One of my friends answered the phone one day and her son was on the line, saying he had just seen a murder! Naturally, clarification was in order. Where did this occur? Was the murderer someone the son knew? Was the victim known to him? What? Where? Who?

My friend’s son then told his mother that he had just seen a murder of crows!

It’s nice to experience a clever turn of phrase when one answers the phone, or when one is listening to a speaker or reading a book. And, in the case of a book, when the writer gets hold of character, dialogue, and scene, it’s a glorious conglomeration, it’s a wonderful thing. The author Donald Westlake is one such writer, and I have been amazed with his gift when reading every one of his Dortmunder novels. But we have to be careful to just relax and stay away from “flowery” when writing. Not that Westlake is flowery—his writing, in fact, is as close to perfect as it comes, and his novels are funny and sound like his characters definitely belong there. In the Dortmunder series, his characters are thieves and their language shows this. I laugh at their conversations, and it can be difficult to get a reader to laugh at one’s story. Westlake seems to do this effortlessly.

I’m reading Jean Shepherd right now, you know, the author of IN GOD WE TRUST: ALL OTHERS PAY CASH? The Christmas Story film was based on a part of that novel. Exceptional writing, and, again, satisfying in its humor.

But we were discussing flowery language, which neither of the aforementioned authors uses unless it works for a character. So, for a newer writer, is it better to say “green” or “viridescent”? It depends on what you’re writing about and where you’re writing—your setting. And don’t forget your character. In your novel, your character is a college professor or a non-traditionally educated garbageman and a consummate reader. Viridescent in the first case is naturally a word which a professor might use to mean “green.” Especially if she is an English professor. And viridescent is the word the garbageman uses because he is a constant reader and knows the word. He may just use the word because it’s different, or because he wants people to know he is educated enough as a reader to know it, or maybe he’s studying how an art dealer might word such a phrase. It is important to him because he wishes to purloin a genuine Vermeer from a museum and wants to impress the curator so she won’t suspect him ahead of time. Hey! Don’t judge him, he’d have to haul a lot of garbage to get as much money as he can get (on the black market) with an original Vermeer! But you, who is not trying to impress or purloin, you might not want to write viridescent on your FaceBook wall, typing that you purchased a “viridescent shirt”. No, you are writing casually. Your setting! You might want to stick with green, lime green, kelly green, jade green, bright green, aqua on your FaceBook wall…you get the point. But when writing your poem or your novel, you might want to use the word “viridescent”. It will depend on a number of facets.

“He watched in utter fascination as her platinum hair fanned out over the shoulders of her viridescent satin gown, her delicate feet prancing to the rhythm of the orchestra.” It’s a magical moment for both of them, so a magical word like viridescent is completely in order, especially if you mentioned her green gown earlier in your novel. That way most of your readers won’t be interrupted from the world you have created in order to go look up the word viridescent.

And, if you use a thesaurus, remember that there are all sort of words written under the heading for which you’re searching. For instance, if you want synonyms for “disturb”, you cannot choose any old word from a thesaurus to replace “disturb”. If your lovers don’t wish to be “disturbed”, you cannot replace that word with “rearrange”, or “muddle”. These are lovers and they don’t want to be “troubled” with day to day issues that can wait till later. If your burgler “disturbs” a table of nicknacks while breaking into a house through a window, he has “disorganized” those items or he has “made a mess” of them, he has not “muddled” them. And if your character is “disturbed” does that mean that she is mentally ill? Or maybe she is annoyed. Maybe she is confused by someone’s irrational behavior. So take care to use the right word for your characters’ situations.

In my editing work, I see aspiring writers use more elaborate language, when simpler language would be better. They write “consume an orange” when “eat an orange” might be just fine. Professional authors who have been around the block with critiques of their work don’t do this very much, if at all. So, I thought I would mention this for your own benefit (not for your perquisite, not for your utility, but for your edification, for your profit, for your gain).

By Jean Akin

photo provided by

Posted in The Mechanics of Writing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Going Forward, Going Back…??

Okay, here’s a pet peeve of mine: using the phrase “going forward”. When someone states that he or she is changing a policy “going forward”, or he or she is going to be paying a lot more attention to that detail “going forward”, I can’t help but mentally snap my red pencil in two.

People pick up a redundant, useless, or nonsensical phrase from newspapers, television, wherever. Then they start using it. Then their social circle picks it up. Then the people in the next circle use it, and on it spreads like a sexually transmitted disease. You heard “going forward” or “moving forward” first a few years ago, and now it’s caught on so much that Mr. Biden’s press secretary uses it with almost the same frequency as she uses the phrase “circle back.” But, before you think I’m picking on her only, know that I am aware that EVERYONE seems to use it.

“Yes,” you say to your dinner guest as she passes into anaphylactic shock, “I’ll remember, going forward, that you can’t eat scallops.” See? The phrase can be found within every facet of American life.

“Going forward”. In what other direction than forward can we make our needed changes? Do we make changes going backward? Do we remember things so we can somehow alter the past? No, that can’t be done, so we remember past unpleasant experiences, errors, or mistakes so that we can avoid them in the future. We cannot change the past. Everything we do must be done in the next second, going forward.

Now, we can go backward in the metaphysical sense, yes?? You are in an abusive relationship. Your eyes open to your self-worth. You leave. You distance yourself from that toxic energy. You start to get your life together. Things are getting better…then you say yes to his or her invitation to a party, and BOOM!, you’re right back where you were. You’ve gone BACKWARD in an emotional way, in a metaphysical way. You’ve allowed past programming to intrude, and what you’ve learned about yourself has been forgotten. You have moved BACKWARD emotionally. But you can’t do anything about it except NOW. In the next second. Going forward. So why do you feel you have to clarify to the rest of us that you are going to make changes going forward?

It’s like those people who are talking to you about something their deceased father told them, and they say, “When my father was alive, he said…” WHEN ELSE could he have said anything at all except when he was alive? Indicating that your late father said something does not require the clarifying addition: “when he was alive.”

Saying “going forward” is the same. It is unnecessary. And, it drives me to distraction, so I hope you’ll remember that, going forward.

by Jean F. Akin

Photo Credit:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

That or Who?

A person that wishes to know if he or she should use the word “that” or “who” should know that “who” is for people and “that” should be used for anything else. Therefore , the proper way to begin this paragraph is: “A person who…”

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I guess some ethologists might call a chimp, gorilla, or bonobo “who”, and I can see one might go either way on that one depending on how close to being persons one believes primates to be. And, of course, because we persons are not “mineral” or “vegetable” in the popular classification, we must be “animal” and, therefore, primate. I say this because most people do not resemble reptiles, birds, or fish—people resemble the great apes, the primates. Or, the great apes resemble people. How you say it depends on your level of ego, I guess. But, this is another thought for another day.


A dog that runs away might need a better leash.

A table that wobbles is annoying, especially when it causes cups of hot coffee to slosh each time one stands up from it.

A plumber who charges too much won’t get a lot of work.

A nurse is a person who cares for others who are sick.

Using the word “that” in the place of the word “who” might be incorrect, but it isn’t a matter that would lose you a position at the bank or as a barista, most likely. However, if you are an editor and you miss correcting “that” when your author means “who”, then you haven’t completely done your job.

We all do it though. We’ve all missed it. Most likely because we hear the word “that” used so often wrongly in speech or we’ve seen it written so often wrongly in text that we tend to hear it or skim over it as if it’s correct.

I have a good friend who finds the use use of “that” when discussing people most irritating. It is something I too have noticed in some television show dialogue, and when the Talking Heads on the News (who make an obscene amount of money every day to get it right) say it without blinking a makeup-gunked eye. I’ve seen it written in the newspaper and in some books as well (the latter not used cleverly by the author in a character’s dialogue, but by the author while writing narrative—or, perhaps unintentional on the author’s part and missed by the editor at the publishing house). People write it in texts and emails, too, and say it to their friends, but these people aren’t necessarily being paid to speak properly. The fact that they’re furthering the massacre of the English language aside–I guess we should cut them some slack. I’m sure I’ve slipped in a text or email too. It’s the place we all relax our grammatical standards.

But next time you begin to tell a friend about “the gardener that shrieked at me to use the walkway, not the lawn,” remember that you are using the wrong word here. Not the end of the World, no, but an annoyance to logophiles everywhere.

Anyway, I thought I’d mention it.

by Jean Foster Akin

photo credit

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Amount” VS “Number”

A platypus doing what, apparently, the platypus does.

When a speaker states: “A large amount of people do not like the new regulation,” this speaker is incorrect, and he or she (no, not they) sound unschooled.

We do not use the word amount when we discuss countable items—like, for instance, people. We say, instead: “A large number of people do not like the new regulation.” This is also true for “the number of pencils in a box”, “the number of shoes one has tried on”, (or, “on which one has tried”, but that’s clunky as well as prissy), “the number of lamps at the shop”, “the number of dogs  going pee-pee in my backyard”, or “the number of platypuses doing…whatever it is platypuses do”.

If you have a bag of rice, there are many pieces or grains of rice, yes, but you don’t count each grain to see how many to spoon onto the dinner plate of a two-year old child. Instead, you spoon a small amount of rice onto a young child’s plate.  If someone else is spooning out the rice, you might say, “Please give her only a small amount of rice.” Amount. Grains of rice, yes, can be counted, but rice is sold in bulk. We say, “Honey can you buy a bag of rice at the store?” Not, “Honey, can you buy 21,773 grains of rice at the store?” We say “a bag of rice”, and those bags are spoken of in “numbers of bags,” but the rice itself is called: “an amount of rice”.

It is common to hear well-paid national television news people say things like, “The amount of people say they are voting for…” and, “The amount of tests that were given…” Nope, it’s “the number people” and “the number of tests…” They’ve been schooled in grammar and have sat through English classes since they were in their nappies, and are paid the salaries of movie stars, yet… 

How about the word they? People are quick to say they now in an effort not to label anyone’s sexuality, or because they’ve heard the word they used improperly and don’t know any better—despite having also been taught for years in school that they indicates plural, and he or she indicates singular. I’m certainly not trying to hurt, offend, or label anyone, but there has to be another word that’s more grammatical.

But that’s another pet peeve of mine for another day.


Posted in The Mechanics of Writing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Author Quote: highly acclaimed Helen Garner

“I suppose there must be idiots who dream of signing deals with publishers while fully intending to drink martinis in cool bars or ride around on skateboards. But the actual writers I know are experts in neurotic self-torture. Every page of writing is the result of a thousand tiny decisions and desperate acts of will.”

― Helen Garner (notable works: Monkey Grip, The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, This House of Grief)

posted by Jean Foster Akin

Posted in Author Quotes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Author Quote: Jane Goodall

I thought my life was mapped out. Research, living in the forest, teaching and writing. But in ’86 I went to a conference and realized the chimpanzees were disappearing. I had worldwide recognition and a gift of communication. I had to use them.

Jane Goodall  [Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE, formerly Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall, is an English primatologist and anthropologist.]


Posted in Author Quotes | Leave a comment

This 1 Thing Will Squelch Your Dreams of Authorship

New York City Skyscrapers aerialMaybe when all is said and done, the reason you aren’t published is not the hours a night you spend watching television, the hours you spend clicking “like” on all the foodie pics your friends post on Facebook, the lateness of your emergence from your bedroom every morning. Yes, it’s possible that these acts are those of a wanna-be writer with no talent whatsoever. But, maybe these fruitless activities are a sign that, even though you have the talent, you simply don’t take yourself seriously.

And what’s really amazing (because it happens so much) are all those people out there with LESS talent than you who work a LOT harder than you because they actually think they have a LOT of talent and that the whole world ought to know about it! They push their way into every opportunity, they MAKE opportunities for themselves. With full confidence, with trumpets blaring, they cry: “LOOK AT ME!!” And you know what? They sometimes do pretty well for themselves, while you (talented and insecure you) say things like: “I’m not good enough,” or “Who would want to read what I wrote?”

Well, my friend, at last count, there were 7.6 BILLION people in this world, so guess what? There is SOMEONE out there who would LOVE to read what you write! More than just a “someone”–many “someones”.

And I’ll tell you something else: your fear, your thought that “no one would want to read what I write,” comes from a fear of criticism. No one gets anywhere worrying about criticism of their work. If criticism scares you–and it scares the hell out of me, quite honestly, and most people I know–then you have to put it aside and go BIG, go for THE GUSTO…or you gotta go home.

Don’t go home.


There will always be someone who writes a useless critique of your work on Amazon–someone without the courage and/or the talent to write a novel-length manuscript as you have done, but who has the “talent” to make other people feel bad about themselves. Useless critiques might look like this: “I red this book an it sucked!” Other critiques might be more useful: “I didn’t feel connected to the characters.” The latter critique could indicate something you can work on in your next novel, or perhaps the critique indicates the reviewer’s particular issue with the work. If your pre-publication readers were an honest bunch and offered a lot of helpful feedback (which you heard, without throwing up defenses, and acted upon), it might just be the reviewer’s particular issue. Be honest with yourself, but also know that every critique is not worth ruining your day over, and that you cannot expect EVERYONE to like your writing. Remember? Over SEVEN BILLION people in the world. At least a couple of them won’t like you work. At least a couple.


Then there are the people who will love your book, but they won’t say so. Frustrating? You bet. In my own life, I received phone calls, letters, Facebook private messages, and, even years later, people approached me with compliments over my first published book (THE FILIGREE SLIPPERS), but you won’t see all those people taking the time to give me stars on Amazon. Even with me suggesting they do so. Even with me trying hard not to sound like I was begging them to do so. They were not “bad” people, they were just people: reading novels they enjoyed and then going on to the next one without a backward glance. Does that mean I should not be preparing for the publication of my next novel, this one for adults, entitled COLD AS WINTER WOODS?  No. And you should be moving forward too.


Some critics you will know personally. Those might be the scariest for you, actually. Those are the people who have never liked the thought of you succeeding at anything, those who have never tried for anything special in their own lives and hate the thought of you having anything special in yours. It’s also common for writers to actually be nervous about how their NON-reading social circle (whether it be family, friends, co-workers) will respond to their book. Why? Will the non-readers ferret out every place you could have used a better word, or will they disapprove of the genre into which your novel falls? Remember, they don’t READ, so, you know, who cares? You think your favorite authors weren’t afraid their family and friends might HATE their newest novel? Really?? Well, they published anyway.


There are reasons not to write a story, and there are reasons to wait to tell a story. Frank McCourt wrote ANGELA’S ASHES long before he would submit the manuscript to an agent in the hopes of publication. He wrote about an impoverished childhood in Ireland, what his mother had to do in order to feed her children. Had McCourt found a publisher for the novel before his mother died, she would have been deeply ashamed by his revealing what she was forced to do, things over which she had no control. But, if you are not in the position where you must wait to tell your story, then,  my writing friend, write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. Submit your work to agents or figure out how to self-publish. Give it your all and don’t fall under the spell of critics.

Even if the critic is YOU.



written and posted by Jean Foster Akin

“Big City” Photo cred:

Cold as Winter Woods photo cred:

Posted in Encouragement, Letting Go, Problems Faced by the Serious Writer | Leave a comment

AUTHOR QUOTE: Finding Your Voice

If your passions are strong and you’re a fighter, the question of voice is a superficial one. You are eager to speak; you just need a podium. That is, you need the writing technique. But don’t worry about voice. If you make sure that you say what you mean, you’ll have a strong voice. However, “saying what you mean” means being graceful and clear, which may take a lot of labor. Being yourself when you write means to edit, go back, sharpen, to say precisely what you want to say.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Prepare to be THRILLED!

It looks like Julie’s left her wealthy husband for good. Cam’s spent too much time away, the couple’s been bickering, and Julie’s father just died–but could this be enough to make Julie leave? Detective Jack Deerfield thinks so, but Cam disagrees…until he finds romantic letters sent to Julie by a mysterious lover. While Cam deals with this betrayal and Deerfield discovers feelings for Julie’s African-American friend, Evanna, Julie is forced to endure a mentally unstable man bent on turning her into an obedient and loving companion. Will Cam, crushed by his wife’s apparent abandonment, fall under the spell of a seductive socialite determined to make him break his marriage vows? And, will Julie, alone and afraid, find the key to unlock her prison door before she’s subjected to her captor’s final and most dangerous form of control yet?

Head over to, pick up the thriller Cold as Winter Woods by J.F. Akin, and find the answers to those questions! Only $9.99 for the beautiful hefty Paperback! Only $2.99 for the Kindle eBook, or ZERO cents if you buy the eBook with your Prime membership!! If you get the thrill from the novel that my initial, pre-publication, readers have reported to me, I’d appreciate it very much if you’d go over to Amazon and give me some stars. It’s hard work writing a novel, as many of you know, and encouragement from fellow writers and faithful readers means a lot, so THANKS!!


posted by Jean Foster Akin

Posted in Announcements, Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Ways to Change Your Life for the Better

by Jean Foster Akin

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. ~~Rabindranath Tagore

I believe now that a better year actually IS based on my desires, focus, attitudes, and determination. I didn’t realize that before, but I do now.

Listen, I say a “better” year, not necessarily a “perfect” year. And I’m not being flippant toward those of you who live in difficult situations that you can’t change at the moment, or at all. In those bad situations, could you improve your daily life with a positive attitude? I think so, yes. But I also know there are times when you can’t even work up a smirk  let alone a sunny attitude. Some people are in rough situations that are not their fault.

But when it has to do with negative attitudes in a land with opportunity, well, positive attitudes DO play into how much better things can be. They just do.

So, you ask how you can have a better year when you’re in a dead-end job, or when your marriage is falling apart, or when you’re bored out of your mind because your circle of friends has drifted due to new jobs in different towns? Or, they’ve started higher education classes that keep them running here and there but never to your door.

Own Your Life

There is a real danger in depression, and I am not referring to clinical depression here in this post. The truly depressed have no ability to draw strength from within in order to change their lives. They are exhausted, overwhelmed, self-hating, and often over-looked. They don’t need to hear: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That’s a dismissive, uncaring remark. What depressed individuals need is others to hold them up and offer tangible assistance (I’m sorry, but saying “I’ll pray for you” is NOT tangible assistance–be creative, and put yourself out for those in need. For help or suggestions, try The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8522.)

But for those among us who are DISCOURAGED with the way their lives have turned out, I say: no one but YOU will ever have the desire strong enough to change YOUR situation. Haven’t you noticed? 

Often we have the desire to change our lives, but we wait on someone else to make decisions that will improve our lives FOR us. “Someone Else” could be our boss, our life partner, our friends, or perhaps a higher power. It isn’t wrong to depend on people or to believe in something mystical that is higher than ourselves, but it’s ill-advised to believe that we can just sit there and wait for something better to come our way without our doing anything more than hope.

So, may I suggest that you think of a small plan, something doable, that you might use to change your circumstances, even a little?


Dead-end job? Perhaps you could take a few classes to earn or finish your degree and eventually have more to bring to the table on your next interview. Too scary? Try one class, then. See how it goes. Or else, fall in love with your lousy, low-paying job. Which sounds easier?

You’re in a troubled marriage? If there’s physical abuse, remove yourself physically, seek safety and  guidance. But if there is lack of communication, dullness, walls between you, don’t submit to the sentiment, “It happens in all marriages eventually. That’s just the way it goes.” I’ll tell you something: unless you are incapable  of deep thought, of mindfulness, of being present in THIS moment, then you don’t have to settle in a loveless, spiritless marriage. It may well be that a couple of divorce lawyers will be making a lot of money in the next few months, but it may be that you can call out the elephant in the room and work together to change what has become a negative dynamic between you.

Maybe your friends have drifted away. You feel your relationship with them is receiving less than adequate attention. Maybe so, but YOU can join a book club, enroll in a painting class, learn a new language. You don’t need to cut off friends whose lives are changing–instead, love them, but meet new people and make new friends! Take a self-improvement course. Help a child or an adult learn to read. Volunteer to deliver meals to shut-ins or visit the sick in the hospital.  Yes, we can feel hurt or even resentful when our relationships with friends changes, but to make things better, drop the resentment, be happy for your friends’ new enthusiasms–and find some new enthusiasms in YOUR OWN LIFE. Enthusiasms which give you purpose and enjoyment, which help others, and which give you the chance to increase your social circle. There are people out there who will be as delighted to meet you as you are to meet them.

Bored out of your mind? Read the last paragraph.


Our attitudes CAN change our lives. Instead of resentment, fear, and isolation–all which make us feel like victims of circumstances–determine to make changes to your circumstances YOURSELF, don’t wait for someone else to make them for you. Follow through and call the college, call the hospital’s volunteer office, call the marriage counselor, call the literacy volunteer program. The simple act of making a telephone call  can go A LONG WAY! Not just for your life, but for the lives of others.

Whatever you do, even if 2018 was a pretty good year for you, it’s my sincerest hope that you’ll have an even better 2019. I know that this is happening for me. What about you? Have you made changes toward a better life? Encourage the people around you. Leave a comment below with your experiences and plans!



photos by

Posted in Skin and Breath and Hair | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments