Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Writer Life: The Art of Name

Names can be a real stumper. Selecting the right name for a place, character, or in my current writing dilemma, a magazine.

Vogue is a hard act to follow

Names and places aren’t usually a problem when writing a story. I have dictionaries and other resources that inspire me. Yet, coming up with an invented name for a magazine is proving difficult. The frustrating part is that the magazine is only mentioned by the character a couple of times, yet it will set up more about the character if readers can associate the magazine with its connotative style. I’m a basic person when it comes to clothing (go Old Navy) so fashion magazines aren’t my usual read; however, my character, Carla, works for a fashion magazine in New York, and she is all about style. Coming up with a magazine about fashion without it actually being a real world magazine has taken far too much of my creative time.

Here are some titles I have come up with that got nixed after doing some fact checking:

Style–out there

In Style–out there

View–out there

Modus–out there

Mode--out there

Mirror–out there

Preview–out there

Clique–out there

Allure—out there

Then there is associated terms, like what The Devil Wears Prada did emulating Vogue by calling the magazine Runway. Maybe I could go there, although some terms have connotations:


Blush–that’s leading somewhere I don’t want to go

Reflect or Reflects–sounds like a mindfulness posssibly

Today–TV show

Now–too demanding

I’m running out of ideas. Just need one word, maybe two, that both entices the reader to pick up the magazine and to understand what it is about. These are possibilities

Regard-kind of like En garde, as in the directive when fencing (being on one’s toes, being ready)

Prev–a bit like “preview” as in getting in on new fashion before everyone else—possibility Preva?

Esteem-too much bragging

Sass and Saz--unbelievably are out there

Nouvo—a twist on nouveau, as in new

Maybe go with a single letter

M–oops, out there

Q–as in quest for fashion, yet too much like GQ

Z–too generational

W—yup, out there

So–I encourage you, I implore you–please help me out with possible magazine names. Think fashion. Think New York. Think chic. As incentive I will mention your contribution in the novel’s acknowledgements.

Word Nerds: What’s That You Say?

I appreciate how Mitch Teemley shares quotes of note. Over time I have developed my own quotes which will not be found in print since they exist as passing verbal ideas. They often found their way into my classroom during my years of teaching high school students.

Photo by Kobe – on

To get where you are going you have to move.

This one formed out of observation of how some people talk about going places but make no effort in moving in that direction, like those students who wrote their career research papers about becoming doctors (because they wanted to be wealthy), yet didn’t sign up for math or science classes or health occupation courses. This saying also stemmed from being stuck in traffic or trying to get through the hallways during passing period.

A book in hand is a friendship in the making.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on

As a Book Booster I enjoy meeting new characters when I open a book, and some characters become lifelong friends whom I visit with, like Scout and Jane Eyre.

Finding a poem that meets your needs is finding a song to sing in your heart when the world seems tuneless.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

A thought that was inspired by April’s month long focus on poetry during National Poetry Month.

If you believe they can fly they will eventually grow wings.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

This came out of a meeting with some special education folk who thought I expected too much of their students.

The worth of a man is measured by the strength of his promise.

A personal belief. A broken promise makes it difficult to trust or believe in a person.

Photo by Omar Ramadan on

Finding true friendship is finding a rare flower in life’s garden.

Photo by fatma benli on

Life is a garden, yet in any garden there are weeds to contend so when that special flower, that true friend comes along, it’s as special as finding that hidden columbine amidst the crabgrass.

Photo by Pixabay on

Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing are two different matters.

I don’t know why, but Abraham Lincoln comes to mind, as well as episodes of Dr. Who.

What we think we know becomes a matter of knowing what we actually think.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on

Somewhat of a conundrum. Yet, what we think often becomes our actions, and if we are not sure of what we think than our actions will reflect our thoughts. Still a conundrum, I know.

Do you have sayings that are uniquely yours?

How Cliché: The “J” Phrases

There are not too many notable cliché “J” phrases, so let’s look them over.

Jack of all trades: someone who is able to do everything. This phrase dates to around the 1600s, Shakespeare’s time, yet there was a prevailing thought that if someone is good at everything they will not be outstanding in anything. Ouch. That’s harsh. I have moved away from saying Jack of all trades and just go with my personal reference of calling someone a MacGyver if they can fix anything and everything. MacGyver, I’m talking about the 80’s version, not the reboot. Great show. Angus MacGyver could take chewing gum and a paper clip and save the world from bad guys. He rocked an awesome mullet, which alone made him memorable.

image: Wikipedia

Jet set: the socially fashionable group. This term was introduced in the 1950s when airplanes became jets and moved people around quickly from one hot spot to the next. Flying was still out of easy reach for most people and mainly the affluent could afford jet travels. Not sure if jet set still applies today since platforms like Hopper make it more affordable to bounce from one place to the next more easily.

Jockey for position: to get into an advantageous place or position. A horse race term that literally meant that the jockeys were vying for the best position on the track. It later transferred to other situations such as the 1955 London Times that included the sentence, “Lawyers jockeying for position to appear before the right judge.” These suit and tie folk are smiling now, but it may not be so pretty once the gate bell rings, “And they’re off!”

image: Idioms4you

John Hancock: a person’s signature. A personal favorite. John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence in a large and bold manner so that King George could read it. Today, anyone’s signature on anything is considered a John Hancock. Kings not included.

image: Online Library of Liberty

Johnny-come-lately: a newcomer or someone arriving late. A nineteenth-century British seaman would be referred as Johnny Newcomer. This term became Johnny-come-lately in the United States.

image: Amazon

Johnny-on-the-spot: someone who is available at the right time. An early nineteenth American term that is not as popular as it once was when it appeared in the 1896 Artie by George Ade: “I could see that a Johnny-on-the-spot…was trying to keep cases on her.” Although it’s pretty clear that the phrase still has found its way to being useful.

image: johnny rentals
image: johnnysvegas

Jump at the chance: to grab an opportunity. Strangely enough this expression was likened to a rooster jumping at a berry. Apparently Sir Walter Scott liked the expression and would refer to someone jumping at the “ready penny.” It certainly shows a degree of eagerness.

image: Free Dictionary

Jump down someone’s throat: to rebuke someone sharply. A metaphor still in use from its start in the late nineteenth century.

Jump the gun: to start too soon. An easy one to figure out when thinking about how sport participants are not supposed to set off before the starter’s gun goes off. To do so, to jump out into the race before the starter indicates to go, could scratch the participant from the race, let alone get the other participants a tad upset at the false start. Originally the expression was “beat the pistol,” which changed to its present form by 1942. The expression is a metaphor that goes far beyond athletic competitions.

Just deserts: a deserved reward or a deserved punishment. I would consider getting dessert a reward, except notice the spelling—“desert” refers to “deserve” not in cheesecake or pudding after the main meal. A mid-eighteenth century proverb: “Desert and rewarde be oft tuned things far of,” which means what one deserves and the reward they receive is not always the expected. Just deser is indeed different than just dessert.

Any surprises! I always thought it was “dessert” and wondered why someone would fling out, “they got their just dessert.” They weren’t talking about a slice of pie. Now I know.

Reader Roundup: March and April

March proved feisty in its stubbornness to toss a bit more winter out before relinquishing to spring. A couple of sunny ways lured me out of the house to bundle up and read in my chaise lounge enjoying some excellent reads.

And then there was April. The winter chill hung in there battling spring to the point of freezing the birdbath water while daffodils timidly peeped out from their slumber. Then Bam spring jumped right into summer going from 40 degrees to 75 degrees in a matter of days. The weather is consistently inconsistent where I call home. Whether it be cold or hot I manage to find time to read. By the fire in my recliner or lounging in my hammock a book in hand is my favorite way to pass the time.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

image: Amazon

What a treat. Excellent research details along with plausible speculation about historical figures create a read that is both fascinating and informative. Considering this is a story about a horse that the world basically forgot about, it’s surprising how intriguing the story is. Then again not—Brooks is a proven storyteller.

The Blackout Book Club by Amy Lynn Green ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

image: Amazon

As unlikely as it is for a non-reader to become a librarian this is the case for Avis who promises to keep Derby’s library going when her brother leaves to join up in 1942. Avis and other characters tell the story of living in a small coastal American town while the war with Germany heats up.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

image: Amazon

A curmudgeonly octopus and an elderly Swedish widow plus a thirty year old man baby with a side of Scottish grocery owner walked into a story one day. Yeah, it does sound like a shaggy dog joke about to go down, but all those characters come together for an amazing debut novel.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

image: Amazon

What a delight. McCall Smith’s retelling of Emma fit exactly my reading needs of something familiar, yet new, like a favorite recipe with an added ingredient to change it a tad. *

*I must confess that I don’t remember reading this adaptation (eight years ago) and went I looked up my review I had not been kind in my remarks, saying the author had taken liberties and was trying too hard to modernize a classic. Sigh—I am mellowing with age it seems.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wonderfully fun! It’s surprising this didn’t start a trend. This is a mash up between a graphic novel and a short story. It’s deceptively simple in its plot, yet has all the elements of a deeper novel with the brief tale of a hometown girl who found success and contentment right in her hometown after traveling the world. Lots of name dropping which adds to the charm of Frankie’s story being a bit of a fairy tale.

The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

image: Amazon

The Good Pilot is a deceptively layered novel. At first it is a heartwarming story of an English land girl marrying an American pilot, a nice little feel good tale. Then it switches to a different lens, one in which a German soldier does the right thing and saves not only a dog from war’s cruelty by two Americans, one being the American pilot.

And now for April’s reads…

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz

image: Amazon

Jean Fritz, an award winning writer of historical books for young readers, provides readers with an autobiography that she admits has some fiction added to it to create a story.

It is an engaging story. Born in China, Fritz lived there for a dozen years before her family moved to the United States. Their move coincided with China’s rebellion and at times the family was in danger due to the unrest of the Chinese towards foreigners.

With humor and through the lens of a girl passing from childhood into adulthood, this autobiography is both informative and entertaining.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

image: Amazon

A dynamic, approachable discussion how even the simplest shapes have meaning, projecting emotion and implied motion. Illustration does not have to be drawing, as Molly Bang demonstrates through cut paper shapes.

I’m absolutely not an artist. Even my stick figures are pathetic. However, between reading Frankie Pratt and Molly Bang I’m inspired to try collage as an illustrative method for a couple of my picture book stories. Stay tuned.

The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant #3) by Josephine Tey

image: Amazon

An unusual plot for Ms. Tey in that her inspector Grant is basically removed from the story and there is no murder in this engaging mystery story.

A teen girl accuses a woman and her elderly mother of kidnapping and beating her and her tale is so convincing that the two women are reviled by the locals. A solicitor takes up their case and becomes an amateur sleuth but discounting the girl’s accusations prove quite challenging.

Josephine Tey, an accomplished mystery writer, provides a tricky tale of accusations against the innocent. The characters and steady pace create a story difficult to set aside.

At present my Goodreads book minder informs me that I am 23 books ahead of schedule having read 54 of my 101 goal for this year. Being retired has absolutely freed up time for reading which I am trying to balance with writing my own books while weeding, dusting, grocery shopping, attending meetings, and tending to my mother. I really should get a t-shirt that states “I’d rather be reading” because that’s my numero uno activity choice.

Until next month. And what was your five star read during March and April? Don’t be shy. We’re all here waiting to discover the next really good read.

Bard Bits: Life Advice Influencer

People who say they don’t relate to or care for Shakespeare are unaware how he influences their lives. From everyday words from “assassination” to “zany” to common phrases such as “All that glitters is not gold,” Shakespeare is without a doubt one of the most enduring amongst influencers.

Even if Bard Bashers still won’t acknowledge Shakespearean influence, it’s difficult to ignore his sound life advice through some of his well-known quotes.

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be”

This Hamlet quote seems cryptic at first, yet deeper consideration initiates the idea that we may not truly understand our potential or that we see ourselves differently than how others see us.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none”

This quote from “All’s Well That Ends Well” is a something one might hear in valedictorian speech or might see on a coffee mug. While it sounds trite, it’s actually a succinct guide to life.

“The course of true love never did run smooth”

A quote from A Midsummer Nights Dream reminds us all how love’s journey is one that is traveled by experiencing a few potholes, speed bumps, and delays due to construction.

“All’s well that ends well”

This eponymous quote is an encouragement to trust in hope, to believe it will all work out for the best.

So, whether you be in the Bard Bravo bunch or find yourself more of a Bard Basher, you have to admit Shakespeare handed out advice that is useful in life.

Only true influencers get statues, right?

No Fooling: Flying Penguins

Because we know how trustworthy BBC documentaries are…

Happy April First!

Wring a Ding Ding: Is it Spring?

Though the official calendar date signifying spring has arrived, winter is still lingering about. It’s behaving like that kid in the backseat of the car in front of you who is blowing raspberries. It’s irritating, but you can’t do much about it. That’s what those sneaky little morning snow flurries are to me: winter raspberries.

Winter 2023 in March

After a long, such a long winter, by March 20th, I am truly ready for spring. Instead a snow flurry greeted the morning. The only Flurry I’m interested in is from Dairy Queen, and last time I had one it gave me a freeze brain headache. Just like this lingering winter is doing.

Mitch Teemley is suggesting we called this odd hiccup in seasons Sprinter as winter and spring see saw back and forth. My suggestion is Wring as in it wrings my heart that winter won’t pack up and leave. Winter this year reminds me of that irritating guest that doesn’t take a hint and head out while some good thoughts still might be mustered up about them.

Even though the snow dust melts by mid morning and it becomes warm enough to sit outside draped in coat, hat, and possibly gloves to read a book, the bruising of a long winter remains.

I thought Spring’s friendly, healing sunshine along with robin reappearance and daffodil budding was curative enough.

Then Sunday.

The Hubs, knowing my winter sensitivity, gently warned me, “Don’t be alarmed, but it’s snowing outside.” First reaction is to growl at the messenger, but I restrained myself. He no doubt thought he was doing me a favor by preparing me. Second reaction was to dredge up my old Lamaze breathing techniques to calm myself whilst closing my eyes intoning; “This will pass. This will pass. This will pass.”

Unfortunately, the snow hadn’t melted by 9 am and as we made our way to church and as I gazed upon the snow sprinkled landscape as we drove , that clenching melancholy of “Ack! Winter’s back” briefly returned.

I got over it.

The had melted by the time service was over. Divine intervention.

As March succumbs to April, I have to remind myself of the old adage that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

Time to March out of here, Winter!

I’m a bit weary of winter’s raspberry blowing. But you know what? Instead of putting up with the annoyance—like having to tolerate the kid in the backseat window—I can change lanes. Why not? Instead of being a snowbird (too many complications), the idea of leaving when winter is rescinding and coming back when the daffodils are perky is actually quite appealing. Trots off to look up travel destinations for next March.

Anyone else travel whilst March roars and return when April is ready to cavort?

Bard Bits: Sonnet 18 (and then some)

Think of sonnets and Shakespeare naturally comes to mind. He wrote more sonnets (154) than he did plays (37). Granted, plays are more involved in writing effort, then again, sonnets are so, so absolutely soul bearing and that involves effort in its own way. Shakespeare most certainly laid bare his feelings in his sonnets. He also set tongues wagging with speculation as to who he addressed the sonnets.

Image: Ghost Cities (discusses the Dark Lady)

A bit of sonnet background–

In Shakespeare’s day the sonnet was an art form that young gentlemen tried to perfect as a means of showing off their commitment and wit. Wit meaning intelligent use of language. The format is challenging. Each line must have ten syllables with an iambic pentameter of unstressed/stressed beat. The rhythm sounded like one’s heartbeat: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. Shakespeare probably won all the sonnet comps in his day. He was good. Really good at sonnets. He still is considered the best.

Image: No Sweat Shakespeare

It’s thought Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter because he was sharing his heart with his audience (aww…). Another thought is that it is easier to remember Shakespeare’s words (his plays employ this meter as well) since the heartbeat is a natural part of being human, like breathing. Speech is supposedly in iambic pentameter–not sure if that applies to just the English language or all languages. It would be interesting to try scanning the meter on a French or perhaps a German conversation.

The English or Shakespearean sonnet (we won’t delve into the Italian sonnet which is credited to Petrarch from whom Shakespeare borrowed and revised his sonnet form) has fourteen lines: three quatrains and a couplet. The first part of the English sonnet presents a problem, perhaps how does one find the ultimate comparison when describing a favored personage? The latter half is an epiphany, indicated by a BUT, or a YET. Then the couplet provides a witty or profound statement in which the audience says: “That Shakespeare. He sure has a way with words.”

Shakespeare’s most popular sonnet (or seems to win all the popular votes) is Sonnet 18. The writer is trying to find a unique and memorable way to express how special the subject is. Nothing seems to work. Sunny summer days can end up too hot. And summer does eventually end. The epiphany? The writer figures out how the personage will always be remembered and will never die. Never die? How is that possible? This is where we say: “Oh that Shakespeare. He absolutely has a way with words.”

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

That “gotcha” ending is what makes Shakespeare so memorable.

After sharing the poem with my students I would pause and let the ending sink in. Looks of comprehending what Shakespeare just did to create the ultimate remembrance appears. Well, most got it. Okay, they might have not be have been as impressed as me, but some of them did get it. That couplet showed how 400 years later people are still remembering this person that Shakespeare wanted us to remember.

And then I would ruin it all by saying Shakespeare was supposedly writing to a young gentleman, not to his wife or an admired lady. That post is for another time.

Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

   So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

   So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

How Cliché: “I” Spy

Moving on the “I” section of the cliché book. Going for a mix of familiar and not so familiar.

[No] ifs, ands, or buts: presenting excuses or reservations. This expression is derived from two expressions: ifs and ands; but me not buts. The first expression from the sixteenth century is found in the 1850 rhyme by Charles Kingsley: “If ifs and ans were pots and pans, there’d be no trade for tinkers.” Sir Walter Scott made us of “but me no buts” in his The Antiquary (1816). Today the expression is used as a negative imperative as in “Get this done, no ifs, ands, or buts.”

If the shoe fits, wear it: accept the situation if it applies. Another version is the early eighteenth century saying: “if the cap fits, put it on,” which referred to a if someone who wears a fool’s cap is usually a fool. “Cap” was replaced with “slipper” with a nod to the popularity of the Cinderella story. “Slipper” has slipped into “shoe” yet still carries the meaning of accepting the situation as it applies.

If worst comes to worst: should the most unfavorable happen. The expression should actually read: “if worse comes to worst”–comparative to superlative. It is what it is since the sixteenth century.

Ignorance is bliss: sometimes it is best to not be fully aware of the outcome. Sophocles expressed the idea and it has traveled through the the centuries, sometimes being noted as “blissful ignorance.”

In a nutshell: stated concisely. Pliny the Roman writer noted that Homer’s epic poem the Iliad had been copied in such tiny writing it could fit in a nutshell. Definitely a hyperbole, it caught the attention of writers such as Jonathan Swift. Down the line “the Iliad” was dropped to the present use of “in a nutshell.”

In a pig’s eye: not happening. Attributed as an American saying, it’s thought it developed from the expression “when pig’s fly.” Either expression means “never.”

In for a penny, in for a pound: to become fully involved. The saying means that if someone owes a little, they probably owe more. In the seventeenth century Thomas Ravenscroft wrote, “Well, that, O’er shooes, o’er boots, And In for a penny, in for a Pound.” Charles Dickens ran with the sayings and included it in three of his novels, which no doubt popularized the phrase.

In full swing: quite active. In the sixteenth century “swing” referred to a course of a career or a period of time. Someone being in “full swing,” meant they were actively involved in their career or the period of time.

In over one’s head: to be unable to meet the demand of the situation. The saying is a reference to being in water too deep for one’s ability to swim. Other situations, beyond swimming in too deep of water, can be referenced such as paying bills or dealing with work responsibilities.

In the bag: guaranteed success. In the 1600s and beyond, hunters placed their game in bags after bringing them down. In other words, they had already had success in the hunt and the results were placed in the bags to prove it. From hunting success the saying came to mean an acknowledgement success has been achieved.

In the pink: in good health. Shakespeare gets some credit for this one. In his time “the pink” meant perfection and he used the expression in Romeo and Juliet when Romeo and Mercutio traded quips. “The very pink of courtesy” meant the perfection of politeness. Today the expression refers to being in perfect health.

In the swim: actively involved. This is a fishing phrase. When a large amount of fish were found in one place this would be called “a swim.” It later transferred to mean being in the current of what is happening. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in his 1893 THe Stock-broker’s Clerk, “He knew I was in the swim down here.”

There are sooo many more “I” phrases and these just a dozen. What was missed? “I” would like to know.

Word Nerds: Spring Forth

As third winter silently adds to the already burdened snowscape, I look at my calendar and notice Spring is almost ten days away. It will take a bit of doing to get my front yard free of snow. In good faith I have bought a Costco 100 count bag of bulbs. The instructions indicate I can plant in April. The countdown begins…

Vernal: of or relating to spring. Oh, yes, bring on the vernal.

Raillery: good-humored; banter. I will definitely be in good humor once the snow melts.

Indite: to compose or write, as a poem. Wordsworth knew all about composing poems about spring.

Guerdon: a reward, recompense, or requital. Spring is undoubtedly a reward for toughing out winter.

Baksheesh: a tip, present, or gratuity. See “guerdon.”

Tisane: herb-flavored tea. Hercule Poiret sure liked his daily tisane.

Osculatory: the act of kissing. Spring does bring out the osculatory.

De novo: anew; afresh; from the beginning. Spring is a reset of the seasons.

Pensee: a reflection or thought. I have definitely been in a pensee state of mind about how long winter has been lasting this year.

Brume: mist; fog. There will be some brume as the warm weather (it’s hoped) starts to melt that dratted snow.

Sitzmark: the sunken area from when a skier falls backward in the snow. Not to be confused with making a snow angel (and farewell to sitzmarks as the snow melts).

Trachle: an exhausting effort, especially walking or working. Yeah, like my walking trail after five inches of snow have covered it up–giving my Sorels a good workout this year mucking through the snow.

Jouissance: pleasure; enjoyment. And when the grass once again appears, and the robins return, I will express jouissance that winter has passed.

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