Tag Archives: Author: Dellani Oakes

How to Approach Your Book by Dellani Oakes

 

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No one can dictate to you how to write your book. The way the story presents itself to the author is all important. How-To authors will tell you what you must avoid, shouldn’t do, how you have to approach something. The fact is, they don’t know anymore than anyone else, they just sat down and wrote a book about it. Don’t let them bully you and dictate to you how you write. Chances are good that they have broken their own edicts at one time or another.

The best advice I have ever heard came from actor, director, author, screenwriter and producer, Ken Farmer. “Just write the damn story.”

I couldn’t have said it better. There is no set in stone way to approach your story. Anyone who says differently is lying to you. I read an article many years ago, when I was a mere novice. I had one book, Indian Summer, under my belt. I was beginning my Lone Wolf sci-fi series. I came across this article by a famous sci-fi author, whose name I can’t remember now. He said that an author must outline everything carefully before beginning to write. An author must know the ending before beginning to write. An author must spend more time on the outlining and planning stage than on the writing itself. It was, in this author’s opinion, essential to follow a carefully crafted plan.

That one article spun me into a panic of momentous proportions. I don’t do any of that. I tried writing an outline once, only to find myself writing the story instead. I scrapped the outline and wrote. I don’t plot and plan before I begin. I never know the ending. I hop in and hope for the best. I dispense with the long, drawn out planning stage and go for the fun part—writing.

For certain styles of writing, outlining is important. For instance, if you’re writing a biography, non-fiction or a how-to book, you should probably know where you’re going. I’ve always been more of the opinion that the outline is something you write after they paper is done, but then I never have had a conventional approach to anything.

I have been a Blog Talk Radio host for six years. In that time, I have talked with dozens of authors and I ask them the same question every show, “Are you a plotter/ planner or do you jump  in and start writing?” Surprisingly, the plotter/ planners are in the minority, though how-to authors would have us believe that theirs is the only correct and perfect way to approach the story. This offers food for thought. Which approach is the correct one?

The answer is simple, no one can tell you that. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I’ll describe my method (such as it is) and tell you some variations I’ve come across.

I get a starting idea—usually an opening sentence. Once in awhile, it’s dialogue. Whatever’s the case, it nags at me until I write it down. If I don’t, it’s gone and I may never get that story back. Frustrating but true.

Once I start to write, the words flow and I type as fast as I can in order to get them down. Sometimes, a story presents itself through pen and paper. I don’t argue, I just write. These are rare, but do happen. I’ve learned to live with it.

My stories, for the most part, come at me chronologically. I begin at the beginning and write until I reach the end. I rarely use flashbacks, though I do have them from time to time. I rarely skip from one scene to another. For me, that’s a lot more work. The only time I do that is if I get a scene that’s really compelling and wants to be written now. Then I pick up and continue where I left off, bringing the story to that place.

Once in awhile, I can’t remember exactly where I left off. If I’m away from home and intend to write while I’m gone, I’ll take a notebook with me. I might pick up a scene a bit further in the future and write it instead, then go back and bridge the gap.

I listen to music when I write. What I have playing varies, but usually it’s something that provides a background and doesn’t intrude. A lot of my author friends say they can’t have music with words, but that doesn’t usually bother me. I hear the melodies and am only marginally aware of the lyrics.

I continue typing until I finish the book, or the muse clams up. Since she’s a pesky wench, she does that fairly often—hence the fact that I have nearly as many unfinished novels as I do finished ones. If she closes her mouth on one, she often opens it on another. I write on that for awhile until she clams up again.

This is my method, if it can be called such.

There are variations, the most common of which are below. I am presenting these in First Person, though they are the ways and means of other authors:

I write each scene separately, whatever interests me the most. I write notes of each on a note card and lay them out on the floor, moving them around until I get the right sequence, then I string them together.

I write chronologically, but I write different scenes, the ones that speak to me the loudest, then I weave them together.

I have to have absolute quiet when I work. I can’t have music, TV, radio or any other distractions. If I do, I lose track of where I’m going with the story.

I don’t like music playing, but I have the TV on while I write. I don’t pay attention to it, I just like the background noise.

I listen to the radio when I write. It helps me block out other noise and concentrate on my writing.

I work on only one book at a time. If the words stop flowing, I give myself a break and do something else. When I feel the story again, I go back to it and keep writing. I can’t keep track of more than one plot at a time.

These variations are endless. I have only listed the ones that I’ve heard more than once from other authors. I’m surprised to find that there are a few of us who constantly juggle multiple projects. I don’t know if it speaks to our level of Attention Deficit or some other personality quirk. Most people I speak to work on one project at a time. There are some of us who are, apparently, gluttons for punishment and torture ourselves with more.

Write the way that feels comfortable. Allow your chaotic process to be productive and don’t worry about it. Accept that the first draft will probably be terrible and live with this fact. It takes years to write an acceptable first, second or hundredth draft. Don’t feel as if you need to control it all, because the fact is, you control nothing. The story chose you, not the other way around. It will control how you write, what you write and how it ends. Accept this and move on. It’s much more fun when you allow yourself to relax.

 

©2014 Dellani Oakes
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Dellani Oakes is the author of nine published novels, 50 more which haven’t been finished yet and 75 which are finished, but not published. She’s a Blog Talk Radio host on the Red River Radio Network where she speaks to other authors. She’s also former A.P. English teacher and journalist.

To Buy Dellani’s Books http://tinyurl.com/kwt3ne9

Write is Right by Dellani Oakes

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 I’m the first to admit that I can’t spell. If it weren’t for spell check, the greatest invention in the modern age, I’d never get anything written. Next best, on-line dictionaries, because now I don’t have guess every time I can’t spell a word. If I misspell a word when looking it up, the program will ask me if I mean…. And it gives me suggestions.

I misspell stupid things—anything with IE or EI, will always be reversed. Fortunately, the computer notices and changes it for me. Yay! Necessary. Camouflage. Bureaucrat. These are examples of words I frequently misspell. There are others, but I am most consistently wrong with these. I can usually get through necessary, but I have to spell it to myself as I go. I can’t just type or write it.

When I was a teenager, I had an extensive vocabulary. With a college English professor for a father and an elementary school teacher for a mother, how could I not? Unfortunately, I couldn’t spell the extensive vocabulary and had to rely on much more basic things. When I asked my English teacher about it, he told me to “Look it up.” “But how,” I asked. “Can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” No one ever had a good explanation. It took me years to learn that if it wasn’t under the spelling I thought, that was wrong, I had to try something else. Tedious process. Again, thank god for spell check and on-line dictionaries!

I finally cracked down and put my mind toward spelling better when my English teacher, Mr. Frakes, gave me back a paper that said: “For story and content A. For mechanics F.” Much embarrassed, I decided that perhaps spelling did matter. It was a long process, and it only partially took, but I have finally gotten more conversant with spelling. I had thought of writing this piece, leaving the typos in, but decided that made me look way stupider than I was willing to look and I corrected them. I’m all for window dressing, but that would have been a little much.

I was grateful to Mr. Frakes for teaching me something else with that one message. That was to be as fair to my students as possible. I adopted that method of grading when I became a teacher, because I had some brilliant students who couldn’t spell their way out of a wet paper sack. One even bought a “Bad Speller’s Dictionary” only to find that his misspellings were so messed up, they weren’t in there. My heart went out to him. I felt his pain! More than once, he’d hand in a paper with the same word spelled three or four different ways, all wrong. I asked him about it once.

“I figured if I tried it different ways, one of them would be right.”

Sadly, he was completely wrong in that assumption. Somehow, he defied the laws of averages and statistics, defied the gods of grammar and still managed to mess it up completely. I lost track of him once he graduated. I hope he, like I, learned to spell and that he can find compassion in his heart for others the way I had compassion for him.

 

In addition to writing, Dellani Oakes is a prominent host on Blog Talk Radio.

About Music …

Music moves us. Whether it be to make us happy, sad, or (in some rare cases) violent, music affects our emotions. The authors of the Write Room have shared their thoughts and feelings about music and how it shapes our lives. (Dellani Oakes)

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Daddy’s Music by Linda Palmer

I didn’t realize how cool my daddy was until after my mother died and we had him to ourselves for five years. He was very quiet; Mother was the go-between. Yet without me realizing it, he made me who I am today. A huge influence was his love for music. Daddy, who played alto sax in high school, loved the sounds of Lawrence Welk, Paul Mauriat, James Last, Leroy Anderson, and Mantovani. He was also into Broadway musicals, so my sisters and I still know every word of Camelot, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, South Pacific and a slew of others. Daddy went from vinyls, to eight-tracks, to tapes, to CDs, with quadraphonic in there somewhere. He had great sound systems in his cars, and I loved long Sunday afternoon rides listening to whatever musical score was his favorite at the time. (Can anyone else out there recognize every song from Midnight Cowboy?)

I’m eternally grateful for his eclectic tastes, which ultimately impacted mine. There aren’t many music genres I don’t like, and I’m always up for listening to something new. So thanks, Daddy. You get full credit for the chills I get when music truly moves me. I just wish you hadn’t pawned your saxophone to pay down on a house all those years ago. I’d love to hear you play it.

 

Let the music play on by by Jon Magee

“If music be the food of love, play on”, wrote William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3)

Music has the ability to move us—our memories and our imaginations. So many times, I’ve heard a song on the radio, on a commercial, or during a movie, and found myself transported to another place and time. The lyrics and the melody remind me of a moment I’ve experienced, a memory I haven’t recalled for ages, and I’ll feel everything that I felt back then.

I am not musical in terms of having the ability to play any musical instrument, but I do have an appreciation of music and have enjoyed the listening to it from an early age. I have no doubt that music has been a great means of communicating to the world in many ways. When I am writing, I have often used the memory of music and singing as a means of setting the scene for an era, or to bring out the expressions of emotions set in the heart of the characters whether it is the expression of love or the feelings of sadness.

Even the Philosopher of the 1960’s, Mr Michael Jagger, used the medium of song as he shared his philosophy of life with those who supported him. Along with a group called “The Rolling Stones” he sang “You can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want , You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need”. Clearly that would be true in many other walks of life. Looking back through the ages it was the singing of particular songs that became the heart of the peace movements and many political campaigns too, as well as the religious revivals through the ages. When people recall the Wesleyan revivals they would often equate it with the music of the Wesley brother and Toplady. Likewise the same vein may be applied to the Welsh Revival, and not forgetting how Moody is a name that is still linked to Sankey.

Music is also the great leveller of life too. Our singing abilities may not be as good as others, but the needs expressed will be something that can touch us all in one form or another as we sing or listen. We all identify with the words “all you need is love” as the Beatles put it. Perhaps we can identify with Buddy Holly as he sang of his personal unrequited love experience with Peggy Sue. (Peggy Sue was not a made up name, it was a real person who he knew in his life.) Can we not also sense the heartbreak of the New York mining tragedy as the Bee Gees sang “Have you seen my wife Mr Jones? Do you know what it’s like on the outside?” Music will bring out the cheer and also the tears. In our music will come our humanity and the road many of us take in human life. But above everything, may music be the food of love in our lives!

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Mood Music by Patricia Dusenbury

I listen to music while writing. Jeff Buckley’s audible exhale at the beginning of Hallelujah stops me cold. I hold my breath, waiting for him to begin singing. The line “…all I’ve ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you,” evokes thoughts of love as a power struggle, the things vulnerable humans do to each other. I’m reminded that some things, once broken, cannot be fixed. I’m ready to write about grief and the pain of love lost or, worse, thrown away.

Cole Porter said that Night and Day was about obsession, not love. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald et al. sang it as a love song, but not U2. Their version captures passion that defies reason. In the video, Bono slides a razor blade across his thumb. I listen and write about physical attraction that overwhelms common sense, love as a form of insanity.

It’s not all noir. I also use music to evoke time and place. My mysteries are set in New Orleans and the bayou country. Jazz, blues, Dixieland or zydeco – it depends upon what I’m trying to write. I put on the music, listen, and I’m back there. Ditto the songs popular when I was in high school and college.

There’s one vivid musical memory I’ve not used – not yet. Years ago, I walked into an ice cream parlor in Palm Springs. Three middle-aged women (younger than I am now) sat at the counter, eating overpriced ice cream. They licked it off their spoons with evident pleasure, while Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat played on the jukebox. Whenever I hear that song, I see those women, and I smile. One day, they’ll be in a book.

 

As a child, Patricia Dusenbury read under the covers into the wee hours. Despite sleep deprivation, she managed to get through college and a career as an economist. Now retired, she hopes to atone for all those dry reports by writing novels that people read for pleasure. 

Her first book, A Perfect Victim, won the 2015 EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) award for best mystery. The sequel, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, was a top ten finisher in the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. A House of Her Own, which will be released October 16, completes the trilogy. http://patriciadusenbury.com/

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Timpani by Kenneth Weene

My Junior High School Music teacher pulled me aside and offered a simple solution to our dilemma. “Kenneth, don’t sing, just mouth the words and I’ll give you a passing grade.”

Thankful to end the embarrassment of all heads turning towards me whenever I hit a “note” that had never been heard before, I agreed to acoustic exile.

In boarding school I tried out for the chorus, which shared concerts and dances with girls’ schools. The chorus director assured me if ever he found a piece of music that included my one note repertoire he’d add me to the roster.

Not being able to sing didn’t dampen my love of music. I think I know when somebody else is on tune. I love the sense of tempo, especially when timpani lead the way, which immediately suggests classical music. Not surprisingly, my favorite composers are from Eastern Europe. Dvořák, Bartok, Scriabin, Shostakovich, and Mahler are my big five. Say Slavic music and I’m ready not just to listen but viscerally take part—feet tapping, hands waving, and head bobbing. Drawing on my Junior High lesson, I sit at the rear of a section where my gyrations won’t disturb others.

Driving is one of the better times to listen to music although I do have to be careful not to take my hands of the wheel and conduct or tap the rhythm on the gas pedal.

Driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park my musical selection was Mahler. Perhaps Dvořák would have been a better choice, The New World Symphony, but I love the sweeping grandeur of Mahler and it went perfectly with the majesty of the mountains. We rounded a bend. Grazing in a small meadow was a herd of elk. The music, the mountains, and the elk came together in the moment.

Without thought or care, I began to sing along. The inhibitions learned in adolescence dropped away and for the moment I was one with the music.

Which brings us to the most important part of that sacred moment. My wife did not cover her ears. She did not stare at me and shake her head. No, she smiled sweetly and said nothing.

Finally, when we had passed the elk and the last notes of that symphony had faded from the CD player, she commented. “That’s a relief. The way you were singing I thought one of those bulls was going to get in the car and try to mate with you.”

 

Writer, poet, and social commentator Kenneth Weene is generally an easygoing fellow, but arm him with an imaginary baton and chaos can ensue. You can find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU

 

Transported by Music by Trish Jackson

Music truly is the language of the soul. I can’t imagine anyone in the world not being moved to tears at least few times in their lives by a musical score or a song. Music brings back memories; music calms us; music ignites a flame in us. To quote Wordsworth. ‘Music is the universal language of mankind.’

Music also has a way of transporting us to another place and time. Every now and then you may hear a song you haven’t heard for years, and immediately be taken back to the time when the song meant something to you. You can clearly picture the scene and even smell the scent of it.

I grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Africa, where every young person in the entire country—or so it seemed—listened to the LM Hit Parade on Sunday nights, broadcast from Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique.

I was a boarder at high school because our farm was too far away from any town for commuting. Like any boarding school, we had to obey some strict rules. Radios were not allowed to be on after lights out, and in those days they didn’t come with earphones. Armed with a flashlight and a sharp tongue, the duty matron patrolled the dorms in the dark, and if a radio was on, it was confiscated for the rest of the semester.

Only the seniors were allowed to have the radio on after lights out expressly to hear the LM Hit Parade on a Sunday night. It took a while, but I finally made it to my senior year. At the time in 1969, songs like Soldier Boy by the Shirelles, Crystal Blue Persuasion and Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, and Touch Me by the Doors were somewhere near the top, and whenever I hear any of those songs, I am back to our dorm in the darkness. I can still feel the excitement as the countdown progressed.

In 1974, the radio station was closed down during the Portuguese revolution, and the facilities were nationalized. I thought that was the end of it, but surprisingly, with the advent of the Internet and Internet radio stations, it has since been revived, and they play all the old songs from their former era. http://www.lmradio.net/streaming.html

 

Trish Jackson writes rural romantic suspense and romantic comedy, which always includes pets. www.trishjackson.com

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Inappropriate Musical Tastes by Dellani Oakes

I have inappropriate musical tastes for a woman my age. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open…. Apparently, I should be a fan of Michael Bublé and Harry Connick, Jr. While I like some of their music, it certainly isn’t my favorite, or even in my top five. Okay, let’s be honest, not even in my top twenty. However, women of a certain age, are expected to like certain things, but I don’t fall into that category.

That sort of misconception started in my late thirties. I had to go for an extended MRI, nearly three hours of thudding and clanking, because I’d developed tinnitus in my left ear. When I got there, the young men running the test asked me what I wanted to listen to.

“What do you have?”

They listed off a few albums and I wrinkled my nose.

“Got anything good?”

“We’ve got some Steely Dan,” one remarked, somewhat hesitantly.

“Which album?”

“Um… Aja and Greatest Hits.”

“That sounds good. Anything else?”

They had some Jethro Tull, but that was as exotic as the choices were. Good enough, far better than the other things they offered. They were pleased, because they mostly had to listen to Big Band and Buddy Holly all day.

“It’s good to have someone in here who appreciates good music,” the other told me as he set up the CD player.

However, when I had to go back a few years later, for an MRI on my neck, the girl didn’t even ask. She put the radio on easy listening. Radio in the first place, not my choice. Too many commercials. And easy listening? Do I look like I want easy listening? Where is the Hendrix, the Zeppelin? Bring on the Floyd! A pox on easy listening! It puts me into a pop induced coma in which I shall surely languish until someone plays metal.

I’ve decidedly surprised people with my eclectic musical tastes. On one such occasion, I had to go get my tires rotated. I’d been listening to a Rammstein CD in the car, and had left it cued up to the song I wanted to hear on my way home. I didn’t think about the fact that someone would turn on the car and have it blast from the speakers when they moved it to the service area. I was in the waiting room, reading my book, when the young mechanic walked in, looking expectant.

“Black Kia Optima?”

I stood up and he took a step back, clutching his chest.

“Wow, not what I expected,” he said with a grin.

“Why?” I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not.

“Well, based on the CD in the car, I thought it would be some guy my age.” He laughed loudly. “You don’t really look the type.”

“Oh, what type do I look?” The challenging tone was unmistakable.

He chuckled, taking another step back. “Not the type to like heavy metal. What band is that?”

“A German group called Rammstein.”

“It’s really good. I hope you don’t mind that I listened to it while I worked on the car.”

“Not at all! I’m glad you liked it.”

“I’m gonna look for more of their music. That’s some good stuff.” He smiled, shaking his head. “Really wouldn’t peg you for listening to that kind of music.”

I took a step toward him, talking quietly. “I also like Jimi Hendrix, Rob Zombie, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Iron Maiden.”

“No shit?” I didn’t think I could have shocked him more if I’d put 50,000 volts through him.

 

I wrote this while listening (inappropriately) to Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tool, The Diamond Light, Pink Floyd, Noah Gundersen, X Ambassadors with Jamie N. Commons, and Marilyn Manson. Would you like a play list?

Dellani Oakes is a (mostly) appropriate author who thinks inappropriate thoughts as she listens to music she shouldn’t like. How do you know when Dellani is awake and working? There’s music playing, (inappropriately loudly).

Remembering Mom by Dellani Oakes

Mom and me September 14 2014

My mother was a woman’s libber before the term became popular. She was independent, self-assured and the most fearless person I know. She turned 96 on Monday. Her vision has faded, her hearing lessened, her mind is going. She’s been in a wheelchair for the last four years, due to a re-break of her hip that didn’t heal properly. To see her now, you’d never know that she used to drive around the country doing speeches about a small Appalachian settlement school in Kentucky. Back in the 40s, there were no interstate highways, no cellphones and no GPS. She was on her own, with only her map and her fantastic sense of direction to guide her.

Mom married very late in life. By society’s standards, she was an old maid—36 when she wed, 38 when she had my sister, 40 when she had me. She gave us a childhood that was full of exciting experiences, chock full of great books, educational trips and just plain fun.

By the time I was 9, we had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas and Nebraska. Everywhere we lived, we visited spots of historical significance. When in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we visited The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, Longfellow House…. We drove up to the bridge at Lexington and Concord and saw the Cannonball House and the Minuteman statue. We made a trip up to Bar Harbor and rode a ferry across. We had our pictures drawn by a lady on the ferryboat. I look like I’m about to be shot. My sister’s is much better.

Every summer, we made a drive from our home in Nebraska, back to visit our cousins and grandmothers. Mom’s family lived in Ohio, my dad’s in Tennessee. Along the way, we visited friends or, once in awhile, spent the night in motels. Sometimes, we stopped in spots we’d read about in books: Hannibal, Missouri where we visited Mark Twain’s house. Also, one of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s homes there.

I’ve gone on a lot about our trips, mainly because it shows a lot about how my mother thought and planned. She would study maps until she had them memorized—or so it seemed to me. She remained unflappable when we had the occasional flat tire or radiator overheated. It seemed we always had our car trouble in the best spots, where help arrived in the best possible way. When I traveled with my mother, I was never afraid. She always was so confident, so sure she would never get lost. Oh, we got turned around from time to time, but she would say, “I may not know where I am, but I know where I’m not.”

Looking back, that probably shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was. It’s hard to see my mother so diminished. The spark is still there, but with the dementia and the mini-strokes, it’s hard to find her. I was happy to see that she recognized me, after not seeing me for a year. She lives in Kansas, I live in Florida. I surprised her, arriving without any warning. I did tell her who I was, and she remembered me and my children, even had a spark when I mentioned my granddaughter.

Mom playing dress up with Audrey December 2012

My daughter laments she can’t see her grandmother and bring her daughter to visit, but I suggested that she not. Let the six year old have memories of her GiGi as she was the last time she saw her, not as the woman who might not remember her name. I also want my daughter and sons to remember her: my mother a vital, energetic, brilliant, fearless woman.

With such a strong mother, it is no wonder that Dellani Oakes is such a creative writer. You can find her work at http://www.amazon.com/Dellani-Oakes/e/B007ZQCW3A

The Joys of Being That Mom by Dellani Oakes

 

 Mothers Day Flowers

I am the mom that every teacher dreams about. I come to class and help set up for parties. I volunteer in small groups, and I can always be counted on to go on field trips. I’m the mother that the teacher calls for the outside group activities and gives THE WORST GROUP to because I used to be a teacher and “I know you can handle it.”

I’m the mom who also gets handed the most rambunctious group on a field trip, for the reason stated above. I once went to Kennedy Space Center on a field trip with a child who didn’t want to obey me. He thought he should be able to run around like a crazy person and not stay with our group. He kept disappearing and I’d have to track him down again. I caught him sliding on the wet pavement like a Slip ‘n Slide. I had visions of having to explain a broken arm to his mother. He wasn’t my biggest field trip nightmare.

Kennedy Space Center 1990 Dellani Oakes

That trip took place when my eldest son was in the fourth grade. It was a wild class, mostly boys, and all of them—lively. We had plenty of chaperones to go around, but half of them dropped out the day of the trip, leaving me and one other mom. The teacher took the worst kids with her and the three of us merrily trooped onto the bus.

Somewhere along the way to St. Augustine, one of the girls got sick. She’d had a kidney infection that apparently hadn’t been fully resolved. She wanted to go on the trip, so her mother let her make the two hour ride to St. Augustine on a hot, noisy, bumpy bus. After we stopped along the way for the poor kid to throw up, the teacher decided she needed to go home.

Did I mention that we were nearly two hours away?

The bus parked at the visitor’s center not far from the historical downtown and the teacher called the parents. She was stuck with the child until they arrived. That left me and the other mom to watch the boys. None of the other chaperones would take them. They were happy to take the girls, but this motley bunch was our problem. There were twenty of them. Her twins and my son were the only three who knew how to behave.

castillo courtyard

It was hot, muggy, raining. No one should take an outdoor field trip the third week of March. But here we were, shlepping through puddles, from one end of the historic Spanish Quarter to the next, with twenty boys in tow. It was rather like a cattle drive, only cows would have been easier to contain.

The other mom inherited the two most annoying boys. They had an attitude problem and didn’t want to do what she told them. More than once, they defiantly did the opposite. It was getting ugly. When she couldn’t stand them anymore, she traded with me for three boys. I think at that point, she would gladly have taken my entire group so she didn’t have them anymore. Reluctantly, I agreed.

What was I to do? She was ready to kill them and the more she fussed, the more obnoxious they became. One of the boys was a thug-in-waiting. His family had moved from a big city in an effort to keep him out of trouble. From what I could see, it wasn’t working. However, my son liked him well enough and seemed to have a calming effect on him.  After a short time in my group, they quieted down, behaving like angels (relatively speaking) the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, the teacher was still at the information center. The parents came to pick up the girl about 30 minutes before we were due to leave. Four hours of fourth grade boys, I was done, but we still had to get home. Fortunately, I don’t remember much of the ride back.

My favorite field trip was a day at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach. It’s a wonderful theater over on the beachside. They have plays, operas, orchestras and the occasional comedian who performs there. It’s a big, solidly built brick building that has been nicely remodeled. It’s not the fanciest environment, but it’s still an impressive edifice.

My youngest son’s fifth grade class had the opportunity to see the Moscow Symphony Orchestra perform. I was the first to volunteer. I love orchestras and theirs is among the best. I was there with my friend Jackie. We had gotten close because our boys were, and still are, good friends.

Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach

We were in the balcony. Looking back at all my trips to the Peabody, I can’t remember ever being on the first floor. We’re always seated upstairs. At least it has a good view. The acoustics in the Peabody are excellent. That’s great for hearing every note of the violin, but it makes it a pretty noisy place until the lights go down.

Jackie and I get silly. We have a similar sense of humor and the “You Shouldn’t Do That” Filter kinda goes away when we’re together. We were sitting there, rather far removed from our sons, watching the orchestra and enjoying the show. From time to time, we’d whisper and giggle. Our sons’ teacher kept shooting us dirty looks. Jackie would wave and we’d giggle. (Yes, we acted like fifth graders – don’t judge us.)

Sometime during the performance, one of the girls a few rows down, across the aisle, saw a bug on the steps. She started gasping and pointing as it crept closer to her. She climbed on her seat, ready to scream. Jackie and couldn’t see what had her so freaked, but we were ready to hop up and go look when one of the bus drivers got up.

Whatever the girl had seen, the woman spotted it. She took off her shoe, heavy leather with nearly a three inch heel and inch thick sole. THUMP she smacked that sucker into oblivion. That would have been all right, except it was one of those lulls in the music that classical music is known for. That thump echoed from every wall, distorting the sound so it was hard to know where it came from.

Everyone in the balcony looked over. The conductor heard it on stage, but didn’t have time to stop and find the source of the sound. The teacher glared at us like it was our fault. We, of course, burst out laughing.

Finally, we stopped giggling and there was another lull in the music. Jackie clapped her hands very softly and said, “Thump”. You can imagine how I reacted. Every time there was a lull after that, she’d do it again. I was in tears.

“Stop!” I hissed. “You’re gonna get us thrown out. The teacher’s giving us that Mean Teacher Look.”

We managed to settle down near the end of the performance. The finale was The 1812 Overture. Fortunately, not too many quiet moments in that piece. We stood with the rest for a standing ovation and waited for the students to clear out.

Our sons’ teacher came over to us, frowning. “What on earth were you doing? You kept laughing.”

We tried to explain, but somehow it was lost in translation. Try as we might, the giggling invaded our narration. She rolled her eyes, looking away from us.

“That settles it,” she said. “You have more fun than I do. Next time, I’m sitting by you.”

Amazingly, even after that incident, she allowed us both to go on later field trips. I don’t know if it was because we were the always the first to volunteer, or simply because she liked us.

Family Photo December 2013

Even with the problems I’ve encountered, I wouldn’t give up my field trip experiences for anything. It was a great way to be involved with my children. I’ve been to plays, symphonies, historical section of St. Augustine, museums, The Gator Farm, Kennedy Space Center, the beach, a honey packaging plant, operational farms, a citrus grove, a petting farm and a wide variety of other places I would never have gone otherwise. Not all the trips were with Jackie, but she was by far my favorite traveling buddy.

Jackie and I don’t go on anymore field trips. Our sons graduated from high school, but I remember our field trips fondly. She works at a local coffee shop now. One of these days, I’m going to walk in, order a coffee and right as she’s about to hand it to me, I’m gonna clap my hands and say, “Thump”.

Finding Inspiration in the Every Day by Dellani Oakes

Dellani Oakes glasses in hand

My kids are weird. I say that with the most love possible. They are funny, unique endearing and strange. Just now, I was sitting in my office and I heard beat box noises and laughter, so I wandered out to see what was going on.

My eldest son was sitting on the arm of the couch, improvising lyrics to a song, while one of the neighbor boys played guitar and did a beat box. The closest example I can give is Alice’s Restaurant. One played and the other came up with lyrics, with a smattering of harmonica thrown in for spice.

All I can say is, I wish we’d recorded it. I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile. My son is one of the best at improvising lyrics. When his brothers were younger, he would play guitar and tell tales to put them to sleep. They loved it. Of course, he couldn’t always remember it later, but they always begged for particular songs every night.

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My children have been a constant source of material. I don’t often write about them, because I don’t want to embarrass them, but I frequently use things they’ve said or done, in my books.

A prime example, also from my eldest son. His friend had been visiting and was heading home. They exchanged insults, as they often did. (Male bonding, I’ll never understand it.) The exchange stuck with me and I ended up using it in one of my sci-fi novels, Shakazhan. The last exchange between the men is the quote. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (Me) from being sued:

 

Ben chuckled, winking at Matilda. “Yes, Ma’am. Duty would work.” He risked a wicked glance at Wil. “The fact that you’re beautiful and desirable, and the sexiest woman I’ve ever met would have nothing whatever to do with it.”

Wil was furious until he recognized the subtleties of the remark. He chuckled. “Ben, you know what you can kiss.”

“Yeah, Wil, and you know what you can blow.”

 

I don’t always copy exactly what they say, but more the way they say things. Their mode of expression is unique and it fascinates me. Laced with sarcasm and double meanings, they communicate on an entirely different level from other people their age. I have to wonder how much of this my husband and I are responsible for, and how much is simply from them. Their friends have picked up on it, too, so our influence spreads.

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Anyone who has read my books, knows that I use a lot of humor in them. I don’t purposely try to be funny, because that’s hard. Instead, I involve myself in the conversation and let the characters find their own humor. I’m not the one being funny, they are. They also have running jokes throughout a story, something that others don’t know about, but always makes them laugh.

In Conduct Unbecoming, the men are always twitting Joel about his bright blue Civic named Bluebell. Though I didn’t borrow any exact conversations, the way that the men comment and tease Joel is so like my sons and their friends, I have to give credit to them for it:

 

“Boys, enough,” Vivica said. “Joel, your car is cute—just like you.”

They moved toward the back door together.

Joel crossed his arms, frowning. “Why do women always tell me I’m cute? Men don’t want to be cute.”

“Then don’t drive a car that looks like it should be covered in Hello Kitty stickers,” Teague remarked, dodging out of his cousin’s way as Joel took a swing at him.

“My car is not gay!” Joel yelled as he flung open the door.

“Okay. . . .” Jasper held up his hands. “It’s not gay. It’s bi-curious.”

“You can ride in the Pinto O’Death,” Joel said.

“I’ll ride with Joel,” Aileen said. “Shotgun,” she called as she walked out the door.

Nadeya followed her. Teague and Vivica walked toward the truck, bypassing the Pinto. Disgusted, Jasper followed them.

“Okay, I know it’s lame,” he grumbled, “But it was all I could get my hands on.”

“That car’s almost as embarrassing as Joel’s,” Teague said as his truck motor roared to life.

Joel started his car and purple neon lights flickered underneath.

“Jesus,” Jasper remarked. “There is no expression sorry enough to describe that.”

 

In my historical novel, Indian Summer, there are continuous comments about Manuel’s well appointed pants, because of a remark some old lady made at a party:

 

“Your young man there.” She pointed with her cane somewhere below Manuel’s waist. “He’s well appointed, indeed he is.”

She smiled toothlessly, cackling happily and hobbled off to sit beside Manuel’s aunt on the settee. I looked over at Manuel, finding him scarlet faced. I couldn’t imagine what had made him blush. I leaned toward him a little whispering to him.

“What did she mean well appointed?”

He reddened even more deeply and moved nervously from foot to foot. Dropping his head and his voice to a whisper, he turned slightly away from my parents to answer me. “Well, it’s not really polite for me to repeat its exact meaning. But it means….” He looked around to make sure we were not overheard. “It means that I fill out these pants well—in the front.”

He looked at his feet and turned as red as the roses in my hair. I’m sure I did too.

“Oh,” was all I could manage. “Oh, indeed.” I giggled nervously and couldn’t help adding. “Well, she’s right.”

 

I should add that the character of Gabriella, who tells Indian Summer, is patterned after my daughter. Though she is only fifteen, Gabriella has core of strength and determination is patterned after my only girl. She was, and is, a formidable opponent and I wouldn’t want to get on her wrong side. Nor would I want to get on the wrong side of Gabriella.

My point throughout this piece is that inspiration can come from anywhere. It might be a conversation overheard in the grocery store, or between friends and family members. It can hit like a lightning bolt from the clear, blue sky, knocking an author on her backside. Or, it might drift in through an open window like a spring breeze.

Let life influence your writing. It’s there and a part of you. Don’t separate yourself from it, embrace it and allow it to flavor your words. Make it part of your imaginary world. Doing so will make your characters more real. I don’t mean that you should simply write what you know. That’s some of the most foolish advice ever given. Instead, write what entertains you. Use what you know to bring it alive.

 

joe and joseph 1996

 

Dellani Oakes is an author who currently lives with her husband, Joe, her three sons & the eldest son’s fiancée. It’s a crowded house! In order to retain some semblance of sanity, she writes. The above is something she wrote for the Fun in Writing class she leads through the local Council on Aging several years ago, but still holds true today. Her friends and family are a constant source of inspiration.

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