Two Bears and a Pear

A compound-complex sentence is one that contains at least two independent clauses (that’s the compound-sentence part) and at least one dependent clause (that’s the complex-sentence part).

A periodic sentence (often called a suspended sentence) is one in which the sense of the sentence is not complete until the final words. Here’s an example from Dylan Thomas’s “ A Child’s Christmas in Wales”:

“Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.” 

As you can see, the meaning (sense) of the sentence isn’t complete or even clear until the words “it snowed and it snowed.” The snow is what the sentence is about.

Years ago I was writing a series of bear sentences for a possible children’s project, but, aside from the sentences, I wasn’t sure what the project could be. It was too short for a book. A series of cards? Posters? Placemats? I could never work this problem out, and so the project sits in my filing cabinet.

Except that, every once in a while, I revisit the compound-complex bear sentence just to laugh at the fact that the meaning isn’t clear until the very end.

Compound-Complex Sentence, Suspended
The bear who painted a large green pear won a purple ribbon from the judges, and the bear who painted a big blue square around the large green pear also won a purple ribbon, but the ribbons were quickly taken away after the second bear ate the first bear’s pear and the first bear squashed the second bear’s square and the judges.


Barbara Gregorich blogged about sentences in Sentences and Train Wrecks, but luckily no bears squashed her.

The Maybe-Reliable Narrator

In fiction the narrator is the person or persons who tells the story. This could be a character in the story, or the narrative could come from somebody who is not in the story — a voice that the author chooses to write in. The Fiction Dictionary defines narrator as “the consciousness that tells the story.” Choosing this consciousness is almost always a difficult job for the writer. Often a very, very difficult job.

When a character within the story is the narrator and tells the story from his/her point of view, the reader almost immediately feels great interest in both the story and in the narrator, mainly because the point of view seems so personal. Classic examples of novels with first-person narrators are Great Expectations (Pip is the narrator) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Huck is the narrator). A more modern example is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, whose narrator is 15-year-old Christopher, who is autistic.

Multiple first-person narrators are represented by Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, some of whose chapters are told by Benjy, some by Quentin, and some by Jason, all of them in their own first-person point of view. Thus the reader gets to know three different narrators.  

There is also the first-person plural narrator, as employed by David Levithan in Two Boys Kissing. In this book the narrators are a collective group (thus they speak as “we”) of dead gay men who were victims of AIDS.

Some first-person narrators fall into the category known as “unreliable narrator,” others into the category of “naive” narrator. The naive narrator is usually too young to understand the story she or he is telling, or too inexperienced or perhaps not intelligent enough. 

The unreliable narrator is one who can’t be trusted to tell the story objectively, or perhaps even truthfully. Examples abound in Poe’s short stories (you do not want to trust some of his narrators, such as the one in “The Tell-Tale Heart”). And while the narrator of Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” seems objective, he is not (as the reader eventually learns) a reliable narrator.

A first-person narrator is most often the book’s protagonist, but there are also minor character narrators. Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance is narrated by a minor character, as is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The Sherlock Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, who is not the main character. 

What a writer might gain by having a minor first-person narrator is the ability to present things about the major characters that they couldn’t present if they themselves were the narrators. Among other things, this includes physical descriptions, as well as any deeds that might seem like bragging if mentioned by the major character. And brilliance: Sherlock Holmes seen by Watson is brilliant beyond belief. Seen from his own point of view, he might not appear so supreme because he would have to share his reasoning with us as he told the story, rather than spring it upon us at the end.

What a writer might lose by having a minor first-person narrator is reader interest. When reading first-person narrator, minor character, I often question why the person telling the story isn’t  more immediately involved in it, isn’t the person who drives the action forward. A minor character narrator puts a certain distance between the reader and the protagonist. 

When a story is told from the third-person point of view, the narrator is a consciousness outside the story, not a character inside the story. Third-person point of view can be omniscient, meaning that the consciousness telling the story knows everything about everybody. Or it can be limited, meaning that the consciousness looks into the mind of only one character, or only a few characters.

Dickens’ Bleak House is an excellent example of the third-person omniscient,  as is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The omniscient narrator was popular in the 19th century but is much less popular today. Although this narrator technique might feel easy to handle, it’s difficult to master. Bad handling of the omniscient narrator results in what’s called “head-hopping” — the consciousness jumps from the head of one person into the head of another, sometimes in the same paragraph or even the same sentence. 

Modern-day novels that employ third-person limited narrators are the Harry Potter stories and the Harry Bosch novels.

And then there’s the intrusive narrator, which is an omniscient narrator who suddenly — from way out in the universe where he or she is hovering  —  speaks to the reader! As in, “Dear Reader, what do you think of this situation?” 

In previous centuries such addressing of the reader was, if not common, at least not exotic. But I was quite surprised (startled, even) when I began to read Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux and, lo and behold, the omniscient narrator spoke to me. I soon adjusted to this aspect of Despereaux, and I thought DiCamillo handled it very well. Her technique helped give the story a far-away, old-time, fairy-tale kind of atmosphere.

Sometimes the idea for a story comes to a writer without the narrator. That is, the writer sees the characters and events that will become the story, but doesn’t see who is telling the story. When the idea for a story arrives this way, the writer may have great difficulty deciding how to tell the story. First Person? If so, major or minor? reliable or unreliable?  Third person? If so, omniscient or limited? If limited, then limited to how many characters?

Sometimes the decision is so difficult that a writer makes a guess and writes the story, or part of it, with the selected narrator — but then feels that’s not right, so changes to a different narrator. This means rewriting EVERYTHING, because narrators do not experience, see, or feel the same things. So the whole story has to be rewritten, presenting it to the reader through a new consciousness.

In fiction the depth and pervasiveness of the narrator is of great importance to a reader’s enjoyment of and understanding of the story. And that is why choosing a story’s point of view (and thus choosing the narrator) is such a difficult part of writing.


She’s on First is told in third person limited, from the points of view of four different characters.

Mountain Passes: Kittaning Gap

The Shawnee, Lenape, and and other Native American tribes walked the length of the Appalachian Mountains to trade with other tribes and also to wage war. The path they wore into the land was called the Warriors Path. But these same tribes also traveled east and west on a trail over the Allegheny Mountains. This trail and its most important pass were both named Kittanning, after a large, prosperous Indian village on the western side of the mountains.

According to a treaty signed by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, the Allegheny area was closed to white settlers. Colonists brutally pushed their way westward anyway. More convinced than ever that the whites would steal their lands, the Delaware and Shawnee who lived in Kittanning raided settlements, killing or capturing the inhabitants.  In August of 1756 the Delaware burned Fort Granwell (near present-day Lewistown). As a result the governor of Pennsylvania sent Lt. Colonel John Armstrong to lead an army against Kittanning.

In September of 1756, after a six-hour battle, Armstrong’s troops conquered Kittanning and leveled it. With the destruction of the Indian stronghold, more and more settlers violated the treaty and passed through Kittanning Gap into central and western Pennsylvania. By the time of the American Revolution in 1775, Fort Pitt (today’s city of Pittsburgh) thrived on the western end of the state.

Even with the existence of the Kittaning Gap, however, travel from one end of Pennsylvania to the other was not easy.  In the early 1800s a Philadelphian who wanted to visit  Pittsburgh had to use the Allegheny Portage Railroad, which meant four grueling days of switching between jarring wooden-wheeled coaches, canal boats, and trains.

Kittaning Gap
Mountain Range: Allegheny Mountains
Elevation: 2,154 feet 
Location: Outside the town of Altoona, in central Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company yearned to lay tracks from one end of the state to the other, to haul passengers and goods and thus make a profit. Despite the wishes of the Pennsylvania Railroad Board of Directors, though, the locomotives simply could not climb the steep Allegheny Mountains. Even with a helper locomotive attached, the railroad engines of that time could not conquer more than a 2% grade (a climb of two feet upward for every one-hundred feet forward). Kittaning Gap had a 4.5% grade.

During this period (mid-19th century), the Pennsylvania Railroad was the largest railroad in the world, with more than 6,000 miles of tracks. Due partly to the leadership of its Chief Engineer and President, J. Edgar Thomson, the PRR was known for high quality construction and for innovation. Thomson had a plan for getting the PRR through the Kittaning Gap and thus to the other side of the Allegheny Mountains. His solution would turn out to be the so innovative that it was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century.

Thomson solved the problem of the steep grade by lengthening the distance of the incline — thus decreasing its grade. He hired more than 300 Irish workers to build a unique, horseshoe-shaped curve that ran along the side of a mountain, turned to cross a wide valley, then turned again to run alongside a second mountain. Using only picks and shovels, the workers  hacked a narrow ridge into the mountainside. Then they laid three rows of tracks on top of the ridge. As they worked, they threw the rock and dirt into the valley below.

The curve is about half a mile long and about a quarter mile in diameter (from one of the mountains to the other). It was completed in 1854 and supports three railroad tracks.

Horseshoe Curve, as it was called, increased the distance that a locomotive had to pull its cars and in this way decreased the grade. The added distance allowed the grade to remain at 2%. With the help of Horseshoe Curve, Thomson conquered Kittanning Pass. Workers blasted a tunnel through the remaining mountains and — at last! — the railroad reached the other side of the steep Allegheny Mountains. After Horseshoe Curve was completed in 1854, travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was reduced from four days to half a day.  

The challenge of the Alleghenies behind them, the railroads went on to lay tracks west across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. They would not encounter another mountain barrier until they reached the mighty Rockies.

Today Horseshoe Curve is not that different from what it was in 1854. For more than 150  years trains have traveled on it as they head eastward or westward. In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below, you can see the steep climb the locomotives would have to make if they headed straight up the mountain. Thanks to J. Edgar Thomson, the locomotives make the more gradual ascent around Horseshoe Curve.

Today people come from all over the world to watch trains bend in half as they chug around the Curve — the locomotives heading in one direction, the caboose in the opposite direction. An average of 51 trains a day go through Horseshoe curve, so train buffs and visitors stand a good chance of seeing at least one train make the curve.

In 1966 Horseshoe Curve was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Kittanning Gap

than Iron Horse
could climb, 
heights were safe
from progress — 
then smart Engineer 
a curve.


Barbara Gregorich’s previous blog on mountain passes was Raton Pass.

A New Web Site

Way back in the “aughts,” around 2005, I knew that I would have a book coming out the following year. That book was Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories (Houghton, 2006). I also knew that I did not yet have a web site — and that I should have one.

So I hired Lisa Dwyer to build my web site. She and I met and I sketched out what I wanted and we discussed pages and subpages and sub-sub pages and what links I wanted, background colors, fonts, photographs, and a lot of other stuff. Lisa built the web site, and I chose the Authors Guild to host it. I learned how to add and delete and create new pages, sub pages and sub-sub pages. And to create links to hidden PDFs and other such things. 

This website served me very well. Librarians, who hire me for presentations, told me how much they loved to use and navigate it and how much they relied on finding what they needed on it.

As time went on, I found that I needed to add many new sub pages to my site. In 2010 I self-published She’s on First. Between 2010 and 2018, I self-published eleven more books. For each of these I added a sub-page and several sub-sub pages. This was a lot of work — more work than I became willing to do, and in 2018, when Scrape, Rattle, and Roll was published, I never got around to adding it to my web site.

In June of 2019 I received an email from the Authors Guild stating that as of September 1, 2019, the Guild would host only sites built on SiteBuilder. I had two choices: (1) find another site, such as WordPress, to host my website; (2) toss out my old website and construct a new one using SiteBuilder, so that my site and email address would continue to be hosted by the Authors Guild.

I didn’t want to have Lisa go through the work of updating and migrating my website to a new server, particularly because I wasn’t enamored of any of the available servers that I had experience with. So, I decided to build my own website on SiteBuilder.

This new website would be much simpler. By choice. I felt I no longer needed all the information that was on my previous site. Instead, I felt I needed only four “pages” on my new site:

  1. About the Author — information about me
  2. Events — information on my public programs: topic, time, and place
  3. Works — a list of my books
  4. Contact — an email contact link 

In late July I sat down to construct my website. To my surprise and pleasure, this went very quickly on SiteBuilder. Adding text was easy, adding photos was easy. Adding links was easy. Deciding on theme and layout was simple, and choosing fonts and colors was likewise simple.

In one day, I had constructed three of my four pages. On the second day, I created the fourth page and worked on refining all four pages. On the third day, I was ready to publish.

As web site experiences go, this one was extremely easy and pleasant.


Here’s the link to Barbara Gregorich’s new website.

The Stolen Horse and Me

Sometimes there’s a thread running through your life and it takes you decades to notice it. That’s the case with idioms and me. We’ve had a life-long relationship, but I came to notice this only a few years ago. Well, fifteen or so years ago, but that’s a short time compared to how long idioms have been part of my life.

I remember quite vividly the first time I encountered an idiom. I was maybe five years old, and my grandfather said to me, “There’s no sense in locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.”


The five-year-old me did not understand what my grandfather was talking about. We had a barn, yes. A small one-stall barn. It housed a cow. Not a horse. Nevertheless, I ran down to the barn, turned the latch on the door, and peeked inside. The cow was still there. The non-existent horse . . . I had no idea. But I did make sure to latch the door as I left. Because, after all, the cow had not been stolen.

Children don’t understand figurative language until they’re six or seven or even eight years old. They take things literally. But because I did not understand what my grandfather meant, his words stuck with me, like some special talisman that I would be able to call on later.

By the time I was in high school, I had long known what idioms were. But that didn’t mean I understood idioms from another language. French, for example. It is with embarrassment and chagrin that I remember one of my assignments from French class. I had to translate a paragraph or two or three of a story, and that evening at home, I struggled mightily with the translation. In fact, I kept changing the English words so often that my eraser wore a hole through the paper.

What I was trying so hard to translate were the words il a jeté un coup d’oeil hors de la fenêtre. Which, to me, were saying: He threw his eye out the window.

How or why the “he” of the story did that, I had no idea. It seemed extremely painful. And, as my erasures testified to, unlikely. Nevertheless, I couldn’t come up with any better translation, so, the next morning, I turned in my assignment.

Only to have my French teacher tell me that il a jeté un coup d’oeil hors de la fenêtre. was an idiom, and that it’s correct meaning was: he glanced out the window.


Me studying French.

This experience, coupled with my grandfather’s warning about barn doors, firmly pounded idioms into my brain. Still, I never thought idioms would be part of my future. Until I was just out of college and visiting friends whose four-year-old son, when he heard somebody say “I can’t do that, I’m all tied up,” responded in an instant: I don’t see any ropes.

That was when I knew I wanted to write about idioms, in some way, at some time.

That time came when I wrote Dirty Proof, my first mystery novel. My protagonist, Frank Dragovic, is a Croatian-American from Chicago’s South Side, and at appropriate moments he quotes Croatian idioms he learned from his parents and grandparents. My favorite of these is Laz ide na kratke noge, which translates to something like “A lie travels on short legs.” Which is another way of saying that truth will out.

Readers loved the idioms and wrote asking for more.

But before I gave them more Croatian idioms, I wrote two early readers so that children could enjoy learning about idioms. The first of these was Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke, which contains not only the title idiom, but also two others: Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, and You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

While I loved introducing children to these idioms (second graders and up “got” them), what really made me chuckle was when adults would come up to me at the autographing table, pick up a book, read the title story, smile, and say, “So that’s what that means!”

The sequel, Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner, contains the title idiom and two others: Don’t put the cart before the horse, and Let sleeping dogs lie. 

After the publication of the Waltur books and especially after the reactions from adults, I realized that grownups also want to know what idioms mean. And so I put together a presentation that I give at libraries and schools. It’s titled Keeping the Wolf from the Door: A Look at Wise Folk Sayings. I’ve been giving this talk for about ten years.

That, I thought, was the end of my relationship with idioms.

Except that it wasn’t, because in 2018 I published Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers, about the man who created Honolulu Police Detective Charlie Chan, way back in 1925, in The House Without a Key. This, I think, is ironic: another book related in some way to idioms. Nobody beats Charlie Chan at spouting adages/idioms.

Perhaps I should stop the idioms here, with Charlie Chan’s Poppa. Or perhaps I should make hay while the sun shines.


Dirty Proof is full of Croatian idioms, including the author’s favorite, Laz idi na kratke nogi.

Mountain Passes: Raton Pass

Like the Cumberland Gap, Raton Pass played an important role in U.S. history: it allowed travel between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, which was part of Spanish territory in North America. Santa Fe was, in fact, the single most important town in the northern part of the Spanish empire. Because Spain feared that France, Great Britain, or the United States might try to take over the southwest territories, they forbid residents of Santa Fe to trade with these nations.

But in 1821 Mexicans fought the War of Independence, in which they demanded an end to Spanish rule, a redistribution of land, and racial equality. One of the first things the newly independent Mexico did was to open trade between Mexico and the United States.

Immediately the rush was on to reach Santa Fe. In 1821 William Becknell, a Missouri trader, took pack mules and horses loaded with $300 of goods into Santa Fe. He sold the horses, mules, and goods (cloth and tools) for $6,000.

The following year Becknell loaded three large wagons with $3,000 worth of goods. He knew it was impossible to get wagons over steep, narrow, and rocky Raton Pass, so he tried a southern route across the Cimarron Desert. Called Jornado del Muerta by Mexicans, the desert proved a disaster — in order to survive, Becknell and his men had to drink the blood of their mules and kill a buffalo and drink the water from its stomach. To continue the Journey of Death would invite further disaster and, quite possibly, death. The traders turned around and headed north into the mountains to Raton Pass — a much more difficult route, but at least one that had water.

Mountain Range: Raton Mountains, a spur of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Elevation: 7,834 feet 

Location: On the border between Colorado and New Mexico. near the Carson National Forest.

In order to get their heavily-laden wagons over Raton, the traders unloaded the goods from each wagon, took each wagon apart, and carried the goods and wagon parts up Raton. Once they reached a wider trail, they reassembled and reloaded the wagons — and proceeded to the next narrowing of the trail, where they repeated the process. Though the trip was extremely difficult, they made a lot of money — $91,000 in sales.

Hundreds of other traders followed Becknell, hauling 6,000 pounds of goods per wagon, traveling the 800-mile Santa Fe trail in approximately 50 days. And they took these wagons over Raton Pass, where they struggled to average a half a mile a day.

The Santa Fe Trail, established by William Becknell, is commemorated by historic markers, including one at Raton Pass. 

The Goodnight-Loving Trail, also commemorated by historic markers, allowed goods to move through Raton Pass from south to north — the opposite of Becknell’s direction. In this case, the goods actually moved themselves: they consisted of longhorn cattle.

When the Spanish friars who had set up missions throughout Texas and New Mexico abandoned these buildings, they left behind their cattle, which became wild. When Americans moved into Texas, more than 100,000 head of these long-horned animals roamed the range. Some Texans rounded them up and drove them north to Missouri and Kansas, selling them at high prices. Most of these cattle drivers took the Chisholm Trail north to Kansas.  But after the Civil War, Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight headed west, not north.

In June of 1866 Goodnight and Loving set out with eighteen armed cowboys and 2,000 head of cattle. They drove the cattle west, straight across the dangerous Llano Estacado. Unlike William Becknell, Goodnight and Loving were able to cross the harsh land. However, they did lose 200 head of longhorns which, water-starved, stampeded when they smelled the Pecos River. The cattle rushed headlong over the bluffs, falling into the Pecos, where 200 of them drowned.

After regrouping, the cowboys and herd moved west, where Goodnight and Loving sold most of the longhorns to the Army at Fort Sumner, in New Mexico Territory. Goodnight went back to Texas with the profits, while Loving headed north to Raton Pass, driving the remaining 800 head of cattle. He sold them in Denver, then returned to Texas. 

For opening up travel and transportation between east and west, north and south, Mexico and the U.S., Raton Pass is an important part of U.S. history.

Raton Pass

Mighty dust cloud moves,
beasts bellow, lumber upward
clanging daggered heads.


Barbara Gregorich’s previous blog on mountain passes was Smuggler’s Notch.

Pigs in Mystery Novels

Sometimes what is obvious to fans isn’t necessarily obvious to the writers. I speak of pigs.

Yes, pigs: one of the most populous large mammals in the world, with more than one billion of them rooting around at any given time.

I grew up with pigs. Sort of. My uncle owned a dairy farm on which he also raised pigs. Along with my cousins, I slopped the hogs each day, carrying heavy buckets of food scraps (Phew!) and dumping them over the rail and into the hog troughs. So, yes, I know about swine.

In fact, swine barged into my first early reader, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories [Houghton, 2005]. Although that book contained three stories, each about an idiom (don’t buy a pig in a poke; don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink), readers both juvenile and adult never ooh-ed and ahh-ed about the chickens or the horse — it was the pig they went gaga over.

While the success of that book led me to write another, Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner and Other Stories [Houghton, 2006], it never led me down the path of writing about pigs. That is, I never said to myself: Gee, readers seem to love pigs, maybe I should create a pig character in something I write.

I wasn’t aware of the pig character. But the pig character, it seems, was aware of me.


Biding its time.

Which is why, as I was writing my second mystery novel, Sound Proof, a pig suddenly, unexpectedly, and definitely popped up behind my detective as he was studying an anomaly on the back porch of a farmhouse. 

I did not consciously create this situation: the pig just popped up. The story is set on a farm, and the pig lives on the farm. His name is Richard. He roams around creating havoc here and there. Richard is a pet pig, belonging to the music festival organizer, Mary Ployd. In fact, Mary is secretly convinced that it will be Richard, not Frank Dragovic, who solves the mystery of who has been stealing guitars and dulcimers from the festival each year. Never mind that Frank’s also working on solving a murder — Mary is far more interested in the stolen instruments.

So Richard barged into my book and tried to steal the leading role (I prevented this). Writing all of this came natural to me, I guess, because pigs were part of my childhood.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the fact that almost everybody who read Sound Proof would say to me, “I loved the pig.”

Obviously, the 500-pound Richard made a huge impact on fans.

But this is just background to what I really discovered about mystery fans and pigs.

A couple of months ago I purchased a program called KDP Rocket, which allows me to come up with more relevant keywords and categories for the books I self-publish, thus presumably increasing my sales. 

One of my original keywords for Sound Proof was simply “pigs,” because Richard plays a role in the novel. But with KDP Rocket, I could type in various phrases to see which garnered more reader hits. So there I sat at my keyboard trying various phrases. 

And I thought, Why not try pigs in mystery. It seemed a bit far-fetched, I know. I mean, how many times would somebody search for such a phrase on Amazon?

Well, the very first thing I learned was that I have eighty-three competitors! Eighty-three! Eighty-three other people have somehow or other written about pigs in their mystery novels! Not just present-day mysteries, but mysteries set in the time of the Roman Empire. And these novels sell well. 

Perhaps because of the pigs, perhaps for other reasons. 

I also learned that people search for pigs in mystery maybe 100 times a month on Amazon

Totally convinced, I changed my pig keyword to pigs in mystery.

All I have to do now is rewrite my promotional material to feature the pig. Frank Dragovic isn’t going to like that. But hey, he’s still one up on Richard because he, Frank, solved the mystery.


Richard tries to hog the spotlight in Sound Proof.