Old Moon

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Days grow short...

The month of changes—or so it seems to me. Back to school, end of summer, beginning again for matters of work and worry that fell out of the forefront during vacation time. Soon there won’t be a need for the AC at night, the trees that looked tired and dried out last month will begin to color with the promise of flaming October, bird and monarch butterfly migrations will catch the eyes of gardeners and hikers, wooly bear caterpillars will wend their zigzag ways across the pavement.
Of course, these are all signals of ending too. Earlier darkness and later light, the growing season even here in North Carolina is drawing to a close, and the end of the year becomes visible like a distant landmark. I never can decide whether I’m happy to see September, or a little sad. The wonderful lyrics of “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday pretty much tell it all: “…Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few…” that we treasure when we get into the 8th decade, where we qualify for the symbolic September of our own days. “It’s a long, long while/From May to December,/ But the days grow short,/ When you reach September.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pet Peeves

You have to remember that I was once an English teacher and try to forgive my crankiness. I have a series of increasingly irritible peeves with the "media." If we're all to be exposed to so much palaver on the air and in print, it seems to me the least the talkers can do is to say what they (presumably) mean instead of getting in trouble by using words and/or expressions they don't understand, and thus leading a whole generation to follow them in their errors. I get so hot under the collar...!

For example: enormity. This word has nothing whatsoever to do with physical size! The meaning refers to something so out of the realm of morality that it exceeds all ordinary measure--of awfulness, cruelty, sinfulness.

Begs the question: this does not mean that whatever it is raises or asks a question. This is a term used in debating, and which is defined (all three words) as meaning "to evade or dodge." Therefore, to use it to suggest that an occurrence makes other questions arise is the opposite of what the speaker really means.

English is a language richer in words than almost all others. The precision it makes possible is one of its greatest attractions for me. I get pretty annoyed when people insist on saying "bring" when they mean "take." You don't bring your car to the garage for repairs, you take it there.

Why do anchors on TV programs insist on saying so-and-so has convinced someone to go or do anything? Granted, they might need to be convinced before they would be persuaded to do it. But one is convinced of something about which one was doubtful or opposed to; one is persuaded to do something. Note the prepostions.

"Sloppy" is the word that comes to mind. If people speak so sloppily, how are they to convince us that they don't think equally sloppily? It's hard for me to believe that those who learned English as a second language and learned it properly might not see this imprecision as a sign that Americans were less than in command of what is actually in their heads. Scary.

Sign this "Curmudgeon."

Where Have I been?

I don't know what kind of glitch has hit this site, but today I finally found all those wonderful responses to old posts that never showed up when I checked my site. Humble apologies to all of you who were good enough to react to my musings. It really has already made my (rather gloomy) day to find that anyone out there has not only taken time to read, but has also given me the benefit of suggestions and responses is positively touching. Thank you all!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mars or Venus?

Most of my adult life I’ve been subliminally convinced that certain aspects of personality are sex-linked, kind of like tri-coloration in cats. As I’m reading a book in preparation for reviewing it, I’m beginning to wonder if that really is the case. I just finished a review of the same novel written by a man. I admire his penetrating analysis of theme. He seemed to have understood the characters and the author’s intention, but he doesn’t say anything about the writing itself, which strikes me as artistic in the extreme. Because this reviewer is also an excellent writer, I was surprised by his silence on the subject.

Then I received a comment from a male reader on my novel that praised it for its content and message. It was a pleasant surprise to have a male viewpoint on a book that has been categorized (not by me) as a romance that tells me he saw the story pretty much as I do. (The people who call it a romance are women.) I have to confess that I'm gratified and a good deal surprised by the praise some men have given it.

Now I don’t know what to do with that subjective observation. After all, what writer hasn’t been told to consider the audience? Which of us hasn’t been warned to think of the market? An addendum to the previous post, I guess.

What IS an author to do?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What's an Author to Do?

I'm wishing I'm not harboring a vain hope that an occasional writer reads these posts. I'd like to ask what advice one might give when the options offered by a small publisher are: (1)stick it out, or (2)take the book back--and decide within 72 hours. The contract is now over 2 1/2 years old, and no release date suggested, let alone promised. I understand (all too well) that I blew it when I signed on, but that's water over the dam. Any suggestions now?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Confession of a Revision Addict

Recently I put together yet another packet to send to a publisher, this time in an effort to find a home for a collection of short stories. I've been trying this once or twice a year for perhaps three years now, so to fulfill instructions for supplying a sample, I merely copied the first three stories in the group, printed them, and sent them off in the envelope. I've read and spell-checked until I'm heartily sick of those pieces, even if they are among my first-born, so to speak.

Then I found another possible publisher who requests the whole ms. with the query. This time I began to re-read the whole thing(maybe 67,000 words) just to make sure I hadn't missed some ridiculous syntactic gaffe or confusing transition. And there I was again, back at the stumbling block that made me quit trying to write altogether until we got a computer, namely: the compulsion to revise.

When taking art lessons, I heard my instructors repeatedly warn against "overworking" and urging the students to "know when to stop." What my problem seems to be, at least in part, is that I can't figure out how to do that with words. How do you know when to stop? The first story in the group was my second sale, heavily edited when it was published (not by me), and written over 25 years ago. And there I sat, re-wording, cutting, tweaking. Then I did it again for the second story. Now I'm launched on the rest of them. I have other things to do! Why can't I decide to leave well enough alone? Is it because of some book I'm reading for fun this week? Have I been influenced by the blogs I'm becoming addicted to that are written by professionals who put me to shame? Have I taken a new perspective from which to view the original story? Have my cutting and pasting done it any good at all?

In Snoopy's incomparable word, "Aargh!"

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Did you ever notice those unwritten rules in most households than confer special privileges on certain poeple? As I picked a chicken carcass to strip it in order to make the final casserole from it, I nibbled on those little bits that really are too small to be of much use in a dish. If you have a whole bird, the carver rarely bothers to extract the delicious little "oysters" from behind the second joint. I didn't even look over my shoulder to see if anyone might catch me at it. It's my perk as the cook.

Whoever goes out to the mailbox (we spent 45 years on a rural route with distances up to 1/4 mile to the box) gets to see who is receiving what and from whom. Often no one is much interested--unless someone is waiting for something desirable, of course--like maybe a personal letter or a reply on the last submission. Of course, most of the time, I hated those as much as bills. Too few were offers to publish. That same energetic person got to decide what was junk too. I still get a charge out of tossing the glossy newsprint flyers offering discounts on pages of stuff I know I'll never buy, or even covet.

Depending on one's place in the family, it may take an act of will to view some of these jobs as privileged. My husband, bless him, doesn't mind carving--anything. He's good with turkey, rib roasts (or he used to be when we could afford to buy them); legs of lamb (see previous parenthesis); even duck. My suspicion is that he really likes getting to choose and sharpen the particular knife (almost never the one I put out) and demonstrate his facility with it. The larger the audience, the better, but he's just as good and careful when it's only the two of us and a flank steak.

When we had a couple of saddle horses, my husband always carried the last buckets of water to the stalls at night. I know (on photographic evidence as well as his bragging) that he viewed that as his special chore because our mare used to spend ten minutes with her head over the half door and her muzzle resting on his shoulder while they whispered sweet nothings to each other every night at bed time.

It's fun to look for the perks, especially because if you don't, you may miss them. Sure, maybe it's a form of "silver lining," but we can all use a bit of that now and then.