Sunday, July 31, 2011

More Complicated Than You Think

There has been sooooo much talk recently about the debt ceiling, and how we’re going to default, and how the world is going to descend into a post-apocalyptic hell similar to the books I write. Which might actually hurt the market for dystopian. Hm.

What’s my opinion on all this? I have no freaking idea what to do. I’m not an economist, a finance wizard, or a politician who pretends that I am these things. What I know about the situation is what I’ve gleaned from the newspaper and Comedy Central.

It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on. I do. I just don’t know how to solve it, and I’m sure no one person can. But still, the media (social and otherwise) will be filled with people claiming that it’s just this easy, all they have to do is raise the debt ceiling/raise taxes/lower taxes/cut spending/call China and tell them the check is in the mail but you know how slow delivery is just be patient would we lie to you? Just as writing isn’t merely putting words on paper, fixing this isn’t merely waving our hand and magically fixing the economy.

Not that I begrudge anyone from expressing their opinion. The free exchange of ideas is important! We should talk about it, throw around solutions, and just listen to what others have to say. I just hope everyone keeps in mind that there are factors of which we are unaware and our brilliant ideas might not actually work the way we think.

In conclusion, if you don’t have a possible answer like me, that’s okay. If you do, that’s fine too. Just remember to listen first, ask questions second, and be kind third. Finally, when all else fails, here’s a picture of kittens:

Works every time.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It’s Webster’s Fault

I always thought it was weird that British and American English can be so different, yet from the same root. I know that languages evolve over time—I’ve only said it every week for the past nine months—but it has always surprised me how different some things can be. There’s realize and realise, color and colour, paralyze and paralyse, traveled and travelled!

What brought about these differences? Short answer: Noah Webster. Apparently, he wanted the two countries to have their own styles, so he ran through the dictionary cutting out letters he felt weren’t needed or were confusing. The double l and u above reflect the former example, while the switch from s to z shows an example of the latter.

Changing all this stuff might seem silly, but I’m sure the fact that the American Revolution just ended and he was looking to distinguish his country from England had nothing to do with his decision to write the American Dictionary of the English Language.

Or, you know. Everything.

Regardless of his motives, he did work hard on thedictionary, for which he learned 26 languages, traveled Europe, and wrote 70,000 entries.

All that because he wanted everything to be accurate! And that attention to detail is also why the dictionary is still used—who do you think is the Webster in Merriam-Webster?—and why the spellings prevailed here in the United States.

I guess that mystery is solved.

Thanks to:
Netstate’s page on Noah Webster.
The online version of Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Day of Fanfare and Jubilation

This is an open call for guest posts for the last full week in August. For what reason, pray tell? Because that Friday, exactly one month from today (because months don’t come in regular intervals…a matter for another post) is the glorious day of jubilation known as my BIRTHDAY (caps required). So if you’re interested in reaching a slightly different audience of writers or maybe have something you want to promote, shoot me an email.

It might sound horrendous, but I’m not doing a giveaway for my birthday. The shame! But I do have a reason! My blogiversary is coming up in less than three weeks, so it seems kind of silly to have one contest right after another. Don’t worry. It will be AWESOME.

Speaking of which, any ideas on how to make it awesome? Gift certificates? Gift cards? Books? Leave any interesting ideas in the comments section. About the posts, please contact me by email if you’re interested. And on my birthday, I’ll eat a slice of cake for each one of you.

Seriously. I’ll do it. I love cake.

Love it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Secret of Writing

It’s a mantra. Say it over and over again: Good books aren’t written, they’re edited. Good books aren’t written, they’re edited. Good books aren’t written, they’re (all together now) edited.

Confession: this post is mostly for myself. I’m in the middle of writing a first draft and all I can think is: “Hm. This isn’t as good as I’d like.” I’m not saying it’s terrible—I like the story or I wouldn’t be writing it down. But my writing feels forced. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The first step towards resolution is admitting you have a problem. As to what to do about it…

That can’t be forced, either. Answers tend to come when you’re relaxed and imaginative. And since I’m in the middle of the first draft, I can’t focus on the big picture (one of the drawbacks of being a pantser, I presume). Right now, I have to work on these scenes individually, I have to get them down.

So, writers, remember to give yourself permission to skim (or skip) scenes, to focus only on dialogue and characters or to fudge the description because you just have to finish this chapter. It’s even okay to leave bad writing alone—for now. It’s not like it’s going anywhere. If it really bugs you, highlight it to come back to later (yes, I do that). There’s a reason editing takes longer than writing the actual book—there’s a lot more of it to do then there is actual novel. I’m not really sure why that is. It seems to contradict laws of nature. Anyway, the opportunity to correct each wrong inapt improper word will come up. Everything has its moment.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Language of Confusion: -sume

Prefixes are fascinating. Attaching different ones can make a word for continue into a word for taking something upon oneself. Or the act of devouring. There’s also presume, which is a synonym for assume that is attached to what the person actually believes rather than based on evidence (as in, I assume this is a cat because it has four legs and meows; I presume this is a horse because despite looking like a cat, she gallops through the house). There’s also a great list of –sume words that I’ve never heard of, including desume, introsume, transume, subsume, absume and insume. Awesome points for anyone who can work one of those into a sentence that doesn’t seem contrived.

First on the list of –sume words that we’ve heard of is assume, which showed up in the early fifteenth century as assumpten and meant being taken up into heaven. Strange? Actually, not so much. Assume comes from the classical Latin assumere, a combination of a—from the prefix ad-, meaning towards—and sumere—take up. Together, that’s “to take up or towards oneself.” The “suppose” meaning of the word evolved in the sixteenth century, with the “take on” meaning coming a little later. When you assume, you could say you take it upon yourself to analyze the available evidence and answer a question. It’s still quite different from the original meaning, though.

Resume appeared around the same time, taken from the classical Latin resumere. The prefix re- of course means again. With –sumere, you have “to take up again,” which is pretty much what it means now. By the way, yes, résumé does come from resumere, however the French word was taken to mean a career summary much later, in the 1940s.

It’s worth noting that sumere itself is a prefixed word. It is su- (from sub-, as in under) + -emere, Latin for “purchase or take” and the origin word of exempt, among others. The sub- prefix was probably added to distinguish the meanings of the words. Like, say, assume from presume. (Segue, ho!)

Presume showed up a little after the first two (although presumption showed up two centuries earlier, along with assumption). Its original meaning was “to take upon oneself,” usually with an air of overconfidence. The overconfidence bit comes from presumption’s origin word, the late Latin praesumptionem, which meant confidence. Presume can be distinguished from assume because the former is grounded in belief. You are confident this is so, but you may not have the evidence to back it up. In classical Latin, the word is praesumere, with the prae- prefix meaning before. You take it up before. Before what? Before you really know.

Finally for -sume words we've actually heard of, we have consume, also from the late fourteenth century. It comes from the classical Latin consumere, with the con- prefix from com-, in this case used as an intensifier. The literal meaning would be “to take up” but consume has always meant “to use up.” This slight difference is probably more do to how we in English use the word take. When you take something up, it’s considered still in existence. Using something up, however, is eliminating it. By turning it into something else, but it’s still gone. So we are taking it, but in doing so are eliminating it from existence.

This is the kind of stuff that happens when you take words from other languages. Each language uses them in their own way and they become completely different from their original meaning. In five hundred years, words like tsunami and poltergeist will be unrecognizable (along with the rest of the English language, for that matter, but that's a story for another day).

Thanks to:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Random Thoughts

---Yes, it's that time again.
---When you’re watching something online and an advertising screen pops up, does anyone ever actually click it? I mean, on purpose?
---Further, who clicks on banner ads ever? No one? Yep. No one.
---I bet you didn’t think I’d have an answer for that one, did you?
---I remember one time, my nephew asked my mom if the platypus was the only mammal that could lay eggs and my mother replied that yes, it was. Then I said, “There’s another animal. I think it’s called the echidna.” And I was correct. The thing is, I have no idea how I knew that. Talk about subconscious absorption of information…
---If you watch the credits of the movie SEVEN, you’ll see that very few characters are referred to by name. Those played by Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow are the most obvious exceptions.
---I’m sure you can all guess what movie I watched last night.
---I was looking through the blogs in my reader and I discovered that 59 have some form of “write” in their title (mine included in that one), 17 have the word “blog”, and 11 start with My. Granted, this is out of four hundred (still wonder why I don’t visit as often as I should?), but it’s interesting that more people use “My” in their title than “author.”
---I should change the name of this to “My Writing Blog.” Just so there’s no confusion about what I’m doing here.
---My cousin is leaving tomorrow to visit friends and go to a Soundgarden concert. While away, he’ll be staying with John Lasseter. Yes, that John Lasseter. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
---You know how I make these “random thoughts” posts? I just write down things as I think of them—provided they’re interesting—and once I have enough, I post it. Then I think of something really interesting that I should have put up but forgot. And then I start the cycle again.
---Yeah, I’m playing pretty fast and loose with the word “interesting” there.
---Oh, I see a banner ad. I suppose that means I’ll go climb to the top of Mount Everest now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

I’m not very good with short stories. I like to read them of course, but for some reason, I’m unable to churn one out. I didn’t start my writing career with short stories, either. For my twelfth grade creative writing class, my short story was twenty pages long. When I wrote my first non-school assigned piece, it was a 140K novel. The few flash fiction pieces for the Writers’ Platform Building Crusade are probably the shortest things I’ve ever written.

Whenever I have an idea, I immediately start thinking how I can work it into a story. I usually have a few characters, the main conflict, and an idea of what the world is like. Then when I start writing, it gets bigger and bigger. I come up with more ideas, more things that happen, more challenges for the characters to face. And pretty soon, I have a novel.

Part of the reason I’m a long-story writer is because I like to spend time with the characters in their world. I’ve never been able to condense their journeys into only a few pages, again, because I like to explore with them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a good thing. Having the skill to say something in two words instead of twenty is an admirable trait. You can do more, experience more, show more…or just do it in fewer words.

What do you think? Any short story writers out there? I’m curious. Can you discern when an idea is a short story and when it is a long one? Is your process for writing them similar?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Language of Confusion: Why isn’t it “Firey”?

Seriously, why isn’t it? Why switch the e and the r for that one word? And if "firey" is no good, then why don't we just replace the e with a y, like in wiry? Is there a reason?

Fire didn’t always used to be spelled fire. It comes from the Old English fyr (I think it would rhyme with Tyr) and when Old became Middle, they changed a lot of vowels around and the y became ie. For a few centuries, anyway.

Before about 1200 CE, the word was spelled fier (okay, it’s starting to make more sense now) Then, Old English gave way to Middle English. For about four hundred years, there was a war between the spellings, because really, in the sixteenth century people just spelled things the way they felt like it. Eventually, people started collaborating on universal spelling for English and "Fire" emerged as the preferred choice, which lasted into our Modern English language. But fier remained alive in the adjective form of the word. Which for some reason, they did not change.

Dang. I hate it when there’s a logical explanation. Well, mostly logical. Language evolution is weird.

Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary and the great Creighton University article on Middle English.