Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recent Reads: Books on Words and Language

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but was unsure what the "angle" would be.  I have long had a fascination with the English language and how and why it is the way it is.  I am intrigued by the changes in it over time, by nuances and subtleties, by its travels around the globe, and by the fact some call it "the Wal-Mart" of languages. 

Part of my interest comes from being a teacher (of grammar, essay writing, English as a Second Language, business communications and so on), but I think these books have helped me more as a writer than as an English teacher. 

I have read several books on English and what it's all about, where it's been, and where it's going.  The five below are some of my absolute faves - the ones I will pick up now and again, and flip through just for fun.

Each is fun and fascinating, all are targeted at a general audience (my interest in language wanes when it becomes academic, and starts to feel like work rather than leisure), there are good bits of humour here and there, and each of the five has a good tone.

Check them out.  They helped me as much as any rule book/thesaurus/writing guide ever did... perhaps more.

Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages, by Mark Abley

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary,
by Simon Winchester
Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, by Ruth Wajnryb
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, by John Mcwhorter
Mother Tongue, by B. Bryson

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New cover look for Penguin Classics

Penguin has created new covers for eight of the books in their "Classics" series.  The covers feature text, specifically quotes from the novels themselves.

The covers are all done in black & white (Penguin) and red (in support of AIDS awareness).  I think they are stylistically striking, and the colour scheme is eye catching to me.  Have a look at all eight covers here: 


Not everyone loves the new covers, though, such as the post at the following link: 


I happen to like them very much.  I think the idea behind them is good, I like the various layouts and fonts, and I think the "spillover" to the red bottom border is great. 

How much do you think covers have to do with sales?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do you ever model characters on real people?

People often ask me about characters and real people.  They want to know if So and SO was based on (insert name of friend, colleague, relative here). 

I wouldn't say any character is based on any one real person.  However, some characters were
inspired or partly inspired by real people.  What I may do is give a character a certain relative's quirks or mannerisms, and a physical description similar to a friend, plus the aptitudes of a colleague.  Often the inspirations will be people I knew long ago, or people I did not know well, such as a teacher from grade school, or the teller I see regularly at the bank. 

As well, when I am trying to flesh out a character - give them a background, hobbies, phobias, experiences and so on - I often think of what people I know have said and done.  In Blood and Groom there is a mention that a character had once one trekking in the Himalayas.  That came out of hearing of an acquaintance's trip, but that's as far as it went.  The character in this case is male - the real person is female, the duration of the trip, time of year and all that were different.  In another situation, a character eats something that I never would, but had heard about from a friend. 

Another thing that I will draw on from people I know is references to pets.  I've never had any (wish I could, but I have allergies, damn...)  So, I may insert my friend's rambunctious puppy or my neighbour's parrot (who sits on her head all the time!).

I think as writers, we sort of observe day-to-day life, and see the story in it, or the appeal of it in creating a character, or a plot line, or a snippet of dialogue.

What do you think?

Monday, March 22, 2010


Some unusual rituals about death:

In ancient Rome, when someone was on their death bed, the eldest male relative would lean in close, inhale and catch the last breath of the dying person.

According to the great Greek historian Herodotus, the Calatians ate their dead. It was thought to be the family’s sacred duty. Queen Artemisia apparently mixed the ashes of her lover with wine and drank it.

In the Scottish highlands the deceased were buried with a small amount of salt and soil placed on their chests. The soil symbolized that the body decays and becomes one with the earth. The salt symbolizes the soul and like the soul does not decay or die.

In Northern Vietnam the deceased are buried in the land on which they lived. They are generally laid to rest in the middle of a rice paddy. After two years, the deceased's family digs up the body, cleans all the bones, and then re-buries the body in the family garden.

Who needs fertility drugs when you have a death shroud? In Madagascar, people dig up their dead relatives for a ceremony called famadihana. They parade the bones around the village and then bury the remains in a new shroud. The old shroud is given to childless newlyweds who place it on their bed.

Thralls were often sacrificed during a Viking funeral so that they could serve their master in the next world.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I couldn't make up this stuff!

I heard about a strange and horrible robbery here in Toronto yesterday.  A couple of jerks walked into a hospital and pretended to be visiting a sick friend.  They wandered into the room of an old and dying woman and stole her jewellery.  Yes, from her death-bed.  They will no doubt get caught (security cameras have their pictures and they've been splashed all over the local press).

So, I looked in to other jaw-dropping crimes and came across a website called Clumsy Crooks http://www.clumsycrooks.com/ .  Sure enough, it has the death-bed heist mentioned, but also some other eye-rolling and head-scratching crimes, like:

  • the dentist who used paper clips instead of stainless steel rods in dental surgery
  • a man who showed up drunk at his DUI hearing
  • a man paying his crack dealer with Monopoly money
  • a woman who called police because of suspiscious noises... that turned out to be her vibrator
  • newlyweds who spent their first night of wedded bliss in jail
If I tried to put  these kinds of stories in a novel, the publisher would probably reject the manuscript and/or readers would find the plot hard to swallow.

Yes, truth really is stranger than fiction!

Friday, March 19, 2010

MIA and trudging along...

Hey there,

I've been MIA the last little while.  A combination of busy as hell at my full-time job (college prof... midterms...yikes) and doing book events (or planning book events) when I can.

Long before I was published, a writer acquaintance said the real work comes after the writing.  She meant all the promo stuff and all the effort that entails.  I'm not complaining, but I now get what she meant! 

The events themselves are usually fun and it's nice to talk to people about my book, about writing and so on.  The only bummer is if an event doesn't draw a crowd... but I guess that will happen at times - despite efforts to publicize the reading or whatever it is.

One thing I hadn't really expected is how hard and how easy it is to arrange an event, whether a library or a retail venue.  In some cases, it's all arranged in minutes via an email or two.  Date, time, place - poof!  Done!  See you soon.  In other cases, it's a series of calls, emails and faxes (who faxes anymore???) and a week or two before things get confirmed (or not).  I wish there were a recipe for this!

The one thing I am finding helpful and very supportive is local media, whether print or televised.  Community papers seem glad to cover events in their neighbourhoods, and local cable channels are eager to meet with you as well.

All in all, this has been one heck of a learning curve!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Invisible PR

Well, the bright side is that I am slowly getting some publicity... the not so bright side is that (for all intents and purposes) the little bit of publicity I have had has mostly been below the radar!

I have now done three interviews for newspapers (local ones, weekly publicatsions), plus I have now done two guest appearances on cable talk shows.

In each case, I have not been able to get a copy of the article or segment!!!  The local papers are local somewhere else (not here in Toronto) and teh  cable shows are a channel I don't  get (and they don't have an online version - ditto online for the print media).

I have emailed or called the various media people and asked if there is any way to get copies, but alas, I have not received anything yet.

It's kind of funny to know there is some publicity out there but I have no way of measuring its reach nor in seeing the final product.

Oh well, as they say: any publicity is good publicity!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nom de Plume

A few people asked me early on if I planned to use a pseudonym.  It never even occurred to me to do so.  I can't see why one would do so, unless an author were writing in completely different genres and trying to appeal to completely different readers.  For example, I know a mystery author who writes whodunits under her own name, but she also writes erotica... using a pen name.  'Nuff said. 

I can also even maybe understand the appeal of a nom de plume if you don't want to essentially compete with yourself, say if you have two series and the release dates are in the same season.  Mind you, this didn't affect Robert B. Parker and the Spenser-Sunny Randall-Jesse Stone novels (but then, hey, he was Robert B. Parker).

What I don't understand is when an author starts to blend the two names, as in the case with Nora Roberts and JD Robb.  I've noticed hardcovers books of hers labelled "Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb" and that seems odd to me.  It may have something to do with the publisher or with contracts or something else I have not considered...

There may also be (initial) resistance from readers who expect an author to, let's say, write gritty police procedurals... and the author may decide to give cozies a try.  I get that, really I do.

I'm wondering about this at the moment because I'm wondering what I might do if and when a new series idea comes to me...

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Library Event.... Zzzzzzzz....

Okay, I have to laugh at this!

I did a reading and Q & A at a library last weekend.  My half-brother Mike happens to work there, so he helped with the arrangements (thanks again!).  And, since this was something of a family event, our Dad came along.

Now, Dad has been supportive of me and the book.  He has bragged to his friends, he bought several copies, he came to the launch party.  Proud Papa to be sure.

I did the reading to a small crowd (only about 10 people besides my dad and Mike).  After the reading, people began asking questions - the usual, how long did it take to write Blood and Groom, was it hard to get published, etc.  Then someone asked "where did you get the ideas?" and I told the truth:  Many of the plot ideas came from Dear Old Dad.  But when I answered I said the following:

"My Dad - the guy who's fast asleep in the back row - gave me a lot of suggestions." 

Dad, clued in at that moment and woke up, startled, looked around, gave a deer in the headlights look to the group, and blushed a little.  Everyone else gave a nervous chuckle. 

So, Dad slept through the library event.  OMG....talk about feeling like a forgotten middle child ;) 

Luckily, I found it funny!