“Headlines” Revisited

Just received this comment from Liz:

Hi, i’m sure you are a lovely individual, (Thank you, I try!) but the whole headline about the HPV vaccine… well, do a little research- I am a woman in my 20’s who got the vaccine and suffered serious side-effects as have many of other women who have had the same vaccine. Complications such as serious joint pain, seizures and neurological problems have been associated with the injections. I think it is a little inappropriate to go advocating the vaccine to people without having done a little research- i do agree that the headline was a bit ludicrous, but you also shouldn’t be recommending medical treatments without fully understanding the benefits and risks…

Which sent me back to the blog I wrote, cuz, honestly, I’m lucky to remember what I wrote last week…

Cervical-cancer vaccine’s shots delivering faint-inducing pain

That a boy! Let’s deter people from getting a series of shots that could keep them from experiencing cervical cancer. This one so annoyed me I’m gonna give you the reporters name: Mike Stobbe, Associated Press. Listen Mike, have you considered the PAIN of cancer? Trust me, I’m guessing the shot hurts less. My headline? Cervical-cancer vaccine’s short-term pain worth it – still interesting, you’ll want to find out about the short-term pain, but NOT a shocker that gives girls an immediate reason to avoid the shots. Remember: Cost AND Benefit. He only gave us the cost. Bad, Mikey, Bad!

Which made me think. Was I advocating a medical procedure, which, as Liz rightly points out, I hadn’t researched? I guess I was. Not that I meant to. I mean, it was the headline that annoyed me. But, in retrospect, railing on him about sending a negative message re: HPV vaccines led to me sending a positive one. MY headline indicated they were worth the pain, which was my gut reaction. But that’s my point of view, and faced with the decision, I’m sure I’d do more than listen to my gut because choosing a medical procedure is a decision made by an individual after assessing the risk/benefit ratio. 

So, thanks, Liz, for reminding me of a commandment we writers can never forget: Every WORD counts, and we need to be absolutely sure the message sent is the one we intend to send. Please accept my mea culpa. (You, too, Mikey.)


P. T. Visits the Senior Center

Last week I spent an hour with some seniors at the Avondale Senior Center for Author’s Day, which turned out to be me and well, me. Since  this is not a group likely to embrace e-books you might wonder why?

The topic was motivating seniors to write. Now, since I have a 94-year-old grandpa, I figured I could handle that subject. I created a nifty little Powerpoint and spoke to about 25 seniors, only a few of whom left early.

Not one to waste effort, I realized the advice I’d given them would speak to many people who contemplate putting their thoughts on paper but never do. So, let’s tackle the five excuses reasons people give for not fulfilling the dream that 81% of people have – writing the book they have in and think they should pen.

1) I don’t have anything to say…

C’mon, we all have something to say (for some it’s under our breath and not printable, but…) You have life stories, success stories, characters and plots that have danced in your dreams for years. For most, it’s not that you have nothing to say, it’s that you don’t know how to organize it. Remember that ol’ outlining stuff you learned in school? It’s a great place to start. Or 3 x 5 cards. Or a legal pad with each chapter’s key points on a page that you can fill in the details on later. The key is just start. The idea for ASSISTdead swirled in my brain for years before it came to fruition – a single pet peeve became almost 400 pages.

2) Who cares about my stories?

No one, if you don’t get them on paper. When I hear 81% of people think they have a book in them and should write it, I think of memoirs and bios. Years from now your kids, grandkids, great-great-great grandkids will “know” you from your efforts today. They can experience history from you, instead of a text book. They can perhaps understand more about themselves. If your piece is fiction, some fantasy or mystery or children’s book, they’ll still learn more about you, about your creative side, your imagination. Whatever you pen, someone will care. Don’t confuse selling millions of copies with success as a writer. That’s the commercial side, something rarely achieved. Distributing your “voice” is the only driver you should consider.

3) I can’t remember…

This is something grandpa always says. Well, at 94 I don’t doubt it. Which is why you need to start now! People used to keep journals and diaries the could refer back to. Now, we keep calendars. Spend 15 minutes a day, a week, a month to jot down key points. If you’re crafting fiction, spend the time fleshing out your character – hair color, eyes, build. Write a scene – you may not know where it goes, but you’ll use it. The memory is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it is. Don’t let your creative muscle atrophy.

4) Writing is painful…

For seniors, it often is. I suggested a tape recorder. Let someone else get carpal tunnel. Adapted for the non-senior group, this still has merit. You can record thoughts while sitting in traffic, at lunch, at your kid’s ballgame.Transcribe them later. Use them to jog your memory. Use them for prods when writer’s block stops by. Recently I saw an older couple, both with their right arms in slings. I don’t know where I’ll use it, but  one of my characters will see that same couple and remark, “They really oughta stop arm wrestling,” or something to that effect.

5) But, who will publish me?

Hey, if I knew… Today, you can self-publish or e-publish if you can’t shine as one of the 132 Million plus submissions sent out each year. The most exciting part of the internet for this writer, is that suddenly, any voice can be heard. Major publishers want works that will sell 50,000 units or more. Maybe your great voice will only satisfy the needs of three or four thousand. That doesn’t mean you’re not successful, talented, compelling. Fiction is like food, everyone has a different palate. As I say on my site, “I hope my work pleases yours.”

 Time for you to get off your duff and go to it. The satisfaction you’ll gain from fulfilling your dream will be worth it.

“Crispy Frickin’ Chicken”

That billboard in Altoona, PA. is “ruffling some feathers,” according to a small article in today’s Arizona Republic. Yeah, probably right along with Dominos’ BFD promotion.

But I’d guess not a lot of them. Profanity has become commonplace. The “f” word that shocked my parents now flows from the mouths of their precious grandkids as easily as water runs downhill. As a writer, I’m torn. Part of me, the part that says I ought to be able to come up with another adjective, noun, verb, adverb, whatever, wants to drag out my thesaurus and find THE word. The other part, the part that wants readers, says, “Hey, P.T., readers just want to read. They don’t want an English lesson!” 

Hmm. A quandary. Does dialogue ring true if you don’t use today’s vernacular? Can you grab a reader’s attention using words that require a dictionary close at hand? Probably not. So, yes, I’m rated R, and you’ll find a smattering of “f” bombs in my work. Right along with some other words that would have resulted in a healthy dose of  mouth washing had my youthful self uttered them. For those who grew up in an age where parental discipline is confined to time-outs,  I’m talking soap, not Listerine.

But, now I have grandkids, and honestly, I’d prefer they didn’t spout off in the middle of the store, “Hey, Grandma, can we order Dominos’ BFD for lunch? With pepperoni? Or get some of that crispy frickin’ chicken?” (We all know what that acronym means, even if Dominos did label it a Big Fantastic Deal.)

What galls me most I guess is that profanity has always been rampant. It’s no more “new” than cheating, child abuse, addiction. Some uttered the words outright, others just cloaked it in acceptability by creating acronyms or cutesy phrases like “oh my heck” to express their displeasure and disgust.  And those are the people upset with “frickin’ chicken.” Hey, here’s an idea. If you don’t want people swearing, then don’t make up anymore ways for them to do so!

John McCain: Posterchild for ASSISTdead

When it comes to politics I’m more of an Alan Jackson type: “I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran…”  Actually, I prefer Shepherd Smith at Fox, but I digress.

First, McCain gets a front page NY Times sleazy write up about a possible affair and inappropriate actions on behalf of a lobbyist. Today, it’s more of the same. Well, except he’s not being accused of sleeping with Lowell W. “Bud” Paxson of Paxson Communications. Instead we’re treated to the “he said – he said”  slant about memory problems.  Think Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.  A  former Paxson president says no meeting occurred. Dean Goodman, head of Paxson lobbying in 1999, doesn’t think ol’ Bud met with McCain either. Paxson, however, thinks he and Iseman “probably” met with McCain.

Right across the page, the headline teases, “Clinton says Obama uses ‘Rove’s playbook’.” He’s double-talking, she accuses. He says he stands by his mailings, which maybe aren’t quite as inspiring as his speeches. It won’t get really nasty until the Dems choose a target candidate.

All of which supports my premise: Who in their right mind would run for office???? We all have skeletons, things that, when made public, can be twisted, slanted, criticized, second-guessed. Missteps that we really don’t want publicized. Yet, somehow, we expect the guy or gal who wants to run our country to be pristine, perfect, mistake free.

Trust me, folks. You don’t get that far up the ladder without making a deal or two; without using your power to sway, or force, things the direction you want them to go. That’s why people seek power – to impact outcomes! As altruistic as they may be when elected, the theory of reciprocity runs Washington. I’ll give you X if you give me Y. It’s the same theory that marketing gurus use every day. I’ll give you a coupon, or a sale, or a bonus if you buy my product. And, it works. We buy the item. Be honest. When’s the last time you asked “how” when your Senator or Representative brought home a bonanza for your state?

If the press used the same microscope on the execs running our Fortune 500, the ones who are currently making my road to a happy retirement one terrifying roller-coaster ride, I doubt the results would vary much.  They sleep around, coerce, get lots of freebies from their exalted positions, show a little, or a lot, of temper on occasion as they wheel and deal to bring us double-digit growth or profits or dividends.

I’ve always said, “If I ran for office I’d give the press a list of every screw-up I’d ever committed, well, the ones I remembered. Then, maybe we could focus on the issues.” Not likely by the way. I have skeletons. Instead, I expressed my distaste for politics in ASSISTdead,where I treat an everyday Homicide Detective to the press’ microscope – with the help of a psychopath, of course since I do write Scintillating Psychological Suspense. So, If you’re sick of watching your candidate take a public harpooning, curl up with Detective Taylor instead. After all, her crucifixion is only fiction.

Enjoy a free preview in a 3D fun-to-read e-book for only $3.99 at

P.T. Harris and Frugal Fiction.

The Headlines…

I don’t actually read the paper, I scan it. I’m not unusual. That’s why the HEADLINES are Bold, to tease us, to entice us, to get us to read the article. 

Now Jay Leno’s been dealing with stupid headlines for awhile, so I’m not inventing this. And, maybe it’s just me, but I’m thinking lately the editors have been on strike, too. Take a look at these recent moronic attention grabbers from The Arizona Republic.

Guns in schools considered

Gee, someone just killed five people at NIU and we’re thinking about about letting MORE guns into schools? Wouldn’t something like, Are Guns in Schools the Answer?, be a better way to broach a sensitive topic? Let’s be brutally frank here. The reason more people aren’t killed is because not everyone has a gun in their pocket. SNAP happens in an instant – when frustration, pressure, disappointment, fear, anger, and pain collide. At that point, reason is gone and the only thing between you and death is whether or not the SNAPEE has a handgun accessible. Personally, I’d prefer they didn’t. If you’ve experienced my driving at times, you’d understand.

Study faults bureaucrats for deaths of Marines

Now, at first blush, you’d think, “Yeah, for sending ’em to Iraq!” But, that’s not the point. Instead, the sub-headline criticizes bureaucrats for slowing “the delivery of blast-resistant vehicles.” If we weren’t over there, we wouldn’t need blast-resistant vehicles. When you go to war, people die. What a dumb study! My headline? Morons sent Naked Marines to Iraq

Cervical-cancer vaccine’s shots delivering faint-inducing pain

That a boy! Let’s deter people from getting a series of shots that could keep them from experiencing cervical cancer. This one so annoyed me I’m gonna give you the reporters name: Mike Stobbe, Associated Press. Listen Mike, have you considered the PAIN of cancer? Trust me, I’m guessing the shot hurts less. My headline? Cervical-cancer vaccine’s short-term pain worth it – still interesting, you’ll want to find out about the short-term pain, but NOT a shocker that gives girls an immediate reason to avoid the shots. Remember: Cost AND Benefit. He only gave us the cost. Bad, Mikey, Bad!

Finding Victor

Front page, December 8, 2007. I kept it because, well, I write detective novels and it offered some research info. What it didn’t do was DELIVER! It’s two weeks before Christmas. It’s front page. What did I expect? GOOD NEWS! A family reunited. An ‘ahh’ feeling at the end. Nope. How about an analysis that 3/4 of the unidentified bodies in morgues come from four states, Arizona among them. Victor died the day after he disappeared, but police wrote him off as an illegal and did little to identify him. So, yeah, they found Victor… in the morgue files. Needless to say, the headline failed! My headline? I’d use the sub-header to clarify: Eight-year search finds closure at the morgue. Not uplifting? Neither was the story.

Enough WisDUMB for today. Time to get back to work on DICTATEdead. After all, I’m sure some of the reporters out there are looking for a way to return the skewering…


 P. T.

The Collective IQ is…

“Nobody’s taking my house. Who is my family?”

Britney Spears upon learning her father, Jamie, would have control of her estate and medical condition. Hmm. I didn’t read any similar quotes when her children were taken away…

“Heath Ledger died from accidental overdose of prescription drugs, autopsy concludes.”

Two anti-anxiety drugs, two sleeping aids, and two painkillers, all prescribed, combined to kill  Heath Ledger at 28. Please, if this is the future of Universal Healthcare, I think I’ll pass. Who, exactly, prescribed his lethal arsenol of drugs?

I hope the next time you’re at one of those “throw everything in the glass bowl & let’s get high” parties you’ll think twice about the dangers of mixing prescription drugs. 

“I’m proud of the film we’re here for, but I also like this free jacket I’m wearing!”

Matthew Perry to CNN at the Sundance Film Festival where he enjoyed the gift-giving suites. (By the way, the “film” is Birds of Prey.) It’s bad enough that we’re becoming a nation of haves and have-nots, but to gleefully rub our noses in it… I’m thinking some of Colorado’s homeless could damn well use the jacket more than Mr. Perry.

“I mean, I know that’s what I look for when I wake up in the morning (hard news)… And, you can find it if you’re looking for it…” Angelina Jolie talking to People Magazine.

I’m not an Angelina Jolie fan, but she has a great point. StarDUMB is taking time that people could spend shoring up their knowledge on Presidential candidates, learning about global warming, studying the economy, or reading a good book if all the rest of it is too depressing.

Have we become a nation of rubberneckers? Are our own personal universes so bleak that we need the fix of the rich and famous failing to feel better? Is there some perverse satisfaction in seeing the toppling of people we once idolized?

I don’t think so. I actually think StarDUMB has replaced reading, which, as an author, I find sadly regretable. People used to hide in, escape with, take comfort in books. Fiction took us to foreign lands, warmed our romantic imaginations, allowed us to be angry or outraged. Words brought tears and cheers; satisfaction and  sadness. We don’t sit down anymore and let stories fill the emotional voids in our life. Instead, we look to strangers to excite, entice, and engage us with their stupidity, sorrow and sensationalism. It isn’t the “ah, how sweet” that garners clicks  galore. It’s the absurd, awful, ugly side of celebrity that has the net buzzing. Personally, I prefer meltdown’s in my fictional characters. They don’t destroy real life babies, parents, friends and siblings along with them.


Congratulations Kate McKenna!

Who’s Kate McKenna and why am I congratulating her? She’s a friend and fellow author, and today I received an autographed copy of her book, Prairie Hamlet, Molly’s Place. A book I’m proud to say I helped move from idea to actuality!

When Kate joined our Writer’s Group she was a novice (like I’m experienced – ha!) But, she took a beating during several critique sessions and left with the same disspirited hang dog expression (yes, I know that expression is cliche’, but I thought maybe disspirited would give me an out) I remembered wearing when I was drummed out of a critique group. I’d kept writing (out of spite) and wanted to see her do the same. So, I supported, cajoled, counseled, and critiqued to help her get the novel rolling. The rest is pure Kate! She’s a model for marketing. Her book’s sold over 300 copies on Amazon since December 12th, and her own inventory is fast disappearing. For a self-published first novel, not too shabby, huh?

What’s most important for Writers is this: DO NOT LET THEM SEE YOU CRY! (Contrary to how that may or may not have affected Hillary in NH.) Don’t believe all you hear, don’t lose faith in yourself, and don’t give up. Always remember: Critiques are personal opinions, not gospel, and fiction, like food, will appeal to different palates. Some in your group are jealous, some too self-involved to truly help – they’re only involved to receive feedback from you, and some, quite honestly, don’t know how to critique. If you find a good group, thank them regularly. If you can help someone else, remember that ‘pay it forward’ stuff. If someone beats you up, well, find thicker skin.  But, never, ever quit!  What I’ve taught Kate about writing, she’s returned a zillion times over in marketing tips and rah-rahs when I’ve been discouraged. Her book makes me as proud (ok, almost as proud) as my own does.

Learn more about my friend Kate at Prairie Hamlet, and of course, if you enjoy terrific historical fiction set in the late 1800’s Chicago, get over to Amazon and buy her book.

So, thanks Kate; for your friendship and encouragement! And allowing me to share in your success!!