How to Judge Success (or Confessions of a Puzzle Slut)

You can judge your crossword puzzle a success by:

  • Whether you were able to complete it
  • How long it took you to complete it
  • How many new words you learned along the way
  • How many clues you correctly guessed from the letters you had in place (back solving or Jeopardy Crossword)
  • How often you smiled at the puns imbedded in the clues and answers
  • How many letters you crossed through and re-wrote or, to look at it another way, how pretty it was completed
  • How often you had to ask for help (“solve this letter”)
  • Whether you could do the puzzle on the computer and heard the “You’ve won!” chime or if it all had to be done on fanfare-less paper
  • How many words you didn’t know and solved the puzzle anyway
  • Whether you stumbled across words you loved but never thought you’d find in a crossword puzzle
  • Whether the puzzle used as a clue your husband’s favorite Chinese dish or your favorite author or a saying you’d learned as a child
  • Whether you experienced a moment when you saw the pattern of letters occurring repeatedly and felt like you were there with the author of the puzzle, drafting along with her
  • Something you use to rate the success of your crossword puzzle that would never occur to me

Many years of my life were free from crossword puzzles. After a fellow student in law school, whom we called Mr. Chickensh!t, taught me about crosswords (me: “But that could mean either to run like a race or like run your hose”; him: “That’s the point”) I fell in love with the little buggers and did them faithfully, working my way up the NY Times ladder of skill until I could do Friday’s puzzle with ease (I never mastered the Sunday puzzle.) My favorite were “Goldilocks” puzzles: not too hard, not too easy. Just right.

Then something happened to my life. It cratered, and the crossword puzzle fell in the hole.

What got me back on the puzzle? I don’t know, but I found myself doing the puzzle in The Commercial Appeal, the paper in my new home of Memphis. The puzzle was very easy, which is how I devised the “Jeopardy” form of back-solving a puzzle—to make it a bit harder, I tried to guess the unfinished word and what I would use as a clue for such a word. Now I do the USA Today puzzle on my computer every night before bed; the pup knows it’s time to get in the chalet when the little man dings and swings from his rope, indicating completion. I am on a quest to solve a puzzle in less than 10 minutes; these are not hard puzzles. Yet, I do enjoy them.

“Enjoy them.” This second half of my puzzle life has been different from the first. I no longer measure success solely by whether I’ve correctly solved the puzzle, but use all the measures I’ve listed above. I’ve also become a puzzle slut, doing the USA Today puzzle nightly, but also the Commercial Appeal puzzle, both puzzles in the Times-Picayune—whatever puzzle I can get my hands on. From time to time I even stoop to doing the Jumble, the puzzle-solving equivalent of standing on the street corner, offering your time to whoever walks by with a twenty.

As my life path has unfurled, the path itself has dimmed. The edges of the defined way bleed into the forest; grass invades the formerly well-groomed lines. Not everything is as I was taught; happiness is mine to find where I may. Often, I find it in a puzzle.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

 

 

 

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Self-Publishers Self-Promotion

A woman who’s seen a snake eat a frog, Ellen Morris Prewitt’s collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, exploring, among other things, the mysteries of the front yard.

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Self-Publishers Self-Promotion

“We don’ t know what credentials she has, but she can’t spell can’t, author Ellen Morris Prewitt’s short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing Love”

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Self-Publishers Self-Reported Deals

“Unknown writer Ellen Morris Prewitt’s latest entry in her effort to remain unpaid, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, a free short story collection” 

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Self-Publishers Self-Reported Deals

“The little-awaited latest from Ellen Morris Prewitt, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, a (regrettably) short story collection”

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Self-Publishers Self-Reported Deals

Former Okra Queen Ellen Morris Prewitt’s debut short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, which references nary an okra

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Odd Things I Learned about Podcasting

1. Let the Character Drive
I’ve often questioned whether my first-person narrators are sufficiently different from each other. Recording the stories told me, yes, they are. For each story to flow correctly, I had to record faster or slower depending on the “voice” of the narrator. The Southern young woman in “Lucky Critters” spoke very differently from the Southern young woman in “A Trip to the Lawyer” which was different from the Southern young woman in “It Does No Good Whatsoever to Stay Bitter.” I am referring here to attitude and, thus, pace—I do NOT do “voices,” which leads me to point #2.

2. Don’t Pile On
I read the stories somewhat flat. I think this is because I’m from the American South, and my accent is enough of a presence that I don’t need to add anything else. Also, I used my friend Robb Pate’s song, “The Lights of Home” as my intro and outro music. Robb was an Elvis impersonator. ‘Nuff said.

3. Someone is Listening
For many years, I recorded my radio commentaries at the local NPR affiliate. As I recorded the commentaries, I was well aware that, soon enough, someone would be listening. This put the focus not on me but on the question—how should this be read so someone can hear it correctly? That need informed the pauses, the emphases, and the beats needed for the telling to be funny or poignant. If I slipped and began thinking about myself, I always stumbled and recorded an error. The same guideline held true for recording the short stories: focus on the listener.

4. Format Does Matter
When I recorded at the radio, I came to believe silently-read stories are different from told stories are different from listened-to stories. Some stories simply work better in some formats. In recording my collection, I had an initial list of stories I intended to include. As I practiced reading them aloud,  I realized a few had to be cut. The ear wasn’t going to be able to follow the story. So no matter whether it had been published or won awards, the story couldn’t go in this recorded collection. Format rules. Dictates, even.

5. Take the Compliment
People have complimented me as much on my voice and recordings as they have on the content. At first this left me nonplussed—don’t you want to tell me what a good writer I am? Now I’m grateful. I purposefully chose to read these very Southern stories with my very Southern voice because I thought it would be a good match; the recording would compliment the content. People are telling me I was right. Accept it, tuck it away, and use it later.

I’d love to hear about your own experience with recording your fiction. As a “home-grown” podcaster, I can use all the tips you can throw my way.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

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