Ninie Hammon’s Blog for Writers

Every Writer Has One--What's Yours?

Posted: August 11, 2013, 4:29PM

Every writer has one. From Tolkein to Stephen King and every scribe before or since. We all have a story about what it was that made us decide to become writers. Mine isn’t a what story. It’s a who.

* * *

From the first of October every year until the end of February, my brother and I did everything we could to keep our grandmother from laughing on Thursdays. That was no easy task given there was little in life the old woman liked better than a good belly laugh. Said it prevented indigestion, promoted solid bowel movements and reduced suicidal urges.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you,” she’d say. “Cry and all you get’s snot on your lip.”

Her name was Bobo--for no reason anybody in the family could recall--and she was my hero, my role model and my best friend. She was also the first writer I ever knew, though not in the traditional definition of the word.

My great aunts and uncles claimed that Bobo came into the world squalling so loud and so hard she blew out all her “filters.” From that moment on, whenever she opened her mouth, her unedited thoughts flopped out. Even as a child, she said exactly what was on her mind as soon as it crossed her mind—a trait she displayed well into her nineties.

But what made a lasting impression on me, what shaped me and motivated me to become a writer myself was not so much what she said as what she wrote down.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are images of my white-haired, hunch-backed grandmother with a for-real “fountain pen,” the stub of a No. 2 lead pencil or one of those fancy, clicking, ball-point thingys in her hand jotting something down in her little notebook. Or on a gum wrapper, a paper napkin, or the back of a grocery store receipt. She used whatever she could lay hands on to capture what she called “shiny talk,” her phrase for a particularly colorful use of language.

Much of the colorful language in our house wasn’t fit for repetition much less preservation. My father had been a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. Didn't matter, though. The whole world was the source of Bobo’s material.

“This lawn mower sounds like a chain saw cutting through tin,” she jotted down in scrawling, arthritic handwriting on the back of an envelope after our next-door neighbor dropped by to return the one he’d borrowed. When she saw me reading it, she added, “Charlie’s right. I heard it. Felt like somebody was shaving my ears off with a cheese grater.”

“… the truth in long-johns with the butt flap down.” She overheard that remark at the table next to ours in a Mexican food restaurant and printed it in ink on a napkin—a cloth napkin that she proceeded to stuff into her coat pocket.

I always thought the best “shiny talk” was her own. When she took out her false teeth, her face from the nose down imploded and she looked like one of those Appalachian apple dolls. Her toothlessness gave her speech a peculiar flubbery sound I can still hear in my head, urging me to eat more.

“Sugar, you’re skinny as a fried egg, you know that don’t you. Flat-chested as one, too.”

Or to behave properly. “You don’t straighten up, young lady, I’ll skin you alive with a potato peeler and screw your head off your shoulders like a lid off a pickle jar.”

Or to say grace before a meal. “You got to pray over it cause eatin’ unblessed food’ll give you the runs.”

I don’t know when I started to jot down shiny talk on my own. Seems now I’ve always done it. I once had yellowed spiral notebooks full of words and phrases in little-kid scrawl. Though a lifetime of moves eventually ate the notebooks, the habit that created them years ago remains. I have an Always Always Language List on my IPhone and on the desktop of my computer. (Always Always—to remind me how often to listen for creative language usage and how often to write it down.)

The only time I ever asked Bobo why she wrote down shiny talk, she shook her head and looked at me sadly, as if it was truly pitiful that I didn’t understand something so obvious to her.

“It’s catchin’ a firefly in a Mason jar, Sugar,” she said. “So you can watch it glow, all shiny—like words glow. Then you got to let it go.”

There was a heartbeat of awed silence before she burst out laughing.

“I swear, chile, you’d believe me if I told you dust bunnies was spiders turned wrong side out. Lots of life don’t make no sense. Some things just is what they is. ”

I glanced over at my brother. You see, it was Thursday. And Bobo was laughing. Just come in out of the cold after her weekly hair appointment, she was shivvering and hurried to the floor furnace to stand on the grate, letting the hot air billow her skirt out around her. But the problem was ... well ... Bobo had a weak bladder. As soon as she started laughing, the dreaded psssst, psssst, pssst sound, and accompanying stench, rose up from the grill.

Please believe me when I say that I tried, I really did, to come up with some shiny talk to describe this heartwarming domestic scene. Couldn’t do it. Some things just is what they is.


Those of you who’ve read The Memory Closet have already met Bobo, or a reasonable facsimile. She showed up unannounced on page three of my only first-person novel, unpacked her bags and moved in. Out of dozens of characters in seven novels, Bobo stands out. Many readers say she’s their favorite. I’m rather partial to her myself.

Next week in this space, we’ll begin a ten-week discussion of characters. How to make them as real, individual and memorable as … well, as your own grandmother.

Write on!


*All art by Inge Look


Tammie Painter December 5, 2014, 4:05PM

What a great post, Ninie! You inspired me to write about my own writing inspiration for my blog this week.   Reply

Replies (1)

Deborah Taylor-French July 22, 2015, 12:54PM

What a wonderful story and I do love that you Always Always write down and keep shiny talk like your grandmother! Must share this story with a 93 year old friend, I always so she's happy when she's picking on me, verbally.   Reply

Replies (1)

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"Oh, and about the 9 and the e beside my name. Say it fast, emphasis on the 9. That’s how you pronounce my first name -9e. (Think “rhymes with tiny and shiny, NOT with skinny and penny.”)

Suspense Author

I have soooo many stories I want to tell you, so many worlds I want you to see, so many people I want you to meet. People in trouble, most of them. Big trouble they didn't ask for but there it is. Ordinary folks like you and me who are forced by circumstances to fight for their lives. And then, smack in the middle of their everyday worlds they encounter the unexplainable. It's always the game-changer.

Welcome to my world. If you'd like to know more about me, I'm easy. Click on Meet Ninie and you'll see. My life isn't really an open book; it's more of a pamphlet, and you are cordially invited to read it. I'd love to interact with you on Twitter, Facebook Fan page, and Goodreads. Or come visit with me at 9e's Kitchen Table, a Facebook group where readers and I hang out. I think you'd like it.