Saturday, September 29, 2012

Short Story Appreciation

Even though I can’t write them (every idea I think up is just too “long”), I love short stories. I think it may take more skill to write a coherent short story than it does a long one, where you have time to get to know characters and reveal their personality. And to craft a story with beginning, middle and end in so few words! Talent, that’s what it is.

Well, here are some of the best ones I’ve found. Fair warning: here there be spoilers.

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
I’m sorry that I only just read this recently. Asimov thinks of it as his best story and considering how prolific he was, that’s saying something. It really is worthy of praise as intriguing, philosophical, and as per usual with him, with a believable glimpse at the distant future. There was once a website that had this story on it for free but it’s shut down now, possibly for legal reasons. I’m afraid your best bet for finding this is in a collection.

The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft
I don’t think I could mention short stories without bringing up Lovecraft. Most of his works are wordy for supposed shorts, with meandering yet vivid sentences that tend to bog down the reader. But if you want one that’s interesting and fairly concise, you could do worse than “The Picture in the House”. It starts out as eerie, builds to unsettling and stays there until the end where it spikes into OMFG!!! If you want a collection, there are several out there and they tend to flush out the weaker ones as well. Since he’s been dead for over seventy years, his work is in the public domain. There are several sites filled with his short stories.

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Hey, Halloween is in just over a month. It’s time to get in the mood, and you probably can’t do better than Poe. Unlike most nineteenth century writers, I find his work engaging, even when the main character isn’t named and his circumstances mostly unknown, as in this story. We learn a man has been imprisoned during the Inquisition (and even that isn’t described accurately)—that’s all, and yet that’s all we need to know. None are better than at putting the reader into the body of the main character, making his stories intense and powerful. As he’s also been dead long enough for copyright to expire, many of his works are available.

See? It’s not all horror and sci-fi. I read it in college and it made a strong impression on me. Oates is absolutely eloquent with her words here. In a few sentences, the reader has a sense of the main character, Connie, her family, and how Connie views her family, something that becomes absolutely painful when you get to the end. In a word: haunting. It’s available for free on Joyce Carol Oates’s webpage at the University of San Francisco.

To Build a Fire by Jack London
And if that last story didn’t depress you, how about one about dying of exposure? You might think that spoils something, but I don’t. It doesn’t convey the desperation, the fear that the short story does. It’s available for free at several sources since, again, copyright has expired. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Language of Confusion: Scape

Scape is a word, although probably not one anyone uses much. We say “landscape” or even “seascape”, you don’t hear anyone use just scape anywhere.

View scape showed up in 1773, taken from the end of the word landscape. That word had been around for over a century, first showing up around 1600 in reference to paintings of nature. Surprisingly enough, it was taken from the Dutch landschap, a word evolved from the Middle Dutch landscap, which means region and is taken from their word for land…land. Yes, really. The modern definition of landscape, as in what you do to your back yard, is fairly recent, only showing up in 1916. Oh, and that “scap” part of landscap? It’s from the Old English -sciepe and is the origin word for the suffix -ship (the part of friendship, relationship and all those, but with nothing to do with boats). 

There’s also another scape, this one more along the lines of the word escape, and it showed up much earlier in the thirteenth century, when for some reason people decided escape was annoying with that e in the front (which didn’t last; by the end of the seventeenth century they were back to the e). Escape itself came from the Old North Frenchescaper and Old Frencheschaper, which can be further traced back to the Vulgar Latin excappare. Do you see how escape has the word cape in it? Apparently that’s because it literally means “get out of a cape”, metaphorical in the sense that while fleeing you would leave your pursuer with nothing but your cape. The ex- is a prefix meaning “out of”and the cappare is from cappa in the Late Period Latin language, or cape (because of the slight differences in the forms of Latin, in classical Latin the word for cape is…cape).

TL;DR: Landscape is Dutch and has more in common with the suffix of friendship than it does with escape, which is French and Latin in origin and has to do with a metaphorical cape.

Seriously, languages are weird.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


No, thankfully, not my car. Mostly because I don’t have a car.

Recently, I was thinking about my first effort at writing a book. It was successful in the sense that a book-length number of words were put down on paper, but that’s about it. The story was a mess, with more plot threads than high-end bed sheets, half of them going nowhere. The characters were better, but not by much. They main characters were fairly deep, just not interesting enough to lead a story. Minor characters were based off people I knew to the point it could have been libelous. And let’s just say I had no idea about pacing and leave it at that.

Still, even though I’ll never let it look at the light of day again, I look back at it fondly. I may not have known what I was doing, but I had fun immersing myself in a world of my own creation and with which I could do anything. Creating, dreaming, imagining…I tell you, no drug could replicate the joys of being lost in your own mind.

It’s sad that there probably isn’t anything I could do with all those words (trust me on this) and people and stories. Elements may be reused someday, but the meat of the book is a total loss. Now, I’m not saying it was a waste of time. Far from it. I learned a lot while writing it and the idea of getting it published pushed me to learn even more.

So there is meaning in everything. Writers out there: what did you learn from your first story? Do you believe it could be published, with or without heavy rewrites?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Random Thoughts

---I don’t know if you realized, but I started updating at midnight instead of noon. All that scrolling down when I’m scheduling posts is really annoying. Yes, that’s really why I changed it.
---For some reason, this has to keep being said: non-fiction means it’s not fiction. Is this concept really that difficult to understand?
---Although I do find it deeply ironic that the latest book to be accused of making up facts and quotes is entitled “Creativity”.
---“Star caught devouring planet.” “‘I thought it was a bag of Doritos,’ claims red giant. Grand jury investigation underway.”
---Dang it. Now I want Doritos.
---If you’re in trouble for possession of marijuana, it might not be the best move to retaliate on the police who arrested you by running over seven police cars in a giant tractor. Just saying, marijuana is a little less of a crime than destroying a million dollars worth of police property.
---If we ever make time machines, I have a feeling lotteries are going to have to be canceled. Everyone’s just going to go back in time with the winning numbers.
---While typing “explosive decompression” into a search engine, one of the things that came up was “explosive diarrhea”. Apparently it’s more common than the decompression, because it came up first. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that.
---The moon is slowing down the Earth by two milliseconds every century. Lousy moon. Sitting up there and making our days longer. Thinks it’s soooooo great.
---Look at it up there. Plotting against us. You better pull away at four centimeters a year! I’m onto you!
---Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. Finally, an excuse to cram my face with chocolate bars.
---An American won the world air guitar championships. This was news on BBC, people. BBC.
---You can use sliced bread to mop up broken glass. Apparently, sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Secret Origins: L

 Time for another one.

Unlike some of the letters I’ve covered, the sound L is fairly common among languages. But the symbol for it? Man, is that complicated.

In Latin, L visually started out with the angle pointing more towards the bottom. Before that we have Etruscan, where the symbol is facing the other direction and looks more like an upside down numeral one. The Etruscans borrowed their alphabet from the visiting Greeks, hence spreading it to Rome where it morphed into Latin. The Greek Lambda (Λ) is again more like a triangle, while the lower case (λ) is a triangle with a tail on top. It seems like the Etruscans changed it a lot, but really it’s just the variation of writing styles between the different regions of Greece. If you look at the comparison chart here, you can see changes among the different cities. It looks like the Greeks created the capital Lambda from the Phoenician letter L, which they used for small Lambda, then dropped entirely when it was replaced by a variation on capital Lambda.

Like I said, the Greeks took their alphabet from the Phoenicians, prolific traders of pre-history who invented the earliest form of the alphabet in order to keep track of their wares. While later incarnations resemble the upside down 1 of the Etruscans, early versions of the Phoenician Lamadh are symbolically more like our C or G and when you go further back to proto-Sinaitic, it’s just a whirl (or a shepard’s crook, which is one of the translations for the Egyptian hieroglyph it was taken from). However, if you harden the points of the whirl to corners, you can see the vestiges of the triangular Lambda. You can also note the differences in another alphabetic descendant of Phoenician, Hebrew, where it showed up as Lamed (that’s lah-med, symbolized by ל). With the leftmost leg upright like that, it’s more like a lightning bolt, but it does seem similar to the proto-Sinaitic whirl.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The New Look…Again

For the first time in at least a year, I’m updating my blog by typing into the text box and hitting publish instead of copying in a previously written post and scheduling it for later. Who knows what madness will be unleashed when I don’t have a few days of sobering up to realize the stupidity of the words vomited out of my fingers.

Yes, I wrote that. I’m also tired and I write/say weird things when I’m tired. It’s basically the reason why I try to schedule these things in advance.

Anyway, the reason for all this is because, as I assume you’ve noticed, I changed up the blog design again. The last time I switched it up, it was from that disastrous experiment with…what was it called? Dynamic views? Hated that, although it was interesting to do something completely different. It was new, it was unique, and I thought it had potential. Unfortunately, that potential turned out to be mostly pissing me off.

In that particular incident, the cons far outweighed the pros. Infinite scrolling! Yay! Oh wait. Almost none of the add-ons are compatible? And I’m supposed to like this? You’d think the company responsible for Chrome and gmail would never produce a lemon the size of a dwarf planet, but it does happen at times.

Again, tired. I’m probably going to blame a few more things on exhaustion, either here or on Twitter. So don’t be surprised.

Do you like it? If you don’t, it probably won’t change anything. I find the squares soothing. Even though I’m not the one usually visiting my blog. But whatevs.

Later! Off to check other people’s blogs and I assume say weird stuff there instead.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Year Blogiversary

Two years ago today, in hopes of getting more involved with the writing community, I took up blogging. And promptly proved I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe this is all in my head, but I think I’ve learned quite a bit over the years (yes! It’s plural now!) and while I’m no blog maven, I’m comfortable with the system. Here’s what I’ve picked up, in case someone who’s just started out stumbles into my blog and is as clueless as I was.

The top five things I learned about blogging:

1. Each and every post has to offer something. I often fall into this trap, usually posting long opinions about something that may be interesting to read, but don’t really give much except what I think. While it’s good to illustrate points with stories, if you want to interest people you have to engage with them. Sometimes this means teaching a lesson. Others it means sharing information or tips on a subject.

2. Just because you’re on the internet doesn’t mean communication isn’t a two-way street. If you want to make friends, you have to interact with people. Respond to their comments, visit their blogs/webpages.

3. There will always be people out there who disagree with you and are jerks about it. These may be people who wouldn’t say boo in real life but have no trouble belittling you when they’re enveloped in the supposed anonymity of the internet. It’s why most sites come with a “block” button.

4. It’s important to write posts that are both concise and well-written. Face it, the internet lowers attention spans, and if the writing isn’t interesting right off, people will probably jump on to the next post in their reader. Which is probably why my etymology posts don’t get more hits.

5. If you want an insta-hit post, put up cat pictures. In that vein…

Tell me that's not the cutest thing ever and I'll know you're lying.

She collapsed under the weight of her own stomach.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Language of Confusion: Log

In keeping with this week’s “theme” of blog-reflecting, let’s look at the word log. After all, it’s not only the end of the word blog, a record of events. It’s also a hunk of a tree. Now how did those two things get connected?

Wood-log came into being in the early fourteenth century as a noun. Its word ancestors are a bit of a mystery. There’s no similar word in Old English or Old French or the classic standby of Latin. Middle Englishhas logge, but it seems that the word just showed up on its own, apparently because they thought it was a good sound to express a large hunk of something. For better illustration, think of the word “bam!”, and how it expresses a sudden noise or added emphasis. Log is the same thing, but for a big piece of a tree.

The other log is a fairly recent word, showing up in 1842 as a shortening of the word log-book, which showed up in the seventeenth century. Interestingly enough, log-book comes from the wood log. The first people to use log-book were sailors, who used a wooden float to measure the ship’s speed and recorded it in said book. It wasn’t until 1913 that log came into general use as a kind of journal, and almost a century later, turn into our “weblogs”.

And for the, um, log, let’s note that analog, dialogue, epilogue and all those words with log in them are no relation to the above. They instead come from the word logos, which means the guiding principle of the universe (clarification: not LOGO; that’s something completely different...or depending on your view of corporations, maybe not so much) and has given us numerous words, including logicand logarithm.

TL;DR: it sounded like a good word for a chunk of wood.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What Blogging Taught Me about Writing

We’re coming up on my second blogging anniversary, so I’m feeling all reflective. So much has happened over the past two many words written, so many posts typed...

The first few years I worked earnestly on my writing, I wasn’t very good. Worse, I was completely ignorant of that fact. I thought when you wrote a book, it was EASY to get it published. You put the words down on a page and then people would jump all over it to read it. Oh, sure, there was some editing involved. Move a few chapters around. Edit some character development. Proofread of course. But not that much work. Maybe another month.

I’ll pause for a moment so you can all laugh at that.

Sad, right? I hadn’t done much research into the publishing process, so I didn’t realize…well, anything. I didn’t know how it worked except in a vague way. I had no idea about predatory “publishers”, or the debates about getting an agent and indie-versus-traditional publishing, or the vast amount of work authors put in to change a manuscript from “work in progress” to “work completed”. “Down on the page” is not the end, it’s the beginning.

When I first dipped a toe into the waters of social media, it was via twitter. By that time I bookmarked the pagesof a fewagents (plus a few more) and they talked a lot about getting involved with other writers and readers, an idea that never occurred to me. It turns out, that was probably the best thing to ever happen to my writing.

So many blogs! About books, about reading, about publishing, about writing. I learned about the all-important hook. Pitch writing, synopses, genres, and the importance of each and every single word. And I’m still learning.

I guess I should say thank you. You guys are awesome and I’m glad I follow your blogs (even if I’m bad about commenting sometimes). I’m sure I’m biased, but I think the writing/blogging community is the best out there and I can’t wait to read what you have to say.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

From the Spamfiles

Because sometimes they are just too weird not to share.

“Hey! You haven’t written me back!” From “Princess-Fan” at, or something like that. Let’s leave aside the fact that I would never be friends with someone who emailed me with an address like “princess fan” and focus on the fact that I never wrote to her in the first place. Or, more correctly, itsince the sender was a spambot designed to entice people to chat with “sexy girls” (i.e. more spambots).

“Free V1agra!” It’s either this or an advertisement for a pump for an organ that I don’t have. And always, it’s spelled with a 1 in place of the i, I suppose because just Viagra is already in my blocked words list. V1agra is also in there, but for some reason it doesn’t get caught as much.

“Dear personal friend, it is with great sadness that I am writing to you.” And then something about how I have to send them money. The interesting part of these emails is that while they have few spelling and grammatical errors, they aren’t anywhere near correct, like something that was translated from English to another language and back again. Then through a few more languages before it was sent. Ever had an instruction manual for a Chinese item? Like that.

“You have one 500,000 pounds in the British Lottery!” I know I’ve talked about all the lotteries I win before, but I just keep getting notices, often warning me that this is my “last chance to claim my winnings!” Anyone from the United Kingdom: is your country always having lotteries that foreigners win without entering or should I be suspicious?

“hey! i cant believe what your doing in this pic I found of u!” And then a shortened link. This message pops up in Twitter way too often. They don’t even change the grammar, although sometimes it’s “i can’t believe what this person posted about u!” Come on, spammers. At least change the content. If you’re not going to put the effort in to entice me, there’s no reason for me to click the link that will probably stuff my hard drive so full of viruses it will cough and then forcibly eject itself from my computer, exhaling a cloud of black smoke as it does so.

Anyone have their own spamfile stories to share? We’re listening.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Language of Confusion: Missing

Because I know you missed it. Okay, I missed it. And in that vein…

Miss, as in to not hit or escape notice, comes from the Old Englishmissan (with the same meaning) and the Proto Germanicmissjan, meaning “to go wrong”. Now missjan comes from another Proto Germanic word, missa-, which means “in a changed manner”. From changed manner we get abnormal, incorrect, from there we get to go wrong, and from there we get our current definition. So miss changed with each incarnation, but the “wrong” sense of the word has always been there, and is the root for all the other definitions (to avoid, to not be on time, to miss a person or thing).

The other miss is the title for unmarried women. It’s actually short for mistressand before it meant young woman it meant, of course, prostitute or concubine. Yeah. We also have missus as the title of married women. The word is what’s called a corruption, in this case of mistress. Basically, people started saying it wrongly and it stuck. Before 1833, it had all the same definitions as the plural of mistress—more than one female teacher, or woman in authority, etc. But then people started using it as the title of a wife, despite the word being a plural. In fact, when you see, say, two unmarried sisters and you refer to them by their last names, it’s “the misses”, same pronunciation as one married woman with the same last name. So two married woman would be…the missuses?

Ah, linguistics. You do love to be confusing. It does explain the m, r, and s in Mrs., I suppose.

TL;DR: The title miss is short for a word that has nothing to do with the “gone” miss.

Tony Jebson’s page on The Origins of Old English

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Did you miss me? Of course you did.

Well, I had fun as summer officially wound down. And tooooooonnnns of cake. Especially since my mom’s birthday is five days after mine.

Back to business, I want to thank Andrew and Gwen for taking over my blog last week : ). It was super awesome of you since you both have your own blogs and all that. They really went all out. You might want to take a peek if you haven’t already.

Vacation is done—boo. Although I did get a new idea for a book. Apocalyptic, of course. I’m not one hundred percent on the idea yet, but that’s probably because I don’t have the idea completely fleshed out. If I take some time to think about it, come up with an ending, a theme, and all the main characters, it might actually be an “it”, a book I have. to. Write.

But that’ll have to wait (maybe for NaNoWriMo?). For now, I have to get back to writing and editing and visiting all your blogs. What have you been up to lately? How do you feel about the approaching winter? Or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, summer? And do you think the world is oversaturated with zombie stories or maybe one more could squeeze in?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back on Tuesday!

Right now, this is a fair approximation of how I feel...

So I'm going to go sleep until Tuesday. Later, gators!