Tag Archives: Writing

French Toast

Bordeaux is a city in Southwest France. I think there are a few wineries in the area.

In five years or so, we plan to be living in France. Exactly where isn’t decided yet, which is why we’re going to stay in Bordeaux for a week in October and explore the Atlantic coast, at least the Southern portion. The logo above is real. It has three crescent moons laid across each other. Seems the port of Bordeaux is on a curve of the river. When the French took over (not so long ago as you might imagine, they called the place Au bord de l’eau, which means “along the water,” and sort of sounds like Bordeaux when you say it out loud in French. The logo drives that crescent theme home thrice. Sometimes Bordeaux is also called the city of the moon. The more you know, huh?

The question naturally arises, could I write in French? Uh, je ne sais pas? Can I write in Englilsh? Will anybody buy what I write in English. I mean, if not, who cares if I can write in French, right? Yes, we are seriously studying French now. Spanish has been fun; I was sometimes able to eavesdrop on my students when they were speaking Spanish and thinking I didn’t understand them. But if I’m going to live in France, I want to speak the language as well, ideally, as I do English. Yes, that well. Ahem. But, here comes the real writing tie-in. Learning French spelling and syntax as well as I know English spelling and syntax (which really is rather well) can’t help but let me write even better, more clear English. When you study things like Future Perfect tense in another language, you are confronted with deciding just what the purpose of Future Perfect is to begin with. Sure we have that in English, silly. You shall have seen that directly. And now you have. (In French, that’s Vous aurez vu que.) The syntax sounds in English like, wait for it, you will have seen that. Vu is the past tense of “you see”, que is one way to say “that,” vous aurez is simply you will (or shall.) Why did I use “shall” for my English example? Because I like the way it sounds, it’s as simple as that. In fact, “will” and “shall” mean the same thing, so there!

Now, that syntax is the same front to back, but such is not always the case. But, in using that phrase, I have to think of which tense to use, and why, and then come up with not only You (pronoun,) but also will (a prediction) have (future perfect, same as plain old present tense this time,) seen (past tense of “see”,) and that (a definite article standing in for an object.) Having to suss that out in a language other than English makes it a lot easier to explain, in any language, why you use those particular word forms. ‘Cause you gotta, right? Well, yeah, you gotta.

I recommend that any writer learn a foreign language. It doesn’t have to be French. Heck, Spanish is easier and a surprising number of the words are just like French, only simpler to pronounce. Also spelled better. Or Russian, or Chinese, Norsk, Algonquin, whatever. After all, if you are a writer, you are not a student of English, even if you never use a foreign phrase for anything. You are in fact a student of language, which is a different thing altogether.

Bonne Chance!

 

English

Well, it is red, and it has a fake windmill on top.

I was in France last week. Half of the week in Brittany, half in Paris. The picture above is from Paris, as you probably already know. The place is in Montmartre, but the better part of Montmartre is on the steps of Sacre Coeur. There’s your advice on what to do in Paris for the week. We like France enough that we hope to move there. With that in mind, we’ve gotten serious about learning the language. I won’t bore you with my progress, or lack of same, or put any French here, well, not much, well, maybe a lot, because as it happens, English vocabulary is sixty percent French in origin, one way or another. Any word ending in –tion, for example, is French. Mostly the meanings are the same. Une table is exactly the same thing as a table, so in reality, once you figure out how to “turn the corner” between French and English, the meaning of words isn’t that tough to master. But, what about the other forty percent of our words? Where did they come from?

Mostly, from German. Words like thief, belief, relief, and even brief (but brief is only used in the original sense by lawyers. It means “letter,” and lawyers write letters (briefs) to the court.) And our syntax is mostly German, while our spelling is a god-awful mess. The rules they give you in school are mostly French spelling rules, which makes sense and they will work most of the time (sixty percent of the time, that is.) Trouble is, those pesky German spellings come in, and they are the ones that you “just know” if you grew up speaking English. I suspect that most of the problem areas in English come from French, but for someone learning English, I suspect that their biggest issues come from German.

See, English is sort of a bastard child of Daddy German and Mama French, and the result isn’t always pretty. But knowing about our bastard language can certainly help one to choose the right word as opposed to the okay word. For hundreds of years, the English nobility spoke French in court, so in England, French words came to be seen as  high class and tony, which is why we hear so many people say “utilize,” particularly when trying to emphasize that they are “really using it, not just using it!” Most of the time, the word “use” provides more clarity, so for a writer it’s better. For a cop or a manager, maybe clarity isn’t what they’re after, but for us writers, it’s better to use “use.” Is that useful? (Heck of it is, “use” comes from French, too, but utilize looks fancier.) This melding of linguistic cultures is why we have such a generous collection of synonyms. You can be tranquil, calm, at peace, relaxed, loose, and so on. This is probably the reason that you see the advice to cut your adverbs. After all, with all those synonyms, you probably don’t need any.

Let me know if you find this helpful. I know that I do.

AH, F***!

Fair Warning At The Top: This post uses that ‘F’ word a lot. You know, the one that’s four letters, starts with F, and rhymes with Truck? Nobody’s doing that in the post, if that helps, but the word is featured prominently. If that’s not a word you want to read, go somewhere else.

C’mon on, sing it! “It’s a Small World After All! It’s a Small World After All! It’s a Small World . . .”

Yes, that title means “Ah Fuck!” This is a post about language and how it changes. The word Fuck is an excellent example. (I could use “sucks” also, but it lacks the impact of Fuck.) In some histories of the English language (yes, there certainly are such things) the word is traced back to early Indo-European, where it was a terrible thing to say, meaning something like “go back to whatever hell you were in before you were born,” or something like that. Other sources cite more recent etymology, but still point out that the word was well beyond the line of impolite throughout most of its history. In fact, it has only been since the late 1950s that the word has gradually come into common use in English outside of military personnel and frontier towns.

It’s a fucking shame, is what.

What I mean is that, it has become more common, and you can actually say it on primetime TV so long as it’s used for emphasis, as it is in italics above. It doesn’t happen often, and conservatives always get aroused when it does, but when it does, in that manner, the FCC shrugs and goes about its business. Not so back in the 1950s. Good heavens, Lucy and Ricky had Hollywood beds. That is, matching twin beds. She got pregnant somehow, but certainly not by fucking, because that just wasn’t done in those days, except by tattooed sailors and criminals in seedy hotels and back alleys. Everybody knew that. And when you told somebody “Fuck You!” it was a damned serious thing to say. It’s maybe not the nicest thing you can say to somebody these days, but it probably won’t get you knifed or shot, or at a minimum in a fistfight. ‘Cause that’s what it did back in the fifties, my friends. Because that good old word, fuck, was a very powerful word. Now? Pffffft! Not so much, huh?

Look at those italics again. It could say terrible shame, or tremendous shame, or horrible shame, and the meaning would be the same. A really big, honking, lot of a shame, bro, and don’t you forget it. Yeah, fuck indeed! One of the most powerful words ever to enter the English language has been reduced to a weak, slap-on-the-wrist sort of word, and that’s on the powerful end. On the weak end it’s just another one of those modifiers you search your manuscript for so you can use fewer of them. Friends, I really do think that’s a fucking shame, because I like powerful words. Which fuck isn’t, anymore.

And that’s because that word, like all of English, and every language, even French, much to the dismay of their language Institute there on the Seine, changes constantly. In Spanish, during my lifetime, B and V have come to be pronounced exactly alike. They weren’t in 1967, but they are now. If you want to see change in French, just compare written to spoken French. The joke is that it’s simple, you just don’t pronounce most of the letters. But, they used to. And in English, among many other changes (anyone can check their own vocabulary to see that I’m right) (heh heh) the word Fuck has been diminished by too much everyday use. As a person who uses language to craft his products, this is the sort of thing that I have to watch out for. I try to avoid using slang, because it changes so often. Not so easy to know how to avoid having your wonderful word become useless, though. Sigh.

Well good luck, give it your best shot, and if they don’t like it, you know . . .

So Here’s My Problem

Weird Al Yankovich performing in Henderson Nevada, fall 2014.

Weird Al looks like he certainly has a problem. The poor man has no face! I picked this picture deliberately to go with this post. This post is about my real problem as a creative individual (I hope.) Weird Al wrote and performs a song titled First World Problems, wherein he outlines such tragedies as having to brush his teeth manually when the batteries die in his electric toothbrush. I relate to that, I truly do. Because, I, too, am besieged by First World Problems, and not much else.

It’s taken a lot longer than I’d hoped to put up the shed I bought at Sam’s Club last Winter. My hearing aid batteries only last 4 or 5 days. My dog sometimes poops in the house. My house is so big that it’s almost impossible to keep clean. My optometrist recently moved far away and I have to find a new one. My local supermarket stopped carrying my favorite 35 percent fruit muesli in bulk. See what I mean? I could go on and on.

Boo-hoo, I hear you saying. I say that too, but this really is a problem. I have observed, and psychology backs me up on this, that the most creative efforts arise from relatively tortured circumstances. The one time I wrote a good poem was just after a break-up. It really was a good poem, but it’s gone forever because I lost whatever media it was on. (Another first world problem, I know.) It’s so bad that I actually got a comedy bit out of the situation. It’s a bit that ends with a song that I wrote, a song that is the only blues that I can legitimately sing. The song is called the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues.” And that’s the trouble with me. I’ll record it and post it to YouTube sometime, and put a link to it here while I’m at it.

Meantime, for my own version of Imposter Syndrome, I worry that I may never sell any significant amount of fiction because I’ve just lived too easy a life!

That’s probably another first world problem, huh?

Rejection Deconstructed

It’s The MonaAlegOhio, Summer 2017.

In keeping with Mr. Wendig’s contribution, just prior to right now, I want to talk more about rejection, and how it absolutely is not something to worry about. I write from experience, as I have done sales in the past, and have been rejected plenty.

In insurance sales, there’s a rule of thumb that goes for every ten people you call, one will be willing to talk with you. For every ten people willing to talk with you, one will close on something you’re offering. And, results, naturally, vary with how well you present your case, and with exactly what it is that you’re selling. In real estate, for instance, the odds are longer initially, because nobody knows you from anybody, and they don’t trust you. Which is reasonable.

Book sales are still sales. Yes, you introverted kid you, it is necessary to plug your product. You can, of course, simply publish your work and then plug that. Or you can plug your unpublished work to agents and editors, sending query letters, pitching in person. Everybody involved in writing anything ends up knowing all about these things, right? And, what happens? In my experience, there are two types of rejections you receive as a writer. The first, unfortunately common, response to a query is, ready for it? Nothing! Nada! Rien! NIchts! As Caesar would say, NIHIL! Then there are the good ones.

The good ones are good by virtue of being real and definite. When I get an actual rejection note via email or messaging (I guess snail mail is still possible but I haven’t seen one in years) I am overjoyed that the person took the time to at least drop me a form note. My very favorite rejection letter (it was via USPS) was from Mad Magazine, because it was truly funny. Those are the rejections which I savor, those ones with a modicum of personal touch to them.

If you’ve published a few books that sold well, your marketing gets easier, but you’ll still get rejected a lot. And, here’s my advice about that:

DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!

Ever heard the advice, “Just keep doing it?” Well, that’s true. You will be rejected, by many, and by some who will, in time, come to regret the fact that they rejected you. (Think Decca Records and The Beatles.) Keep writing, keep plugging your product. If one thing just won’t sell, write something else. You are a writer, right?

News Etcetera

Let it Lie, Let it Lie

“I’m Anna Nomly, and we are the “Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle” society.”

That’s a line from chapter one of what will, of course I’m going to say this at this point in the process, be undoubtedly the YA RomCom runaway hit of some year to be determined. I’m putting it in the same high school as the YA I’m working on marketing as I, well, no, not right this minute, but during this same general time.

My goals for the year include getting a start on another project by the end of February, so, by gum, I’m on track. I’ve also been entering contests as they come up. RWA contests, that is. Amongst other things, they tend to give actual feedback. Not the big national contest, but the local chapter contests. So far I’ve entered everything I’m eligible to enter. My goals say I’ll keep doing that all year. Unless, of course, I win the big national contest. Stranger things have happened; I’ll let you know when that does.

Of course, there is a foil to the “Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle” society. If you want to know what it is, you’ll have to wait until later. To be honest, I have two pages written, and this is my first overt comedy novel. Should be fun. You know, ’cause it’s a comedy. You know, funny.

Man, you need to lighten up!

🙂

Your Words Will Find Their Audience If

The Las Vegas 51s at Cashman Field. Never to be seen again, by the way.

Your words will find an audience if you remember that there is more to a story than a plot. As a case in point, I’m going to use the lyrics for the song Africa by Toto. Africa was written by  David Paich and Jeff Porcaro.  Google’s display of the lyrics can be seen here. Mr. Paich has said that it’s about “a white boy [writing about] Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” (source = Wikipedia) Before I go on, let me state that I’ve always liked the song. It’s in my main playlist on Amazon Prime. I think Toto was a collective genius in recording and releasing it. Weezer has covered it. You know you’ve made it when Weezer covers you, or Weird Al parodies you. In this case, Weird Al helped Weezer cover the song in their video. Check it out here. The Weezer cover was by fan requests. Okay, they’ve made it. The song rocks! But, it ain’t the lyrics, bub!

Take the second verse (please.)

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company

What? Solitary company? What they hey? Do those dogs need a quiet place to masturbate? Do wild dogs even do that? And it goes on.

I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

Hey, look at that mountain over there! Looks just like another mountain doesn’t it? You could say “rises like Mount Charleston” and have as good a simile. Oh, my. Meanwhile, back in the first verse we find this:

I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”

I’ve never been to Africa either, but I don’t imagine I could read the minds of old African men. (Remember: I like this song.)

Here’s the thing. As a song, there’s more to it than just the basic storyline. In this case that’s a wonderful thing. The basic oh-so-thin plot is backed up by the rest of the song. The central theme, drilled home over and over by the chorus:

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The fade-out, the denouement if you will, takes seemingly forever, repeating that theme, and repeating that theme, and repeating that theme. In the song world, that’s known as “the hook.” I’ve seen memes of it on social media. And there’s the music, which is, frankly, rather haunting.  The music is equivalent to the setting, the characterization, the voice, of a story. In this case, the music and the theme together make a hit out of what is probably the most lacking in substance set of lyrics ever penned. Heck, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor (by Lonnie Donegan) has more meaning. They’re Coming to Take Me Away (By Napoleon XIV) is profound in comparison. but those songs don’t have the music, or central theme, to grab the listener (reader) and keep them listening (reading.)

You can probably think of a book or two in which the plot isn’t much, predictable maybe, ho-hum, except that you just had to finish the thing anyway because of how well it was written, how much you rooted for the characters, how memorable was the theme. Books are just like music. They need more than a good plot to be memorable. In fact, a good plot is sometimes secondary to the other elements that make a book great.

Something to think about while working on your 2019 projects. You’re welcome.

Here is a link to the official video of Toto doing Africa on YouTube.

Your Ideas Aren’t That Interesting

I know, I know, why isn’t this original? For the second week in a row? Well, two things. First, this guy (drat him) has done it again. This link goes to a marvelous article!

Second, when you’re done with his marvelous article, come back here and you’ll find my commentary on the same following below. So, neener neener, it is original after all! Take that, doubters!

I know. I know. Already I feel you pulling away. I sense you tensing up, like a flicked sphincter. You’re mad. I can see you’re mad. I get it, you have ideas, and ideas are the backbone…

Source: Your Ideas Aren’t That Interesting

See what I mean? Sure, he can be crude, but damitol (a generic mood improving drug, you know) he’s sharp as a tack. And, if you ever sat on a tack in first grade, you know that those things are sharp!

What Chuck writes about (I’ve never met him, but I call him Chuck here, ’cause what’s he gonna do about it? It is his name!) is the fact that our ideas are just ideas. I’ve read that there are only nine plots, really. Or even five. Or even only one plot. You know the drill. Some ordinary person gets thrown into a set of ever wilder circumstances. They try a solution that makes it worse, and again, and again, until, well, you know. What makes you unique is how you relate that plot. The characters, are they compelling? The danger, is it high enough? The stakes, are they worth the trouble? You know all that, so I’m not going to belabor (belabour?) the point. Just pick a plot and run with it. Remember your tropes. Have fun!

What struck me about saying that our ideas are not that interesting is that it is a good reason why you should not worry about somebody stealing your latest story if you happen to show it around, and becoming rich off of it. For one thing, I doubt if you need more than your fingers and a few toes to count the total number of rich authors in the world. For another, it’s mediocre. How do I know? For all the reasons Chuck <grin> lists. And, remember, ideas are not copyrightable, so if you do see something similar, it’s because ideas tend to be “in the air” at various times, and nothing more. There are not a lot of instances of actual plagiarism, or story stealing if you will, in a typical year. The trick, like Chuck says, is to work your particular version of magic on the ideas and make the story wonderful.

Easy-Peasy, huh?

Wintertime Blues

In the Butterfly Pavillion outside of Denver, Colorado, 2008.

Summertime Blues? Bah! In Nevada we’re upside-down on the seasons. Winter is the good one. Some years, like this one, it even rains a lot, which is a nice change. Summers are best avoided by staying inside and counting your air-conditioned blessings. But you do have to “Work all Winter just to Try to Earn a Dollar,” right? Well, sort of. If you’re a writer, you need to write all year, no matter what the weather, no matter whether you have a cold or the flu, and no matter whether your last project has sold or not. Hence, the Wintertime Blues. The days are short. The night is long and full of . . . nevermind. Somebody already used that one.

This winter I’m doing mostly editing. And entering contests with my YA. The editing is of a chapter book that I think is pretty timely (believe it or not) and that I think will be an easy sell. We’ll see. Now all I need is a new project to draft while I’m doing those other things. I love drafting, because I get lost in it. Even if the first draft turns out to be awful, I get lost in creating it. That ever happen to you? I figure it’s a sign that there’s at least a good idea in there somewhere.

Tomorrow evening I’m going to facilitate a goal-setting meeting for The Las Vegas Writers’ Group. I have my goals for the year, and I’m already meeting a couple of them. How about you? Are your goals written down and ready to be fulfilled? If not, I’d suggest that you get busy on them, before you do anything else. If you want to learn more about goals, come to tomorrow’s meeting!