t realistically listen to unabridged audio books, because the only place I played these tapes was in my car, and my driving at that point was mostly limited to short trips, car pools, and errands around town.  It could take months to finish an unabridged book at that rate.

And yes, I was aware of the wails from purists who insisted that abridgement destroyed the experience by robbing the audio narrative of … well, of much of its narrative.

But at first that didn’t make much difference, and as time passed, I was seeing less and less on the audio shelves of the library that I hadn’t read before.  Increasingly I found myself listening to books I had already…

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Do Comfort Reads Need to be Comfortable?

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon

Most folks have a pretty clear idea of what constitutes a “comfort read.”  It’s written matter that you turn to in times of stress, or when you need a break that requires little cogitation, or when you are perfectly happy but flat out not interested in being challenged on any level.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s simple writing.  For some folks, Moby Dick is a comfort read, and plenty of others like to curl up with a cup of tea and Jane Austen.  Engineers go back to Tom Clancy. And there are nearly as many people who fall into the receiving arms of science fiction or fantasy as there are those whose comfort springs straight from romance.

What’s comfortable for you is as individual as your DNA.

But it is comfortable. That’s why you choose it. You’re either already familiar with the book or pretty certain to…

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Remembering Bill Cannon, 1957-2012

 Bill Cannon was a lot of very interesting people.

He was smart and clever and quick and funny and creative.  He loved history and war, and from a very tender age made and painted miniatures that grew to populate entire battlefields in a lifelong friend’s basement, where he participated in war games most weekends of his adult life.  He started small, however, on the H-O train table in our basement, adding touches like guillotines and burned-out buildings left behind by some advancing army.  On a slightly larger scale, his fascination with fireworks led to Fourth of July shows that by all rights should have cost him a finger or two.

He apprenticed at carpentry with our maternal grandfather, a gifted German carpenter who moved in when Billy was very young and died when he was hitting puberty. He loved projects and making things and tools, and he always had to have the best.  His beloved Cannon Ranch, a Sears kit house in the Chicago suburbs, was full of things he made or fixed or upgraded or restored, always with enthusiasm and zest.  A lot of those things never quite got finished, even before he got sick, but his intentions were always good and his materials first class.

Our mother died when he was fourteen, which led to a lack of supervision that fed his normal adolescent rebellion and made him a superb hippie.  He took his time getting through college and partied in a Volkswagen bus with one of the wildest Afros ever seen on an Irishman. It didn’t hurt that he was a gifted raconteur and a great bullshitter. He was also exceptionally generous, born with a hole in his pocket.

Then Bill made a decision that changed his entire life.  He went to Marine Corps boot camp.  He got a job as a patrol officer with the Wheaton Police Department and spent eight years as a Marine reservist.  I used to tell him that he’d become a cop as the lazy man’s route to power, and while he never entirely denied that, he genuinely loved being a police officer and helping people.

He was, of course, a troublemaker even as a cop, a union man unable to resist a challenge or knuckle under willingly to an authority he disagreed with, and he was actually appealing a two-day suspension when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 1994.

He was thirty-seven years old.

Bill’s world changed forever when he experienced his first grand mal seizure that September, though none of us realized it at first.  He endured surgery, radiation, emergency surgery for an infection, more radiation, chemotherapy and a host of tangential medical complications and problems. Throughout it all he remained upbeat and positive, determined to return to work at the first opportunity.

That never happened.  He was never given medical clearance to return to patrol.

He continued to have infrequent but massive seizures, and on disability a lot of his home improvement projects ground to a halt.  But he kept tending the yard he’d filled with interesting trees and shrubs and flowers and vegetables. He remained a crackerjack cook, moving through ethnic cuisines as they appealed, and barbecuing on his seven grills. He played war games in his friend’s basement. And he continued to be enormously proud of his three stepchildren, Jason and Kellie and Mitchell.

Eventually, he did get back inside the cop shop, as a civilian booking clerk for the DuPage County Sheriff’s Department, and it revigorated him.  He knew it was a much lower rung on the law enforcement ladder than where he’d been positioned earlier, but once again he was earning a paycheck and keeping bad guys off the streets.  He developed a specialty of finding outstanding warrants in other jurisdictions, and took pride in getting a couple of folks one-way tickets back to Palookaville in the company of marshals.  He worked through aliases and got some other folks deported.

He loved his work.

If it can be said that any aspect of Bill’s illness was fortunate, I think it would be that he started out with a really exceptional brain, one resistant to the damage and trauma thrust upon it by disease and treatment.  Because over time there were more seizures, and each of them further damaged that brain and stole a little bit more of the man he once had been.

He knew this, though he never admitted it, and he resisted all efforts to get him to seek medical re-evaluation, even after a seizure at the jail in January 2008 that lasted over an hour and required paralytics to stop.  That April he drove downstate to his stepson Jason’s wedding, and a month later, at home alone in West Chicago, he suffered the stroke that marked the end of the independence he had struggled so hard to maintain.

Bill fought long and hard, sometimes against all reason and through sheer pigheadedness. Life dealt him a really crummy hand, but he played it with dignity and honor. My heart was broken many times by his illness over the past eighteen years, but perhaps the hardest moment for me was when he acknowledged last November that it was time for what he referred to as “a next step.”  That step was assisted living, where his hall mates all had a good thirty years on him.  But by then the ravages thrust upon his brain and his body by disease and treatment had finally taken control, and he was gone less than three months after he moved in.

He was fifty-four.

My brother was a hippie, a Marine, a cop, a brain tumor survivor, a gardener, a war gamer, a gourmet cook, and a silver-tongued Irishman with a quick temper and a quicker grin.

In his final three years, he was cared for by the family with whom he shared his life for six years, a quarter-century earlier.  Their love and devotion to him was testimony to all the best that he could be, and all that he had been.

The world is a better place because Bill Cannon was in it, and a smaller one because he is gone.

This entry was posted on August 16, 2012. 6 Comments

Two-Thirds of a Lifetime

This is a Valentine to my mother, who died forty years ago.

She was fifty years old, in relatively good health, a suburban wife and mother of three, trained as a nurse by the U.S. Navy in the latter stages of World War II.  She met her only husband at Johns Hopkins Hospital during his surgical internship, and after his residency in Memphis, they returned to his native Chicago and stayed there.

While she was by all accounts an excellent nurse, I have always believed that that nursing was her ticket out of Appleton, Wisconsin, not her avocation.  When she died, her youngest child and only son had just started high school, and I used to fantasize about the paths she might next have taken, the life she might have explored and fashioned for herself.  The women’s movement was in its infancy when we lost her, and when Ms. magazine’s inaugural issue was published shortly thereafter, I placed copies in my father’s office waiting room, both as homage to what she might have been and promise for what my sister and I might still become.

My mother made no particular claim to the domestic arts, was at best an indifferent housekeeper, and cheered along with her children at the invention of boil-in-bag vegetables that were impossible to burn.  At the same time, she was a gifted seamstress who produced lined childhood coats with matching leggings, endless skirts and jumpers with perfectly aligned plaids and, finally, sleek formal gowns.

She taught me to knit and produced a finished red mohair sweater over the weekend of the JFK assassination and funeral.  I’ve never been able to part with the complicated ski sweater she made me when I was a teenager, even though it’s too heavy for Southern California. I’m pretty sure she would have loved my SoCal beach town, too, and the year-round gardening we enjoy here. She grew some magnificent roses.

She was a born leader who assumed the presidency of any organization she joined, approximately fifteen minutes after she arrived at her first meeting.  She painted props and acted in community theater, headed PTAs at every level, and stayed active in Girl Scouting years after her daughters both jumped ship.  She also served as a Cub Scout den mother and never met a craft she couldn’t conquer or improve upon. She recorded dozens of books on reel-to-reel tapes for Illinois Tape Recording for the Blind, a task that looked pretty easy until I tried it myself.

She was turning over her final presidency, of her church circle, on the December afternoon when she was suddenly stricken with a fierce headache, went into a bedroom to lie down, and then lost consciousness.  A cerebral aneurysm had exploded in her brain.  I was living at home, having just finished a master’s degree, and there was enough time for my sister to drive back from her pre-vet program. We saw her in the hospital, but she never woke up and within 24 hours she was gone.

No, not gone, though this is a subject steeped in endless euphemism.

Dead.

Ten days earlier, on my twenty-third birthday, she’d brought me a cupcake with a burning candle.

I remember telling the hundreds of people who came to the wake and funeral that we were lucky to have had her as long as we did.  What I didn’t understand then was that the sense of loss would be eternal, that the missed opportunities could never be made up, that all the things I’d taken for granted were over in an instant.  I hadn’t even kept any of the countless letters she sent me when I was away at college, because she was just my mom and she’d always be around.

There hasn’t been a day in all the intervening years when I haven’t thought of her.  I’ve never before written about my mother, though the mother-daughter relationship is central to much of what I do write, even when I don’t plan it that way.

I try not to measure the past forty years in terms of loss, though it isn’t always easy.

My mother never had the opportunity to dance at my wedding, hold my child, or read the books I would write.  She would have loved all those experiences, I know, and my inability to share them with her has been a secret sorrow, an unfathomable void.  I cherish the memories I do retain, with absolute certainty that she would have embraced the paths I’ve taken with love, joy and fervor.

She has been gone now for two-thirds of my life.  However, my crystal goblet of memories remains one-third full, with a rich, incandescent glow.  I am blessed to have that much, and lucky to have had her for as long as I did.

I didn’t know a lot when I was twenty-three, but that part I did get right.

This entry was posted on February 14, 2012. 9 Comments

Forget Me Not

My paternal grandmother painted china and one of her most persistent and beautiful floral themes was the forget-me-not, clusters of tiny blue flowers that always seemed too exquisite and idealized to be real.  And yet…

When I became a gardener as an adult, I wanted to grow forget-me-nots, but they weren’t available locally, even in floriculturally diverse Southern California.  On several occasions I ordered baby plants from faraway nurseries, not precisely sure what variety my grandmother had painted, or if she had even painted from nature at all.  The plants were always tiny little things when they arrived, and I’m sorry to say that none of them survived to adulthood.  So I never knew if I’d had my finger on the real deal, or was just flirting with an imaginary floral friend.

Until.

One year, I planted a packet of mixed flower seeds directly into a garden bed.  It was called something like “Heralds of Spring” and included dozens of varieties, most of them only vaguely familiar to me.  I had no idea what to expect, and had to wait in most cases until something blossomed before I could identify the plant.

Some odd little bushy plants with soft green leaves puzzled me as they grew to maturity.  Then one day their tiny flowers opened and I realized that I had inadvertently grown exactly what I’d been searching for all those years.  Forget-me-nots were blooming in my garden, the same ones that graced the tea service and serving dishes protected behind glass in my china cabinet.  What’s more, these flowers were every bit as exquisite in their living version as in the porcelain classics.  Purely by accident, I had introduced myosotis into my garden, and it’s been there ever since.

Those original forget-me-nots have passed through countless new generations since then.  They bloom profusely and reseed freely, scattering their sweet blossoms and gentle foliage beneath rose bushes and throughout perennial beds.  They’re annuals, technically, though in this frost-free climate plants will generally last for a couple of years before wearing out.  When they go to seed, they create sticky little pods that cling to anything they touch, and thus they travel to new sections of the garden via boots and pantlegs and cat paws.

Now I am taking this flower, with all its family history and symbolism, as the theme of my new blog, moving it from one of the oldest forms of media to one of the newest, from the permanent to the ephemeral.

Forget me not.  Please.

This entry was posted on November 26, 2011. 3 Comments

Never Say Never, Redux

I had no intention of ever writing a blog.  Then I recently began cautiously participating in two group blogs, Get It Write and Thalia Press Authors Coop.  Whaddaya know? I discovered that I  enjoy the process more than I expected, and that I have things to say which don’t fit in the general formats of either group blog.  Anyone who knows me will agree there’s nothing I like better than being asked my opinion.  Also that I rarely feel the need to wait for a formal request.

So here we are.

The first blog that I wrote for Get It Write, a coalition of Perseverance Press authors, discussed my blog-resistant history and was called “Never Say Never.”  That seems a logical and fitting title for this relentlessly personal new blog, in which I plan to say pretty much anything I feel like.

In fact, that’s why I invented the Internet.