Monthly Archives: August 2013

Writing – RIP Elmore Leonord – his tips on writing.

RIP Elmore Leonard.

I read most of his books before I started writing so I haven’t studied his style.

His ten tips on writing here. From Buzzfeed

If you don’t want to click the link, here’s the summary.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …

… he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them… I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

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Writing – what does it mean when…

Good Morning.

I’ve been working on my story.  I get to chapter seven and I have the outline of what I want in my head.  “Suzanne comes home and needs to talk to her parents about her ex getting out of prison and showing up.”

Her parents run a general store in a small town and live in the apt. above it.

I get stuck trying to write a description of the store.  Too much or too little… woof.  I skip it for now after a week.

I get stuck trying to write a description of their apartment.  Then, I think I write too much.

The dialog hangs me up… even thought I pretty much know what I want to say.

I set a deadline because I want to read this chapter at my critique group.

I rush it to finish and try a couple of new things.  I have no time to review it, wife had no time to review.  I go to critique with trepidation, my dog.  Not really my dog.

I mean to explain to everyone that this is a first draft… but I get nervous and forget.

I read, stumbling over parts I feel badly need fixing.  I almost feel embarrassed.

I finish and wait for the flak.

General trend of critique… best chapter I’ve read so far…

WTF?

What should I take from this?

 

Another writing tip, for writers.

From Doyle McKim, Lewis County Writers Guild.

 

Writing Tip of the Week: Remember Viewpoint

Most of us know that a character cannot remain in viewpoint and see the glint of his own eyes, or the blush of her own cheeks. We must also remember that a character cannot remain in viewpoint if he or she assumes terms or situations outside their realm of knowledge. If you were writing a novel set during the civil war, you would hardly say that your character took cover behind a boulder the size of a Volkswagen bus.

Beware the more subtle. A girl from Chicago might find it romantic to watch a cowboy ride his golden stallion into the sunset, but how does she know a stallion from a gelding? Would she know a hillside covered with pine from one covered with fir? a rifle from a shotgun? Of course it’s more descriptive to write in detail rather than generalities, just remember your viewpoint and the knowledge, or lack of it, you want your character to show.  The better we know that, the better we know the character.

The Dog – Chapter Two – (New)

Here is chapter two of the re-written story, The Dog.  Now written in 3rd person limited.  Please comment and tell me what you think.

The Dog – Chapter Two – (New)

 Chapter One is here.

Updated 8/1/2013

Chapter Two

Marty climbed into the driver’s seat, shut the door, and took a closer look at the dog.  She gave him a glance and continued to look out the front windshield.

“You look like you’re ready to travel,” he told her.

Her small short whine told him she wanted to get moving.

“Having another traveling companion would be great, sweetie. I’ve been alone for a while.  But I should do my due diligence and check to see if someone is missing you.  I wouldn’t feel right about just taking off with you.”

No answer.  She kept staring ahead.

“Okay, let me talk to the gypsy and find the nearest animal hospital, they usually know about lost dogs.”

The GPS, his other traveling companion, sat in the center console. He pulled it out and showed it to her.  She gave it a cursory sniff and turned her attention back out the windshield.  He powered it on and waited.

“This is my gypsy,” he told her. “G P S, gypsy.  I figure that a gypsy never gets lost, get it?”

She was not impressed, she ignored him.

The greasy man had stepped back out of the office.  “Hey, if you’re done here, quit clogging up my pumps.  Take your mutt and get moving,” he yelled.

Marty waved at him, resisting the urge to give him a different finger than before.  The dog looked at the greasy man and gave a low growl.

“I guess you figure people out pretty quickly, eh?”

He buckled his seatbelt, turned the key, and his trusty Toyota, Topper, fired right up.  He’d bought him used four years ago but Topper had been in storage the last two years when Marty had been serving in Afghanistan.  He’d taken him in for a quick tune-up before hitting the road a couple of weeks ago.  Topper was a little SR5 extended cab pickup with a camper shell.  A foam mattress in back along with his sleeping bag and pillow, allowed him to pull off the road and sleep anywhere.  He kept his Army rucksack, camping gear and two-man tent back there also.

“Hit the road Jack.”  That song, the Ray Charles version, popped into Marty’s head every time he started driving.  He left the gas station and pulled over right away to program the gypsy.  They were in a small municipality called Midstown in southwest Washington State, so he didn’t think it would be too hard to find a vet.  The first result showed TLC Veterinary Hospital a little less than half a mile up the road.

As he followed the verbal instructions the gypsy gave him, he heard the dog whine.  He looked at her and saw she was nosing the gypsy.  With her eyes wide open, mouth shut, and her ears up, she definitely looked curious.  He guessed she’d never heard a talking map before.

They took a right into the vet’s parking lot and parked a few spaces away from the door.  It looked like a relatively new building.  Built of light gray slate-like bricks with a lot of windows, it had glass doors to give view of other animals entering or leaving. The doctors’ names were listed on a plaque next to the doors.  Everything looked clean, giving him a good feeling about the place.  He checked the hours listed on the door; good, they were open till eight, another hour.

“You wait here while I check inside,” He told the dog, “I’ll be back real soon, be a good girl, okay?”

He opened the truck windows about a third of the way.  Marty looked at her, she looked right back at him, yawned and turned to watch an older couple walking their beagle out to their car.  She didn’t make a sound.  He got out, locked the truck, and walked to the front door, where he paused and looked back to check on her.  She was watching him.  He waved at her and headed inside.

A bell announced his entry.  The interior was just as clean as the outside.  Pet merchandise decorated the side walls with benches in a central waiting area.  Bulletin boards displayed announcements of pet news, rescues and adoptions, and what he was looking for, lost pets. The service counter stood before a large wall, where the shelves were being used to store files.   A nice looking girl, who looked to be a few years younger than his twenty-five, fidgeted behind the counter talking on the phone.

She gave him a quick wave and turned halfway away from him.  He heard her talking in a loud whisper, “You have to quit calling me at work.”

He turned away to give her privacy and looked out of the window.  He could see the dog sitting in the passenger seat, watching the front of the building.

“You need to just leave me alone.  We have a customer, I have to go.”  He heard the phone placed back onto its cradle.

“Sorry about that, may I help you?”  She said in a normal tone of voice.

Marty turned back to the counter.  The girl, looking a little stressed, had a tight smile on her face.

“Um, yeah, I have a dog,” he said.

She raised her eyebrows, “In your pocket?”

Involuntarily he patted the side pockets on his light jacket eliciting a small giggle from her.  “Oh, no, she’s out in my truck.  I was wondering if I could get her checked out.”

“Checked out how?  Is something wrong?”

“No, she’s fine, but I just got her and thought I should have her looked at.”

“Okay,” she said, “you haven’t been here before, have you?”

“No, I’m, um, we, we’re just passing through town,” He looked at her name tag, “Suzanne?”

“That’s me.  Here, fill out this form and Dr. Taylor should be able to see you in a few minutes.”  She handed him a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard with a pen on a chain.

Marty took the clipboard and walked to look at their lost and found animal board.  He gave it a quick scan and didn’t see any lost pet notices that fit the description of the dog.  He let out a small sigh of relief and sat down to complete the questionnaire.

He filled out his name and address, only a P.O. Box now since he had sold his mom’s house.  But when he got to the part about the dog, he couldn’t fill it all out.  He wasn’t sure what kind of dog she was and he didn’t know her name yet.  He took the form back to Suzanne.

“I had to leave some parts blank.”

“That’s okay,” she said.  She scanned it, “Does your dog have a name?”

“Um, no.  I haven’t named her yet, I just got her.”

“And you don’t know what breed she is?”

He shook his head, feeling a little embarrassed.

“It’s okay,” she said with a quick smile, “but I have to ask you something.  I noticed that your address is a P.O. Box and that it’s not local.  We have to make sure you have the means to, um, pay your bill.  We don’t accept checks unless they are drawn on a local bank.  I’m sorry to have to ask.”

“No problem,” Marty said.  “I’ve got a credit card, or you can use it as a debit card if that works better.”  He smiled.  Ironic since he felt like a rich man after selling his mom’s house. Hard to believe he had over a hundred thousand dollars in his bank accounts.

“Okay that’s fine,” she said, “do you want to bring her in now?”

“Sure, but I don’t have a leash for her yet, do you have one I could borrow?”

“Of course.”

She reached under the counter and pulled out a braided nylon cord with a large loop for a handle and a small loop at the other end.  She pushed the handle through the small loop to create a noose.  “Just put this around her neck and bring her in.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back.”  He flashed her a grateful smile.

Back out in the truck, the dog sat in the same spot, watching him as he came out the door.  He stuck his hand in his pocket and thumbed the unlock button on the truck key.  She glanced at the lock as it popped up near her shoulder.  He walked up and greeted her again.

“Hi sweetie.”  He opened the door and she waited.  “I need to put this leash on you to take you inside to see the doc, okay?”  He showed her the leash and let her smell it.  She gave it a good sniffing for about ten seconds and then looked up at him.

Marty pulled the loop wide and showed it to her, “This needs to go around your neck, okay?”

She stuck her nose into the loop and let him slide it down around her neck.  It was a loose slip knot so he needed to take up some tension so the leash wouldn’t fall off.  It fit right next to her blue nylon collar. He made sure the leash didn’t catch on the tag, stopped and looked at it again, ‘I am Yours.’  It gave him a warm feeling.

Marty moved aside to give her room to exit.  “Okay hun, hop out.”

She jumped out with ease and sat right at his feet, not pulling on the leash at all.  He closed and locked the truck and asked her, “Ready?”  He started walking and she came right with him, staying even with his side.  Marty marveled at how well trained she was.

When they walked in Suzanne said, “Wow, she’s beautiful. She’s an Aussie, I love that breed.”

“Oh,” Marty said, “what’s an Aussie?”  The only dogs he’d been around were his mom’s golden retrievers.  They’d always had two or three up until he was in High School. Then mom’s latest army boyfriend didn’t like dogs and she didn’t replace them when they passed away.

Suzanne gave him a quizzical look.  “An Australian Shepherd, they’re a working breed.  You didn’t know?”

“No, I just got her.  The guy didn’t know what kind of dog she was.  He just called her a mutt, I think he wanted to get rid of her.”  He felt bad about stretching the truth this way, but he didn’t know how else to explain it.

“She’s a blue merle, that’s what they call her coloring.” Suzanne walked to the hallway and said, “Bring her around here, I’ll take you to Room B and the doctor will be with you shortly.”

The dog walked with him, neither of them putting tension on the lead. Suzanne led them into a spacious room with a door on the opposite side.  A stainless steel table dominated the center of the room, with a small sink, mirror, and cabinets filling one side.  A padded bench stood against the other wall, parallel to the steel table.  Pictures of various breeds of dogs hung on the open walls. A good fresh smell with just a hint of antiseptic went with the clean sterile look of the room.

“Is it okay if I pet her?” Suzanne crouched in front of the dog.

He nodded.

Suzanne held out her hand, palm down, for the dog to smell. A quick sniff, a small lick and the dog sat back and smiled.  Suzanne reached out and scratched her under her chin.  Marty saw some movement down at the dog’s rear end; he realized she was wagging her little tail.

“She likes that,” he said

“She’s so sweet and I love her eyes.  I can’t believe you haven’t named her yet.  What do you think of Matilda, you know, from that Australian song, Waltzing Matilda?”

“That’s cute,” Marty said, “but we’ll figure it out soon.  We’ll know when it’s right.”

“We?  Does that mean you and, uh…” Suzanne let it trail off.

“What?  Oh, no it’s just me and her.”  He nodded toward the dog.  He watched her tail, when it wagged it seemed like her whole furry rear end wagged.

“Okay,” Suzanne said.  She stood up and smiled at him.

Marty kneeled by the dog and stroked her, starting at the back of her head and slowly moving down to her rear end.  Her fur was soft and felt like silk.  He looked closer; it was a blend of black, gray and white, with a few bigger black spots.  She looked around at him, wagged her tail and smiled as he stroked her.

“How come she doesn’t have a real tail?” he said, more to himself than a real question.

Suzanne giggled, “It’s real.  Aussie’s are a working breed so most of them have their tails docked after they are born.  I think it’s so the tails don’t get caught somehow when they’re working.”  She touched his shoulder.  “I have to get back out front; the doctor will be here in a couple of minutes.”  She walked out, closing the door behind her.

Tips for writers, on writing.

I’ve taken several online classes from Steve Alcorn.

Here are some of his tips, taken from classes and put into an article I read.

Steve Alcorn’s Ten Tips

 See Steve’s web page here

1. Be Active, Not Passive

Avoid the passive verb combinations that start with was, is, are, and were, as well as passive tenses that use the word had. They make your writing boring.

Here’s a very passive sentence from Everlost by Neil Shusterman:

There was a point of light at the end of the tunnel, getting larger and brighter as she got closer, and there came a feeling in her heart of calm amazement she could not describe.

What makes it passive? “There was,” “getting larger,” “got closer,” “there came,” and “could not” are all lifeless ways to describe the action. How could we reword this to be more active and interesting? How about this:

A point of light at the end of the tunnel swelled, growing larger and brighter as she drew close. A feeling of calm amazement engulfed her.

Notice that I also deleted some excess baggage. Feelings are always attributed to the heart, and “calm amazement” seems to pretty accurately describe it, so why say she couldn’t describe it?

Converting passive verbs to active ones is probably the single best way to perk up your novel.

***

2. Adjectives are Tools, Not Decorations

Adjective are words that modify nouns. They add color (sometimes literally!) to your writing, but it’s easy to overdo them.

Jack picked up the brown bat from the walnut Formica table that sat in the dusty dugout and climbed the rickety stairs to the sun-drenched playing field.

That’s a few too many modifiers!

The best way to use adjectives is to apply them to things that you want your readers to picture a certain way. Otherwise, just let your readers use their imaginations.

A particularly good way to use adjectives is to stick with one metaphor. Here’s an example from Uglies by Scott Westerfeld:

The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.

Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.

Here, all of the adjectives relate to the ocean: salmon, fishy, rippled, scales, blue, bottomless, cold.

Be sure to include all of the senses in your adjective choices.

Remember, adjectives are tools. Their purpose is to convey a specific message to your reader. They’re not decorations to be hung on every object in your novel. Use them with care.

***

3. First, Kill All the Adverbs

As useful as adjectives are, adverbs are useless. Adverbs are words that modify verbs. The problem is that there’s almost always a better verb that would eliminate the need for the adverb. Why write that someone walked leisurely when you could say they strolled? It’s just excess baggage. Most authors work diligently (er, I mean they toil) to make sure there are few, if any, adverbs in their finished novels.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to get published if you’re a chronic adverb abuser. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, is one of the biggest selling young adult books of all time, and it’s overflowing with them. Chapter 13 alone contains 97 adverbs!

When you find yourself tacking an adverb onto your verb, there is almost always a better verb you could use instead.

***

4. Tell Us What, Not How

When you’re in a character’s viewpoint, the words see and hear are mostly dead weight. Just show us what the character experiences. For example, don’t say:

She could hear the babble of the river and see it sparkling.

You can just say:

The river babbled and sparkled.

This same approach can often eliminate words like look, listen, feel, and so on.

***

5. You Don’t Need the Word ‘that’

At least not very much. How many that’s in this sentence are doing anything:

I know that you think that I did something that you wanted.

The answer is none.

I know you think I did something you wanted.

Search for the word that throughout your novel and see what happens if you delete it. Most of the time you’ll find (that) it wasn’t doing anything.

***
6. Strip the Decor

You don’t need excess verbiage. Back when people got paid by the word, it was common to write something like this:

The inexorable advance of the earthly sphere brought with it another glorious resurrection of the warming and nourishing heavenly beacon.

It was dawn, dude. Get over it.

***

7. Watch those clichés

They’re as common as dirt, but you should avoid them like the plague. They’re insidious, aren’t they? So I always do a final scan for any that have slipped in.

***

8. There’s No Such Thing As Coincidence

Sure, they happen in real life. But readers expect fiction to be more logical than real life. If something happens, make sure you’ve laid the foundation.

***

9. Don’t Dangle

It’s tempting to try to mix things up, dangling participial phrases everywhere, but it will just get you into trouble. Participles imply simultaneity:

Fetching the kettle, Amanda made tea.

Amanda must be a very talented girl, because she can make tea while she’s reaching for a kettle! This is what I really meant:

Amanda fetched the kettle and made tea.

I’ve picked a simple example, but I’ve seen this type of sentence go on for an entire paragraph. Break it up. Keep it simple. One thought per sentence. Your readers will thank you!

***

10. Use a Checklist

Whenever you finish a manuscript, go through this checklist and apply each “trick,” one at a time. They’re simple! And many are probably things you already subconsciously knew. But now that you have a list, you can be conscientious about applying them. Follow these simple tricks in every manuscript, and you’re on your way to perkier writing!

***

Dialog with a Civil War Rifle.

Another exercise from my Beginning Writer’s Workshop class.  We choose an item to have a dialog with.

Dialog with a Civil War Rifle

Me:  You’re looking well used.

Rifle:  I was used well.

Me:  I meant that you’re in good condition, but you look experienced.

Rifle:  What does that mean?  I know for you, I’m old, but I have been well taken care of.

Me:  How old are you?

Rifle:  I became in 1862.

Me:  So, are you one of those famous Springfield muskets that I’ve heard about.

Rifle:  No, I’m an Enfield rifled musket.  I was made in England and I was carried by many Southern soldiers in the Civil War.

Me:  Did you participate in many battles?

Rifle:  I was used long and hard at the battle of Gettysburg.  I was fired many times on all three days of the battle.  I was there longer than all of the soldiers that used me.

Me:  More than one soldier used you?  That must have been very hard on you.

Rifle:  I have no feelings.  I am a rifle.  I am used only to kill, that is my only purpose.   It does not matter to me whether I am used by Rebel soldiers or by Union soldiers.  My purpose is to be used.

Me:  That seems so cold.

Rifle:  I am cold iron, I have no heart.

Me:  You mentioned being used on all three days of the Gettysburg fight, tell me more.

Rifle:  I started off with Gen. Heth’s division of A.P. Hills third Corps, they fought against Union cavalry and against the Iron Brigade of the first division, first Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

Me:  You seem to have a very good memory.

Rifle:  I have no memory, I told you I am made of wood and cold iron.

Me:  How then can you tell me who used you and who you were used against?

Rifle:  I just am.  All that is and has been around me is part of me.  I am timeless, I am all of time.  I am current, I am past and I am the future.

Me:  What can you tell me of the future?

Rifle:  I can tell you nothing of the future.

Me:  But you said you are of the future.

Rifle:  And the past and the present.

Me:   Then why can you not tell me of the future.

Rifle:  You are not in the future.

Me:  I’m going to die?

Rifle:  You are your past and your present.

Me:  But I have no future?

Rifle:  I do not know.

Me:  Why won’t you tell me?

Rifle:  I have nothing to tell you, I just know what I am.

Me:  But what about me?  What is my future?

Rifle:  I do not know about your future.

Me:  You can tell me about your past but not your future?

Rifle:  Yes, my future is mine but does not exist at your present.

Me:  But you know your future at this time, here and now?

Rifle:  It is what I am.

Me:  And you can tell me your past even though I was not present at that time.

Rifle:  Yes.

Me:  Why?

Rifle:  Because it exists at this time for you.

Me:  Does my future exist for me now?

Rifle:  You are an existence of the now, you only exist now.

Me:  You exist now also, I see you and I’m communicating with you.

Rifle:  I have no now, I am timeless, I exist at all times, except when I don’t.  More I cannot tell you, we are different entities of existence.

Powerful words

This is an exercise taken from my Beginning Writer’s Workshop class taught by Ann Linquist, my very first writing class.

I remember I had fun with this, writing extra versions for each sentence.

 

Choosing Powerful Words

You’ll find four weak sentences below. After each one, I’ve described what makes them poor. Using what you learned in Lesson 7, rewrite these sentences to make them powerful, vivid, and unique. You can do that by trying the following:

  • Improve the verbs and make the nouns more specific.
  • Show a character in action rather than naming feelings or telling us what we should think.
  • Be specific with your details.
  • Work on developing a clear mental picture of the scene and then copy what you see in your mind onto the page.

I hope you will go beyond merely rearranging or editing the words given. Give yourself full permission to add details, characters, action—anything that will make the sentence vivid.

Try to rewrite each of the four in ONE sentence rather than concocting a whole paragraph. Part of the challenge here is to pack power into each sentence.

Rewrite these sentences:

  1. There were so many winding curves as I drove in the blazingly bright orange sunlit glare of the everlasting road that I was utterly exhausted by the endless ordeal and thought I might faint if given half the chance. (What’s wrong: Overdone adjectives and adverbs. Cliches. Sentence goes on too long.)

Driving into the sun on this never-ending road with its endless curves was bound to kill me.

I needed to pull over and sleep, too many curves, too much sun, too much road needed to travel.

The sun’s glare just added to the headache caused by driving this endless winding road.

His eyes ached from the sun’s glare, adding to the headache caused by endlessly driving this winding road.

He drove, he turned, he drove, he squinted into the glare, he drove, he turned, he passed out and drove off the cliff.

  1. The leaves were red. (What’s wrong: Too general. Hard to picture this. Very blah.)

Autumn is beautiful at home here in Washington; one tree had leaves that were all red, while the slow learners followed with jumbles of oranges and yellows.

The trees had shed their leaves and the body had shed its blood; the leaves were red.

Fall is a time of change, a purgatory of sorts; the leaves transformed from the green of life to the red of death, before floating down to their final reward, and rebirth.

The leaves were red, the sky was blue, I shook with dread, I had no clue.

 

  1. That horrible tornado was like a raging bull charging a red cape so it could blast everything we owned to smithereens once and for all. (What’s wrong: Silly and mixed metaphor. Vague adjective. Cliches.)

Whirling away, the tornado skipped across the countryside, searching for its favorite dessert, trailer parks.

Like a Bass-o-matic, the tornado shattered what was whole and left the jumbled remains.

Afterwards this tornado was always called the Devils Claw, it destroyed what it touched.

It spun, it ate, it danced, it spit; it was a tornado.

  1. John thought again how Martha was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he knew he would love her forever. (What’s wrong: Powerful thought but weak delivery. Telling instead of showing. Dull verbs. No picture evoked.)

Like always, when John watched her sleeping, he ached at her beauty, her sweetness, her innocence, and he cherished the thought of eternity with her.

Did she know how beautiful she was, how he worshiped the ground she walked on, how he treasured her every move, how he had been stalking her for months?

Her beauty still stunned him; he could lose himself in just watching her face, her lips parting, her nose with its little twitch and the smile in her eyes that made his spine tingle.

John knew how lucky he was to have a hot babe like Martha, he didn’t mind that she referred to him as her drooling little puppy dog.