Romancing the Research

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from a cabin in the woods

I’m guest blogging at A Slice Of Orange this time around.
Visit there to catch my musings on the Joy of Research.
Yes, you heard me right – RESEARCH.
It can be fun, if it’s approached the correct way.

You’ll see how I applied it in several of my short stories, including those in my collection of strange tales,”If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.”
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What Ever Happened to Hippie Jane?

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what_happened_1969_2019“The median age of the Fox News viewer was 68” in 2018 — so quoth Google from that year’s Nielsen ratings.

Let’s step into our Wayback Machine, and consider the “Summer of Love.”
Doing the math, we find that today’s average Fox News viewer would have been 19 in that halcyon year of 1969 – the perfect age to be drafted and shipped off to fight in Vietnam, yet still not yet old enough to vote. In other words, the exact age to represent the typical disenfranchised  “Flower Child”.

So here’s my question — How did the generation that actively took part in “Drop Out, Tune In, Turn On”, chanted “Trust no one over 30,” embraced Free Love and Flower Power, and loathed everything associated with authority, turn into the Ugly American beating the drum of ultra-conservatism?

Truly I say unto you, the child grew into the thing they most hated.

I’m not just postulating hypotheticals here. I have a close relative who is the poster-child for this metamorphosis. In 1969, he was a hippie, lived in a commune, read Marx and Lenin, had a ponytail down to his waist, and was arrested for marijuana possession (in an era when such a thing was a truly scandalous societal Scarlet Letter).  Today, he is a devout follower of all things Fox, Breitbart, and who-knows-what-else, often proselytizing the Gospel According to Glenn Beck.
But he is not the only one I’ve observed this startling transformation – not by a longshot.

So, what causes this reversal of behavior in so many of that fabled generation?
Is it Stockholm Syndrome run rampant on a society-wide basis?
Were they so disgusted with their failure to change the world, they decided “if ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em”?
Is it enantiodromia, a Jungian mental illness that causes a person to become their polar opposite?

I don’t have an answer to the question I pose.
I wish I did, but I don’t.
I merely post this to point out my latest unsettling observation.

Whatever the reason, it’s quite probable I’ll work it into one of my books. I’m already working on the follow-up collection of strange tales to “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.” Stay tuned – it might show up there!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3

Gotta Darwin ‘Em All!

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No deep thoughts this time around.
No discussions of things philosophical or metaphysical.
No diatribes over the craft of writing.
Just a bit of fun.

Last week, I had a book signing with A.E.Decker, who whiled away the slow spots with the iPhone version of Pokémon Go. After having a guilty chuckle over that addictive electronic version of crack cocaine, several questions came to mind:

  • How many people have hurt themselves walking into traffic in an attempt to “catch ’em all”?
  • Is the game a nefarious social experiment of Darwinism in Action, culling the genetic pool of those silly enough to walk obliviously, phone in hand, into dangerous situations?
  • Why haven’t Anonymous or other groups hacked the game, placing Pokémon critters at entirely inappropriate locations and situations?

That last question lit the fuse to both our twisted imaginations. We spent the next quarter of an hour rattling off a host of “Places We’d Like To See Pokémon.”

  • A house of ill repute
  • A funeral parlor
  • 1000 ft above the deepest point in The Grand Canyon
  • Under a SpaceX rocket 5 minutes before blast-off
  • The killing floor of a slaughterhouse
  • NORAD headquarters
  • The bottom of Niagara Falls
    Oh, we had plenty more, but that’s all I remember…

Well, people – I’d love to hear your ideas as well! Leave a comment if one comes to mind.

If mirthful macabre thoughts like this are your bread and butter, then you’d certainly enjoy If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep. A.E.Decker’s review favorably compares my dastardly tales to those of Roald Dahl. High praise indeed!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3

A Not-So-Innocent American Abroad

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Apologies for not blogging over an extended period of time. I’ve been out and about, visiting across the country and the world, visiting friends, fiends and family. (I sometimes have trouble discerning which is which.) One of my relatives is big on books and an ardent fan of Mark Twain. It is indeed fitting that one of Mr. Clemens’ quotes deals with travel. After my month away from my desk and home, one seems especially apropos:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

So true – it is impossible to remain in the political and moral echo-chambers we Americans seem to seclude ourselves, when one is out and about in the company of others who are not imprisoned in one’s own myopic groupthink.

After considering how much this giant of American Literature has contributed to the American Psyche, I thought I’d just spout out a few of my favorite quotes and aphorisms from this wily and wicked wit:

There isn’t any way to libel the human race.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

And last but not least – my favorite!

The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.

If you’re enamored of these, you can find plenty more at www.twainquotes.com. As for my own teensy contribution to the world’s “Pearls of Wisdom” vaults, a few may be found in the lessons of the morality plays in If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.

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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!

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.

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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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