Mind Your Language!

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.”

~ MARK TWAIN

Before I get started on today’s post, I have a bit of news to offer:  I have invested some time, effort, and coin in the pursuit of being professional… or at least looking professional.   I have bought my domain name, and can now be found at simply blimprider.com.  No Blogspot, Weebly, WordPress, or anything else, just purely me.  Don’t worry, though, your old bookmarks will still work.  This is a substantial outlay for a guy on a fixed income, but I do have a small recreational allowance, and this is how I chose to spend it.  And what brought this about, you ask?

My dearly beloved has macular degeneration, and last week I drove her to her treatment, which involves having her pupils dilated, then a hypodermic injection into her eyeball!  It doesn’t seem to bother her much, but it freaks the hell out of me every time.  Anyway, this leaves her eyes hypersensitive to light for a few hours after, and ordinary shades don’t seem to help it much, so last visit, I told her that I’d wear my steampunk goggles on my patrol cap, and after her treatment, she could put them on.

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She did, and they worked great, but that isn’t the story.  All the time I was walking around the hospital in these, I was getting favorable comments and questions about them.  It felt like I could have moved a stack of books had I had some with me, and that gave me the idea to print up some business cards promoting this website.  If I wear this hat everywhere, and hand out cards to anyone who expresses an interest, I should generate at least some local sales, right?  Yeah, that’s not going to work, but I’ll sure have some fun while I’m doing it!

[For those who might want to try their own luck with this, the company is VistaPrint.  They offer cards, coffee mugs, hats, shirts, and a dozen or so other ways to promote your own activity.  Their prices are reasonable, and they offer a substantial first-order discount.  Very much worth a look if you’re looking for something to hand out at cons, etc.]

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In my last post I touted the wonders of a European website called Irevuo.  I stand by that glowing appraisal, as it really is a site based on high-quality content.  The thing is, Cristian’s computer has gone belly-up, and until he can replace it, he is limited to working with his phone, which is okay for some things, but not so hot for the wonderful graphics he’s known for.  You can read the disheartening story here.  Included in the story is a PayPal request he has initiated to try to get back in business.  I have a simple request to make of my readers, that you visit his site, read his work, and if you find it worth supporting and you can afford it, send him a few bucks.  Nothing you can’t spare, but if a lot of us each send him a modest donation, it could return him to operation much more quickly than he can get there himself.

During our conversation, he mentioned that he is in Romania, and that English is not his first language.  You’d never know it to read his posts; he handles what may be the most convoluted language on earth with the grace of a native speaker.  Inspired by his facility, I’m reposting an old article that I put together for writing.com a year or so ago.  I found it to be great fun.  I hope you will, too!

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Have you ever wondered at what a wonderful language English is?  Within its quarter-million words can be found reasonable ways to describe black as white, and up as down.  This comes largely from its proclivity to “borrow” useful words and terms from foreign tongues, and sometimes the rules that go with them.  We’ve all heard that old saw, “Why do we drive on a parkway, but park in a driveway?”  I always thought that was pretty funny, but then one day I heard, “Why isn’t Great Britain known as the United Queendom?” and I realized that, far from being the exception, these things must be as common as air!  I went on a quest to collect them during the early 90s, and cleaning out a box of old papers recently, I found a couple of sheets where I had gathered a good number of them in one place.  So, for those who enjoy this kind of thing, here are the oddisms that I’d gathered by the time I lost interest around twenty years ago.
~ Why do privates eat in the general mess, and generals eat in the private mess?
~ How is it that darkrooms can be lit?
~ Nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can happen at night.
~ Hours, especially happy hours and rush hours, often last longer than sixty minutes, and others, especially lunch hours, can be far less.
~ Why is it that a woman can man a station, but a man can’t woman one? For that matter, how can a man father a movement, but a woman can’t mother one?
~ Why isn’t phonetic spelled phonetically?
~ Why is there no synonym for synonym or thesaurus?
~ If adults commit adultery, do infants commit infantry?
~ If the plural of tooth is teeth, is the plural of booth beeth?
~ If a person wrote a letter, is it not possible that he bote his tongue during the process?
~ We conceive at a conception, and receive at a reception.  Does it not follow that we should grieve at a greption and believe a beleption?
~ How are a caregiver and a caretaker the same thing?  How about sharp speech and blunt speech?
~ If bad and good, hard and soft, and up and down are opposites, how is it that badly and goodly, hardly and softly, and upright and downright aren’t?
~ Why are pertinent and impertinent, canny and uncanny, and famous and infamous neither opposites nor the same?
~ Why does night fall but never break, and day break but never fall?
~ Why do we pack suits in a garment bag and garments in a suitcase?
~ Is it still homework if you do it in school?
~ Does anyone remember why push-button telephones are dialed?
~ Why are they called apartments when they’re all together?
~ Why is the word abbreviation so long?
~ If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian consume?
~ If people ring a bell today, and rang a bell yesterday, why don’t we say they flang a ball?
~ If a horsehair mat is made from the hair of horses, what is a mohair coat made out of?
~ A slim chance and a fat chance are the same thing, but a wise man and a wise guy are opposites.
~ Appropriate and inappropriate are opposites, yet flammable and inflammable are the same.
~ Why do we play at a recital, and recite at a play?
~ How is that your nose runs, and your feet smell?
~ Hot dogs can be cold.
~ Boxing rings are square.
~ Why do they sell you a TV set, then only give you one?
~ Why is it so hard to remember how to spell mnemonic?
~ Why doesn’t onomatopoeia sound like what it is?
~ If olive oil is made from olives, then what, pray tell, is baby oil made from?
~ A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings, yet fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham.  Nor, for that matter, do humdingers humding.
~ How is it that I flew out to see a World Series game in which my favorite player flied out?
~ How can the weather be hot as hell one day, and cold as hell the next?
~ If harmless and harmful are opposites, why aren’t shameless and shameful?
~ If passable and impassable roads are opposites, why are passive and impassive people the same?
~ Why is it that when the sun, moon, or stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they aren’t?
~ When I clip a coupon from a newspaper, I separate it, but when I clip a coupon to a newspaper, I fasten it.
~ Why is it that when we transport something by car, it’s called a shipment, but when we transport something by ship, it’s cargo?
~ Tablecloths can be made of paper, and what, exactly, is plastic silverware?
~ Why is diminutive so undiminutive?
~ One goose, two geese, so one moose, two meese?
~ If the teacher taught, why then hasn’t the preacher praught?
~ Last time I went swimming, I treaded water, then trod on the beach.
~ How is it that pricey objects are less expensive than priceless ones?
~ Tomboys are always girls, but midwives can be men.
~ Quicksand works very slowly.
~ Fact:  The majority of bathrooms contain no bath.  And isn’t it just a bit odd that we go to the bathroom in order to go to the bathroom?
~ Why does the word monosyllabic contain five syllables?
~ If button and unbutton, and tie and untie are opposites, why then are loosen and unloosen, and ravel and unravel the same?
~ Why does a man get a hernia, but a woman gets a hysterectomy?
~ If pro is the opposite of con, is congress the opposite of progress?
~ Why do we call people who ride motorcycles “bikers” while those who ride bikes are called “cyclists?”
~ By what logic does “lisp” have an S in it?
~ Quite a lot and quite a few are the same, but overlook and oversee are opposites.
~ How can raise and raze, and reckless and wreckless be opposites when each pair contains the same sound?
~ In what other language is the third hand on a clock called the second hand?
~ If a firefighter fights fire, what does a freedom fighter fight?
~ Why do we call it newsprint when it contains no printing, but after we print on it, it becomes a newspaper?
~ Why is it the sun shone yesterday while I shined my shoes?
~ Why is it that when I wind up my watch, I’m starting it, but when I wind up this blog, I’m stopping it?

I hope you had fun with these.  I must hasten to point out that the majority of them came from the years I spent working alone on many weekends.  I would turn on the radio to keep me company, and a regular stop was a PBS show called A Way With Words, hosted by Richard Lederer.  He had a series of co-hosts, and they often trotted these things out.  There were other sources, magazine articles, TV shows, and things I heard in conversations, and I diligently took note of them, thinking they might help some day in my writing career.  I guess I was right; twenty years on, I got a blog post out of it!

Survival Tool

“It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”
~ VANNA WHITE

We’re all aware of survival tools.  Every creature has developed ways to keep itself alive.  From the rhino’s horn to the elephant’s bulk to the cheetah’s speed, we all have a master plan.  Pet owners know.  The dog’s survival tools are its teeth, and it constantly gnaws on stuff (hopefully not your favorite shoes!) to keep them sharp and polished.  With cats, it’s their claws, and anyone who has lived around a cat has experienced the joy of clawed-up possessions, from books to furniture.  A cat’s gotta be prepared, man!

So, what is your survival tool, fellow humanoid?  Our “claws” are pathetic fingernails, our teeth blunt seed-mashers, and we are one of the, if not the slowest large animal on the planet.  So, how have we risen to our position of dominance?  Why, our brains, of course!  That three pounds of fatty goo between our ears has placed us at the top of every food chain on earth.  But if dogs gnaw and cats claw, how, pray tell, do we exercise a lump of tissue that sits inside its armored case and is incapable of movement?  By having, and more importantly, giving free rein to an imagination, and the richer, the better.  Your brain solves problems.  From the early problems of making fire and inventing speech to the modern problems of exploring space and the ocean deeps, that’s what it does, but in order for it to maintain its health and youthful flexibility, you have to let it off the chain once in a while to go exploring.  Those who don’t grow up to wear gray suits to their bean-counting jobs, and likely keep their ties on when they go to bed.

This is where fiction comes in.  Some of us read it, and some of us write it, but we all partake in one way or another.  Every ancient myth of some monster in the woods, every legend of a great warrior, protector, or pied piper is a tale that someone made up.  Some were attempts to explain what couldn’t be explained by the knowledge of the time, others were cut from whole cloth.  Some were cautionary, warning the children, for example, not to go into the woods, but they were all fiction.  Every age has its flavor.  When the Ancient Greeks spoke of Hercules or Pegasus, these were beings that they thought there was a chance that they might meet during their lifetimes.  Victorians were heavily into seances, read stories of lost worlds, and hung on lurid tales of celebrity explorers describing humans being sacrificed to man-eating plants in darkest Africa.  Today, we favor alien abduction stories and conspiracy theories, but what these things all have in common is that they represent the free rein of imagination, and are at their core that big, active brain getting its exercise.

And this brings us to our niche as writers of fiction.  I have heard pundits say that the novel, a recent construct in the world of literature, is on its way out as an art form, that the electronic revolution has shortened the average attention span to where the writer has to get in, finish up, and get out within about two minutes.  That might be true, although that would sadden me greatly, but storytelling is going to exist in one form or another as long as homo sapiens endures as a species.  We perform an invaluable service to mankind; we are the personal trainers for the brains, and no advanced thinker who has expanded the horizons of mankind’s knowledge, no Carl Sagan, no Neil DeGrasse Tyson, no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, would have been able to accomplish what he did without a free, active, and well-developed imagination, so if you’ve been making contributions to mind-expansion, no matter how small, stand up and take a bow.  Humanity wouldn’t have come a fraction as far as it has without your efforts.  Yours, and the sea of writers who came before you.  And make no mistake, movies, plays, TV shows, games, music, and any form of audio or visual entertainment, is first written before it is placed on film, tape, CD, or whatever, and that’s what you do.  What we do.  Without the efforts of writers, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages, if we were that far along, so the next time someone suggests that you’re “just” a writer, nod knowingly with an enigmatic smile, mutter, “Right,” and go about your business, knowing what your contribution is, and what that person’s isn’t.  It’ll make your day!

The Independent Reader

“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know.  Because what you know is usually dull.  Remember when you first wanted to be a writer?  Eight to ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders?  That’s what you wanted to write about, what you didn’t know.”

~ KEN KESEY

In Tara Sparling’s last post, she laments the dearth of original material in the new books being published, and well she should.  I have long been lamenting the dearth of originality in movies, and the reasons are very much the same:  The bottom line.  It costs a blankety-blank fortune to make a movie, and the risk of not making a worthwhile return is just too great to face anymore; we’ve all heard of those movies that cost $100 million to make that only brought in $10 million at the box office.  A big studio might survive that, but the people whose names are on those non-starters may never work in Hollywood again.

Books, fictional books at least, operate under very much the same immutable laws of economics.  While I’m sure the cost of producing a book is far less than a movie, the publisher still has to sell enough copies to the reading public to make a decent return, and the audience for any given book is much smaller than that for a movie.  Books are also consumed differently than movies.  A movie aficionado might look at a mystery starring Brad Pitt, and decide to attend or not based on whether he wants to see that star in that genre; he may not know nor care who the director is.  Many readers, on the other hand, have a stable of authors whose work they’ll buy, sight unseen, whenever they offer a new release.  I myself, while I enjoy the work of certain actors, do not automatically attend every film one of those actors appears in, but every time R.A. Salvatore releases a Drizzt DoUrden novel, I’m first in line at Barnes & Noble.  Why not Amazon?  I don’t want to wait an extra week to be reading!

All of which stacks the deck against any new or obscure author trying to find his way into the hearts of these fans.  If you aren’t already known, how do you get known?  It’s Catch-22 brought to life:  “You have to have experience to get this job.”  So, how do you get experience?

If you are a recreational reader of fiction, I must then pose a simple question.  Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list?  For one very good reason.  Originality.  What was the last original movie you saw?  Can’t think of one?  That’s because no one is making them anymore.  That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, reenvisionings of comic books, reboots of old TV shows, the unrecognizable retelling of old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” and episode CCXLVII of the Big Space Saga.  No one is willing to take the chance anymore that something might not have a built-in audience clamoring for tickets before it arrives in theaters.

Books have largely gone down the same path.  Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing.  Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter?  How many clones of Twilight, Fifty Shades, or Game of Thrones can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them?  You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors.  While traditional publishers cling to the center of convention, carefully scouring their submissions for yet another retelling of a done-to-death story, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told.  These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last Underworld Ring Games clone is moldering in the landfill and long forgotten.  These are the true heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model.  Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” attitude of the big publishers.  Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common:  We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this!  I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.”  That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day.  Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would.  But do we then say, “I’m never using makeup again!”  Of course we don’t.  We learn to be more careful consumers.  There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names.  Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list.

How do you find quality indies?  Amazon.com is a huge help.  Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools.  Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them.  A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help.  Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature.  Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need much more than a paragraph to determine that.  Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth.  If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look.  You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers.  So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.  Here are some names to get you started:

Raymond Esposito, David Lee Summers, C. William Perkins, Karen J. Carlisle, S.K. Anthony, C.P. Lesley, William J. Jackson, E.C. Jarvis, C.W. Hawes, Stephanie Kato, Sarah Zama, Kara Jorgensen, N.O.A. Rawle, Alice E. Keyes, Steve Moore, Ichabod Temperance, Bryce Raffle, Jonathan Fesmire, Maxwell Grantly, and of course, yours truly, Jack Tyler.

If you can’t find something to engage your imagination on that list, you really just don’t want to read.  Try something new and exciting.  Come take a ride!