November 18, 2011

Guess Who’s Coming To My Thanksgiving Dinner

As you prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, think about this: If you could invite five people to Thanksgiving dinner who have influenced you as a writer, who would they be and why would you choose them as your dinner guests?

Here’s my list:

1. God. I can’t picture what God might look like sitting at the dinner table. Can you? He is the One who most greatly influenced me as a writer. Through Him, I have landed some terrific writing assignments that made me dig deep into His Word and build faith, not only in Him, but also in my writing skills. God would sit at the head of my table so that I could honor Him and soak up whatever wise words He chose to share with me.

2. Mom. My mother read to me from the day I was born and instilled in me a great love for words. She often took me to the library to check out picture books, and then when I was older, we enjoyed reading and discussing chapter books together. Mom wrote poetry, and she encouraged me to write and offered valuable critique. I’m grateful that she lived long enough to see my first book in print. I’d love to have her at my Thanksgiving table so I could receive one of her big, warm hugs and hear her say again, “I’m so proud of you.”

3. David Grayson, also known as Ray Stannard Baker. His books are not well known, but I have fallen in love with his series of books about rural living in America. I enjoy his folksy writing style and his rich descriptions of life at the turn of the 20th Century. About Thanksgiving, Grayson said:

“Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life... a true folk-festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year - and the deep, deep connection of all these things with God.”

I would welcome him at my dinner table to discuss his writing style and hear more of his adventures living the simple life.

4. Erma Bombeck. I want a little humor at my Thanksgiving table, and who better to provide it than Erma Bombeck? Erma and I share a dry sense of humor, and I’ve learned from her writing that humor, well placed and gentle, can lighten a topic that readers might otherwise find dull, dry or even disturbing. What fun it would be to watch her draw out God’s sense of humor. Can you imagine: “Hey God, don’t be shy asking for more. I came from a house where gravy was a beverage.”

5. Mrs. Hazelton. Jean Hazelton was my high school English teacher and the first teacher to notice that I had some writing talent. I felt embarrassed when she read to the class a humorous essay I wrote about an orchestra concert. Afterward, she told me that I should consider a career in journalism. I didn’t follow her advice, but now, years later, I wish that I had. It took me a while to realize that Mrs. Hazelton knew what she was talking about. I’d like to have her as my dinner guest so that I could thank her and she could say, “Jeannie, I told you so!”

So there you have it, my five favored guests. Now it’s your turn. Whom would you invite to Thanksgiving dinner?

November 9, 2011

Grip—An Avian Muse to Dickens and Poe

I was writing A Charles Dickens Devotional when I found some fascinating, lesser-known stories about Dickens’ the man. One of the most interesting involves his pet raven named Grip. There are several versions of the story. This is one of them--

Dickens loved birds. He had several as pets, but Grip was his favorite. Grip proved to be a bird of character, or maybe I should say a character of a bird. He mimicked the voices of the author and his children and pecked at just about anything he could find, especially carriage linings and the children's ankles. The big, coal-black bird stole things, like shiny coins and pieces of cheese, and buried them in the Dickens’ garden. Charles Dickens enjoyed Grip's antics so much, and he talked about them so often, that some of his friends called him “raven mad.” He even included Grip as a character in his novel Barnaby Rudge (1841):

‘What hast 
got in that basket, lazy hound?' 

'Grip, Grip, Grip--Grip the clever, Grip the wicked, Grip the 
knowing--Grip, Grip, Grip,' cried the raven, whom Barnaby had shut 
up on the approach of this stern personage. 'I'm a devil I'm a 
devil I'm a devil, Never say die Hurrah Bow wow wow, Polly put the 
kettle on we'll all have tea.' 

'Take the vermin out, scoundrel,' said the gentleman, 'and let me 
see him.'

Barnaby, thus condescendingly addressed, produced his bird, but not 
without much fear and trembling, and set him down upon the ground; 
which he had no sooner done than Grip drew fifty corks at least, 
and then began to dance; at the same time eyeing the gentleman with 
surprising insolence of manner, and screwing his head so much on 
one side that he appeared desirous of screwing it off upon the spot . . . 

'Bring him along,' said the gentleman, pointing to the house. But 
Grip, who had watched the action, anticipated his master, by 
hopping on before them;--constantly flapping his wings, and 
screaming 'cook!' meanwhile, as a hint perhaps that there was 
company coming, and a small collation would be acceptable.

When American author Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote at the same time as Dickens, read Barnaby Rudge, Grip became the inspiration for his famous poem, “The Raven.”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door --
Only this, and nothing more."

Grip lived a long and healthy life with Charles Dickens until the bird became ill after ingesting some lead paint chips. Dickens took his feathered companion to a veterinarian who prescribed castor oil, but alas “quoth the raven” after living with the Dickens' family for 36 years, Grip succumbed and was “nevermore.”

In a letter to a friend, Dickens wrote a tongue-in-cheek eulogy to the bird, and then he had a taxidermist stuff its remains, preserve them with arsenic, and mount Grip in a shadow box. In 1971, a Poe collector donated Grip to the Philadelphia Free Library where he is displayed near the Rare Books Collection.

(For more wayside stories about well-known authors, check out:
Real life plot twists of famous authors.

If you enjoy reading Charles Dickens then you'll love my book, A Charles Dickens Devotional, written for Thomas Nelson Publishing, available mid-December. Click here for ordering information and to read a sample online.

November 6, 2011

Is That REALLY What You Meant To Say?

Spelling and grammatical errors might cause your readers to giggle when you don’t want them to. Here are a few examples.

It takes many ingredients to make Burger King great, but the secret ingredient is our people.

Try our sausages. None like them.

Coffee, 39 cents a lb. Stock up and Save. Limit: One. (Wow, .39 a pound!!)

The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.

Teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.

“Yesterday, a woman bought eight jars of peanut butter on me,” said the clerk.

Adrienne read the note taped to the dollar bill changer. When using the washing machine, please remove all your clothes after the light goes out.

“The toilet is out of order,” he said, “You’ll have to use the floor below.”

“Let’s eat Mom!”

After rotting in the cellar for weeks, his brother brought up some oranges.

Her latest mystery has an ending that is a real cliff-dweller

She said, “It’s time to nip it in the butt.”

Remember, everyone makes misteaks.

Are you guilty of using dangling and misplaced modifiers, wrong words, and misplaced or missing punctuation? Has your mind tricked you while your fingers flew across the keyboard?

I was just kissing. (kidding)

Your story was awful. (awesome)

Tom and I enjoyed our curse. (cruise)

I apologize for any incontinence this has caused. (inconvenience)

Feel free to share your own funny examples in Comments, but please keep it clean. Children might be watching.