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Words are tools, used both to dig holes and to cultivate ideas! And to deceive.

How subtle and effective is the use of words in this new age of electronic media? Plenty. Several examples from life in 2017:

TV (and the pharmaceutical industry) are in effect turning serious diseases into only annoying little problems through the use of cutsie names for the ailments and the drugs to treat them. So hepatitis C is “Hep C.”  Hep! A little obsolete, but during the 1940s and 50s to be “hep” was to be in, with it, cool we would say today. So Hep C suggests young people dancing to swing bands, stylish clothing like zoot suits, and altogether a positive and pleasant state of being.

Atrial fibrillation is a dangerous heart problem. Its victims must be rushed, sometimes by helicopter to medical treatment when it is at its most serious. So now in drug ads it is “A-Fib.” The euphemisms are designed to click into your subconscious or conscious mind to produce a picture. A- fib clicks like this: Mom to seven-year-old “Did you tell a fib? Yes, you did but don’t cry like that. Come here and I’ll hug you. You won’t tell a fib again I know.” Comforting.

And the very word “chemo.” It’s an abbreviation, an easy-to-say label for chemotherapy, a process that is anything but easy. Serious cancer patients lie for hours supine and receive potent drugs which quiet the immune system, some say attack it. A recent advertisement shows a woman smelling her flowers and patting her dog with a loved one by her side, experiencing the effects of a certain drug. The nice situation was “After chemo.”

Drugs being advertised to combat the serious conditions also have sanitized, perfumed names.

Examining the words shows how sounds can affect the denotation of words: sweet, flowing words dull the senses, suggesting your problem can’t be all that serious. You are lifted into a poetic trance which last a few seconds with words which trip off the tongue. Soft-sounding consonants and Greek diphthongs:  to treat your psoriasis you will get “Stelaia.” Suggestions of positivity: Optivo gives optimism to patients with a certain kind of cancer. All those consequences they announce at the end of the advertisement, which can cause sickness and “even death” can’t happen with a product with such a pretty sounding name. In parentheses is the unpronounceable official name of the product. How do they come up with these jaw-busters?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be softening the harsh effects of confronting these dread diseases, even with words, or praising the drugs which ameliorate the dire effects of those ailments. Of course we should be happy for relief from pain and suffering. It’s the cuteness I object to, the brushing off of the seriousness of the situation with coined words which are detached from the reality of the problems. And are designed to sell the medications for “Big Pharma.”  It isn’t the same, but in their most dark form pharmaceutical company pain-killing drugs are sweeping the country and causing our most serious opiate addiction ever. It’s hard to trust these people to present the truth.

The ads themselves could be the subject of another column. I can’t decide what I think about the new trend of investment companies showing the life histories of men and women who are planning for retirement. Often these vignettes are excellently done, better than the TV shows they break from, and touching.  They show downsides of lives, splits and deaths too. I expect they are effective, sending those who can afford to build large retirement funds into Charles Schwab or Raymond James.  It is an example of the power of advertising and of the graphics and dramatic talent units which can prepare such fascinating stories of “life well lived.”

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Publishing

Check out Nancy Baxter’s books by clicking back to the Website. Her new book available June 1 is Cabinet of Curiosities of the Civil War in Indiana: Important, Moving and Sometimes Odd Stories from the Human Side of the War.

Posted in Book Publishing |

THE CLOCK IS TICKING….Celebrities I admired are vanishing from the scene

Growing up in the ’50s and ‘60s gave me a variety of celebrities to admire…from Hopalong Cassidy – to Doris Day, and many in between.  Yes, I was a cow girl with hat, vest and cowgirl skirt, but my mother never let me wear cowboy boots.  I was introduced to Doris Day in her 1953 movie “Calamity Jane” and that meshed well with my tomboy leanings at the time.

While the cowboy shows faded from TV, I became more enamored with Doris’s movies along with Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor  in 1957.  Loved that song and also followed Debbie’s career. It was shock to learn that she had recently died.  In 1961 I began to watch “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with Mary Tyler Moore.  She portrayed a new role for women—not the stay-at-home housewife wearing a simple house dress, apron and pearls.  She had spunk, sparkle, wore capris and broke the mold for the female gender on the TV screen. Then in 1970 MTM starred in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,”  playing the first, never married, independent career woman as the central character.  Just recently she has gone, her face shown on many major magazines.

As a teen in the 60s I listened to Rock & Roll. I loved ELVIS but often heard Chuck Berry with his hits of “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Maybellene,” “Nadine” and others. He had that beat and we danced away to our heart’s content. Goodbye, and sad to see you go, Chuck!
Hoosier Florence Henderson was one I also admired, loving  “The Brady Bunch” and seeing her on a variety of game shows. It was always nice when she would return to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 festivities. She left our scene November 24, 1016.
I must admit I was never a “Star Wars” fan but was happy for Carrie Fisher’s being in the movie, seemingly following in her mom’s footsteps in acting and being beautiful at it. How ironic Debbie would follow in Carrie’s footsteps to heaven within 24 hours!

And most recently, March 6, with the death of Robert Osborne, TCM, to me, will never be the same. I always looked forward to his intros and back stories about the featured films and stars TCM aired, giving it all a little extra.  Mr. Osborne did an excellent interview with Doris Day in 2014 which aired on her birthday, April 3rd during TCM’s all day birthday tribute to Doris Day.  Sometimes, life is too real….we tend to think things will remain the same and last forever, but they don’t.  I hope and pray that Doris Day, my idol since I was very young, and my “boss” in the 1970s, as I served as her personal secretary, will live a long, long time. Many people today, unlike those in any other age, are living to be 100.  So much of my life has been greatly influenced by her enthusiasm and positive attitude. I still remember the words of my high school Latin teacher, Sister Thomas Aquinas, saying, “Mary Anne, if you would only spend as much time on your homework as you do on Doris Day, you’d be a fine student.”

I’ve met some great people and made wonderful friends thanks to DORIS DAY.  What a great role model for me as a young person and even now in my ‘70s.  I look forward to traveling around the country sharing my dream-come-true story with those who love and remember Doris Day. As to the vanishing celebrities, we love moving beyond our sight,  Bob Hope’s theme song comes to mind… “Thanks for the Memories.”
dayattimeMary Anne Barothy: Author of Day at a Time: A Hoosier Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond

Click Back to the website and order Mary Anne’s book about Doris!

Posted in Doris Day |

DORIS DAY’s Birthday – April 3rd: Celebrate now in 2017!

Doris Day’s Birthday
April 3rd will always be a special day for me.  Ever since I was a young star-struck teenager in Indianapolis, I revered that day because it was Doris Day’s birthday.  Even today I hold April 3rd almost as a ‘feast’ day (that’s my Catholic upbringing) because the exceptional star Americans love came into the world  then in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In a few days some avid fans dayattimewill gather in Carmel, California, to join in the birthday festivities at Doris’s Cypress Inn Hotel..  For the past several years fans from all over the world have saved their hard earned money to enjoy a couple of days with others who love and revere Doris. Her publicity says she will be 94. It is possible she may be 95.

My friend Diane Thomas and I went a few years ago and stayed at her lovely Cypress Inn.  Of course we were hoping to see Doris, but that was not meant to be.  She was not making any personal appearance that year.  We enjoyed a nice lunch and breakfast at Terry’s Lounge and saw several fans who gathered there.  We both loved the beautiful hotel but the high point was seeing many well behaved four leggers  (dogs of many types)  who were also staying there: the Cypress is pet friendly. If you ever get a chance to go there, do just that.  It’s a mini Doris Day museum with numerous photos of her lining the walls….a fan’s dream!

During the past couple of years the many fans who gathered were able to catch a glimpse of Doris from her balcony as they gazed up from the golf course below. Doris  waved and spoke on a cell phone to the anxious fans…yes, she looked older, but you could still see her warm smile and page boy hair style now white but still so beautiful.  Talk about ageless beauty – Doris is the epitome of beauty even in her mid-90s.

As I think back I count my many blessings associated with Doris, for instance, when I lived with her I was able to plan one or two surprise birthday parties for her…those are special memories for me and I cherish them and the photos.

This year, again,  I just want to be one of the many people around the world who remember Doris on her special day.  As we keep losing many of the greats like Debbie Reynolds, Mary Tyler Moore, Carrie Fisher, Florence Henderson, Chuck Berry, etc., we are still blessed to have DORIS DAY with us.  God bless and keep her and “Thanks for the memories, Doris.”

Mary Anne Barothy is the author of Day at a Time: A Hoosier Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond. Click back to the website to order the book.

Posted in Doris Day |

Writing a mystery novel? Observe the new conventions but don’t get carried away

Conventional ways of writing style for any given year in the mystery novel can be as follows: tone, (richly sepulchral, as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde,) descriptional method (light on scenery or heavy), conversational expression, organization of plot sequence, or use of inner dialogue or not (stream of consciousness). Conditioned to fast-moving life and visuality on screens, we no longer appreciate the plodding, brilliant heaviness of Stevenson or Nathaniel Hawthorne. The conventions of the 19th century mystery seem like a movie proceeding in slow-motion to us.

Since we live in a world of cultural changes which proceed at the speed of a tweet or text, conventions in mystery stories particularly can change over a period of a couple of years.

An exceptionally well written mystery, a “cozy,” that is, a Victorian novel set in England, my favorite genre, is Canadian Steven Price’s By Gaslight. I’m aware of the changing conventions in the book by this prize-winning author. Not the small stylistic things he chooses—God isn’t capitalized in this book, for instance, to emphasize the humanistic world the author wishes to portray, devoid of meaning without an overall good creator. The book also observes the popular rapid shifts in time—we are in South Africa, then the Civil War, and turning quickly, in the 1880s with Allan Pinkerton’s son William, trying to find a ghost-like villain his dad pursued unsuccessfully to his dying day. Or even the symbolic character naming; the villain is called “Shade” and in another incarnation “Foole.”

What I’m really aware of is a definite departure from a hundred years of fictional story-telling: doing away with the setting off, and use of, conversational quotation marks to mark who is speaking and what that person is saying.

It’s odd and it takes some getting used to. The speeches are incorporated in indirect dialogue, just this way:

The sky turned black; the wind came up. Jonas I don’t’ believe you, he said. Still that is what I think. You can’t prove it. Their coat-tails flew behind them and it was difficult to hear. He is dead. You don’t know that.

And so forth.

This is major. What does it accomplish, other than showing that this author is very trendy, on top of “the latest” in writing or even inventing new conventions? Sublimating the conversation into the narrative description without any waypoints adds to the tone of darkness, of sinister foreboding, dullness, and fear supposed to be conveyed by the general plot. We don’t have any lively exchanges or clever repartee;  just murmured questions and answers.

The effect in general is to highlight, to emphasize something beyond what the characters are saying; the description of period scenery, the background so essential to the “Cozy.” It comes forward. All of these Victorian novels seem to be flowing rivers of scenery. Every author has done prodigious research in the way living rooms looked, (fire screen and cabinet of curiosities), the way breakfast was prepared (toast over the fire), type of dogs, women’s bustles etc. etc. etc. And so we get every detail in every living room. Lots of times we don’t need all of that.

In the case of the Price book we are well aware of the research done to create a scene from a Pinkerton raid on the outlaws out west, the Battle of Malvern Hill in the Civil War, a séance in an Indian lady’s parlor. He is a master of this type of full rendering, from all sides, of a scene.

But at times we believe we are being taken on a ride in a roller coaster through the Haunted Mansion. The author is joy-riding through hundreds (I do not exaggerate) of details of a battle in the Peninsular campaign: surgeon’s tent’s pile of legs, lethargic aides and sentries, flies on blood buckets, dangers of limbering up, collapsing espionage balloons, groaning and stinking of dying men, gray clouds overhead with Confederates advancing, death everywhere. Of course it was that way but scene after scene of grim details with slow-moving action and no interesting conversation leaves us yawning at times. All the detail and incorporated, limited conversation makes for slow reading. And we can draw a wrong impression, to say nothing of the author’s chance of making a mistake drawn from observing only the scenery. “No man returning from that conflict [the Civil War] can ever leave all that horror behind.” Now he is in my side yard as a long-time student of our Civil War, and he is wrong about that. Of course the returning men never did forget the horrors, but what came to predominate in most cases was something else: the honor and bonding of camaraderie in a large and important cause, satisfaction, really.  You can miss the woods for the ragweed on the path if you allow yourself, as an author, to be carried along by a sea of details, muting human conversation.

It does not mar the superb story-telling in this good novel. Still, it does diminish its impact a bit.  We need to be careful about letting story-telling conventions take over from us when what we are really doing is telling a human story.

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor, Hawthorne Publishing.

Discover  Nancy Niblack Baxter’s books about the Civil War by clicking back to the website.




Posted in Writing Fiction |