Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Distractions, Distractions

This may surprise you, but it’s a choose your own adventure game. It’s a short story called Thousand Dollar Soul, made into a flash for Newgrounds (it’s what is referred to as “interactive fiction” : ). It’s about a high school kid named Todd who’s visited by a future version of himself, who came back, ostensibly, to help Todd change his life. But, depending on your choices, you might start to wonder about Future Todd’s motivations.

You can go through it as many times as you want. In fact, you should go through it more than once as the only way to learn about what’s really happening is to piece together what you learn from the different paths. There are 35 endings in total and a handy list to check which ones you’ve gotten.

Over all, it’s a fun experience. It’s my kind of story: one you have to think about and discuss in order to comprehend completely. One final warning: it’s a bit violent. But I still recommend it as an interesting read.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dystopianites, Unite!...s.

It bothers me that Dystopian isn’t considered its own genre in most places. If you go on AgentQuery, a favorite of mine, you see they have genres of Horror, Adventure, Thrillers/Suspense and Science Fiction…but no Dystopian or post-Apocalyptic. Military/Espionage warrants its own listing, but not Dystopian. It’s the same on QueryTracker. They don’t even have a listing for Speculative Fiction!

I feel a bit neglected. Dystopian works are pretty serious contenders these days. Yet almost anywhere you go, it doesn’t merit its own genre listing.

I know, all of these books, as well as the ones I write, can also be considered YA. But to me, YA has always been more of a secondary genre, an audience I’m trying to connect with. I write Dystopian. It just seems to come out YA. Not that there aren’t important adult Dystopians out there. But these days, YA is where most of the fire is coming from.

Fellow YA Dystopian writers, what do you think? What would you want to come first, the YA or the Dystopian (or both equally?)? And what genre do you write?

Friday, June 24, 2011

You’re Welcome

I was reading the newspaper’s letters to the editor when one person complained about receiving a “No problem” from a teenaged server rather than “You’re welcome.” The writer did not explicitly state annoyance at the response, but the implication was that he was insulted with the response.

This boggles me. When someone tells me “Thank you” I usually say “No problem” or some variant. I’m not sure why this would insult anyone since it’s an acknowledgement of the thanks just like “You’re welcome” is. “But ‘No problem’ is slang,” one might say. “The proper response is ‘You’re welcome.’”

Proper? Not slang? Do you realize who you’re dealing with?

There’s a reason I put this post on etymology day. “You’re welcome” was not always the proper reply for “Thank you.” When someone says welcome, usually they’re referring to an invited guest they’re glad to see. The word itself is from the Old English wilcuma, a—no surprise here—welcome guest. Wilcuma is a combination of willa—pleasure or desire—and cuma—guest. Those are also the origin words for will (not well) and come.

“Will come” is like saying “invited” and that’s the meaning wilcuma had when it was first recorded in the 1530’s. It wasn’t a polite reply until 1907. “No problem” is linguistic evolution, just like “you’re welcome” was last century.

The issue seems to be that “No problem” turns the focus from the thanker to the thankee by saying “It’s no problem for me to do what you asked” rather than “I’m glad I could help you.” I’m not sure why this would be. Why can’t “No problem” mean the same as “You’re welcome”? The latter certainly did not have that meaning two hundred years ago—saying it in reply to “Thank you” would be nonsensical.

I’m honestly not sure why I say “No problem” rather than “You’re welcome.” It just sounds right to my ears. See, I’m someone who worries about bothering people. I hate to ask for things. So when someone asks me for something, I tell them it’s no trouble for me because that’s what I’d like to hear in the same situation.

The problem is that you may not think the same way I do. It may come off as rude, but in terms of acknowledgment of thanks, “No problem” is no less steeped in meaning or response than “You’re welcome,” “No worries,” “Don’t mention it” or “It’s nothing”.

There’s no call for insulted replies, either. What if someone says “No problem” and others retort with “Well, it shouldn’t be a problem!” Is that any different if someone says “You’re welcome” and the reply is, “Well, I’m glad I’m welcome here or I can’t do my job!”?

What do you think? Is “No problem” really a problem? Should this even be a point of contention among people?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Websites for Writers

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but literary agent Rachelle Gardner, from WordServe Literary, has a new website.

Even if you aren’t looking representation, she’s an excellent source on the agenting/publishing industry. Besides tips on writing a query or a book proposal, she has a list of other agents who blog and websites for writers. Kind of makes what I do here look pitiful : ).

Finally, she has an archive of some of her most insightful posts. Definitely check these out. There’s one on what to do if an agent calls (ah, the dream!), another on what questions to ask…I advise adding the site to your blogroll right now because she’s always posting something useful.

 I know not everyone wants or needs an agent. That's fine. But it's still helpful to read about the industry from an insider's perspective, and you can't do any better than Rachelle Gardner. Needless to say, she's also on Twitter.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Classics

Ah, the classics. More commonly known as the books you were forced to read for school assignments. Some I enjoyed. Some I did not. Some, I’m not even sure why they were assigned to that particular class. Here are my thoughts on some of my school assigned books, from eighth grade to senior year in high school:

Eighth Grade: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD I loved this book. It’s always bummed me out that Harper Lee never wrote anything else. Despite being only thirteen when I read it, I understood it and I think most of my classmates did, too. It’s so smoothly written that you can just fall in while reading it and absorb everything about it.

Ninth Grade: A SEPARATE PEACE As I once stated, I didn’t enjoy this book. It seemed like a bunch of teenage poor-me narcissism. It didn’t catch my interest, nor most of the rest of the class. Honestly, I think part of the problem was assigning it to a Freshman English class. We were too young to have the patience to cut through the crap and look for deeper meaning. If given the chance to read it again, I wouldn’t. Bad association, maybe.

Tenth Grade: THE SCARLET LETTER This was one of the ones that I loved, but most of the rest of the class didn’t. Again, it was a bit advanced, although I think as sophomores, we should have been able to understand it. The problem was that it’s a book you have to plod through, being low on action and high on characters and description. Still, it’s one of the ones that remains vivid in my mind. It’s been ten years since I’ve read it and I can still picture the scene of Hester Prynne sitting with Dimmesdale in the woods.

Eleventh Grade: GREAT EXPECTATIONS Another one I didn’t enjoy that much. I’m just not a fan of the Dickensian writing style and honestly, I felt little connection to the main character. Pip just felt like a pawn through the whole thing (which I guess he was), that his life was for others to dictate and the few times he tried to change things (namely, being with Estella) he was too powerless to do anything. It just didn’t resonate with me I guess, but reading it was an interesting experience. I think it should definitely be kept in school curriculums.

Twelfth Grad: A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY How did I feel about this book? Let me tell you a story: when I was in college, I was talking to my mom when she mentioned how she was reading the book Simon Birch was based off of. Remembering my experience in high school, I screamed and told her to burn the copy she had and any others she found. So yeah, I’m not a fan and probably can’t be unbiased about this book. I just didn’t enjoy it, although I know a few people who did. Me, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, ever, and don’t think it was beneficial to my education. It was slow, stodgy, and so jam-packed with in-your-face symbolism that I thought my brain was going to melt trying to keep track of it all.

Okay, so that’s my take on the educational classics. How did you feel about them? Or the books that you had to read for high school/college? Am I absolutely unforgivable for not liking some?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Language of Confusion: Solve

Absolute, resolute, dissolute, irresolute, resolution, irresolution, dissolution, absolution, dissolve, persolve, absolve, resolve, exsolve.

A solute is a substance dissolved in a solution. It’s basic chemistry. For example, lemonade mix is dissolved in water to make a lemonade drink. But if we stick some prefixes on there, suddenly we’re in a whole new arena. Absolve is usually a religious term. Resolve is making a vow. Is there a reason for this alteration?

You know there is.

Solve and solution are the root for all these words and they have slightly separate evolutionary lines. Solution came first in the fourteenth century the Old French solucion, which itself came from the classical Latin solutionem. It’s original meaning was “to loosen.” While that makes sense for its scientific meaning (which is a “loosening” of the particles), that particular meaning showed up in later, in the late sixteenth century! The “answer” sense of the word was what came first. Solve came along in the mid fifteenth century and while it initially meant“loosen” or “dissipate,” it quickly turned into “to answer.”

There’s a lot more to learn about the solve/solution family. Dissolve and dissolution first appeared in the late fourteenth century and are probably the closest to their original definitions. It’s from the Latin dissolvere/dissolutionem, which is made up of the prefix dis- (apart) and the above solvere, “to loosen.” All together, that vies us “to break apart.” At first, it only meant material substances, like breaking apart a sugar cube into individual grains. But it soon started applying to immaterial things like relationships or agreements.

Resolve and resolution are from the same period and yes, their origin words are the Latin resolvere and resolutionem. In this case, re- is used as an intensive, so this would be something like “to break into a lot of little parts.” In the sixteenth century, it started meaning determination. While there is no specific information on why this is, it’s worth noting that this is the same time period that solve became answer. With re- as an intensifier, it would mean to answer with complete certainty, to be sure, to be…determined.

The final words we’re looking at today is absolve and absolution. In fact, absolution is the oldest of all these words (even solve), first showing up in the twelfthcentury! Back then, it only referred to religious forgiveness. It became more general in the fifteenth century, about the same time the other solute words showed up. The two words, of course, come from absolvere and absolutionem. The ab- prefix means fromor away, which would make it “breaking apart from.” Except it doesn’t. Absolvere actually means “set free, loosen, acquit.” The set free part makes sense, in terms of forgiveness and the literal meaning of the word.

I think a lot of words evolve because related words have mutually exclusive synonyms. Absolve, for example, meant “break apart from.” After taking a cue from its cousin solve, it became less literal, which would make it a synonym for freedom, which is a synonym for acquittal, which is a synonym for forgiveness…get it? It’s like six degrees of separation, but with words.

Interesting, yes?

Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which is an amazing source of etymological information.
And to Dictionary.com, which confirmed that persolve and exsolve really are words. I'm just as surprised as you are.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Websites for Writers

Not a major website this time. But check out this list of the top 10 misused English words. I have to admit, there were some new ones for me. Instant—yeah, that makes sense. Enormity—whoa. Did not realize that. Refute—okay, it’s specific to evidence.

The others I was pretty much up on, although in all honesty, I only knew about decimate because I read THE ZOMBIE WARS. And although I realize it’s wrong, I still use less and disinterested incorrectly. I know. Shameful.

Language habits are funny. One misuse of a word can spread like a disease, one that’s highly contagious but not fatal. I don't think we have much to worry about because it takes quite a while for a word’s meaning to change even slightly. As those of you who actually read my etymology posts should know.

Are there any words you can’t help using incorrectly? Does it drive you crazy when someone says “I was so shocked my jaw literally hit the floor?” No? Just me then?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

That Makes Sense

In order to be well received, a story must be coherent. This doesn’t mean that every detail must be accepted by every reader—that is a task I’m sure we can all agree is impossible. But everything in the book must fit together. If you want the picture on the puzzle box, you can’t force any which piece into another.

The best way to tell if your book makes sense is to have someone else read it, preferably someone with an analytical eye who isn’t afraid to tell you that the bloody footprints aren’t a red herring, they’re just nonsensical because the victim was strangled.

There are usually bits in books that jibe with most people, but not all. The twist seems contrived or the betrayal confusing…it happens. When I read SHUTTER ISLAND, I thought it was ridiculous that (first of all: SPOILER ALERT) everyone went along with the charade, including criminally insane mental patients who, as far as I know, had no reason to help. It bothered me that one woman scrawled “Run” on Teddy Daniels’s notepad when she apparently knew exactly who he was and that they would never let him leave.

Did this distract from the book? A little. Did it ruin the book for me? No. I think Dennis Lehane is an excellent weaver of words. It just didn’t fit with my mental processes. And maybe those of others, too.

While you can’t please everyone all the time, you should always listen to your critique partners. Especially if they’re all pointing out the same problems. Yes, it will mean more rewrites. But the truth about being a writer is that it’s actually mostly editing.

Stay minty fresh, everyone.

EDIT: Whoops. I accidentally clicked "do not allow comments." For shame! 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lost in Translation: The (Second) Day of War

I’m not very good with languages (sometimes I think even my grasp on English is tenuous) but I’ve always found it interesting how different names can be for the same thing, as I mentioned in the post I did about Monday. But that was just one day. What about the others?

Tuesday in other languages
Spanish: Martes
Italian: Martedi
German: Dienstag
Dutch: Dinsdag
Polish: Wtorek
Swedish: Tisdag
Norwegian: Tirsdag
Latvian: Otrdiena
Romanian: Marti
Estonian: Teisipäev
Lithuanian: Antradienis
French: Mardi
Slovak: Utorok
Filipino: Martes
Albanian: E martë
Hungarian: Kedd

As you can see, there are two major variations. If you look at the Old English language, their word for Tuesday was Tiwesdaeg, coming from the Proto Germanic Tiu, better known as Tyr, the Norse god of the sky and war.

The other major influence is Mars, the Roman god of war (also known as the Greek Ares). Yes, it seems war was the big thing in naming this day. Almost every Tuesday on that list falls under one or the other. The Latvian Otr-, Estonian Teisi- and Lithuanian Antra- are their variations of Tyr!

Almost, but not all of them. Poland, for example, has Wtorek, which might be a variation on a no longer commonword for second, wtory. It’s possible that the Slovak word Utorok is also a variation on second (WARNING: I have not been able to find confirmation on this, so beware). And similarly, the Hungarian Kedd is probably a variation on the word kettid, or what is now ket—two.

Gods of war or the number two…everyone has their own way of looking at things.

Google Translate
Physics Forums. Seriously. That’s where I got some of this information. But that’s not even the weirdest source.
Offspring Forum. And I’m talking about the freaking band here. They actually had stuff about days of the week posted in their forum. Again, I wasn’t able to confirm this, so I wouldn’t be comfortable calling it accurate.
Róna-Tas, András. Hungarians and Europe in the early Middle Ages: an introduction to early Hungarian History. Central European University Press, 1999.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another Day, Another Distraction

So, I found another cute game. It’s a puzzle game called The Adventures of Red from the folks at Armor Games. Seriously, they come up with some great games. And they share them for free!

There were a few puzzles that took some time to work out—there are clues all around but sometimes they weren’t very logical. There was only one puzzle that really stumped me, a kind of camel crossing puzzle where you have to plan how these knights pass each other by. I’m no good at that kind of puzzle, I freely admit.

I had fun with it, so I thought it would be nice to share. It’s pretty fast, you can beat it in an hour. Or maybe solve a few puzzles in between writing chapters for your latest masterpiece. 

Man, how many times did I use the word "puzzle" in this post? Too many for enjoyable reading, I know that much. 

I hope your week is going great. Have fun, take a short break, and don’t forget to write, write, write!

...Puzzle! (Couldn't resist)