Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for . . .

Zodiac: the twelve astrological constellations.

The one that the sun travels through in the month of a child's birth supposedly determines his or her personal characteristics and fate. The constellation Libra, which "rules" a child born in October, is not visible in the sky until April, six months later. Likewise, for all other signs of the zodiac.

In Genesis God says to Abram, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them." Some argue that  Abram and some ancient people had astrological knowledge that has since been lost.

I believe that's possible. I also believe there's something to "astrology" but not as it's currently practiced in the horoscope columns. One reason is that the designation of the signs of the zodiac are completely arbitrary. If you don't believe me, go outside on a clear night, look up, and see if you can find Gemini's Twins or Sagittarius the Archer! Maybe you can with a diagram. 

The "Mayan" prediction of impending doom on December 21, 2012, is based on New Age astrological speculation.

Even if the science is a stretch, astrology might make an interesting element in a fantasy or sci-fi novel. Do you know of fiction that involves astrology?

P.S. The A-Z Challenge is now history. It's been fun! Thanks everyone for your posts and visits and comments. 

Zo long!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for . . .


Sorry y’all. This has been a long challenge.

Fatigue or boredom . . . . Or both. Yes? 

But we’re almost to the finish line. 


Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for . . .
Before computer layout software, this was one tool graphic artists couldnt do without. It's probably safe to say that very few art students back then graduated without slicing into a finger or other misplaced body part with an X-Acto. I did. Graduate, I mean. 

It’s been said that art is at least as much about learning to see as learning to draw or paint or sculpt. It’s true of language arts also, because you can’t write about something you don’t perceive. 

How to sharpen perception? If only there were an X-Acto® tool for that.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for . . .


If you really get into words, you might like free subscriptions to the following:

Wordsmith’s A.Word.A.Day.

Michael Quinion’s weekly ezine, World Wide Words.

Or you might enjoy Word Dynamo games and quizzes.

Here’s one guaranteed to increase your vocab: Greek and Latin Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes.

Devote yourself to words and your command of language will grow like a tree planted by rivers of waters. Don’t forget,  however, that words can wound, warp, waste, or wither. May the words you speak always be in blessing. 

Do you have a favorite word-related site or subscription?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for . . .


We’ll be taking a short one soon. Its been so long we couldnt decide where to go.

It’s been so long we won’t remember what to do with ourselves.

Ya think maybe itll come back to us?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for . . .


The Uncanny (or Das Unheimlich in German), according to Freud, is “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” Its a complicated psychological concept, but lets oversimplify.

Its a peculiar category of horror: the strangely familiar or the familiarly strange. 

If, lets say, your chauffeur dies, the next day he rings your doorbell, and you open the door to find him there, smiling—that would be uncanny. Similarly, if something about your new lover compels your belief that you’ve somehow known her before, but you have no conscious memory of her, that too would be uncanny.

You can probably think of dozens of novels and movies that deal with the uncanny. Burnt Offerings with Karen Black & Bette Davis, the Hitchcock classic Vertigo, and virtually anything directed by Ingmar Bergman are good examples. Zombies and vampires are uncanny manifestations. So are dolls or toy clowns that come to life. And the man with no features . . . who follows you everywhere . . . .

I had an uncanny experience when I was in college. It didnt involve zombies or evil dolls, but for a few minutes I thought I'd stepped into the middle of The Twilight Zone.

Showing up at what I thought was the appointed time and place for my mythology final, I took a seat and looked around. I didn't recognize any of the students there. So I re-checked the exam schedule, which seemed to confirm that I was in the right place at the right time.
Not convinced, I asked the boy in the seat in front of me what exam he was there to take. When he said Econ, I panicked. “Are you sure?” 
He was sure. And I was creeped out. What was happening? Was I going crazy? The schedule must have changed . . . but why was I the only one who didn’t know about it? I rose to leave, unsure of where to go or what to do.

On my way out, I had to climb three steps from the auditorium to the hallway. 

Wait a minute! I’d never noticed those steps before. And that’s when I figured it out. 

For mythology class I’d always entered the building at the front on the ground floor and gone to the auditorium on the right end of the building. On the morning of the exam, I’d parked behind the building, entered on the ground floor at the back, and gone left to the auditorium.

But . . . the ground floor in the back of the building was the basement! The auditorium I’d taken my seat in was directly beneath the auditorium where my exam was scheduled to take placewas, in fact, taking place. 

I ran upstairs to an auditorium that looked exactly like the one downstairs. Except for the three steps to the hallway.

And the little gold numbers above the doors, which I’d paid no attention to because I already *knew* I was in the right place. It was a case of the familiarly strange.

How about you? Have you had an uncanny experience? Have you written or do you intend to write a story or novel that deals with the uncanny?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

T is for . . .


Thanks, Faith, who tagged me for the Lucky Seven Meme and put me in the company of some fine, accomplished writers.

Im supposed to share seven lines or paragraphs from the seventh line on page seventy of my novel. Trouble is, I dont have a page seventy of my novel. I dont even have a page seven yet! But I need all the feedback I can get so . . .

I hope seven paragraphs from my middle-grade short story will be okay. It doesnt have a page seven either, so how about if I start in the middle of page three?Thats half of seven. [*Hey, as long as Im cheating changing the rules, I may as well make major changes, right? Mind if I go along with you for tattoos, Faith?]

     Vikki gave me a hand up and volunteered to walk the two blocks home with me. “Good girls,” Mrs. Prebble said, patting each of us on the shoulder and walking away.
     She'd rounded the corner when I realized what I had to do. "I'll be right back, Vikki."
      "Mrs. Prebble, wait!” I shouted. Lumbering after her, I actually jingled! Jing-a-ling-a-ling.
      She was already at her desk stapling papers. I slung my backpack to the floor. “I almost forgot,” I said, out of breath, opening my pack. “I was taking up donations like you asked me to right before the fire drill … and I was in a hurry to go outside—” I pulled out the box, “—so I shoved this in here.” A bead of sweat rolled down my temple. “And then I sort of forgot about it . . . until now.”
      Somehow, the box seemed lighter than it did on my back. I held it out to her, reverently, as if it were a gift from the magi or something. She took it, tilted her head slightly.
      I made a dash for the door, but she called my name and I had to turn back.
      Still holding the box, she fixed me in her gaze. I shifted from foot to foot. I gulped. She knows. Taking a deep breath, I prepared for the worst.

Now, Im supposed to tag seven bloggers, but Im only going to tag six. See above.* And they are (Envelope, please):

Leslie S. Rose
Margo Berendsen
Ilima K. Todd
Heather Spiva 
Jennifer Forbes 
Patricia Stoltey

I hope you’ll all share your talents with us, but if you can’t, for whatever reason, that’s okay.
Here are the rules:
1. Go to page 77 of your manuscript.
2. Go down 7 lines.  
3. Post the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs on your blog.
4. Tag 7 new writers.

Thats it!


Before I was tagged, T was to be for . . .

Tree and True.

Turns out they’re related. 

Quoting from, “the words true and tree are joined at the root, etymologically speaking.” 

Read the full reference yourself if you’re so inclined. If not, here’s the short version. Both words derive from the Indo-European root, “deru-” or “dreu-,” having to do with wood or firmness. Both are also related to a third form of the same root, “dru-,” as in Druid, the Celtic priest of the oak grove.

Then there’s that further connexion. The Man who died on the Tree said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Friday, April 20, 2012

S is for . . .


I live with the noisiest man on the planet. He’s never met a volume control he didn’t like. He plays his Les Paul or Strat in the garage, all amped up. That doesn’t bother me much because he’s a great guitarist. But when the plates in the kitchen cabinets start bouncing to the thump of his buddies’ drums and bass guitar—that’s where I draw the line. 

I stumble into the garage, flick the light switch off and on, and make the “cut throat” sign. I flash a Cheshire cat smile. Now that’s tact. Nothing, not even banging on the wall with a meat mallet or setting off the burglar alarm, works as well. 

Flipping the breaker would be ideal—except that the electrical box is in the garage.

The man has radios and assorted noisemakers throughout the house, and as he goes from room to room, he turns one of them on. He never turns one of them off, mind you, when he leaves a room.

And the maddening thing is, since I’m now an expert at tuning out, it takes me some time to realize my house is a jumble of noise. It’s only after I’ve read the same sentence 15 times without making sense of it, or when I omit nothing from the chocolate cupcakesexcept, of course, the chocolate . . . . That’s when I calmly, yet assertively suggest that he “Turn It Down. Please!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an idle gripe. S is also for sweet, which to me is one of the most important ingredients in that weird concoction called man. The man himself can cook, and he laughs when I whistle. He’s my biggest (6 ft. 5; 240 lb.) fan. He coined the perfect nicknames for our daughters: Paddington, Bobo, and Squonk. Hes also the worlds largest repository of whale and elephant jokes.

He’s sweet. Who wouldn’t love a man like that? 

I could continue, but since this post is supposed to be about silence and I haven’t gotten to it yet, I’ll just say how grateful I am when it happens. When the man leaves the house, the silence is as refreshing as a juicy slice of watermelon on the Fourth of July. After I’ve danced around stirring up silence (and dust) in all the rooms, I run to my desk and let it all fall back down around me.

I write! I read what I’ve written—out loud—and I write some more. It’s so much fun. 

After a while I might even turn on Pandoraon low volume, of course. I read somewhere that Baroque music was great to get into the state called flow. It works for me. 

Besides, by that time he’s usually pulling into the driveway.

Do you write best in silence? To music? Or does it matter?

R is for . . .


A member of my church (Hello, Liberty!) is in Rwanda with a group conducting Vacation Bible School and also instructing local teachers so that they can "d-i-y" next time. Read more here.

In a lesson about being made in the image of God, the children looked at their own images in a mirror, something most of them had never done before. 

Part of the daily routine is to serve each child an egg. Mission leaders estimated they'd need 3,000 for the week, but as the children kept pouring in, 2,000 eggs were served the first day!

R is for Redeemer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for . . .

Portmanteau words. Such as:

ginormous = gigantic + enormous

jeggings = jeans + leggings

turducken = turkey + duck + chicken

Seems like a lot of these have been coined lately.

For a long list go to Wikipedia, itself a portmanteau word consisting of wiki (a website where users can add, modify, or delete content) + encyclopedia.

I don’t like or dislike portmanteau words in principle, but I love the fact that language is organic and ever changing—new words budding, old ones falling away. In my opinion, dictionaries should mirror word usage rather than proscribe it—unlike Noah Webster’s, which aimed to give us standard “American” English.

My problem with that is: who elected Webster official lexicographer? Fact is, no one did; he was self-appointed, all the while claiming he wanted a language for a “democratic” nation. 

And was it really necessary in the first place for Americans to break away from British” English, especially over trivial matters such as how to spell labour, judgement, or theatre?

Webster’s opus. It rubs me the wrong way, and I therefore dub it frictionary.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for . . .

Opinion piece. Here’s mine.

In a January post, Unfinished Masterpieces, I wrote about screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes’s completion of Charles Dickens’s, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sunday night the Hughes drama aired on public TV and I happened to tune in.

Never having read the fragment by Dickens, I don’t know precisely where he left off and Hughes began, but I do know that Dickens never identified the murderer. Hughes, of course, does—but I don’t think it’s the one Dickens had in mind. Or if she got the murderer right, she must have twisted the plot in the wrong direction.

Hughes herself admitted that she felt emboldened . . . to go where the characters took me, and hope that people who love the book even if they dont like what Ive done with the mystery[would] still love Dickenss characters.”

From reading other Dickens novels, I’d say most of the characters in Drood are Dickensian for sure. John Jasper is as black hearted a villain as any Dickens created, utterly loathsome. The crypt keeper, Durdles, is stock Dickens. 

If you read my N post yesterday, you perhaps will remember Alun Armstrong from New Tricks. In Drood he’s the benevolent guardian of the heroine, Rosa Budboth of whom have parallel types in other work by Dickens. 

Edwin Drood himself is curiously inconsistent. He manfully accepts Rosa’s wish to break their engagement, but immediately does something impulsive and immature. This action, which I won’t spoil by divulging, is crucial to the mystery. I can’t decide if Drood's inconsistency was his fatal flawor Hughes's.

The tale tangles right after the midpoint murder, and thereafter, the charactersmotivations and hence the plot grows less and less believable.

And then there’s a major loose end. I can’t tell you what it is without giving away the climax. But this surely was not Dickens’s ending. His plots are organic, causative, and neat above all.

It could be that Dickens himself couldn't undo the plot knots and thus left the tale unfinished. Hughes's version doesn't solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It deepens it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for . . .

Netflix and New Tricks.

First, Netflix. Still a great deal, even after their P.R. snafu.

New Tricks is a BBC-TV/Acorn Media crime drama series that my husband and I get through Netflix. 

The ambitious Sondra Pullman (Amanda Redman) gets demoted to head up the cold-case unit (UCOS) of the London Metropolitan Police. UCOS consists of Pullman, whose officiousness only partially hides her insecurity, and three old codgers that prove, alas, that old dogs really cant be taught new tricks. No matter. They solve cases the old fashioned way: they’re resourceful, clever and, occasionally, underhanded.

The old dogs, all retired policemen, are: Alun Armstrong as an obsessive-compulsive with a photographic memory; James Bolam as a widower who talks to his wife at her backyard shrine; and Dennis Waterman as a hyper-sexed ladies man withappropriately—daughters by three different ex-wives. While youre feeling affectionate toward these odd characters and their sometimes hilarious interaction, you might not notice that the crime plots in a few episodes are contrived.  

You could do lots worse than this series if youre a writer looking for a tutorial on: (a) creating interesting characters; and/or (b) crafting plots that explore and develop your charactersidiosyncrasies. 

The acting is excellent too, but I recommend you mute the theme song.

My husband and I have watched Seasons 1-5 already and all but the last two episodes of Season 6. That should tell you what we think about its entertainment value. Since Season 7 won’t be available to us until June, we’re casting around for a new view from the BBC. Any suggestions, yall?

P.S. N is also for News. My first published article is now online here. Close or minimize the pop-ups and it will be easier to find.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for . . .


It’s the red wheelbarrow of prose.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for . . .

Light, both real and metaphorical. It intrigues me.

Real light always wins. It banishes darkness every time. 

It’s the fastest traveler in the universe.  If you could travel at the speed of light, so I’m told, you could go anywhere in the universe in zero seconds. (Intrigued? Go here for more.) 

Photographers and other visual artists use light to create depth and interest. Morning or afternoon light, striking the subject at a slant, dramatizes, picks out intricate details and leaves mysterious areas of darkness.

A ritual at my house is commenting on the change in light as seasons change. It’s gradual, of course, but one day near the solstice or the equinox, the light will be different enough to notice. Faulkner noticed, even entitling a novel, Light in August.

Then there are those evenings when the fading light is blue and transcendent and tinges everything with its failing pulse. Pure magic.

Metaphorically speaking, language is a lot like light. “Lucid” means to transmit light. Lucid prose is transparent and easy to understand. But a perfectly lucid story will be a boring story. Storytellers must cast shadows.  Readers demand the drama of light battling with—and usually defeating— darkness.

No one wants to read about the happy protagonist lolling about in the sunshine—not for long anyway.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

K is for . . .

Kid lit. Yeah!

Some of my favorite books are children’s books:
  •        To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  •        Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
  •        Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli 
  •        From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
  •        The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  •        Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  •        Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  •        Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
  •        Junie B. (Jones), First Grader: Toothless Wonder by Barbara Park
  •        The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  •        Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

And that’s just a start. 

Did I mention your favorite(s)? If not, leave me title(s) and author(s) in a comment.

J is for . . .

Jargon. Nothing excludes better than a bunch of ten dollar words. In medicine there are wheezes, rales, and rhonchi (lung sounds); in law there are Chapters 7, 9, and 11and they arent sections of a book. 

In some fields, jargon is verbal precision and a matter of life and death, while in others it is merely fashionable cliché: at the end of the day; upwards of  (more than); and quite frankly (are they quite lying the rest of the time?) Talking heads say these things all the time.

Then theres business or office jargon. Some of it is cleverat least the first time you hear it:

al deskoto dine at ones desk 
deceptionist—the person up front whose job is to block or detain potential visitors
visual noise—office clutter so thick you cant hear yourself think

If I never hear at the end of the day again, it will be too soon. Please. Save five words. Say finally.” Or ultimately.

What about you? Is there jargon out there that irks you?

(Thanks to The Office Life.coms The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary for these. (Go here for much, much more!)