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If I were to have followed the standard advice of “write what you know” (meaning only write from personal experience), then none of my books would ever have come into being. I would never have written about anything historical (how could I, if I was born in 19-hrmahrm?), or about anything set in Brittany, or certainly I could never ever have written anything to do with dinosaurs (who could?).

The only book I’ve written that had a shred of “what I know”ishness to it is Dreams of the Desert Wind. The setting was a place I lived in for a time (Jerusalem) and I drew on a lot of personal experience for descriptions of the street scenes (like the one mentioned here, with “Samovar Man“).

No, when I started writing, if I’d written only what I knew, then I’d have written a book about working in IT (now there’s a page-turner), or something set in the world of classical music. Continue Reading »

Honestly

the blank page
sleeps before me
pale
bare
eternally patient
unaffected by my
anguish

the unwritten story
assails my brain
cajoling
shaming
begging for release
unmoved by my
anxiety

between them
my pen
my hand
my fear
my wall

Integument
Casuistry
Disquisition
Jackstraw

Books. You never really know what you’re getting until you crack the boards and step inside. Cover art, blurbs, reviews, recommendations, they paint a picture, but as with all art, though the rest of world might love it, for you can be a big fat nothing-burger. Or worse. Will it be a breezy fun-filled page-turner? A deeply engrossing dive into the belly of the dark societal beast? A slog through a mire of typos, anachronisms, and cliches stitched together with wooden dialog spoken by lackluster characters? It’s hard to tell at the outset.

Spillikin
Tergiversate
Congeries
Houseled

A good book isn’t always an easy read. Some very good books take a lot of work to get through. Complicated, intertwined timelines can make your brain hurt. You can get lost amid involuted syntax, tripped up by participial phrases and subordinate adjectival clauses. Or you can be barraged by salvos of words unknown or unfamiliar to you. This doesn’t make the book unreadable; it just makes it a challenge. 

Bathos
Panopticon
Nugatory
Irenic

I don’t mind if a good book is a challenge. I don’t mind having to work for it. It’s part of the journey, no? Where a single “there”/”their” mix-up can be the last straw on a book already fraught with issues, I’ll work hard with another book if the prose is exceptional, the story compelling, the characters so interesting that they draw me in and hold me down as I fight my way through the convoluted plot.

I am halfway through a book right now, and have had to look up a ton of words, more than in any other book I’ve ever read. These words were either wholly unknown to me (spillikin?) or ones that I was only “pretty sure” I knew (integument, disquisition). In a lesser book, I would likely be put off by these words as being out of character or too highfalutin for the subject, but in this book these words are a perfect oriel from which I can peer into the minds of the characters (a pair of Victorian poets). And, hey, new words.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know: spillikin and jackstraw? Synonyms. 

k

Everybody Errs

We all make mistakes. Sometimes, it’s our fault. We move too fast, we don’t think something through, we misspeak, we fat-finger as we type. Other times, though, it’s not our fault because, though we do our best, we were simply ignorant of the rules.

English Grammar: 100 Tragically Common Mistakes (and How to Correct Them) can help, at least with mistakes involving the words we use.

Sean Williams, (known also by her Facebook alter ego, Captain Grammar Pants), has gifted us with a useful, readable, light-hearted tour of grammar ignominy. It is chock-full of tidbits, explanations, examples (good and bad), and sound advice. Each topic is concisely laid out, putting everything—introduction, example of the mistake, example of the correction, a brief explanation of the underlying rule, and an optional test question—all into a few paragraphs that can be read in under a minute.

Unless, like Williams, you are a grammar maven, you will benefit from this book. As an author, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of grammar, but even so I learned from reading it; sometimes I learned something new, and others, I got a better understanding of the rule behind what I already knew. Throughout, it was interesting and informative.

I recommend this book to any student, any budding writer, anyone who wants to polish up their grammar skills for work, or anyone who simply loves words and wants to use them more effectively. It’s a book you can read in bits, or all in one sitting, but either way, it’s a book you’ll come back to repeatedly.

k

In Plain Sight

Some days—not often, but on the rare occasion—I get to feel really stupid.

Stupid. Dense. Unobservant. Positively dim.

Yesterday was such a day. Continue Reading »

It came in the mail today, and it might as well have come with an honorary AARP membership because now, without doubt, I am officially an old white guy.

I opened the package, and immediately started to doink around with it before reading the instructions (oh come on; you do that, too). I scrounged up six AAA batteries to put into its belly, turned it on, and then (finally) looked at the user’s leaflet that came with it.

When I brought it out into the living room, my wife cocked her head and asked, “What is that?”

I told her, and she laughed. She laughed because she knew, too. I am officially an old white guy. There’s no denying it, now.

Continue Reading »

It’s taken a year. Or as close as makes no difference.

Last year, I initiated a purge. As part of making the (involuntary) transition from office-jockey to a full-time work-from-home employee, I pulled my office apart, replacing the major furniture and culling the—there’s no other word for it—junk that had accreted over the years. Books, letters, electronics, avocational equipment, mementos, I put absolutely everything on the block, and a lot of it went out the door.

Out the office door, that is.

It didn’t quite make it out the front door.

Just to the garage. Continue Reading »

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