Enough Words? Count On It!

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books_fer_head_cropWe writers have often been told in one form or another that we must “Write Something Every Day!” But how much is enough?

Erle Stanley Gardner, Anne Rice, Frederick Forsyth, and Arthur Conan Doyle all recorded they had personal goals of 3000 words a day. Ouch – my Inadequacy Meter is spiking.

Stephen King, in his seminal work “On Writing,” claims he works toward 2000 words a day. For beginning writers, the master recommends a saner milestone, on the order of 1000.all_work

Ernest Hemingway had a goal of 500. Since he was a notorious minimalist, one wonders how his goal would apply to more prosaic authors?

Speaking of loquaciousness, the word-count prize goes to the granddaddy of verbosity, Anthony Trollope. He claimed a goal of 250 words every quarter hour. That’s 8000 words for a typical 9-to-5’er. Yikes!

Add to the mix these numbers do not consider the quality of writing. Is that 1000 words of literary gold, or gibbering drivel? Arthur Hailey confessed his aim was 600 “finished words, not ‘almost right’ words.” Again, King in “On Writing” openly admits that his goals are for first drafts, which are honed down after rounds of solid editing. But that’s fine — the primary point is to simply write.

More modern tech-savvy authors, like Kristen Lamb, advise that it’s valid to include your blog in your daily word count. She points to the craft of blogging as an excellent tool to hone one’s writing skills.

So there’s hope for me yet. Why, this blog already gets me to 250!

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That’s The Opposite Of What I Meant!

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autoantonymsI have always been fascinated by words and their meanings, long before I even considered entering the world of writing. I have also been frustrated by words, sometimes while searching for the right word when writing, other times when I’m debating with persons that neither understand rules of logic and debate, nor the definitions of the fifty-dollar words they bandy about in their blissful ignorance.
But I digress…

One genre of words that presses my curiosity button is the “auto-antonym,” also called the “contranym” — a word that has two or more definitions, one which is the opposite, or contradicts, the other. There exist dozens more than listed here, but these are ones that fascinate me.

1. Sanction (verb/noun) can mean “give official permission or approval” or its exact opposite, “impose a penalty.”
The Olympic Board hereby sanctions the previous sanctions on drugged athletes.

2. Oversight (noun) can mean “oversee or supervise” or “overlook, discount, disregard or ignore.”
The Committee has oversight regarding the Senator’s oversight of paying required kickbacks to said Committee.

3. Dust (verb) can mean to add or remove dust.
After I dust the doughnuts, I must dust the counter.

4. Cleave (verb) can mean “to break apart” or “to join.”
Once husband and wive cleave together, let none cleave them apart.

5. Weather (verb/adjective) can mean “to withstand untouched” or “to wear away.”
The Rock of Gibraltar has weathered many a storm, though its south face is severely weathered.

6. Original (adjective) can mean “unchanged since it came into existence” or “never existed before.”
Moving the sculpture from its original place was quite an original idea.

I’m sure there are auto-antonyms, both homographic and homophonic, in almost any language. (Frankly I find learning the basics of foreign languages difficult enough!)
Kudos to those ESL citizens who can correctly use auto-antonyms in the already unbelievably complex English language.

For a future blog- ambigrams!
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When Your Truth Is False

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sheep_argueThe problem I see with the discussion of sensitive subjects (especially in the cesspool of social media) is that people often declare in the most obnoxious tones, “ABC is RIGHT!!!

When you ask “Why?”, and assuming the person insisting on “ABC” is not a web-troglodyte who goes medieval on your butt at light speed with a righteously indignant flame war, their argument boils down to “Because of XYZ!!!”.

What they often don’t realize is that their claims of both ABC and XYZ are not universally true. Their statements claiming “absolute right” are often based on an assumption.

Very little in this universe is always true. And under the proper conditions, even simple math is not always right.

Take the mathematical statement,
1=2
Obviously incorrect, right? WRONG.
If you’ll indulge me in a little grade school algebra…

Let’s say we have three numbers that satisfy the algebraic equation,
a+b=c
Then it’s also true that,
2a+2b=2c  (distributive law)
Now reorder the equations,
a+b-c=0
2a+2b-2c=0  (associative & commutative laws)
Now that they are both zero, they can be set equal to one another.
(a+b-c) = (2a+2b-2c)
Factoring out the common root, we get,
1*(a+b-c) = 2*(a+b-c)
  (distributive law again)
Now divide both sides of the equation by (a+b-c),
1=2
TADA!

I’ve been playing this math game on people, showing that 1 DOES equal 2, since 5th grade. Of course, it’s actually a trick — an intentional deception. Though it demonstrates that there are indeed times when even our most fundamental assumption about what looks correct is WRONG.

So before you lambaste someone, saying, “My belief is always RIGHT!”, think of how I can “prove” to you that 1=2.
Maybe your beloved sacred cow is dead wrong, because you’ve made the wrong assumption. Like the British burlesque comedian Benny Hill had often said,

“ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.”

PS – if you have figured out the trick behind “1=2“, message me – please don’t spoil it in the comments for the rest!

And of course, what post would be complete without my shameless promotion? My passion is writing stories where the reader’s assumption ain’t necessarily so.
Pindlebryth of Lenland was reviewed as a “masterpiece of deception”.
If I Can’t Sleep is awash with twists on the classic monsters that pleasantly surprised the most seasoned reviewer. Try them yourself!
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Die, Memoir, Die!

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die_memoir_use1
This is probably going to be be my most unpopular blog entry.
But it contains a harsh truth, something anyone writing their memoir should understand.

Don’t expect anyone to be interested in reading your memoir.

How many times have we seen the following in a play, a movie, or television series? — The protagonist, a writer of note, is hounded by some schlub hell-bent on coaxing said writer to read/critique/co-write their life’s story.

Theater critic Mortimer Brewster is hounded throughout much of “Arsenic and Old Lace” by an overbearing rookie policeman who pitches at length his tedious life story. And how many times had Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote” been dogged by people who want her to read their manuscript that is a thinly veiled fictionalization of the minutiae of their drab and dreary occupation?
The reason this happens so often in popular entertainment, penned by real-life writers, is because it happens so often to writers in real life!
I am barely on the beginning of my trek of published authorship, and I have already been approached by at least a dozen family/friends/strangers who tell me their desire to write The Great American Novel about their personal struggle with cancer/divorce/depression/angst/toenail-fungus/etc.
(Or worse yet, ask me to read what they’ve already written.)

Now I understand why a wolf gnaws their own leg off to escape a trap.
What these poor souls have yet to learn is the lesson that is beaten into writers day after day — make the material interesting or no one will read it.
Your life is interesting to you.
The challenge is to make your struggle interesting for Joe Blow on the street.

I have read a few memoirs — more accurately, I tried to read them, and gave up after a few chapters. Most of them are poorly written and tedious slogs through the writer’s personal turmoil. They document in tortuous detail every feeling, shadow, and fear that surrounds every unfortunate event and setback, real or imagined. Not the thing that makes a compelling read.

Are all memoirs terrible drek? Not in the slightest.
There is one memoir that I can recommend.
I read Betty MacDonald’s “The Plague and I” as research for a short story in “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.”
If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3I approached MacDonald’s book with reluctance, intending only to scan the bare minimum for background info about tuberculosis sanitoriums. The story was so compellingly told, that it sucked me right in, and I devoured the entire book.
Please read it and use it as a model to guide your memoir style.

Before you get out your pitchforks and torches to lynch the nasty blogger, let me get one thing straight.
I am not telling you to stop writing your story.
Please do — Continue to write your memoir.
It is a document that you probably need to write, for any number of reasons:
— it is something your descendants or immediate family would cherish;
— it would be a valuable document, should you become famous or infamous;
— it is probably the best therapy to work through your problem(s), and thereby reduce the chance of you becoming infamous.

So, write your memoir.
Just don’t expect people to line up to read it.
Or perhaps better advice would be:

Live a life noteworthy enough to inspire someone else to write it.

Word Size Isn’t Everything

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confooz_minions_eschewI’ve often been accused of being overly loquacious.
   Am not! I do not talk too much!
However, if you accused me of being sesquipedalian…
   Yup – guilty as charged.

I sometimes tend to use big words, but not because of some dark deep-seated need to feel superior. I instead attribute it to two reasons:
1) my parents instilled in me a strong desire to build my vocabulary;
2) sometimes the right word to use IS the big one.
In homage to reason (1) above, I’ve slipped in a saying from me-mumsy-dearest in my latest project, “My Friend Jackson”:

People who use 4-letter words have 4 IQ’s.

In my pursuit of flexing my vocab muscles, I wouldn’t be surprised if along the way I’ve created words not found in the Oxford dictionary. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I consider myself in good company.
Here’s a short list of words that didn’t exist in the English language, until an author created them in their literature:

chortle      Lewis Carroll
cyberspace   William Gibson
doublethink  George Orwell
droog        Anthony Burgess
grok         Robert Heinlein
nerd         Dr. Suess
pandemonium  John Milton
pollyanna    E.H.Porter
robot        Karel Capek
shangri-la   James Hilton
superman     Friedrich Nietzsche
utopia       Sir Thomas More
waldo        Robert Heinlein
yahoo        Jonathan Swift

So why did I choose this topic to ramble away on?
I was recently reminded of how “invented words” leech into our conversation, when a TV murder mystery referred to “furnidents,” defined as “the impressions that appear in carpets after furniture has been moved/removed.”
That’s not a real word!
It was first introduced by Rich Hall in his “Sniglets” feature in HBO’s “Not Necessarily The News.”

Some of my other favorite sniglets:
furbling – Having to wander through a maze of ropes at an airport or bank, even when you are the only person in line.
carperpetuation – The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum ONE MORE CHANCE.
flen – The black crusty residue that accumulates on the necks of old catsup bottles.

For a rather impressive list of sniglets, follow this link.

I’m sure you’ll find a few “invented” words in my books as well.
If you find one, and are curious about their meaning and etymology, leave a comment or drop me a line!
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English Class Can Be So Violent!

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Harry Reasoner

I had an English teacher, in the days when the Petrified Forest had real trees, who had a reputation for boring her classes stiff. One day however, she started our class with a film about the importance of “word placement.”
The film featured Harry Reasoner, a CBS TV network news anchor of the day. Our whole class collectively rolled their eyes at what promised to be another pointless and boring lesson.
We were oh-so-wrong — as by the end of the class, we were clutching our ribs in pain, howling with laughter.

The filmed lecture began innocently enough, with a quick introduction by Mr. Reasoner. The CBS anchor then wrote on a blackboard the following sentence about a recent incident involving him and a fellow newscaster from the same network:

ONLY I punched Walter Cronkite in the nose.
He then explained — his otherwise perfect total deadpan spoiled by a wicked gleam in his eye — that in this example, “ONLY” at the beginning of the sentence informs the listener that Mr. Reasoner was the sole person who hit Mr. Cronkite. There may have been several other people who wanted to do Mr.C. harm, but no one other than “I” did it.

27vietnam-cronkite-master768

But… who would want to punch ME?

The lesson proceeded as Mr. Reasoner moved the all-important word “ONLY” to other positions in the example sentence, then explain their subtly different meanings:

I ONLY punched Walter Cronkite in the nose.
I could have done something far worse, perhaps something involving a baseball bat, a shovel, or a crowbar. Instead I decided my fists were sufficient for Mr.C.

I punched ONLY Walter Cronkite in the nose.
There may have been several other people that had been punched during the event, but Mr.C. was the only person that I was responsible for decking.

I punched Walter Cronkite ONLY in the nose.
I could have punched something far worse, but I instead chose to target Mr.C’s sizable schnoz.

I punched Walter Cronkite in the nose ONLY.
Perhaps Mr.C. was punched in several places by two or more people. I however, am taking responsibility for the damage done to his honker.

Thinking back on this, I wonder if the teacher was trying to correct our English grammar, tainted by the word order preferred by Pennsylvania Dutch…? (We do love our dangling modifiers!)

I would love to see this little gem of a film again. But I have searched YouTube far and wide, resulting in abject failure. (It could very well be that I am mis-remembering that Mr. Reasoner was the host, and someone entirely different was the lecturer.)

If you can find this video, reach out to me by email, website or facebook. I will sing your praises in this blog and everywhere I write!

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Drawing On Experience

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nebula_wp_cropOne of my hobbies that turned into a vocation is CGI, or computer animation. In case you’re unfamiliar with the terms, think Pixar.

My first animation project was the opening animation for OTAKON 2001, “Mecha Run For It“. Though this 6-minute animation proved I had the chops to hack it, I simply didn’t have the bucks necessary to fund my own animation studio. And since wonderful ideas like Kickstarter did not yet exist, that dream quietly settled on the back burner.

Now that I am an (hopefully up-and-coming) author, I use this skill to enhance my publishing efforts. Although it isn’t animation, I use the same skills to create all my cover art and most illustrations to go with my stories.

How you might ask?
I employ LightWave3D, a CGI modeling and animation software package used in several sci-fi franchises (Babylon 5, Star Trek, Iron Man, to name a few).

Consider that animation is merely a series of photographs shown in rapid succession to fool the human eye’s persistence of vision. What better, than to my use animation to create my still-life illustrations?

I create the 3D models, pose the model actors, set the camera and lighting, exactly as if I were crafting an animation scene. The result is a photo-realistic image. If I need to convert the photo into pencil, charcoal, ink or paint styles, I have several converters at my fingertips in Lightwave3D itself, and other tools like Photoshop, to skin that particular cat.

You can see all my covers, illustrations and animation projects at anigrafx.com, but just to whet your appetite, here is an illustration used in “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.”
mask_of_jyestha_c16And here’s the illustration submitted with my short story “If These Walls Could Talk,” slated for Firebringer Press‘s upcoming anthology “Meanwhile in the Middle of Eternity“.walls_talk_thumb

Bet you can’t wait to see what I’m cooking up for my next novel, “My Friend Jackson“!

Thanks to DT Krippene for suggesting this blog topic.

Do As I Say, Not As I Write!

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books_fer_head_cropIf you are a writer, you have probably been pelted by dozens of “rules of good writing” from various sources. And you’ve also most assuredly heard them spouted word-for-word from sources of every stripe. At one end of the spectrum: revered oracles and best-selling authors; the other end populated by bloviating rule quoters and clueless hacks.
nfwim_coverRecently, I read an amusing book, “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve” by Ben Blatt.
Being a bit of a mathematician, I was intrigued by this statistical analysis of writing styles. What tickled my funny bone, however, was the light shed on how much authors actually obey these supposedly “set in stone” rules.

1) Exclamation points
The oft paraphrased rule by Elmore Leonard is “no more than 3 per 100,000 words of prose”. Yet take a look at how often the man himself used them.
off_exclamTsk tsk. The oracle uses forty-nine? He broke his own code!
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I am relieved to report that my own writing averages about 350 on the above graph, putting me solidly in the middle. In the universe of current authors, that makes me worse that Stephen King, but better than Dan Brown.
Getting back to Mr. Leonard, he at least does deserve credit for being the best of the lot. And keep in mind, his achievement of forty-nine is an average over his entire body of work. But how did the gent perform over his entire career?
off_exclam_leonardThis is one instance where the oracle seems to obey his own rule, but only after he sticks his big foot in his mouth.
exclam_type_ptThe rule, as a rule, is still something to which we should pay heed. After all, the above graph shows that quality writing leans toward this advice. Looks like I have some improvements to make, before achieving “Modern Literary” quality.
Aw, nuts! (Oops — another pesky exclamation.)
I think the best advice on exclamation points I’ve heard to date was from a professor at DeSales University: “The sentence must earn it.”

2) Abverbs
Mark Twain’s quote — “If you see an adverb, kill it!” — often echoes in my head (Naughty, naughty, Mr Clemens — you used an exclamation point.) Similarly, Stephen King instructs the writer to avoid “-ly” adverbs, recommending that a weak verb paired with an adverb is better replaced with a strong verb: e.g. replace “ran quickly” with “raced.” Personally, I agree with this advice.
off_adverbsKudos to Mr. Twain for adhering to his own dictum. King, however needs some remedial work. Though not presented here, Blatt’s book reveals that, like Leonard playing fast and loose with exclamation points, King only obeys his own adverbial advice after the year he penned it in his seminal work, “On Writing.”

3) Opening with Weather
Everyone is familiar with the oft-ridiculed opening, “It was a dark and stormy night,” penned by Bulwer-Lytton. It is generally accepted that good writers follow another one of Leonard’s rules: “Never open a book with weather.” Well, take a look at how often successful authors ignore that advice.
off_weather_1stI’m not sure if that’s a condemnation of the quality of certain authors or their
readers.

4) Suddenly!
Again, paraphrasing Mr. Leonard, the rule is “Never use ‘suddenly’.”
I guess as a whole, we writers cannot avoid a steady diet of suddenly’s.sudd_pt

I am pleased to report that I don’t break these rules — at least, not enough to warrant being at the wrong end of these graphs! Don’t believe me? Read my books, and decide for yourself.
If you read them, review them.
If you review them, please alert me if I’ve gotten lazy and broken these rules!
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How Tastes Change

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I was snacking on an apple this morning, and while crunching away, I also ruminated on how my tastes have changed over the past few years.
My favorite apples as a youth were red delicious. Today, I cannot remember the last time I had one of those – if only because it is impossible for me to predict their texture.
I hate mushy apples.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is — my apples must be crisp.

As soon as four years ago, I adored noshing on Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps. Now I cannot abide them, because they are just too sour for my liking. Though they are both great when cooked. Nom nom!

I hate mushy apples. Oops — did I already say that?
Well, it bears repeating — I HATE mushy apples!
Much as I dislike to waste food, if I bite into an apple, and am presented with a mealy mouthful, into the trash it goes (or the lawn if deer are about). I demand an apple so crunchy, it makes my gums bleed.
My top three favorites are, when I can find them are: Cameo, Ambrosia, and Jazz.
And before you suggest “Have you tried…?” Yes, I have.

Who knows what my favorites will be next year?
I hear the modern-day Johnny Appleseed’s are working on a hybrid based on the Honeycrisp, to be named Laser-crisp. Oh, brother – I hate it already, if only because of the name.

On a non-apple note, I hated spinach and grapefruit when I was younger.
Now I love them – baby spinach in my salads, and pink grapefruit segments. Nom!

One of the more curious changes in taste I’ve experienced (other than my older brother morphing from a Summer-of-Love hippie to a Redder-Than-Fox-News conservative) is my attitude toward peppermint. I used to like it – now I cannot stand it. I loathe it so much, I consider the mixing of chocolate and peppermint an Abomination that merits its own verse in Leviticus.

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I even recorded a story about it – “Peppermint Christmas“!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Jest a Minute, You!

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Other than the King himself, who held the most important position in the King’s court? The Queen? The Prime Minister? The Exchequer? The Archbishop?
I believe it was the Jester.

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It was he who had the unenviable task of being the Conscience of the King.
Depending on the quality of the person holding the highest office of cleric, and on how religious His Majesty was, the Church should have also been risking that dance on the guillotine’s edge. But history shows that far too often the inner workings of the royal court often rendered the Guiding Light that should have been the King’s spiritual leader either totally silent, quite impotent, or even worse, more corrupt than the King himself.

It was therefore left to the the humble Jester to be the King’s conscience, his better self, his thorn-in-the-side.
A dangerous task, to be sure.

It still is today.
While I don’t place myself in the same arena as our current spate of late-night talk show hosts, political comedians/comediennes, and parody news sites (I lo-o-ve The Onion!) who skewer and lambaste those who so richly deserve it, I am thankful they are there, and admire the work they perform so adroitly.

To be sure, I have my own share of sarcastic and sardonic wit, though I marvel at the professional Jesters’ speedy and laser-accurate assessments of our politician’s foibles, hypocrisies, and outright blatant sins. It is truly a shame that like the Kings of Old, our leaders still hold the Jester with a disdain stronger than Drano, and ignore their sage advice.

The modern equivalent of The Jester certainly irritates those who have voted for these corrupt and/or brain-dead political flunkies. How else can it be explained that I find myself the target of wrath when I chime in with The Jesters? Time and time again, I have been blasted with the withering sanctimony, “He/She holds the office, he/she deserves your respect, so shaddap!”
Sometimes the name of God is also invoked by those same flapping lips.

They need to understand one thing about myself — and hopefully I speak for the professional Jesters as well — It is precisely because I respect the Office, that I lambaste the waste of protoplasm that infects said Office.

Needless to say, some of this acerbic attitude and witticism is bound to show up in my writings.
My epic fantasy, Pindlebryth, has its share. Take a peek and see for yourself!
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