Everyday Phrases Coined by Famous Authors

Throughout the years, authors and writers have done their part in growing the English language. In fact, some calculate that Shakespeare alone has contributed over 3000 commonly used phrases and idioms.

Why so many?

First of all, it’s just fun to make up words and, as long as your readers can understand what you’re saying, you can get away with it. Another reason is because we need to keep our writing “fresh.” That means cutting worn, clichéd phrases from our prose and “inventing” new ways to word what we want to say.

Just for fun, I’m going to share a few examples of phrases/idioms and words introduced into our language by some of the most renowned authors.

Dead as a Doornail –

This is one of the many phrases smithed by Shakespeare. A few days ago, Lorna mentioned several idioms often related to death and dying, so this is another idiom to add to that list. The phrase refers to a once-popular carpentry technique called “clenching.” Once a nail was hammered through a piece of wood, the end was bent over to secure it. If someone later worked to reclaim the used nails, those that had been clenched weren’t fit to be re-used, so they were, in fact, “dead,” or, more specifically, “dead as a doornail.” Once Shakespeare wrote the phrase into the lines of Jack Cade of Henry VI, it soon became widespread in colloquial use:

Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

The Creeps – 

We can thank Charles Dickens for this phrase, which pretty much means what it says – “Something that causes fear or revulsion” (dictionary definition). The word “creepy,” had recently been introduced into the language (around 1831), so Dickens took the opportunity to ad lib on that word in this line from David Copperfield:

She was constantly complaining of the cold, and of its occasioning a visitation in her back which she called ‘the creeps’.

Nerd –

Does it make me more of a nerd that I was thrilled to discover the origin of this word is largely attributed to Dr Seuss? A few others have raised their hands, hoping to claim authorship of “nerd,” but it was Seuss who first put it in print, so he gets the glory. Of course, the nerd was among the list of animals young Gerald McGrew planned to include, should he be made zookeeper, in Seuss’s classic tale, If I Ran the Zoo.

And then just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo / And bring back an IT-KUTCH, a PREEP, and a PROO, A NERKLE, a NERD, and SEERSUCKER, too!”

Blip –

Until the mid-1940s, when this word came to mean a spot of light on a RADAR screen, the common meaning for blip was “a sudden brisk blow, a popping sound.” Blip has been attributed to one of my personal favorites among classic authors, Mark Twain, in St. Nicholas.

“. . . a blip in the back and knocked him off.”


How about you? What idioms/words/phrases have YOU coined in your writings? Or, if you haven’t created your own idiom(s), what original, “fresh” descriptive terms have you discovered in books you have read?

Blasts from the Past

Confession: I haven’t been keeping up with upcoming releases this summer. However, I have done a fair amount of reading. Because I’m working to whip a novel draft into shape before the ACFW Conference in September so I can pitch it to editors/agents, my summer reading has consisted of mysteries. And, because I have a handful of Raymond Chandler books on hand, I’ve been reading those.

Chandler was a master of descriptive narrative and internal dialogue, two things that are necessary in most genres of fiction, but vital for first-person point of view works, which is what I’m writing. So, while I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of reading well-written prose, I’ve also been infusing my brain with research.

Of course, Chandler’s books are definitely not Christian fiction, as there is much drinking and smoking done by nearly all the characters, but they are considered classics, and many writing craft books include his writings among their lists of authors to study.

The genre is hard-boiled detective, which was very popular during the Maltese Falcon days. Chandler is well-known for one-liner descriptions that immediately give the reader a mental image. For instance, in one book he describes a woman (who is attempting to flirt with the protagonist) by saying “Her legs had more tone than a lyric poem.” In another scene, Marlowe, the quintessential private eye, is caught while searching an apartment by someone with a flashlight. He says (via internal dialogue): The flash pinned me against the wall like a squashed fly.

Another series of (non-Christian) books I’ve read from this summer is that of Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum mysteries. The protagonist in my mystery series is modeled loosely after Plum, although my series will be written for the Christian market, as this secular series includes a lot of sexual references (although not graphic, but still . . .) and bad language. I think it’s a shame for authors to feel the need to include such things when otherwise, the writing and story is superb.

Again, that reading was done mostly for research. Evanovich and Sue Grafton have written dozens of books in their mystery novel series, and my goal is to create such a series for readers to enjoy without having to trudge through unwanted words.

Signpost Plotting

I’ve been a nonfiction writer, well, it seems like forever. I’ve worked for several newspapers, written for magazines, blogs, and I even have a published (nonfiction) book. But when it comes to fiction – that’s a different story.

My first novel was 90,000ish words of rambling. It wasn’t all bad. I even put it up on Kindle, just for fun. I wrote nearly the entire manuscript using the “pantser” method, which means sit down and write. I entered the monstrosity in a contest, and the judge’s feedback said the story was “plot-flawed.” Yikes!

There’s this big plotter vs. pantser dilemma among fiction writers. Should I just sit down and start pecking out pages, or should I outline first?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the right answer may be “both.”

Here’s my story.

After the whole “plot-flawed” fiasco, I pretty much gave up writing fiction. For years. I had plenty of other writing projects, so in my mind, it was no biggie. After a while, I got bit by the fiction bug again. So, I decided I’d better learn how to plot. I read possibly every craft book on story structure and plotting available. Seriously.

And I started plotting.

And plotting.

And plotting.

Trouble is, I didn’t ever really “write.” I just plotted.

I did start writing on some of the projects. But because I’d plotted them to death, it wasn’t fun. I’d outlined the life out of the stories. Because of that, the five novels I’d started that were in various stages of development were left to gather digital dust on my computer’s hard drive.

At one time, I went to the ACFW Conference every year. But it’s pretty expensive just to go there and hang out with friends with nothing to pitch. I made a promise that I wouldn’t attend again until I had a completed manuscript to discuss with editors and agents.

That was about four years ago.

I miss ACFW. I miss the fun, the fellowship, the learning. But I can’t justify going without a completed novel. So I haven’t gone.

This year, my daughter (who is an optometrist), said she’d pay the registration fee for me if I finished a fiction manuscript by July 15. She’s tired of me starting novels that she likes and never finishing them. She told me to pick one – any one – of the ones I’d started already, or to start a new one. It didn’t matter, but I had to have a first draft done by July 15.

So, I literally drew a title out of a hat (well, a coffee cup, actually).

That was a few weeks ago. But then I was faced with the whole plot/pants issue. The one I picked wasn’t fully plotted, but I still suffer from plot-flaw fears, so I knew I had to put some sort of structure in place.

I turned to my good friend Google and began searching for solutions to the whole plotter vs. pantser thingy. That’s when I discovered Jim Bell’s book called Super Structure. Any writing craft book by James Scott Bell is worth checking into, so I bought a Kindle copy and downloaded it.

The concept of this book is to develop a loose outline of “necessary” scenes (he calls them “sign posts”) that hold the story together in a logical sequence, but you have freedom to do what you (or your characters) want when getting from one signpost to the next.

Jim explains each of the sign posts and their significance to the story in his Super Structure book. For example, one of the sign posts, which shows up in Act III, he calls “The Q Factor.” This title is taken from the James Bond series, where James always pulls out some goodie or gadget given to him by Q early on in the story. The Q Factor sign post is set up in Act I, and it can be a special talent, object, information, etc. – something that is going to give the protagonist a voila! moment in Act III.

All in all, Jim lists 14 sign post scenes that form the bones of a well-structured story.

What I’ve done on this book is start by identifying the archetypes for my main characters and creating their back stories, goals, motivation and conflict. I’m impatient, so I use a digital voice recorder instead of writing or typing it out and just brainstorm into the mic until I figure out what each character wants and how he/she plans to get it, etc.

Once I got my main characters lined out, I worked out my sign posts. Then I started writing. My target for this story (a murder mystery) is 75,000 words, and so far I’ve reached just under 25,000, so this method seems to be working for me.

Or at least I thought it was until this morning. The sleuth is talking to her brother, who has been arrested for a murder he claims he didn’t do. She’s more concerned about a large sum of money he bummed from their mother, which she thinks was to cover his gambling debt. When she asks why he let his gambling get so out of control before asking for help, he tells her something I had no idea about. The money wasn’t to cover gambling debts. It was to pay a ransom.


So, now I get to figure that out on my way to the next sign post. 🙂

Christmas Breakfast

A lot of planning goes into the Christmas season – shopping, decorating, travel, logistics, the Christmas Dinner menu. One part of the planning that sometimes gets forgotten is Christmas breakfast.

We usually have our main Christmas dinner late in the day. This year, it was at 4 o’clock. Because eating a big lunch wouldn’t leave much room to enjoy a large early dinner, we typically have a late breakfast instead. And we try to serve something special.

We are empty-nesters and enjoyed exchanging gifts with the grands a few weeks ago when my son was home on leave from the Marines. My daughter, who will graduate from Optometry college in May, is home for the holidays, and we’ve enjoyed baking during her visit.

Here’s one recipe we made that was a big hit – it’s a knock-off from the famous Cinnabon rolls recipe. It’s probably not something I’d make very often, but for a special occasion breakfast, such as Christmas Day, it’s perfect. This idea may not work if you have little ones in the house, but this recipe is easily made ahead of time by making the dough the day before.

Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

Dough ingredients

  • 1 pkg dry yeast
  • 1 c. warm milk
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 c. flour

Filling ingredients

  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2-1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. margarine, softened

Icing ingredients

  • 8 tbsp. margarine
  • 1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/4 c. cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp. salt


1. n a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast into the warm milk. Add sugar, margarine, salt, eggs. Mix well. Add flour 1-2 cups at a time until well-blended.

2. Using lightly floured hands, knead the dough until it forms a large ball. Place in an lightly oiled, glass bowl and turn until all sides are coated. Let rise in warm room until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it forms a rectangle, about 16 x 21 inches and approximately 1/4 inch thick.

5. For filling – combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spread margarine over the dough until it reaches the edges. Sprinkle brown sugar/cinnamon mixture evenly over the margarine-covered dough.

6. Carefully roll the dough from the long edge. Cut into 1-3/4 inch slices and place with edges slightly touching onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.

7. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

8. Combine icing ingredients and mix until fluffy. When the rolls are done, spread generously with the icing.

9. Enjoy!




A Constant State of Change

Three years ago, I left my beloved home state of Arkansas and moved to Texas. I love Texas, too, but my entire life changed – new location, new job, new church, new marital status (divorced, ugh!).

Almost exactly one year ago (October 23, 2013), God restored my life back. He is always good. I returned to my home – the same home I’ve lived in for nearly 20 years. I got remarried to my husband and reunited with my dog. And, I’m back and very involved in the same church. God is so good!

But I got another new “job” – that of a small business owner. I started a digital services company, and it will celebrate its first anniversary next month. I develop websites, do social media management, and am a marketing consultant. I have some great clients – mostly small business owners and authors – and I love, love, love what I do.

We had another change to our family a year ago (on October 13) – another grandchild. Now we have seven! This little girl was a total miracle. Her parents were counseled to abort due to the high risk, and our daughter (Sarah) had major surgery during the pregnancy, but little Raegan James celebrated her first birthday last week. God is good! Now they have four girls, bless their hearts.

Other “normal” changes in my life include keeping up with my daughter’s (Elena) adventures. She will graduate in May with her O.D. – an eye doctor! She’s currently on an externship in Alaska, working with Indian Health Services as a student optometrist. They are headquartered out of Bethel, and take frequent trips on small planes to outlying villages to perform eyecare for the residents. She loves it a little too much for this mom, because she’s already let us know there are two permanent positions opening up there by the time she graduates. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll visit Alaska in the next couple of years if she gets a job there.

Our eldest daughter (Amy), her husband and their three boys are doing well – staying busy with homeschooling and sports. Our son (Val) is a Marine, stationed in San Antonio. He and his wife will soon celebrate their third anniversary. Time certainly flies!

Another big change for me, career and writing-wise, is that I’m gearing up to write another novel. Most of my writing for the past decade has centered around blogging and training materials. I haven’t written fiction in I can’t remember how long. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to develop characters, settings and plots. I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) during November. I’ve got a pretty good concept of my story, which I’m sure will change as the writing phase begins, but I’m excited about it!

That’s a LOT of change for one short year – but it’s ALL positive change. God is SO good and I am SO blessed!


Dystopian Fiction, Anyone?

Maybe I’m a little bit weird, especially for my age, but I love the dystopian genre. Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver – I’ve enjoyed the books and the recent movies made from them.

So, naturally I was thrilled when I discovered Jill Williamson, one of my favorite authors, had written a Christian dystopian trilogy – The Safe Lands.

From Jill’s website:

The Safe Lands is a dystopian trilogy in which earth’s population is divided between the infected and the uninfected; the infected live short, cushy lifestyles within walled cities of unending entertainment, while the uninfected live primitively off the land; when the virus mutates and becomes uncontrollable, the uninfected become the hunted; it is believed they hold the cure. Ages 14 and up. – See more at: http://www.jillwilliamson.com/books.

I downloaded book one onto my Kindle a while back, and I just started reading it this week, so I’m a bit slow on getting to this series. One good thing about waiting to start a trilogy until all the books are released is that I won’t have to wait and fret over what’s going to happen in the next book – it’s already written!

I loved Jill’s Blood of the Kings series. It’s in the traditional fantasy genre. Now her dystopian series has surfaced to the top of my TBR pile, and I’m already wishing the next few hours would pass quickly so I can snuggle in my chair with my dog on my lap and finish book one!

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Because I work from home and my husband works second shift, our main meal of the day is at noon. But even though now I have the luxury of more time to cook than I did when I worked full-time away from our house, I still use my crockpot a lot. And this is my favorite make-ahead meal. It serves a lot – probably 10-12 sandwiches, and it’s a perfect after-church meal when your grad school kid brings home friends for the weekend (which also happens a lot – and that’s a good thing).

This recipe is also budget friendly. I just made it and picked up a 2-1/2 lb. pork shoulder roast for about 7 & a half dollars. Considering we get 3-4 meals from each batch, it’s hard to beat!

I analyzed this recipe using a free online calorie count tool, and if you make 12 sandwiches from a 3-lb pork roast, they are 401 calories (including bun and coleslaw, but not counting any added barbecue sauce), so these aren’t really as fattening as they might seem. If you’re watching your calorie count, just be careful not to add many extras to your meal, such as chips.

And speaking of 400-calorie meals, I’ve been trying to eat four, 400-calorie meals per day in order to lose weight. This plan helps keep your blood sugar even throughout the day and it gives me a lot of energy. To help me stay accountable on my new eating plan I started a new recipe-sharing blog, and I invite you to visit it, set up a FREE account, and submit your healthy recipes so we can all work together on getting healthier. The site is 400 Calorie Menus.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 8-10 hours
Servings: 12
Calories: 401 including regular bun and coleslaw – not counting added BBQ sauce
Cautions: High in sodium


3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp smoked paprika (you can use regular, but this really makes the flavor!)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 3-lb boneless pork should roast (you can use tenderloin if you want)
2 tsp oil
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp tomato paste
Your favorite sandwich buns
Prepared BBQ sauce
Coleslaw (I use shredded cabbage tossed with Hidden Valley’s coleslaw dressing – it’s very creamy & delicious!)


Mix 1 tbsp brown sugar with the paprika, mustard, cumin, salt and pepper. Break up and lumps and make sure all the seasonings are blended together well. Rub the seasoning mix over the pork roast until all sides are covered.

Heat the oil in large skillet or small Dutch oven. Remove skillet or pot from heat and place the dry-rubbed roast in the hot oil and sear all sides. Place the roast in a 3-qt crockpot set on low.

Whisk 3/4 c water into the drippings. Add tomato paste, the remaining 2 tbsp brown sugar and the apple cider vinegar. Whisk for a minute or two until sugar is melted and tomato paste is smooth. Add another 2 c water and whisk until blended, about 30 seconds.

Pour tomato/vinegar liquid over roast in the crockpot and cook 8-10 hours (or until you’re ready to serve it).


Remove the roast, drain liquid and place meat into a large mixing bowl. Using two forks, shred the roast. Pour about 1/2-1 c of the liquid into the meat. Mix well and serve on buns with coleslaw and additional barbecue sauce.


A Time for Every Purpose

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NKJV)

T is for time.

If we lose a job, we can get another one. If we lose a friend, even though we will miss the old friend, we can make a new one. If we total our car, it can be replaced. But time is one resource we cannot renew or replace. Once time is spent, it’s gone for good.

I’m not the best at taking the value of my time seriously, which is probably why the letter T landed on my day to blog. God knows what we need, and He knew as soon as I saw the letter T, that being a better steward of my time would come to mind first.

I start every morning with a well-intentioned to-do list, but I’m easily distracted and often find myself doing what I want to do rather than what I know I need to do.

Not doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done creates problems, stress and guilt.

“Lord, please help me to stay focused on the things I need to do and treat the precious time you’ve given me like the valuable gift it is. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Food Inspired by Romance

In the early 1800s, a French sailor, Chavez, boarded a ship bound for the new world on an expedition to explore the King’s newly purchased territory. His bride-to-be, Adrienne, begged to accompany him, but Chavez forbade it. The journey was far too dangerous – especially for a young woman.

Adrienne refused to be left behind, so she disguised herself as a boy and gained employment as the captain’s boy. The “boy,” who had hired on under the name “Jean,” was a small lad, and the crew quickly bestowed Adrienne with the nickname “Petit Jean,” which in English translates to Little John.

Petit Jean Grave SiteAfter a nearly five-month ocean crossing, the ship landed in New Orleans. The crew then purchased smaller boats and worked up river again the current of the mighty Mississippi. When they reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, they rowed west.

A fever attacked some of the crew, including Petit Jean, forcing the group to pause and regain their strength. Friendly natives helped the crew when they reached the foot of a mountain near what is now Morrilton, Arkansas.

While the natives treated Petit Jean’s illness, her true identity was discovered. She begged Chavez for forgiveness, and legend states as she lay dying in his arms, she begged to be buried atop the scenic mountain. Today, at the edge of where the mountain overlooks the river, an iron fence outlines a grave site.

Cedar Falls Petit Jean State ParkThe mountain was named Petit Jean in her honor, and it is home to the first state park of Arkansas – Petit Jean State Park, which features a waterfall that cascades 90 feet into a pool. You can read the state park’s rendition of the Legend of Petit Jean on their website.

A few years ago, some professor-type from Oklahoma wrote a book debunking the legend of Petit Jean. Said the bones in the grave belonged to trapper’s son, a young boy named John, who’d drowned in the river. He spouted all sorts of facts and figures to substantiate his claim, including the fact that no one really knows the names of the supposed love-sick couple – a woman in the 1950s “named” them in the first published short story about the legend (that is true). The man wanted the grave excavated. The community ran him out of town on a rail, I think.

petit jean hotel ruinsAnother tale states the entire love story was made up as a marketing ploy to gain business for the former Petit Jean Hotel and that the grave is really empty. Being a marketer, I see how such a romantic tragedy could boost business, so I kind of believe that version. The ruins of the old hotel are still there near the grave site overlook, and they’re one of my daughter’s favorite photography settings.

Whether the legend is true or not, many companies in the Morrilton area include the name Petit Jean in their brand. We have Petit Jean Properties, I once owned a publishing company called Petit Jean Press, and we have the most famous brand to bear the name, Petit Jean Meats. And, because Rose’s latest release, “Sweet on the Cowgirl,” features a home-town product, we’ve been sharing about our home-town products on the blog.

Petit Jean Meats gift boxPetit Jean Meats are standard fare around my home town – Morrilton. They produce amazing hams, lunch meats, the best bacon you’ll ever taste, and red hot dogs. In fact, the meats are so popular, I remember a time when we had a new youth minister at church who hadn’t yet been introduced to Petit Jean Meats. He organized a cookout, and we had dozens of leftover hot dogs. He was confused, as other youth groups he’d ministered to loved hot dogs. Our youth also loves hot dogs – just not the big-name brand he picked!

At one time, you had to live near here to enjoy these deliciously packaged products, but not anymore. Petit Jean Meats now ships their products and you can order directly from their website – http://www.petitjeanmeats.com.


Here’s Your Sign

A few years ago, comedian Jeff Foxworthy had a popular phrase, “Here’s your sign!” Foxworthy showed examples of signs that were written for some of the most ridiculous situations (such as a “No Diving” warning sign on a 6-inch kiddie pool), and his whole premise was that somebody, somewhere must have done something to prompt the writing of those signs.

According to Wikipedia, there are four basic purposes of signage:

(1) Information

(2) Direction

(3) Identification

(4) Safety & Regulatory (Cautions and Warnings)

As we’re sharing biblical items during this segment of our blog, I thought of a sign. A sign that provided the most useful information ever proclaimed. A sign that, hundreds of years after it was written, still directs our lives. A sign that identified the most important person to ever set foot on the planet. And a sign that offers safety for those who heed its words and warnings to those who, like the Chief Priests, refuse to accept it. That sign was inscribed by Pontius Pilate and fastened to the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. 20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. 21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. 22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

Here’s your sign!