Two More Newspaper Articles Published

Two more of my articles have just been published in the West Sacramento News-Ledger, the paper of record for West Sacramento:

The Sail Inn is Back In Port (external link)

Artwork for Joey Lopes Park (external link)




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Improve Your Writing with The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests

Improve your writing by using the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests. I had forgotten that Microsoft Word has these tests built in.

Rudolph Flesch was a pioneer in the plain English movement. He devised a formula  to gauge its readability in writing. Essentially, the higher score the better.

According to Wikipedia (external link) Reader’s Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s.

To make it even clearer, this site, Readability (external link), provides this guidance:

90-100 : Very Easy
80-89 : Easy
70-79 : Fairly Easy
60-69 : Standard
50-59 : Fairly Difficult
30-49 : Difficult
0-29 : Very Confusing

My last two newspaper articles came in at 66.8 and 65.4. On track. My turquoise article for Rock&Gem, (internal link) however, trudged in at 57.8. I should have broken up more sentences to make it easier to read. But, again, I had forgotten about the readability index.

For contrast, the articles I edit for my Vancouver employer often come in at 48, leaden prose that requires a 12th grade education. Most of these pieces, though, are constructed for SEO purposes and not necessarily for a human reader.

I use Microsoft Office with the latest version of Word. To enable the tests, open Word and choose “Preferences”. Then go to “Spelling and Grammar” and check the “Readability Statistics Box”.

Statistics will now show up after you check a document for grammar or spelling. Open a file,  choose “Tools”, then select “Spelling and Grammar”. After you’ve checked the document the scores will be at the bottom.

There are also websites that will check your writing if you don’t use Word. I find a numerical score easy to relate to, something that confirms my suspicions that a piece is running too long and needs to be edited down.




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How do I Develop My Own Writing Style?

Your writing style develops naturally out of your experiences and preferences. I’m not sure you can use more adjectives, metaphors, or quotations than you would normally would without sounding pretentious or affected. Tom Robbins’ writing went off in spectacular tangents but that doesn’t mean your use will result in the same fireworks. And what are you writing about anyway?

You will obviously have more liberty to personalize with fiction. And if you have a large word count. Style must change with your audience: your editor and your readers. My newspaper article style is for a home-town weekly with a five hundred word limit. That’s not a large sandbox to play in. My magazine article style is more relaxed but still focused. Vigorous writing, no matter how many times we fail to do it, is always the goal. And the one writer who always wrote that way was George Orwell.

George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (external link) remains, I think, the most important essay on thinking and writing well. A product of wartime Britain, it is not the easiest essay to read. Several years ago I put together an annotated version with my references to the many now obscure people and places that Orwell referenced. It’s at the link above and at other places.

Will you be able to write like Orwell if you follow his rules? Of course not. He was gifted and had a supreme dedication to his craft. His first novel, Down and Out in Paris and London, remains an accomplishment most of us could never achieve even with forty years of trying. Still, I think you will develop a workmanlike style if you practice what he preaches. And a workmanlike style, something that does not offend but informs, is a good style indeed.





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A Historic Firehouse Reborn

My article on the renovation and reuse of the historic firehouse in the Washington District of West Sacramento is out. Click here to read the article at the News-Ledger’s site. (external link)


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The Changing Selection at Grocery Store Magazine Racks

Have you noticed the change at grocery store magazine racks? Regular magazines are being replaced with special editions that are undated and can be sold for months at a time. What started, perhaps, with Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition, is now evolving into special editions featuring Elvis, John Wayne, and Bigfoot. Those three, incidentally, produced by Newsweek! Click here to vastly enlarge the photo.

While commemorative editions have always been with us: the Kennedy Assassination, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Sandyhook, perhaps, these high priced special editions are not so ephemeral and fleeting. Lacking time-sensitive content, they can linger forever on the shelf, displacing other periodicals and even other publications put out by the same house.

I may not be able to find January’s National Geographic or Nat Geo’s Traveler, but I can find a National Geographic special edition on the brain or the universe. These special editions conspire to give us less selection at the rack, fewer magazines to choose from. Not a good trend, unless you want to pay $10 for a special edition on The Duke that says he liked to play chess.





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Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

This article ran in the January 6th edition of the West Sacramento New-Ledger. (external link) Their site will be updated soon, until then, it appears here.

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

by Thomas Farley

Carol Richardson retired last September after 28 ½ years as West Sacramento’s Assistant City Manager. She started in 1987 when West Sacramento was incorporated, folding into single governance the towns of, Broderick, Bryte, Washington, and Southport. She reflected on her career for the News-Ledger.

Richardson was hired by Gene Roh who was the first City Manager. Did the job description actually match the job? “There was no job description! We were putting together a city organization and that was part of it. In those early days we all did what had to be done to get the job done. I really had no idea what I was getting in to. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.” Carol would eventually work for four City Managers. “They all were unique in their management style but very competent. The City Councils had an uncanny ability to pick the right City Manager for the times facing the City. I was fortunate that all of the Managers gave me a chance. That is not always the case.”

Along the way there were numerous memories and milestones. Like that day in December, 1999 when she picked up the phone. “I just got home from City Manager Joe Goeden’s Christmas party and he called. He said there was flooding at City Hall on Stone Boulevard and he needed me early the next morning. I had no idea it was as bad as it was. Someone had turned on the fire hose on the 3rd floor and let it run. The building and everything in it was trashed. Luckily, Joe called the IT Manager Drew Gidlof that night and he went in and removed the servers and hardware. Asbestos complicated the recovery. We fully intended to move back in initially but various circumstances led us to stay in our temporary quarters until the new City Hall on West Capitol was built. Our improvised Council Chambers was in the center of the room with a makeshift dais. The offices and cubicles were all around. It was one of those disasters that brought everyone together and had a happy ending.”

As with any City, there were always contentious issues. The casino planned for the area IKEA now occupies was one. “The Councils were very committed to that area being a retail center. Prior to the casino there was a push to rezone the area for offices as some thought retail was a pie in the sky dream. The Council at that time resisted in spite of a lot of pressure from some. They stuck to their vision and it paid off.”

The Rivercats entry into West Sacramento was equally challenging. “Those were difficult times. So much was on the line for everyone involved. Again, while the Council wanted the team and stadium they were not going to compromise their policies and principles to get it. City Manager Joe Goeden deserves a great deal of credit.”

What were her most important personal accomplishments? “I am most proud of helping to build the City organization and helping to hire some of the great people who have worked there and some who still do. I am also proud of working with others on the Civic Center and assisting with the City’s Early Learning Team.

She says the City’s outlook is bright. “I think there will be more entertainment and restaurants in the City’s future. And the streetcar, waterfront development, and the Washington District are all coming along. So many good things are coming to West Sacramento.”


Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson pictured here with the four City Managers she worked with. (L-R) Martin Tuttle, Toby Ross, Joe Goeden, and Gene Roh. City of West Sacramento photo.


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A Welcoming On-line Outlet

If you are a beginning creative and are looking for wider distribution of your prose, poetry or photographs, you might want to try AmpersandLiterary (external link). They don’t pay but they offer a way to feature your content beyond the reach of your blog or website. I doubt they take everything submitted but the site seems friendly and worth checking out.


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