All posts by leanna649

A Word’s Disturbing Origin

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I had planned a different post for today, but it got highjacked by a thought that grabbed my mind and held it hostage. So bear with me, please.

Have you ever felt like exercising on a treadmill was torture? I know I have. But that was before I learned the disturbing origin of the word treadmill and came face to face with my own ignorance of a shameful piece of our history.

In the early 19th century, the treadmill, which only vaguely resembles its namesake, was invented in England with a dual purpose: to punish convicts and grind grain. Presumably if the punishment was sufficiently brutal, it would discourage the miscreant from further criminal activity.

The treadmill spread to the colonies and America where it caught on in prisons and workhouses. There’s an unforgettable scene in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of Wings. It’s set in the workhouse on Magazine Street in Charleston, South Carolina, where slaves sent by their masters worked the treadmill grinding corn. To punish the slave girl, Hettie, her owner sends her there. Hettie describes the treadmill as “a spinning drum, twice as tall as a man, with steps on it. Twelve scrambling people were climbing it fast as they could go, making the wheel turn.” Read the book.

Prior to its appearance in gyms and homes, the treadmmill was a device used by doctors to perform cardio stress tests. Who named it? Could the person who coined that word have been ignorant of its pedigree? Or knew it and didn’t care?

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.

–Elmore Leonard

Writing To Admire and Emulate

It’s no secret that I’m enamored with Janet Fitch’s writing. Here’s another example from White Oleander:

Excerpt: If I were a poet, that’s what I’d write about. People who worked in the middle of the night. Men who loaded trains, emergency room nurses with their gentle hands. Nightclerks in hotels, cabdrivers on graveyard, waitresses in all-night coffee shops. They knew the world, how precious it was when a person remembered your name, the comfort of a rhetorical question, “How’s it going, how’s the kids?” They knew how long the night was. They knew the sound life made as it left. It rattled, like a slamming screen door in the wind. Night workers lived without illusions, they wiped dreams off counters, they loaded freight. They headed back to the airport for one last fare.

My Take-away:
“If I were a poet,” then comes, in essence, a poem about people who work in the middle of the night. I love the humanity of this description that avoids “shorthand” adjectives, such as “disenfranchised” or “fringe.”

Quotable

Cheat your landlord, if you must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality anymore than you can fake a good meal.

–William S. Burroughs Continue reading Writing To Admire and Emulate

Links for Readers v1.2 February 2018


Today’s post is all about book clubs, specifically links to finding or starting a book club.

How To Find a Book Club

Almost anywhere you live, you can probably locate a book club. Libraries and bookstores typically host them or offer meeting space. You can also find clubs near you at Meetup, where you might even find a perfect fit, such as this Fantasy/Sci Fi club in Houston.

For various reasons, you might prefer an online book club.

Oprah famously encourages reading and participation in book clubs. (As an indie author, I’m happy to see that Oprah’s Book Club includes independently published books in its reading list.)

Here’s one that’s new to me: an international club called The Girly Book Club. They’re online as well as having chapters in 80 cities.

Incidentally, I’ve discovered that the Texas Talking Book Program, which serves people who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read, has a phone-in book club that meets via conference call.

How To Start a Book Club

On its site “I Love Libraries” you’ll find guidelines from the American Library Association.

More tips can be found in “How To Start a Book Club That Doesn’t Suck” at Book Riot.

Sign up on Meetup , create a group and invite people to join.


BTW

One of the real perks of being an author is getting to meet with book clubs. I thoroughly enjoy the conversation that typically veers from Compromise With Sin’s Discussion Guide to participants’ own experiences. I love meeting with people in person, but I’m also available to meet via Skype, FaceTime or phone.

Quotable

I find television very educating. Every time someone turns on the set, I go into another room and read a book.

–Groucho Marx

Streamline Novel’s First Revision

I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, Candlelight Confessions, and it’s lean and ugly. I work out the story as I go without much regard for style or details. As an admitted “pantser” (as opposed to “plotter”) I don’t outline first, so the story sometimes takes off on tangents that I’ll worry about later.

Later is now. Just as I was approaching the first revision, I got a timely tip from fellow author and Austin Novel in Progress chair Tosh McIntosh. He picked this up in a workshop presented by Holly Lisle. With apologies to both, here’s a crude approximation. Before doing the first revision, go through your draft and write a one-sentence description for every scene.  I included the date with each description so I can readily see if the order of scenes makes sense. After making the list, you’re ready to perform triage. Cut any scene that doesn’t serve the purpose of the story. Now you’re ready to make the cosmetic changes to your draft, and by ruthlessly cutting scenes you won’t be wasting time, as Tosh says, putting lipstick on a pig.

Now I know that scrutinizing each scene can seem daunting. But for me, it was a piece of cake because I’ve been composing my WIP in Scrivener and writing a very brief synopsis of each scene on a digital index card in the “Inspector.” (That’s Scrivener-speak for a place to make notes and perform some housekeeping duties.) Moreover, I can see all these index cards together on the “Corkboard” and move them around if need be. It’s most enlightening. I not only have scenes to scrap, but I see holes and disconnects in the story that need patching. And this seems to be the perfect time in the creative process to do those things.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d only type a little faster.

–Isaac Asimov

Two Words for Novelists: Donald Maass

A couple of things have me thinking about Donald Maass and his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. First, Compromise With Sin just received a “very highly recommended” tag from Midwest Book Review, which follows a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. The opinions of both reviewers are read and trusted by booksellers, librarians, and readers.

I owe much of the novel’s critical success to a team that includes beta readers, editors, and my critique group, Novel in Progress Austin. And especially to Donald Maass. Doing the exercises in his workbook enabled me to add depth to characters, heighten conflict, develop settings, and more.

So the second reason I’m thinking of him now is that I’m using the workbook as I revise my work-in-progress. At the moment, I’m working on an exercise called “Adjusting the Volume.” As with all the chapters in the workbook, he gives a rationale and cites passages from published novels to illustrate his point. I agree with him that it’s hard to exaggerate a protagonist’s larger-than-life qualities, so I’m following his advice to pick a place in the manuscript at random where the character says, thinks, or does something, and heighten it:

“Make it bigger, funnier, more shocking, more vulgar, more out of bounds, more over the top, more violent, more insightful, more wildly romantic, more active, more anything.”

With that, I’m supposed to make the change in the manuscript, then lower the volume on the same passage. Oh, then find 24 more passages, and heighten and lower the volume for each.

I find that doing this work (and it is work) really forces me to get inside my character and discover layers I didn’t know were there. I’ve addressed 12 passages so far, and I’m going to tackle a couple more as soon as I finish writing this post.

As my writing friends know, I can’t say enough about Donald Maass and the workbook. I’ve mentioned him in two previous blog posts.

Your opinion? Leave a comment.

Quotable

There are only seven days in the week, and someday is not one of them.

–Rita Chand

Five-Dollar Vocables in Fiction


I have a decent vocabulary that includes a few five-dollar vocables I might casually drop if I should ever find myself at a Mensa meeting. Words like terpsichorean, which refers to dancing, and even better, boustrophedonic, which describes the plowed  furrows left by a turning ox (or tractor).

 

But generally in my writing I eschew such terms because as a reader, I find they pluck me out of the story and plop me back into the reality I intended to escape.

I’ll make an exception, though, for the novel my book club recently read: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. Set in Scotland, the story is about a socially backward woman who devours books she selects at random, and even though she’s not intending to sound erudite, her speech often has a textbook quality. So when Eleanor sent me to the dictionary a number of times, I wasn’t annoyed because I understood this to be an important character trait.

Some of the words:

  • friable: easily crumbled
  • rhotic: an adverb describing dialect in which the “r” sound is hard (e.g., American Midewestern, as opposed to Scottish)
  • badinage: humorous or witty conversation
  • rebarbative: unattractive and objectionable

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

Words Breathe Life Into Abstraction

Finding the words to describe an abstract concept can send a writer into a spiral of self-doubt, maybe–and this is where it gets ugly–to the point of plucking a low-hanging cliche. But the seasoned writer slogs on, knowing that the right words will resurrect self-worth.

It may seem that when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of that Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955, the civil rights movement took off and “spread like wildfire.” But in the words of Eldridge Cleaver in the following excerpt from Soul on Ice, here’s what happened:

Excerpt: And as that spirit of revolt swept across the continent from that wayward bus in Montgomery, Alabama, seeping like new life into the cracks and nooks of northern ghettos and sweeping in furious gales across the campuses of southern Negro colleges, erupting, finally, in the sit-ins and freedom rides–as this swirling maelstrom of social change convulsed the nation, shocking an unsuspecting American public, folk music, speaking of fundamental verities, climbed slowly out of the grave; and the hip lobe of the national ear, twitching involuntarily at first, began to listen.

My Take-Away: Sheer poetry, this passage invites the reader to imagine.  That “spirit of revolt” becomes something tangible as it “swept across the continent.” Who knows what the “cracks and nooks of northern ghettos” are? I’ve pondered those words but can’t figure out why they touch me in a way that saying  “reached northern ghettos” would have.

And such dynamic, sensory language: “sweeping in furious gales,” “erupting,” and “swirling maelstrom of social change convulsed the nation.”

Then there’s the surprising twist in which “folk music . . . climbed slowly out of the grave,” not to “capture the attention of an American public ready to listen,” but “and the hip lobe of the national ear, twitching involuntarily at first, began to listen.” Wow.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable
No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

–Robin Williams

Banished Words–No, Not That List

It’s that time again. On New Year’s Day, Lake Superior State University released its 43rd annual List of Words Banished From the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use  and General Uselessness.   (You can see my post on last year’s list and the history of the list here.)

So, on to some of the 2018 words and the selection committee’s comments:

  • Tons–Refers to an exaggerated quantity, as in tons of sunshine or tons of work. “Lots” would surely suffice.
  • Impactful–A frivolous word groping for something “effective” or “influential”
  • Unpack–Misused word for analyze, consider, assess. Concepts or positions are not packed so they do not need to be unpacked.
  • Gig economy–Gigs are for musicians and stand-up comedians. Now expanded to imply a sense of freedom and a lifestyle that rejects tradition in a changing economic culture. Runs a risk of sharecropping.
  • Drill down–Instead of expanding on a statement, we “drill down on it.”

I have to agree with all the terms selected with the exception of “gig economy.” I think it perfectly fits the Uber drivers, retail workers, and others who string together a bunch of jobs to make a living without a safety net.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature.

–Jorge Luis Borges

 

 

 

 

Bannned Words From the Thought Police


It’s too early for the 2018 Banished Words List. New Year’s Day is when Lake Superior State University in Michigan releases its list of really annoying words.

But that light-hearted romp has been eclipsed by another list, one that bears the imprimatur of the  White House, which we can now think of as the Thought Police. According to The Washington Post, Trump has ordered the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to eschew (my word, not Donald’s) the following words in any official documents submitted for next year’s budget:

  • vulnerable
  • entitlement
  • diversity
  • transgender
  • fetus
  • evidence-based
  • science-based

Reaction has been swift. Mother Jones   has offered replacement terms, such as snowflake for vulnerable, deviant for transgender, and atheist for science-based.

I found an enlightening response from the blog Quartz which sought to put the terms in context by citing some statements from previous CDC budget documents. You can really see how scary the word vulnerable is, for example, in this from the CDC: “The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

And from Donald’s favorite platform, Kavian Shroff tweeted: “Keep this [the banned words’ list] in mind the next time the Administration uses “free speech” as an excuse to defend Nazis.”

I can’t wait for the cartoonists’ take on this subject.

Quotable

Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.

–George Orwell, 1984

NovelWords Cafe Gets a Facelift

My apology for the repeated posts you’re receiving. Can’t figure out how to change/add features to the blog without publishing it. I’ve known for a while that NovelWords Cafe needed overhauling, mainly because the blog hasn’t kept pace with my publishing career. The need came home to me recently when I went to a public library’s web site and, among all the featured buttons, like “Library Policies, Library Calendar, Library Events, etc.” there was no button for the libraries catalog. I had to scroll down to the bottom of the page where I found a humble URL with a link to the catalog.

So even though I’ve had links to information about my novel, Compromise With Sin, there’s been no place to click and actually buy the novel. So I’m fixing that. I have links to Amazon and to a brick-and-mortar store. (If you ask your favorite bookstore to order my novel and they do, I’d be glad to put that link on my blog.)

Writing Cinquains

Did you know that Ray Bradbury began each writing day by writing a poem? I recently met a poet who, among other things, writes cinquains. I’d forgotten about this poetic form. I used to write them occasionally.

Such a simple form that gets to the essence of word choice. Each of the five lines has a specified number of syllables: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.

“In the Scheme of Things”
Thinking
“First world problem”
Smacks me like a dope slap.
It’s a costly tooth extraction.
So what?

Quotable

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

–Ray Bradbury