Miller Farm Friday – CHICKEN NUGGETS & Hatching Children

No recipes or no recommendation for the best fast food restaurant serving chicken nuggets.

Although if you’re ever in South Fork, Colorado, I do highly recommend the chicken strips at Rockaway Cafe & Steakhouse.

Rockaway is a small family owned business with a casual atmosphere. Reminiscent of eating in someone’s home. John handpicks the fresh chicken breasts and carefully breads with his secret recipe.

You’ll love ‘em. We do.

But back to the Miller Farm.

Today our resident chicken wrangler is sharing some observations and a follow-up on last week’s acrobatic chicken.

The follow-up first – Butterscotch, the acrobatic chicken, seems to have recovered nicely. I had intended to clean her hurt foot every morning but I have yet to be able to catch her. Since she is moving faster than I am, I would say she is doing pretty well.

Observations on the concept of pecking order…
We have introduced new chickens into our flock on several occasions. Usually we have a group of birds that have gotten large enough to move outside but are still somewhat smaller than our mature hens, putting them on the bottom of the pecking order.

One evening I noticed that there was some “discussion” about who got to roost on a particular perch. Little Grey Hen come running out of the coop then she ran back in.

I heard all kinds of noise and saw that a smaller black bird was trying to roost on the end where Little Grey Hen usually sleeps. She would have none of that and before I (or the smaller hen) knew it, the black hen was on the ground and Little Grey Hen was back on her perch.

My first thought was “They all rolled over and one fell out.” (from the song Ten in the Bed).

Thoughts on hatching…
We have an assortment of fowl (chickens and quail) in the brooder in the garage. They hatched over a period of two days.

The last chicken to hatch seemed to have its shell stuck to its back side. We left it alone for a while, knowing that the struggle to get it off was making the bird stronger.

At a certain point, however, we could stand it no longer, and I held the bird while Rachel carefully cut away the shell which was hanging on by a thread.

We added the chicken sans the large chunk of hanging shell to the brooder where its feathers were able to dry and the last tiny bits of the shell came off.

I thought about parenting – sometimes we have to help kids get completely out of their shell so they can begin their own life.

The baby quail in the brooder nearly drove me nuts. They started sleeping on their sides with their feet stretched out making them look dead.

I guess I opened the cage and woke them up enough times that they decided if they wanted to get any sleep at all, they’d better sleep on their feet like fowl are supposed to do.

I’m definitely getting more sleep as well.

MY TURN:
Sara, the Chicken Wrangler, observed that a chicken’s process of hatching is like watching our children growing up. We need to help them out of their shells before they can begin their own life. Seems to me, that’s what writers do for their protagonists. We help them out of their shell. The literary term is character arc.

YOUR TURN: Do you see your child or your main character’s growth as hatching out of a shell?

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Texas talk, colloquialisms, and weasel words – in my writing?

I wish I could say NO WAY!

Can’t.

When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them questioned this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”

  Not understanding that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble, she thought I had put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page.

Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.

Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.

She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.

In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.

 Some more phrases:

come hell or high waterproceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.

conniptionsget upset and raise a ruckus

hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see

hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT

screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all

bone tired – yep, been there

slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar

keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!

When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts. 

I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson  calls these “weasel words.”

 I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.

 Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others.  (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)

 During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.  

BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.

Are you working on a Texas setting or character? Here’s a great resource: http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html

Other times, overuse in novel narrative becomes a stumbling block, pulling readers from the story.

 When that happens, the reader does what no writer wants a reader to do—QUITS reading!

 If colloquialisms are your writer’s voice, I caution you to be sure your reader can understand what you’re saying. Always remember what I learned in a Susan Wiggs workshop.

In the battle of words, the story reigns.

 Our word choices should always move the story forward.

In case you’re wondering what I did about my CP’s question, I decided the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water” in the manuscript.

 How about you…

Do colloquialisms, local slang and weasel words slip into your novels?

Are you guilty of using expressions you grew up with that might confuse a reader? Care to share some and explain their local meaning?

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Acrobatic Chicken ends up in Miller “Chicken Infirmary”

Anthropomorphism is a literary technique in which  human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) are assigned to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. (I’m quoting Wikipedia.)

The word has been around since the 1700s.

In this depiction of  Aesop’s fable, The North Wind and the Sun, North Wind tries to strip a traveler of his cloak. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons.

The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderlfand is another example.

Not being  a literary writer, I don’t use the technique much, but I’ve often been accused of anthropomorphizing my dogs and other non-living things.

Doesn’t every one name their vehicle or their vaccum cleaner? Well, you should!

That’s why I understand completely when Chicken Wrangler Sara treats her chickens like they’re human, which is what happened when one of her hens named Butterscotch got herself into a bad situation.

Here’s the story from Chicken Wrangler Sara’s email. Additional comments not italicized are mine.

Our chicken feeder is suspended from the ceiling of the coop with a wire the size of a coat hanger. This morning, when I went to let the chickens out, one of them was hanging by one toe from the wire above the feeder.

The VILLIAN feeder.

One interesting thing about chickens is that if you hold them upside down by their feet, they get very calm. (Don’t ask how I know this.) 

So the poor chicken, named Butterscotch, was incredibly calm. Now if I had been hanging upside down by my toe all night, I definitely would not be calm. This is just another difference between humans and chickens.

Anyway, I had to work hard to get her toe unstuck all the while explaining to her that chickens are not acrobats.  

(Like the chicken was listening. More likely a little anthropomorphizing going on! LOL)

I ended up untwisting the wire which immediately freed Butterscotch’s foot. I carefully carried her out of the coop and set her by the water thinking she might be thirsty as are most of the chickens in the mornings.

So are the bees who share space at the Miller Farm with the chickens, making an interesting scene at the water cooler every morning.

(A bee blog for Miller Farm Friday is in the works. That’s really anthropomorphizing when you attribute human characteristics to things that can really, really hurt you!)

Butterscotch didn’t drink but hobbled to the front of the yard and sat down. I went on with the morning chicken chores, keeping an eye on her.

When I had finished, I picked her up to examine the injured toe. It had begun to bleed and was getting caked with dirt. I’m no vet, but I am a mom and I know that open sores and dirt are not a good combination.

Notice the toe at the top is missing its nail. but, thanks to human care, not the whole toe.

So I carried Butterscotch up to the garage where we keep the betadine and poured some on her foot.

Then I gently washed it off with the hose and decided she needed to go to the chicken infirmary for observation. So I hollered for Catherine (her oldest daughter) to bring me a rag towel and laid it down in a laundry basket. Then I gently lowered Butterscotch into the basket and put a small waterer in with her.

I went back in the house but soon realized that if she happened to get out of the basket, her toe would be the least of her problems.  The dogs would love to “play” with her.

Especially Bella. Remember she’s the farm daschund who is always watching and waiting for a chicken to get free. And trust me she’s not thinking about anthropomorphizing that chicken.

So I put another laundry basket on top and behold a “chicken infirmary.” 

Butterscotch rested comfortably all morning and after a consultation with the resident chicken vet, Rachel, Butterscotch returned to the chicken yard.

She immediately started pecking at the ground for food then ran to where all the other chickens were pecking to see if they had found something more appetizing.

At last sighting, she was limping slightly but seemed to be glad to be “home.”  I made her promise not to do any more acrobatics, and Chicken Vet Rachel  decided to wash her foot every morning to prevent infection.

Butterscotch strutting her stuff.

YOUR TURN: Are you guilty of anthropomorphizing either your pets or using the technique in your writing?

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3 Necessities to be a successful writer

What does it take to be a writer?

Is all you need to be a writer pen and paper or a typewriter or an iPad or laptop/computer with a word processor? Maybe all it takes is the latest writing tool like this:

Or is there more involved besides having the proper writing tool?

Simple answer, YES.

A writer’s journey is a solo trip. A lonely trip and no two writers achieve success in the same way.

I think, to be successful, an aspiring writer must possess, at a minimum, these things:

  1. A PASSION
  2. A WILLINGNESS TO PRACTICE
  3. A DESIRE TO LEARN

On PASSION…

The most important trait a writer needs is the deep desire to write and a steadfast commitment to his passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Hebbel quotes

Writers must write because, if we don’t, we are miserable. The desire flows with our blood.

On PRACTICE…

If you watched the Summer Olympics last month, you saw performances by athletes who had practiced and trained YEARS for the opportunity to compete in their chosen event.

A certain number of hours practice is frequently necessary to be considered proficient at so many things.

Think about airline pilots who must have a specific number of flying hours before they are qualified to solo. Teenage drivers get learner permits and must practice before taking a test to prove their proficiency and earn a driver’s license.

Writing is no different. Writing requires practice.

The exact amount of practice depends on your natural talent, how quick you learn the techniques of your craft and how much passion you have for what you’re doing.

Which brings up another question, how often should you write?

My simple answer: EVERY DAY.

But how much should you write? Does it matter?

According to James Thayer’s Author Magazine article “How Many Words a Day?” Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day.

Ray Bradbury, who authored over five hundred science fiction novels and short stories which someone calculated to be three and a half million words worth of stories, advises writers to “Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”

To succeed as writers, we must practice by writing something, anything every day.

On LEARNING  or STUDYING writing craft

Most people wouldn’t dream of trying to build an automobile without learning about auto mechanics. Unfortunately, too many people try to become writers without learning about the craft of writing.

An idea for a story strikes, and they start writing. They never consider story structure, POV, or any of the other skills embedded in every novel we read.

This, imo, is why so many aspiring writers fail so often.

Without learning basic skills, you won’t go far as an auto mechanic, no matter how many hours you put into practicing. Think about artists. They learn to mix paint, how to prepare a canvas and color theory at an art school. Aspiring auto mechanics go to technical schools.

Learning about basic craft skills requires time and study. To me, it’s the most important aspect of being a writer.

Sure, some writers succeed without study. With study, I believe success comes faster.

Even those born with great talent rarely go anywhere without equal measures of passion and practice. Mozart was a virtuoso of musical technique and artistry, but even he needed to learn his craft. He was full of passion for music, he practiced all the time, and he studied.

There are hundreds of great books on writing. I’m sure you have your favorites. On my website you’ll find a complete list of writer resources and some inspiring quotes. Below is a short list I recommend for every writer’s craft resource shelf:

  1.  Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
  2. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
  3. Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love 
  4.  Story, by Robert McKee 
  5.  Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham
  6. Getting Into Character, by Brandilyn Collins
  7. Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias
  8. The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Writing classes – on-line and at colleges and universities – also offer wonderful ways to develop writing skills. Too many classes, in fact, to list them in this post. I’ll do another blog with my recommendations soon.

Writing conferences offer yet another means to study writing craft with the added benefit of networking with like-minded people.

If you happen to live in or near Houston, Texas, there’s going to be a great writer’s conference next month—Northwest Houston RWA’s Lone Star Writer’s Conference featuring James Scott Bell.Yep—same one whose book is #1 on my recommended list.

The conference also offers a tremendous line-up of editors and agents. All for only $130.00. Check it out here.

Now you know what 3 things I believe are necessary to be a success writer so get out your iTyperwriter and GO, GO, GO.

YOUR TURN: What do you think it takes to be a successful writer?

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Fowl Moving Day

Monday’s Labor Day holiday signaled the end of summer. For a large percentage of the population this week also signaled the start of school which in turn meant moving kids out of the house and back to classrooms.

With all that moving and changing and settling into routines going on, I thought Sara’s email about moving chickens was a perfect fit today. See if you don’t agree…

Fowl Moving Day

There comes a day in the life of every child where they get too big for wherever they are and they have to move. It starts with the move from bassinet to crib, then crib to “big bed” and eventually they leave the house altogether.

The same type of process happens with chickens.

They start in an incubator (which is currently in our living room),  

 

 

then move to a brooder (in our garage).

From there, they move into a small chicken yard in our back yard where the Bantams (a smaller breed of chickens) live all the time. As they get bigger than the Bantams, they move into the big chicken yard.

A similar, but simpler, process happens with the quail. They simply go from incubator to brooder to one of the quail cages in the back yard. On this particular Saturday, we had both quail and chickens to move.

A multi-step process involving cinder blocks, extra cages and much squawking.

We started by consolidating our three quail cages into one. The cage in the chicken coop only had one quail in it. I believe this quail was somewhat lonely as he spent his days walking in circles in the cage. (Of course, this could also be a result of the bird brain mentality.)

His cage is up high in the chicken coop where neither my daughter nor I can comfortably reach. Hence, the cinder block.

There are two openings in this cage and the quail would run back and forth requiring two people to be ready to catch him. That would be me and my daughter.

So we put the cinder block in the middle and each of us put one foot on it and the other on the side of the coop. Before long, we had trapped the quail and moved him in with his new cage mates.

This left his cage empty for the new quail that were outgrowing the brooder. At first, the move stressed the transferred quail. After all, they’d only seen the inside of our garage, but they have adjusted quite nicely.

Step two of moving day involved putting the young roosters into a separate cage to be fattened up before going to freezer camp and eaten later. Before you cry “animal cruelty,” I can assure you, their life has been much better than that of the chickens you buy at the grocery store.

I must confess, though, I did think of Hansel and Gretel as we were putting food into the cage. 

In case you don’t remember, the witch locked up Hansel and had him stick out his finger occasionally to see if he was fat enough to eat.

Anyway, the roosters had no idea what was happening though I was a little concerned about their transition. But since none of them were named, I wasn’t that attached and stopped worrying.

Sadly enough, when we returned from church Sunday morning, my daughter discovered all but one of the roosters had died. Apparently, they don’t like change (or they got wind of their fate and decided to commit mass suicide).

There was one lone survivor and my daughter, having learned well from her mom’s previous rooster rescue of Einstein, brought him inside.

Mr. Rooster spent the night in our living room and seemed to be better the next day. I named him Einstein II and now he’s living out his natural life with the chickens.

Our final step on this moving day was the easiest – moving chicks out to the small chicken yard.

Teaching them to go into the coop at night is not so easy. For now, I reach under the coop each night to get them and tuck them in with the Bantams. Hopefully they will get the idea soon.

P.S. Besides this being the week I start my piano students, this week happens to be the week that the eggs in the incubator are going to hatch. The cycle is continuous.

I started three new piano students to the sounds of a lone chick calling for the others to come out and play  🙂 No one seemed to mind. You never know what you will learn at the Millers.

Yesterday one of my piano students danced around the living room during her brother’s lessons. She said, “You know how they do a rain dance to make it rain. Well I am doing the chicken dance to make the chicks hatch.”

Unfortunately it didn’t work until after she left. 🙂

I love my job.

My favorite part of this email was Sara’s opening paragraph:

There comes a day in the life of every child where they get too big for where ever they are and they have to move. It starts with the move from bassinet to crib, then crib to “big bed” and eventually they leave the house altogether.

I remember those stages with my three children. I really looked forward to the progress each stage represented and now looking back, I wish they hadn’t come so fast.

YOUR TURN: So how’d your week go? Any chicken dancing going on? Kids moving out or in? Kiddos climbing those giant steps onto the yellow school bus?

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Labor Day from a writer’s perspective

Today is Labor Day. We pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. To celebrate the writers in the workplace, I’m sharing a blog and a video about the writing process.

Nathan Bransford’s blog, “The Publishing Process in Gif Form,” made the rounds on Twitter, FB and many boards and loops. It’s worthy of another view.

For those who haven’t read the blog and don’t know him, Nathan Bransford is a children’s author, a former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. Bransford knows the emotional process of writing from all angles and his blog illustrates a writer’s rollercoaster ride perfectly and his blog is hilarious.

Another blog I read, especially for humor, is The Steve Laube Agency. I met Steve, president and founder of the agency, at an ACFW Conference many years ago. Wise man.

He’s a 30 year veteran of the bookselling industry. His career began in the bookselling arena with a store in Phoenix. He worked with Bethany House Publishers. In 2004 he formed The Steve Laube Agency and represents everything from the sweet romance to the systematic theology.

Fridays on his blog are FUN day. Recently he shared this great video by James Andrew Wilson titled The Five Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel. Make sure to watch through the credits.

Wherever you are in your writing process, I hope I made you laugh today.

Happy Labor Day and labor on! Our readers are waiting.

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What Unending Devotion Means to Me and a great book release

Happy Release Day to  Jody Hedlund for Unending Devotion!

If you like historicals, you’ll love this one!

High-Stakes Drama Meets High-Tension Romance

In 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber baron father.

Posing during the day as a photographer’s assistant, Lily can’t understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father’s lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he’s interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters.

Lily challenges everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that’s dominated Harrison for so long.

Author Bio:
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books, The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.

To celebrate the release of Jody’s book I’m paying tribute to my dogs who have given me their unending devotion in exchange for so little—food in their bowl and a pet on the head or rub on the belly every now and then.

My love affair with Old English Sheepdogs began with Obadiah  who never quite understood he was a dog.

My daughter treated him like the little brother she never had.

Next came Micah.

A furry bundle of energy for Christmas.

He joined my granddog Bernie, a terrier mix, who came to live with us when our son went off to seminary. Rhinestone was our rescue OES.The three of us made quite a spectacle walking in the neighborhood.

Micah, Bernie and Rhinestone

As happens with large dogs, Micah’s hips played out. We lost him and Bernie (at age 17) about the same time. Rhinestone became even more attached to me. When we emptied our house to have hardwood floors installed, I worried the stress would be too much for her.

She went to live with my sister-in-law who had never married.

Two lovely ladies who found one another.

 The two became best buds. I wrote about their story in The Dog Next Door.

For the first time ever we were dog-less.

I hated it.

It was love at first sight.

 So we found Tobias (Toby).

Helping me write.

A couple of years later Buster, a twelve pound Maltese, came to live with us.

And once again we’ve become a big happy family.

You can read all about a sister’s uneding devotion in Jody’s book. Available on Amazon.

What about about you? Do you give or receive unending devotion for someone or pet?

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