The Good and the Bad

lewis ginter origami garden
The good is yesterday’s visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden—the usual lush flora plus the current exhibit of metal sculptures based on origami. I saw only part of the sculptures but they are stunning! The heat drove me away before I tour the entire circuit, so a return visit is in the offing. I wanted to share, but couldn’t think of a way to make the excursion particularly relevant to writers and/or readers.
good bad lewis ginter
Therefore I decided to alternate the good with the bad—some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés—cited in this essay in the June 18th issue of The New Yorker.
new yorker critics high crimes
 
N.B.: The entire article is 3.3 pages plus a full-page illustration. Clearly, I’ve chosen only some of the worst writing quoted from The President Is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson) to suit my purposes. The article contains much that is complementary, informative, and entertaining, and I highly recommend reading the entire thing!
“She had to bite her tongue and accept her place as second fiddle.”
“…the sorrowful, deer-in-the-headlights look is long gone. The gloves have come off.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Along the way, little animals bounce out of her path.”
“Augie looks at me like a lost puppy, in a foreign place with no partner anymore, nothing to call his own but his smartphone.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Adrenaline crashes through my body.”
“Volkov’s eyebrows flare a bit.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Augie lets out a noise that sounds like laughter.”
good bad lewis ginter
“…her face once again becomes a poker-face wall.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Casey falls to a crouch, gripping her hair.”
good bad lewis ginter
“…eyes in a focused squint…”
good bad lewis ginter
“a sweeping nod”
good bad lewis ginter
“shakes his head, hiccups a bitter chuckle.”
good bad lewis ginter
“My head on a swivel, I focus on Devin.”
“I break into a jog, something close to a full sprint”
good bad lewis ginter
“a bunch of scrambled jumble”
Bottom line: Even highly educated and highly successful writers sometimes try too hard to make their writing compelling and vivid. Beware!

My Smart Phone Writing Tool

my smart phone writing tool
This week I bought a new smart phone, which led me to think about ways my smart phone helps me with my writing.
my smart phone writing tool
The Photo Function. I’ve always liked photos but I didn’t really get into taking pictures until I bought my first cell phone that included a camera. With a camera always in my pocket, the ease of picture taking made me nearly an addict, and I take several pictures a day.
This morning I photographed the creature watching me eat breakfast. Being more aware of the fauna in my yard often leads me to look up info about them, thus making me more informed in general, and sometimes serving as story starters. For example, I wrote “Man vs. Beast,” a magical realism piece about a man’s battle with beasties from squirrels to deer.

 

my smart phone writing tool
Taking lots of pictures has made me more aware of the world around me, more aware of details, such as plants that survive in the concrete jungle. It’s also made me more aware of framing—i.e. what needs to be left out to improve a (word) picture.

 

my smart phone writing tool
 
The List/Notes Function.
 
This function is great for jotting down words or phrases that come to mind or are overheard that might suit a story I’m writing now, or might write in the future (e.g., oh, perdition!, about played out, we’uns and you’uns). Also it’s a handy place for lists of books recommended in conversation.

 

my smart phone writing tool
THE CALENDAR.
 
My favorite aspect of the calendar is that I can separate writing events from personal, medical, travel, etc. This makes it easy to identify due dates and writing deadlines, as well as readings and book signings.

 

my smart phone writing tool
 
Maps/Navigation.
 
The maps and navigation functions have made me bolder, more willing to attend meetings, events, and conferences. Not only can I get driving directions spoken aloud to me, I can locate food once I get there!

 

my smart phone writing tool
Contacts. I can separate writing friends from others for mailings, etc., and each contact can be used in more than one list. This is incredibly more convenient than using my old Rolodex system, easier to make changes and edit.

 

my smart phone writing tool
Search Function.
 
Last but far from least, my phone allows me to search the internet for whatever bit of info I might need for what I am writing, anything from the cost of gasoline during the Great Depression (10 cents a gallon) to lists of imaginary/fantasy diseases. With this aspect of my phone tool, I can be accurate more easily and get background on virtually every person/event/issue of relevance.

 

Bottom line: Although some bemoan the ever-growing dependence on technology, I for one appreciate the ways a smart phone has made my writing life easier and richer.

 

my smart phone writing tool

Need Help with Summer Reading?

Last week I wrote about some of the classic books that PBS suggested people read (or love) the most. But if you’re looking for a new book or genre to read, Goodreads has a list of suggestions for you.

[Source: Goodreads]
Goodreads has brought in Lori Hettler, the founder and moderator of The Next Best Book Club, to put together a couple of curated lists of summer reading challenges. The two lists are broken up into sub-categories to help you make it through the challenge.

List 1: Beginner Level

  • Summer-related tasks
  • Tasks to stretch your comfort zone

List 2: Expert Level

  • June Reads
  • July Reads
  • August Reads
  • What to read during any month to stretch your reading comfort zones

These two lists include broader challenges (i.e., reading a book of poetry) to more specific tasks (i.e., reading a book that features a yellow, green, or “sandy” cover).

This could be a great challenge for people who feel like their reading list is lagging or that they’re stuck in a rut, reading in the same genre.

Have you started this Goodreads challenge? What list are you using and what reading task are you most looking forward to?

need help summer reading

Cathryn Hankla Returns to Richmond

cathryn hankla returns richmond
That’s an announcement I’d dearly love to see! Last night was her first reading and signing in Richmond and I, for one, want more. She read from her two newest books. She started with a selection from lost places: on losing and finding home which was released in April.

 

cathryn hankla lost places
It is a memoir in essay form. But unlike the many trauma memoirs out there, this is more an exploration of her life in relation to people and places. She uses home in both a physical and metaphorical sense, and much of what she writes speaks to all of us.I bought the book only last night, and so have not read most of it, but it’s jumped to the top of my list!

 

cathryn hankla galaxies
GALAXIES is a poetry collection published last year. She ended the reading with several selections, including “Galaxy of Virginia History”—both humorous and appalling.

 

Cathy’s writing often elicits adjectives such as droll, urgent, inventive, graceful, passionate, compassionate, unpredictable, and imaginative. She’s published more than a dozen books of poetry, short stories, novels, and now essays. Choose one and become a fan! (As you can tell, I’m one already.)
cathryn hankla published works
Among my favorites are Learning the Mother Tongue and FORTUNE TELLER MIRACLE FISHCathy is a fabulous storyteller! Both of these collections evoke her Appalachian Mountain roots—vividly, poignantly, and endearingly.

 

I actually met Susan Hankla first. I won’t go into that now, having recently blogged about Susan twice. It was in one of Susan’s classes that a fellow student suggested I attend a writing workshop at Nimrod Hall. As many of you know, I’ve been returning to Nimrod Hall since 2004, and intend to do so this year as well.

 

Main building Nimrod Hall
The main building of Nimrod Hall
That is when and where I met Cathy. It was immediately apparent that we have much in common. Besides our shared Appalachian roots, we both have been college professors and chaired our respective departments, albeit her department is English and Creative Writing and mine was Psychology.
writing workshop nimrod hall
Cathy Hankla in our workshop
Cathy conducts helpful and enjoyable writing workshops—which is why I go back year after year. No doubt she is an excellent classroom teacher as well, judging by students of hers who attended last night’s reading. She’s great at both big picture critique and detail editing.
 
cathryn hankla land between blue moon poorwater
 
If you are more inclined to novels than short stories, consider these. And  BTW, she’s poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. Bottom line: whatever your preference, give Cathy Hankla a read. Or a listen, if Richmond is so lucky as to get her back!

 

cathryn hankla returns richmond

The Great American Read

Great American Read
 
The flyer pretty much says it all. PBS has compiled a list of books—goodness only knows the criteria—and invites people to vote for their #1 between now and October 23. The list is pretty much alphabetical, which seems to be the only organizing principle.
There are children’s books, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, and Harry Potter (the series).
great american read charlottes web
[Source: Scholastic]
Then there are sci-fi and fantasy, e.g., 1984, Jurassic ParkThe Lord of the Rings (series), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
 
alices adventures in wonderland
[Source: Amazon]
Mysteries are well represented, including And Then There Were None, and Alex Cross Mysteries (series). It’s a mystery to me that Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey didn’t make it.
and then there were none agatha christie
[Source: Amazon]
The list includes old books, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, Gone With the Wind,  and The Great Gatsby.
 
And then there are really old books such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Moby Dick. My personal favorite in this category is Pride and Prejudice. If a book’s popularity is judged by the amount of fanfiction it’s generated, then Pride and Prejudice must be the hands-down winner, for there are literally hundreds of those out there.
[Source: Tripping Over Books]
I’ve already indicated that the list includes series. Others areThe Chronicles of Narnia, Foundation, Game of Thrones, Hatchet, The Hunger Games, Left Behind, The Twilight Saga, and (my personal favorite) Outlander. I’ve written about Diana Gabaldon in the past so I won’t go into that series here, beyond saying it’s one of the greatest soap operas ever written. And I wonder why the Poldark series isn’t on the list.
chronicles of narnia book series
[Source: Idea Wiki]
A series which is on the list is Fifty Shades of Grey, and I can’t help wondering why. The writing is dreadful, the story line is cliché, and the sex scenes repetitive. I read them all, trying to figure out why they topped the best-seller lists for so long. It got to the point that I’d think, Oh, elevator sex again, and turn the page. Or, Another shattering orgasm, and roll my eyes. I finally decided that the appeal was that of Cinderella, updated with cell phones and private jets. The couple’s apparent obsession with each other might have made readers recollect the infatuations of their youth—or the youth they wish they’d had. I can’t imagine that the real appeal was the S&M aspect. One can find better online—for free—or so I’ve been told. Of course, all this is just my opinion. What’s yours?
50 Shades
BOTTOM LINE: Peruse the PBS list and vote!

I’m Not Alone Here

commonly misused english words
The right word vs. the almost right word is the difference between sounding articulate vs. sounding pretentious—and uneducated. This has long been one of my pet peeves. Indeed, I blogged about it in the past.

 

Not surprisingly, many others agree with me. Dr. Travis Bradberry blogged about it at Huffington Post. His words were:

 

accept vs. except
affect vs. effect
lie vs. lay
bring vs. take
ironic vs. coincidental
imply vs. infer
nauseous vs. nauseated
comprise vs.compose
farther vs. further
fewer vs. less

 

And to his list, I would add sit vs. set. The former is settling oneself, as in sit on a bench. The latter is placing something, as in setting the vase on the table.

 

You can find “The 58 most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases” by Independent. Their word fails include the following:

 

adverse vs averse
appraise vs. apprise
amused vs bemused
criterion vs. criteria
datum vs. data
depreciate vs. deprecate
dichotomy vs. differentiate
disinterested vs. uninterested
credible vs. credulous
enervate vs. energize
enormity vs. enormous
flaunt vs. flout
flounder vs. founder
fortuitous vs. fortunate
fulsome vs.full
homogeneous for homogenized
hung vs. hanged
regardless vs. irregardless
literally vs. figuratively
mitigate vs. militate
noisome vs. noisy
proscribe vs. prescribe
protagonist vs. proponent
reticent vs. reluctant
simplistic vs. simple
staunch vs. stanch
tortuous vs. torturous
unexceptionable vs. unexceptional
untenable vs. unbearable
verbal vs. oral

 

No, I’m not going to define these differences. If you aren’t absolutely sure of a pair, look it up! Indeed, you are more likely to remember if you actively look it up vs. passively read it.

 

The examples I’ve listed here are just that. These lists aren’t exhaustive. Indeed, wikipedia lists hundreds of such words, alphabetized and defined. It’s worth a read. Bottom line: only use words you know for sure.

 

commonly misused english words