Posts tagged ‘writing’

The Professor and the Madman-a book review

When was the last time you used a dictionary to look up a word?

Not online.

A hardbound or paperback book that you hold in your hands and in which you turn real paper pages.

Been a while?

It has for me.

Other than using Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, I keep three books on my desk:

  1. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories by Wilfred Funk (yes, THE “Funk” of Funk and Wagnalls.)
  2. Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by J.H. Byrne (a gift from a close friend)
  3. The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it. by David Bramwell

What was the last murder mystery you read?

Would it live up to this description, “…the linguistic detective story of the decade?”  That’s how New York Times Magazine writer, William Safire described, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.

Did you ever wonder how, and by whom dictionaries were written?

The Oxford English Dictionary is perhaps the most famous of them all. For many, it is the gold standard. (It certainly is for lexicographers and members of the London Philological Society.) We would have never expected it to have been the product of mad dogs and Americans. Yes, an American madman played a significant role in creating the OED. These days, most Americans would define a madman as one who voted for the OTHER candidate.  Things were a bit different in 1871 London, and the States were still rebounding from their brush with being dis-united.oed

The story involves two protagonists eponymously referred to in the title. In a manner of speaking, there is also a third man–not Orson Welles’ Harry Lime.

Winchester treats readers to a sampling from the OED with a definition at the beginning of each chapter. The Preface is prefaced with the word, “mysterious,” and Chapter One begins with, “murder.”

And murder is where one of the two stories begins.

Dr. W. C. Minor was a battlefield surgeon (a Yankee)  in the War Between the States. As a result of his experiences in the war, he apparently suffered from what we know today as post traumatic stress disorder, a term likely not found in the first edition of the OED. In retrospect, researchers today speculate that his PTSD hastened, or perhaps even was responsible for a posthumous diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His untreated illness referred to in Victorian England as, “madness,” combined with a deep seated racism for the Irish. It eventually led to his choice of victims and the perpetuation of a crime that would result in his availability to volunteer an unlimited amount of his time to the research required to help write a literary masterpiece.

murray

James Murray at work on the OED

 

James Murray was a Scot who, by the time he was thirty, in 1867, had learned twenty-two languages in addition to English. Despite a stellar resume, he was turned down for a much coveted job in a British museum. Eventually, he was chosen by the committee at Oxford to lead the project that would take seventy years  and define over a half million words. The first edition consisted of twelve tombstone-sized volumes.

A rigorous dependence on gathering quotations to illustrate the use of the sense of every single word in the language sets the OED apart from most other dictionaries. The previously mentioned definition of the word, murder, consumes more than two pages in the paperback edition of The Professor and the Madman. It seemed a monumental if not impossible task requiring an unbelievable number of hours which were supplied by volunteers. Who better to volunteer than an incarcerated word savant who was also a prolific reader?

Murray soon became buried under thousands of handwritten notes from Dr. Minor (by far the most prolific contributor) and hundreds of other volunteers. As the timelines of Murray and Minor converge, readers see their denouement as the dictionary is created while developing an appreciation for the men and their relationship. Winchester leaves us with the conclusion of their lives (not a Hollywood ending) and an appreciation for how their collaboration was essential  to the success of the project.

Casual readers will enjoy the story; writers and other word aficionados will feel this book is essential to have in their personal libraries.

Hard Words

The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it. by David Bramwell

It’s hard to remember now, years later, what I was doing.

A series of loud bumps on the front door signaled the arrival of a visitor.

On my way to the door, I noticed through a side window that it was my neighbor’s son.

Dad was waiting several steps back at the sidewalk by the street.

The kid continued to pound on the door and as it began to open, he shouted, “Open up! You gotta buy something!”

The Ernest Hemingway approach to sales.

Simple.41o078qvm8l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

No frills.

Minimalist.

I bought whatever it was he was selling.

A Hemingway detractor, William Faulkner, once complained that Papa “…has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

In a little over fifty-five years of reading, I’ve been motivated to look up many words in dictionaries while reading. One thing’s for sure, though, I never put down a “page-turner” and interrupted a captivating story to study vocabulary.

On the other hand, learning new words and making an effort to use them has always been of interest. A well-read person should have a deep vocabulary — shouldn’t they?

It stands to reason.

This seemingly worthwhile pursuit has on occasion caused me some grief. In conversation or informal writing, if the listener doesn’t know what you’re talking about, then you have to explain it. The requirement of stopping and explaining word usage takes a lot away from the original intent of the message. It also leaves the impression that you might be a bit “snooty.”

“Don’t come around here using no five dollar words on me!” was a warning I didn’t want to hear very often. It does, now, in retrospect, cause me to wonder, ‘How much is a hard word worth today?”  Hmmm…

Whatever they’re worth, David Bramwell has got 112 for you for just over ten dollars in his book, The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it.

Bramwell makes it easy to learn about the words in his book. An entire page is dedicated to each word complete with illustrations, pronunciation guide, sample usages, etymology and genealogy. The layout includes three sections titled, “Hard,” “Harder,” and of course, “Hardest.” The author acknowledges that this is not intended to be a complete compendium because, for example, one reader may consider a given word as being hard and another would not, from previous experience.  In my own case, it was a pleasant surprise to scan down the list of words and find many with which I was familiar.  Some of them, I use every day.

Back in my direct sales days, when I lived in Louisiana, it was advisable to write marketing pieces and especially letters on an eighth grade reading level. That was thirty years ago. It would not surprise me at all to discover that writing for any demographic today would benefit with that same advice. An author friend of mine received the following comment in a review of one of his books: “Only 7 percent of the population is going to understand several of the words the author uses.” In my own case, I would be thrilled if seven percent of the population owned a copy of one of my books, but is that what an author wants to do in attempts to sell more books?  I don’t think Hemingway had that problem, but I’m certain that Faulkner did.

Authors who have a word that might be considered difficult by some can take inspiration from the late William Safire, New York Times wordsmith-in-residence. In several of his books, he would use the device of having a character use a “hard” word in conversation. During that conversation, he or she would discuss that word and how it had been used. Another viable option for today’s writers — write a blog about it.

That would be mellifluous!

The Seven Things (about my writing) Challenge

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Recently, a couple of my author friends tagged me in a writing project. The assignment: post seven things about your writing.

1. My writing is done at a standing desk.

2. When I start a book, the first and last chapters are written first.

3.  I do not use an outline.TouristKillerNewCover-LRG

4.  In the beginning, notes are made on main and significant characters. As the writing continues, the characters grow and change and take on their own identities and display their strengths and weaknesses.

5.  My plan is to avoid the “dark and stormy night” syndrome. Establish the setting with a few brief sentences, then let the characters tell the story in dialog. Not fond of the omniscient narrator. Instead of writing that the elderly lady sang off key, I bring out the old woman and let her sing.

6.  I read a lot of old books, take notes, then use them for inspiration and ideas in my books.

7.  I enjoy writing dialog. I get into character for each speaker. My dialog has received critical praise. I believe I do good with it because I’m a good listener. My wife says it’s because I talk a lot.

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BONUS: I write for the same reason many readers read—escape. My characters are the voices in my head and I enjoy spending time with these people.

FIND OUT seven special things about the writing of Charley Descoteaux and Jeff Tsuruoka

“Backwards” writing turns me off

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The Eight Sentences:

Sentence structure is a matter of style–every writer has his/her own–and no one is required to like it.

Frequency of use and the authors’ reputations don’t guarantee a pleasurable read.

If you do like a particular author’s style, it stands to reason, you’ll read more of their work.

Does annoying sentence construction take you out of the story?Hat-2-sml

Many of the examples of backward writing that I find most annoying include adverbs and “ing” verbs, both of which only serve to add to my displeasure. Some folks think this style of writing and sentence construction is fine. Apparently, it’s preferred in English class themes. My editor agrees with me in that it has no place in novels where active writing works better.

Where did that come from?

I recently wrote a blog about one of my pet peeves in writing (I only have about 5,280 pet peeves). My intention was to speak from a reader’s point of view. Every reader has her/his own preferences as do editors and authors. I claim no authority to speak from a position of wisdom on this subject, but I do know what I like and dislike as a reader. The entire article can be found HERE.

Share your own EIGHT with us!

oin us here at Weekend Writing Warriors.The  same link will take you to the work of dozens of talented writers. For a treat, please check out their work, too.

Many of the contributors to Weekend Writing Warriors alsoSundaySnip

participate in the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook.

Writing — as a second language?

“You see what I’m saying?”

“No, I hear what you are saying. I cannot see it.”

Does that conversation sound familiar?

Have you been tempted to respond that way when someone asks if you can see what they are saying?

Has an author ever given you a plot that you could see?

Have you ever told a story and your listeners responded favorably?

Ever notice how good the story was when you had good listeners?

The story got even better when the listeners were better.

Was their response so favorable, that you decided to put that same story into writing?

How long did it take to reduce a two minute story to print?

Whether you were writing longhand or typing, it’s highly likely that it took much longer to write the same story that previously was available only verbally.

Ever wonder why?

Donald Davis has.

He wondered so much about it he did lots of research.

His research focused on teaching non-writers how to write.

Just as Betty Edwards has shown that willing students can learn to draw (and draw well), Davis asserts that non-writers can be taught to become accomplished authors.

Here’s another conversation you’ve probably had:

 “Don’t ask Janice what time it is.”

 “Why not?” is the reply.

 “She’ll spend an hour telling you how the clock works and you’ll never find out the time.”

The trait of being a great storyteller doesn’t give you a free pass on becoming a great writer. In Writing as a Second Language, Davis details the five-step transition of the spoken word (stories) into print. He defines and reviews the development of language. In this case, to become better purveyors of the written word, practitioners are well-served by knowing how the clock works. It saves time.Image

Davis reveals the logic behind the title as he explains that writing, like learning a foreign language, is a skill the student learns.  Few of us are born “natural” writers. For the rest of us, we can rely on Davis’s five-step (thank God it isn’t twelve steps) plan to become a better writer.

No doubt, some writers have been employing Davis’s recommendations for years unconsciously.

Now we can all become better writers, on purpose.

“You hear what I’m writing?”

New Release: Life Sentence, Romantic Suspense by @Carolyn_Arnold

Carolyn Arnold’s new suspense romance

“If I pay with my life, you will pay with yours.”

Defense Attorney Bryan Lexan may have just taken on the case which will cost him his life.

When his client, a Russian mafia boss, is convicted of first-degree murder, he vows to make

Bryan pay.

Meanwhile, Jessica Pratt has always prided herself on being a modern woman–you know, the

kind who doesn’t need a man to make her feel complete. So when she finds herself torn between

two, she realizes that not all decisions are based on facts. If they were, her boyfriend, Bryan,

would be the logical choice. He has the family name, wealth, and a stake in a successful law

firm. Only thing is, when she meets Mason Freeman, the chemistry between them is irrefutable

and he won’t take no for an answer.

With both of them caught up in a struggle for survival, and a powerful enemy on their heels,

they’ll need to decide where their loyalties lie.

“Carolyn Arnold…continues the trend of writing exciting stories that keep your attention

throughout…Life Sentence is a thriller all the way…Arnold never disappoints.”

—Barb, The Reading Cafe

“Though unique in her own right, author Carolyn Arnold is a masterful blend of such greats as

Shirley Jackson (horror), Joseph Finder (thrills), and Janet Evanovich (humor and romance).

Life Sentence is powerful and gripping, with so many twists and turns it left me gasping…”

—Betty Dravis, Award-winning Author and Journalist

Get your copy now at one of these fine retailers.
Available in E-Book or Print formats.

Amazon: http://ow.ly/nRPGv

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/life-sentence-carolyn-arnold/1116264581?ean=2940045163378

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/life-sentence/id680955711?mt=11

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/books/life-sentence-6/_KEFRefcEkShHh0D6wVlUw

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/341307

CAROLYN ARNOLD’s writing career was born when a co-worker said “tell me a story”.

From there what had started off as a few paragraphs grew into her first length novel—LIFE

SENTENCE. Her writing has been compared to New York Times Bestsellers such as JD Robb,

Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, and more. She is the

author of the best-selling Madison Knight series, and Brandon Fisher FBI series. Carolyn was

born in 1976 in Picton, Ontario but currently lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband and

two beagles.

Connect with Carolyn online:

Website: http://carolynarnold.net/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Carolyn_Arnold

Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/carolyn.arnold.564/about

The Tourist Killer — Author Interview

While setting up for the video shoot for my book trailer, videographer, Art Hoffman, started filming and we had a chat about my soon to be released book.

This video is the result.

While five minutes is much too long for a book trailer, it works for an interview.

Please enjoy.

The Tourist Killer is due out in November, in time for Christmas shopping.

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