FICTION SERIES I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED

I write short (for the most part) but I read long. This has been true all my reading life, especially for fiction series.

Completed Fiction Series

As a pre-teen I devoured the Cherry Ames nurse books by Helen Wells, following her career from student nurse onwards. Ditto the Ruth Fielding books, set in the 1920s and written by a group of people collectively using the pseudonym of Alice B. Emerson. Both involved adventure, sometimes mysteries, and young women who stepped outsides society’s rules and boundaries.

As an adult, my first fiction series addiction was The Poldark Saga by Winston Graham.  In this instance, I was so taken with the story line as depicted on PBS Masterpiece Theatre that I read all eleven books, and liked the books even better. I’ve read the Poldark family saga more than once. That’s the way it is with a good read. Early on, I was so taken with the character of Demelza Poldark that for a time port wine was my alcohol of choice.

Once upon a time, my escapist reading was the Nero Wolfe mysteries (Rex Stout), but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. The same detective, the same sidekick, and the same chef, but really nothing to link the books together. Each puzzle is different and, once solved, presents no temptation to reread. 

Sherlock Holmes is much the same. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crafted beautifully written stories, but the point is “who done it.” That being said, I did love the modern BBC adaptation “Sherlock.”

Sherlock Holmes appears on screen frequently.

I put the Lord Peter Wimsey fiction series somewhere in between. Dorothy L. Sayers has more of a through-line, and characters other than Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey DSO are more prominent. He solves mysteries for pleasure and is a perfect example of the British gentleman detective. I have actually reread her series because her writing is excellent, offering more than just the solution to the crime.

  • I watched the BBC/PBS adaptations.  In my opinion, neither Ian Carmichael nor Edward Petherbridge was the right choice for Lord Peter, though many fans hold very strong views favoring one or the other. It should have been Fred Astaire!
Dame Agatha Christie

Unlike many, I was never taken with Dame Agatha Christie Although her detectives are appealingly quirky, the solutions to the crimes (in my opinion) too often involve “alligator over the transom” elements. I.e., they depend too much on sudden, serendipitous revelations, or information known only to the detective, such that the reader couldn’t possibly have figured it out.

Jean M Auel

I greatly enjoyed the first two books in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series. Fiction series set in prehistoric times was quite novel to me, and she seemed well grounded in actual anthropology and biology. But after Clan of the Cave Bear and Valley of Horses, it went downhill for me. After that, the books weren’t as novel and they needed a good editor. It’s a 6-book series I never finished.

Ongoing Fiction Series

By the time I read Outlander, the first several books in the series were already in print. Action/adventure, romance, time-travel, and a touch of the supernatural… I’d never read anything like it. 

Diana Gabaldon

I’ve read the first eight books twice, and marvel at Diana Gabaldon’s skill:

  1. Tracking a cast of thousands (dozens, anyway)
  2. Keeping characters and “facts” consistent
  3. Weaving details from earlier books into major elements in later ones

And let’s not forget the gripping storyline, spanning wars, continents, and generations.

I’ve read the spin-off Lord John books and collections of short stories. What I have not done is watch the TV series. I would grump about all that’s been left out! 

I preordered book nine, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, and it’s been on my shelf and on my kindle since November. At some level I am resisting reading it, for I don’t want the series to end. According to Gabaldon, the series is expected to be ten volumes.

Fiona Quinn

Fiona Quinn has written several interconnected fiction series in The World of Iniquus. They feature separate but related action/adventure/romance plots and characters. She has created strong, knowledgeable, capable women, and I always learn things. 

Mary Burton

Another local writer I enjoy is Mary Burton. She, too, has written several fiction series, some interconnected and some stand-alone.

I’ve read a lot of L. T. Ryan, though his books tend to be more brutal than my usual fare.

I. T. Lucas

Last but not least, I’ll mention Children of the Gods by I. T. Lucas. Per the Amazon blurb, “Twilight meets Ancient Aliens with the sizzle of Fifty Shades.” The writing isn’t on a par with Gabaldon, but it’s generally good and the series currently includes 62 books!

Miscellany

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first of the Harry Potter books. I have the complete set, but I haven’t yet read the books or watched the movies.

Please note: these writers are not to be confused with the following

Bottom line: All other things being equal, longer is better when I choose a fiction series. A 900 page book makes a great first impression here!

THE BIRDS

I’m fascinated by birds both as fauna outside my window and as elements of tattoos. They are just interesting!  And because birds are ubiquitous, and noticeable, it’s no wonder people attach meaning to birds, in general and specifically. 

Composite photo of great horned owl flight phases
Art Siegel

Birds in General

Birds are widely regarded as symbols of freedom and eternity due to their ability to soar into the skies. Bird symbolism exists all over the world as part of different cultures, religions, and traditions. Birds symbolize aspects of our lives, nature, and the unknown world.  According to The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, the flight of birds leads them naturally to be seen as links—intermediaries—between heaven and earth. 

Gouro (Nuna) Hornbill Mask from Burkina Faso
photo by Roman Bonnefoy
  • In a generalized sense, birds symbolize spiritual states, angels and higher forms of being.
  • Sometimes the lightness of birds—their volatility, flitting hither and thither without aim or purpose—cause them to be seen as distractions and diversions.
  • The earliest Vedic texts show that birds, in general, were considered symbols of the friendship of the gods for mankind.
  • In the Celtic world, birds were considered to be assistants or the messengers of the gods or of the underworld.
  • Nocturnal birds are often thought to be the souls of the dead, come to wail in the dark around their old homes.
  • Ancient Egyptian tomb art depicted the soul of the dead as a bird with the head of either a man or a woman.
  • Blue and green birds served as messengers of the gods in several east Asian folk tales.
Early fifth-century BC statue of Aphrodite from Cyprus, showing her wearing a cylinder crown and holding a dove
  • In the Koran, the word “bird” is often synonymous with “fate.”
    • In Muslim tradition “green bird” is an epithet applied to a number of saints.
    • Islamic poets often use birds as symbols of the immortality of the soul.
  • It is commonly believed—and science has confirmed—birds have a language, complete with vocabulary and syntax.
  • In sub-Saharan African art, birds are frequent symbols, especially on masks. Birds symbolize strength and life, and often fertility.
  • The Yakut believe that after death, the souls of both good and evil fly to heaven in the shape of birds. 
  • Blue birds symbolize hope in Russian folk tales.

“The earliest evidence of the belief in the soul-bird is undoubtedly provided by the myth of the phoenix.”
(The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

Specific Birds 

From Ask Legit, here is a sample of common birds.

Sparrows 

In Greek mythology, the sparrow was one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Interestingly, scientists consider sparrows to be one of the most lustful birds. 

In Kent, England, a person who caught a sparrow had to kill it to prevent their parents’ death. 

In native European folklore, if a sparrow flies into someone’s house it is a sign of impending death.

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted dead sparrows, possibly for luck, possibly as a call for empathy.
See Hyperallergic

In Indonesian folklore, a sparrow flying into someone’s home symbolized good luck. If the bird built a nest in the home, it meant that a wedding would happen in the home soon. 

Ancient Egyptians considered sparrows to be soul catchers, carrying the souls of the dead to heaven.

It was a common practice for sailors to tattoo themselves with sparrow images to ensure their safe passage to heaven in case they died at sea. 

For more details, check out Owlcation’s The Meaning of Sparrows.

Eagles

Eagles are among the most commonly used animals in ancient and modern symbolism. The eagle generally represents strength, freedom, and wisdom. 

Many Native American communities considered eagles (especially the bald eagle) to be sacred animals relating to wisdom, bravery, and a connection to the spiritual realm.  Eagles’ feathers were widely used in certain religious rituals. Today, there are numerous sculptures, statues, and carvings of eagles throughout the Americas.

Harpy eagle on the Coat of Arms of Panama

In native Celtic culture, where trees were considered sacred, any animal that lived in or on trees was equally considered sacred. Thus, eagles were closely associated with three gods. 

In Mayan culture, the eagle is one of the Zodiac signs. It represents human beings who value freedom and can never be tied to a single place or person. 

In ancient Egypt, the eagle was a symbol of wisdom because it flew higher than people and was, therefore, able to see the world from a far wider perspective than humans did. 

Blue Jays

The blue jay is native to North America. It is renowned for its tenacity and determination. It is especially relentless when dealing with its enemies. 

Blue jays are known for their patience and intelligence. It has been claimed that the bird often uses strips of materials like newspaper strips as tools to get food.

The blue jay is seen to be in pairs. When they fly, the pairs keep a great distance from each other, decreasing the probability of being targeted by the enemy. 

Blue Jay, a DC Comic character

Spiritually, the bird is thought to give knowledge and memories of long-forgotten things and provides intelligence on how to use them to seize opportunities.  The blue jay symbolizes the ability to use any situation to one’s benefit. This comes from the bird’s ability to build nests in any tree or environment that suits it.

A blue jay is very aggressive and makes different varieties of loud sounds that travel over a long distances. In some cultures, having a blue jay as your totem implies that you are aggressive and, therefore, there is nothing that can stop you from defending what you consider right. 

 In certain cultures, those who have the blue jay as their spirit totem are said to be excellent in communication-related jobs such as law, public speaking, and politics. 

Variations of the Bluebird of Happiness appear in Chinese, Russian, and European folklore, but they generally do not refer to the North America blue jay.

Robins

Robins are a common sight in North America, often seen pulling earthworms off the ground. The robin is known for its end-of-winter appearance, cheery songs, and orange-colored breast. While the birds are a common sight in cities and towns, they are also at home in forests and mountains. 

Robins are famous as the quintessential early birds. 

Ancient Europeans considered the robin to be a symbol of divine sacrifice and rebirth. The robin brought happiness, change, wisdom, and happy songs. 

Several ancient Christian paintings depict the robin as Christ’s helper. It is said that the robin tried to pull off the thorns from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. 

Robin, of Batman fame, wears a costume inspired by the bird.

The robin is a symbol of nurturing young ones into adulthood. Robins are widely considered to be some of the best parents among all bird species. Seeing a robin is therefore associated with new growth in some cultures. 

In Hinduism, the red color on a robin’s chest is said to symbolize a person’s kundalini (a serpent-like force at the base of a human’s spine). When one experiences inner spiritual growth, the kundalini uncoils and moves upwards as the person’s enlightenment and awareness increase. 

Cardinal

The northern cardinal, usually just called the cardinal, is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. People usually think first of the adult male, bright red with black markings. The female is taupe and less-intensely colored.

In Ancient Rome, the cardinal was regarded as a spiritual messenger sent by those who died and went to heaven. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo meaning “hinge.” The birds are therefore seen as hinges on the doorway between heaven and earth. 

Among Native Americans, the cardinal has strong ties to other realms and, as such, acts as a messenger from the ancestors. Several southeastern tribes associated cardinals with the sun as well as with good fortune. 

In China and Japan, the cardinal is closely associated with the mythical phoenix (the bird of transformation, fire, and rebirth). The cardinal was associated with honorable rulers coming to power as well as the end of wars.  

In China, the cardinal (Red Bird) is said to stand over the southern quarter of creation and defend it from evil influences. 

Magpies
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

-Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Other Birds

I found the anqu (or anqa) intriguing, not only because it would be an awesome Scrabble word, but also because I never heard of it. 

Research led by the American Museum of Natural History suggests that there are about 18,000 bird species in the world. I’d venture to say that there is symbolism associated with most if not all of them!

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols includes entries for anqa, bustard, cock, crane, crow, cuckoo, dove, duck, eagle, falcon, grouse, homa, hoopoe, kingfisher, kite, lark, macaw, magpie, nightingale, nightjar, oriole, owl, partridge, peacock, pelican, pheasant, phoenix, pigeon, quail, roc, simurg, sparrowhawk, stork, swallow, swan, vulture, wagtail.

The supernatural Thunderbird flaps its wings to create thunder and flashes its eyes to create lightning. Ojibwe thunderbirds punish humans for lack of morals. Menominee thunderbirds protect the earth from being overrun by great horned snakes and act as messengers for the sun. The seal of the Menominee Nation features a thunderbird. A Ho-Chunk who sees a thunderbird while fasting will become a great leader.

A three-legged crow, according to several East Asian folk traditions, lives in the sun or is the messenger of a deity living in the sun. The Chinese sanzuwu was one of twelve ornaments used to decorate Imperial clothing in ancient China. A golden or red jinwu represents the Sun in ancient Han temple art. The Japanese yatagarasu acts as a messenger of divine will and represents rebirth. The Japan Football Association features the yatagarasu on its badge. The Korean samjok-o is alternately a symbol, messenger, and resident of the Sun, more powerful than dragons.

Bottom line: whatever bird suits you, your character, your life, or your plot, check it out!

WHO KNEW?

At birth, a panda cub is smaller than a mouse and weighs only four ounces.

Michelangelo hated painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so much that he wrote this lovely poem about it to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia:
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).

I enjoy odd, surprising, or little known bits of information. I hope you do, too, because I have accumulated so much of this stuff, it’s time for a dump!

The (Non-Human) Animal World

A Great Dane named Juliana peed on an incendiary bomb during World War II, earning her a Blue Cross Medal!
  • Zoolingualism is the ability to talk with animals and understand their reactions.
  • One species of jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, is “immortal.” When damaged or traumatized, they can revert to their polyp developmental stage and start over.
  • Snails can sleep up to three years if the weather isn’t moist enough to meet their needs.
  • Hummingbirds beat their wings up to 70 times per second, faster than any other bird. Fast, yeah, but honeybees flap their wings 230 times every second!
  • Giraffes only have seven bones in their necks, the same number as humans.
  • Whales’ earwax forms in layers, so researchers can estimate a whale’s age and development by counting rings in a cross-section, just like rings on a tree.
  • Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to quadruplets, all identical.
  • Dolphins sleep with one eye open.
Domestic dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes that mimic human facial expressions. Wolves do not have these muscles.
  • Frigatebirds fly for months over the ocean, using half their brains at a time so the other half can sleep during flight. They can also engage in regular sleep.
  • Faster than humans: a running grizzly bear, 35 mph; a cheetah, up to 75 mph; and a diving golden eagle, up to 200 mph.
    • Over long distances, humans still win! Huskies most closely rival humans in endurance.
  • Approximately three percent of arctic ice is frozen penguin urine.
  • Mystery writers take note: koala fingerprints are almost indistinguishable from humans’ — so much so, they can taint a crime scene.
  • Gorillas have nose prints as unique as human (or koala) fingerprints. Conservation workers photograph and catalogue the patterns of wrinkles to track individual gorillas.
Elephants, flamingoes, giraffes, horses, and cows can all sleep standing up, but they can only dream when lying down.  Some subway commuters have mastered the former, but I have no info on the latter.

Humans, Both Normal and Not So Much

Abraham Lincoln was also a licensed bartender.
(from Lincoln in Caricature by Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1903)
  • People who suffer from boanthropy believe they are a cow and will try to live their life as a cow.
  • Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was an elite wrestling champion. In 300 matches, he only lost one.
  • After serving as president, George Washington opened a whiskey distillery.
  • A duel among three people is called a truel or a triel.
  • Eating enough potatoes and butter, and nothing else, could keep a person alive for an indeterminate length of time—alive but not healthy.
  • One-quarter of all the bones in your body are located in your feet.
  • Human thigh bones are stronger than concrete. 
  • Hugs that last over 40 seconds release oxytocin  and make you trust someone more.
  • Queen Elizabeth always wears second-hand shoes. She employs a professional shoe-wearer to break in her shoes for her, preventing blisters on the royal feet.
Some of the most famous cowboys in history didn’t wear cowboy hats in real life.  Icons like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid wore what we would today call bowler hats.
  • The average person will spend six months of their life waiting for red lights to turn green.
  • LeMarcus Thompson, a hosiery salesman, invented roller coasters to combat moral degeneracy.
  • Before people said “cheese” to look like they were smiling for cameras, photographers often told subjects to say “prunes” to mimic the desired facial expression—stoic, with a small and refined mouth.
  • Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a former FBI analyst, demonstrated that more than 90% of all forensic FBI samples are flawed or inaccurate.
  • Humans blink, on average, 12 times per minute. Speed and rapidity of blinking can indicate lots of interesting mental or physical conditions, useful for writers!
    • Stress causes excessive blinking.
    • Strokes may cause erratic blinking.
    • Interest generally causes rapid blinking.
    • Some medications cause slowed blinking.
In 300 B.C., Mayans worshipped turkeys as vessels of the gods, Chalchihuihtotolin.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was an ovophobe, meaning he had a fear of eggs.
    • In a 1963 interview, he said, “I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened; they revolt me. …  Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it.”
  • Cleopatra wasn’t actually Egyptian. Really! Historians have traced the famous ruler’s lineage to Alexander the Great’s Macedonian general Ptolemy. So while she was an Egyptian queen, she was Greek.
  • John Duns Scotus, a thirteenth century philosopher, believed that wearing a pointed hat spread knowledge to the brain and improved intelligence. “Dunsmen” who agreed with his ideas wore “dunce caps” as a sign of intelligence, but social derision eventually led to the dunce cap meaning the opposite.
President Lyndon B. Johnson owned a water-surfing car, called an amphicar.

Weird Miscellaneous Facts

If you start in Argentina, you could theoretically “dig a hole to China.” Reddit user Lokimonoxide demonstrated this idea by making a “sandwich” with bread in Uruguay and South Korea.
  • When the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1936, admission was 25 cent.
    • General Admission is now free!
  • The Olympic Games used to hand out medals for arts and humanities. At the time, 151 medals were awarded for architecture, literature, painting, music, and sculpture.
  • What the fork? This pronged utensil was once considered sacrilegious because they were seen as “artificial hands.”
  • The organ music at baseball games originated at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1941.
  • Baked” beans are actually stewed.
  • The stage before frostbite is known as “frostnip.”
  • LEGO has made more minifigs than the entire population of China, more than 4 billion.
  • Eating bananas can help relieve negative emotions such as irritability, anger, and/or depression. 
  • Italian police stopped a shipment of Columbian coffee beans because the recipient shared a name with a famous Mafia boss in the film John Wick. In a “stranger than fiction” real life twist, police found that someone had hollowed out each coffee bean and filled it with cocaine.
Big Ben (which is actually the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower) sounds unique because it cracked shortly after being installed in 1859.
  • Spider webs were used as bandages in ancient times.
    • Chemists at the University of Nottingham have synthesized antibiotic spider silk for this very purpose!
  • A cloud can weigh more than a million pounds.
  • A company called Eternal Reefs turns dead bodies into ocean reefs.
  • The largest padlock in the world weighs 916 pounds.
  • In the Philippines, McDonald’s serves spaghetti with McDo, friend chicken.
  • Ethiopia uses a unique calendar, similar to the Egyptian Coptic calendar. It is currently 2014 in Ethiopia.
  • Three Musketeers candy bars got their name because they originally came in packs of three, one each of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
  • The Brazilian team travelled to the 1932 Olympic Games in a coffee ship. They sold the coffee along the way to fund their trip.
    • Two UK speed skaters funded their 2022 Olympic trip by creating and selling their own coffee brand.
Sunsets on Mars are blue.
(photo taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover)

BOTTOM LINE: Sometimes random bits of information are useful, sometimes just passing entertainment.

The internet abounds with interesting “facts” that aren’t actually true. For example, that giraffes have no vocal chords or that the average person swallows eight spiders in their sleep every year. One of my favorite websites is Snopes.com, where I can double check the truth of other websites and learn plenty more fascinating facts that are all sourced and cited.

WHAT? THERE ISN’T A WORD FOR THAT?

Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.


As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.


In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!

FOR YOUR PLEASURE

I found an entertaining old (1985) book, edited by Clifton FadimanThe Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes covers a range of people, periodicals, radio and TV programs, centuries, and topics from Abolitionists to Zoos. 

I’ve chosen several anecdotes about famous people, writers, and writing for your pleasure, oldies but goodies.

Johnny Carson (1925-2005), host of the Tonight Show on TV

When Carson was signed to host the Tonight Show, he was so plagued by reporters that he compiled a list of 10 answers, which he handed out and invited journalists to provide the questions.

  1. Yes, I did.
  2. Not a bit of truth in that.
  3. Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday.
  4. I can do either, but I prefer the first.
  5. No. Kumquats.
  6. I can’t answer that question.
  7. Toads and tarantulas.
  8. Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands.
  9. As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet. I need much more practice.
  10. It happened to some old friends of mine, and it’s a story I’ll never forget. 

(I found no record of a journalist actually doing that, but there’s nothing to stop you from doing it. And the interviewee needn’t be Johnny Carson!)

Jimmy Carter (1924-    ) no intro needed

Given Carter’s devout Southern Baptist background, reporters often asked him about his stance on moral issues.

When one asked, “How would you feel if you were told that your daughter was having an affair?”

Carter replied, “Shocked and overwhelmed, but then she’s only seven years old.”

(Note to writers: do a little research!)

Maria Feodorovna (Мария Фёдоровна) (1847-1928) empress of Russia as the wife of Czar Alexander III, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark

She was known throughout Russia for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from transportation to Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander.

The czar had written, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.”

Maria’s altered version: “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia. 

(Modern variation: Let’s eat, grandma.)

Lascelles Abercrombie (1881-1938), British poet and critic

Abercrombie had expressed an opinion with which poet Ezra Pound violently disagreed.  “Dear Mr. Abercrombie,” wrote Pound.  “Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace. I hereby challenge you to a duel, to be fought at the earliest moment that is suited to your convenience….”

Abercrombie was distressed by the challenge, knowing of Pound’s skill at fencing. He was relieved to remember that as the one challenged, he had the choice of weapons. “May I suggest,” he replied, “that we bombard each other with unsold copies of our own books.”

Pound, having far more “weapons” than Abercrombie immediately withdrew the challenge. 

(I’m pretty weaponized right now, having just received a crate of Virginia Is For Mysteries, Volume III, launched 2/27/22.)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), short-story writer and wit

She once attended a party with Somerset Maugham, where the guests challenged each other to complete nursery rhymes. Maugham gave Parker the lines: “Higgledy piggledy, my white hen/ She lays eggs for gentlemen.”

Parker completed it with, “You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat/ To come across for the proletariate.”

(My personal favorite Parker quip is her response when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence. She said, “You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think.”)

William Faulkner (1897-1962) winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949

Faulkner was on a shooting expedition with director Howard Hawks and actor Clark Gable. In the course of conversation, Gable asked Faulkner to name the five best authors of the day.

Faulkner said, “Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself.” 

“Oh,” said Gable (maliciously?), “do you write for a living?” 

“Yes,” replied Faulkner, “and what do you do?”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961, by suicide), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954 

Faulkner said that Hemingway had no courage, that “he has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.”

When Hemingway heard that, he said, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

(In case you hadn’t realized it, perceiving a piece of writing as writing is a matter of personal taste.)

Abraham Lincoln (1805-1865), again, no intro needed

As a lawyer, Lincoln discouraged unnecessary litigation. When a man came to him to bring suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor, Lincoln tried to dissuade the man. But the man was determined to get revenged would not be talked out of it. Lincoln charged $10 for his service, gave half to the defendant who admitted the debt and paid the plaintiff $2.50.

(The plaintiff was reported to be entirely satisfied. What might a writer make of a character with more money than compassion?)

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), poet and Dame of the British Empire

When Sitwell told her family that she was leaving the family home, she said “I can write so much better when I’m alone.”

Her father said, “And you prefer poetry to human love?”

Her reply? “As a profession, yes.”

Bottom Line: When you’re at a loss for words, look to the masters!

Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I read in an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that science fiction has both feet planted solidly in the science of today, that the fictional parts are pushing beyond those roots in a way that is both logical and plausible.  

So when I read a blurb for CREATION: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself by Adam Rutherford, I immediately thought science fiction. According to Rutherford, we are radically exceeding the boundaries of evolution and engineering entirely novel creatures—from goats that produce spider silk in their milk to bacteria that excrete diesel to genetic circuits that identify and destroy cancer cells. Imagine what stories might be told in a world where such creatures are commonplace, where such engineering is taken for granted. Imagine the products, and the governmental involvement.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is making it up out of whole cloth. Even so, it could draw on science for an idea.

For example, another book I came across recently has such possibilities: TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT SEX DETERMINATION IN VERTEBRATES edited by N. Valenzueta & B. Lance. It contains articles by leading scholars in the field and reveals how the sex of reptiles and many fish is determined not by the chromosomes they inherit but by the temperature at which incubation takes place.

Fantasy could be a story in which human sex is determined by ambient temperature. And perhaps it can vary as the temperature varies. And so forth.

As the planet warms, everything will be overrun by mermaids.
Mermaid by John Waterhouse

Now, if you wrote a story about a world over-run by snakes and fish because of global warming, you would be back to science fiction. Ditto for a world in which the biological engineering described in CREATION results in changing many species to be temperature-reactive and put that in the context of global warming.

Bottom Line: Check out the latest in science and then let your imagination run wild!

Challenge Accepted!

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and chronically addicted reader.

Ever notice that the same titles and authors keep showing up when you look for your next favorite book? Literary prize winners, Oprah or Reese’s Book Club, Books to Read Before You Die, or endless variations of “Recommended for you because you liked…”

Try this one!

Part of this is because such lists are often curated or sponsored by publishers. Part of this is because search algorithms almost inevitably lead to echo chambers. (For a bizarre and frightening illustration of this, check out this article on how fake social media accounts “learn” to push misinformation and conspiracy theories.)

So how to bump yourself out of your reading rut? Take a reading challenge! There are all kinds of reading challenges you can join, not to mention the book clubs, library groups, and reading forums online or in person. I’ve included a few here, but these are just the very tiniest tips of the iceberg available. And, of course, nothing can compare to the miraculous powers of a curious librarian!

Year-Long Challenges

I am greatly indebted to girlxoxo for directing me to most of these challenges. For more, check out their 2022 Master List of Reading Challenges.

Read voraciously!
  • Backlist Reading Challenges – Ease yourself into the world of challenges by joining Austin Decker‘s challenge to clear out some of that pile of books you keep meaning to read but never quite get around to it.
  • 52 Books in 52 Weeks – Just as the name suggests, the 52 Book Club challenges you to read a book every week in a year, following a different prompt every week.
  • Monthly Book Award Reading Challenge – Literary awards are announced every month of the year, and this challenge if to read a book that was awarded a prize (during any year) in that month. 
  • Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks – Not related to the 52 Book Club, this challenge has a similar goal: follow the various suggestions and prompts to read a book every week this year.
  • Monthly Motif Reading Challengegirloxoxo will prompt you with a theme or motif every month, and your goal is to read a book with that motif.
  • Beyond the Bookends – Twelve prompts over the course of the year (“adapted for the screen” or “set at or about a circus or carnival”) will nudge you to expand your horizons a bit.
  • Mount TBR – Blogger MyReadersBlock has a challenge to help you work through some of those books you already own (digital or hardcopy) but haven’t quite made your way through yet.
  • The Nerdy Bookworm 50 Books a Year Reading Challenge – You can follow the prompts, but it might be more fun to fill out Emily the Book Nerd‘s BINGO cards as you read.

Genre Challenges

One of the great things about challenging yourself is that you can read what you like. No teachers grading you or tests you don’t want to take. The Story Graph has a pretty amazing database of reading challenges, which you can search by genre, author, awards, or even geographic location.

Library Travel

Seriously, don’t mess with librarians.

Real-life travel can be tricky, especially with the ever-changing restrictions to stem the flow of Covid. It’s so much easier to go somewhere else by reading about it, especially

Stretch Your Brain

As I mentioned earlier, once of the most fun things to do with a reading challenge is to challenge yourself. Read something you don’t normally read. Pick up a book from the opposite end of the Dewey Decimal System. Find an author with a different point of view. Hear someone else’s story in their OwnVoice.

  • Books in Translation – I’m a language nerd, so this one speaks to my nerdy soul. The idea is to read a book that’s been translated from any language into a language you can read. (This is extra helpful for those trying to learn another language.)
  • Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge – The Book Riot community has 24 prompts to nudge readers out of comfortable ruts they may have fallen into. Some of these prompts are purely for fun, and some might be more of a challenge.
  • Diversify Your Reading Challenge – There are prompts in twelve genres, one for each month, encouraging readers to look beyond those “more of what you love” ads.
  • Diversity Reading ChallengeGothicVampirestein has a range of categories and keywords to encourage readers to look at the world through someone else’s eyes.
  • Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors – Though not a specific reading challenge, this essay from Rudine Sims Bishop gives very helpful suggestions for expanding your worldview and reading empathetically.

And if that’s still not enough to break you out of a rut (or at least widen the rut a bit), try this 52 Weekly Challenge list from BookRiot. It includes suggestions like dusting and cleaning your real-life bookshelves, making a recipe from a cookbook, going to a community theater production, and asking a librarian a question – fun ways to remind yourself of how vast the world of books is.

My good friend Vivian Lawry has challenged herself to add a Nobel Prize winner’s work to her genre reading every month this year. So what are you going to read in 2022?

Say It Aloud; Say It Proud

Addy Vannasy reads aloud to children at a village “Discovery Day” in Laos. Big Brother Mouse, which organized the event, trains its staff in read-aloud techniques.
(photo by Blue Plover)

If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it. Literally. Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.

Are the two problems related?
(photo by MemeBoi31)

Any place you stumble needs to be reworked. Reading your work aloud–whether prose or poetry–helps identify rough patches, awkward words, and other problems.

If feasible, it’s even to have someone else read your work aloud for you.  (See what I did there?)

This looks like the worst buffet ever!
(photos from BoredPanda)

But even before you manage to cajole or coerce a friendly bystander, try running your words through a TTS reader. Text To Speech software is becoming more accurate all the time. It improves accesibility for those with dyslexia, vision problems, aural learning tendencies, busy hands, or a myriad other reasons why hearing words is more effective than reading them.

Yet another terrible fate that could have been avoided by proofreading!
(photo by depechelove)

There are several free websites that will convert your writing to spoken words, though they tend to sound like robots.

What these TTS apps lack in cadence, they make up in unrelenting accuracy. There is no friendly human brain to fill in a few words or switch a letter here or there entirely without realizing it.

You’d think such a complicated respiratory system would make pitching more difficult.
(photo from East Oregonian/AP)

(For a superb example of non-robotic reading, check out anything read by Stephen Fry or Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.)

At many tutoring centers and school writing help centers, students are instructed to read their work aloud during sessions. When the brain is forced to process words orally and aurally as well as visually, it’s much more difficult for mistakes to slip through the cracks.

Sometimes, it’s even possible to break free of the “…said …said …said …said” quagmire. When you hear yourself saying said after said after said, you might say to yourself that your characters need to say something else or say nothing at all.

Good listening!

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING

Sometimes we say—and write—more than is necessary. When we talk in bloated sentences, it often goes unnoticed. But with the written word, it’s right there on the page, weakening the prose and sometimes exasperating the reader.

Find the Bloat

Enough said. Here are several examples close to my heart (and very near my exasperation gland). In each case, words that are unnecessary are in parentheses ( ).

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Sowell, one of the longest books ever written
  • Tell me where you are (at).
  • The (very) start
  • At this point (in time).
    • OR, At this (point in) time.
  • A woman sitting in a chair: She stood (up)
  • He nodded (his head).
  • The (small) ten-by-ten room.
  • They waved (their hands).
  • (Very) unique
  • Walked (over) to the table
  • To face a husband (whom) she didn’t remember
  • Shred it (to pieces)
  • They might have found (out) a way
Artemis, or the Great Cyrus is one of the longest single volume books ever written
  • She took his hand with a smile (on her face).
  • They (both) stopped and turned to face each other.
  • They (both) waited.
  • She led him (over) to a chair and sat (down).
  • They stared at each other till he blinked (his eyes).
  • Her heart was pounding (in her chest).
  • Trying to calm everyone (down).
  • He pointed her out (with a single finger).
  • A (quick) glance.
  • A (brief) second.

And Then There are Excess Words in Specific Contexts

The Voynich Manuscript has never been translated in any way, so perhaps every word is unnecessary.

There are times when every word counts. Some journals or contests have strict word limits, to the point of specifying when and how contractions are counted. Or maybe you have limited space on the greeting card. You could even have a character who never wastes anything, including words.

These are examples of word bloat I’ve collected from the actual writing of best-selling authors. I’ve replaced names with pronouns.

  • (Now) she looked (to her) left and sprinted toward the door…
  • Buy (some) tickets.
  • He pulled her close (and kissed her). His lips met hers.
  • Behind the tenderness was (a) passion.
  • There are (a total of) two.
  • Something tells me you don’t want to draw that kind of attention (to yourself).
  • He went (over) to the table.
  • She held up her hands (in surrender), though she stayed (at the) ready to move in either direction.
  • The true irony (here) was that…
  • He nervously clicked (the back of) his pen.
  • “…he picked up a newspaper clipping. The dated pages (of newsprint) felt brittle (in his fingers)… He stared at it (in his hands,) just as he had a thousand times (before) since that day.”
  • A single tear (fell from his eye and) dropped onto her hand. 
  • She peeked into the room, as she passed (it).
  • He shook his head (from side to side) before he spoke.
  • She didn’t have the same affinity for the ocean as most (other) people.
  • She stopped next to a pickup truck(, got out,) and went into the motel office.


Three Ways to Minimize Word Bloat


1) One good way to decide what words are truly necessary is to try to shorten every paragraph by one line—which is easier done with narrative than dialogue!


2) Check all to-be verbs (is, are, was, were) looking for places where a stronger verb can replace a phrase. For example, “He was standing there” might be shortened to “He stood there.”

Drawing bizarre pictures in the margins is a fantastic way to replace bloated prose!

3) Examine all modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) to decide whether they add anything to the meaning. Often a stronger word choice can eliminate the modifier. For example, walked quickly might better be replaced by rushed, dashed, hurried, or scampered.

Another example: “Her long hair hung to her waist” would better be “Her hair hung to her waist.” Depending on the surrounding text, the whole concept could be encompassed by “her waist-length hair.”

Bottom line: As in poetry, make every word count.

GHOSTS: NOT JUST AN OCTOBER THING

The ghost of Banquo appears before Macbeth… so buy this extract!

October is a month flooded with ghost images and stories. You might even know that what we call Halloween is rooted in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in—go figure!). The Celts lived about 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland and northern France. Samhain was a time when people felt especially close to dead relatives and loved ones whose friendly spirits were welcomed for dinner, given treats, and provided with lit candles to help them find their way back to the spirit world.

Shortly after Halloween is Dios de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In Hispanic culture, November 2nd is the day when the spirits of loved ones can return to the living world to visit with family and friends.

In late August or early September (depending on the lunar calendar), many Asian cultures celebrate the Ghost Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this week or month, depending on the country, celebrants not only honor their dearly departed but attempt to appease the spirits of the vengeful dead.

One can go online and find ghost stories galore, both ancient and modern.

But Are Ghosts Real? 

Blueskin the Ghost Pirate, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates (1901)

Lots of people think so!

  • On 11/27/21, People wrote that 63% of respondents “to a recent survey” said they believe in paranormal activity of some sort and 57% of Americans believe in ghosts specifically. 
  • On 11/28/21, based on a different survey, USA Today said 40% of Americans believe in ghosts and 20% said they’ve seen one.
  • And according to an 11/28/21 article in The New York Times, a 1990 Gallup Poll reported 25% believed in ghosts.
    • In their 2005 poll, 32% of respondents said they believed in ghosts.
    • A 2019 IPSOS poll reported 46% of respondents were believers.

One might speculate about reasons for the apparent increase in the number of ghost believers over the decades.

Although these numbers are data, they are not proof!

But let’s back up a bit….

What Is a Ghost?

Oxford Language defines ghost (noun) as “an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.” But is that what all those survey respondents believe in? Not necessarily.

Some people believe there are categories of ghosts: poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits, or shadow people. 

What’s the Evidence? 

Elva Zona Heaster Shue, the Greenbrier Ghost
Elva Shue died in 1897, and the death was ruled to be of natural causes during childbirth. Mary Jane Heaster, Elva’s mother, later told a judge that the ghost of her daughter appeared before her to accuse her husband of murdering her. Elva’s body was exhumed, and signs of strangulation were found on the corpse. Erasmus Shue, Elva’s husband, was convicted of her murder

Bloody Mary – A Halloween greeting card, circa 1900, though the usual apparition is much more gruesome

Actually, there is nothing that scientists agree is evidence in support of ghosts existence. Benjamin Radford, 6/19/21, posted “Are ghosts real?” on livescience.com, considering this question in depth that I have summarized here.

For one thing, there are no clear, definite, agreed upon criteria. The presence of a spirit might manifest as a vision, an unexplained sound or light, a dream appearance, even a change of temperature or a light breeze, a cold spot in a hallway, a door closing for no apparent reason, keys or other objects missing or moved—virtually any unexplained happening/perception.

Contrary evidence is often based on logic and the physical world as we know it. How can an ephemeral being pass through walls, for example, but also lift or move furniture? Why do ghosts appear clothed? If the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, why don’t murder victims just tell someone who did it?

But perhaps the evidence just hasn’t been found yet

Do People—Many People—Just Need to Believe in Ghosts?

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by galla demons

The belief that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, documented everywhere from the Bible to “Macbeth.” Many people are comforted by the belief that the spirits of dead loved ones look out for us, or support us in our times of need.

“Ball Lightning”

Some people do not accept that life as we live it is all there is to human existence. Consider the various religions that postulate life-after-death possibilities, whether those be reward/heaven vs. punishment/hell, reincarnation/rebirth, or something else.

For some, believing that spirits linger is a way of not accepting that a loved one is truly gone. 
And for some, the need for closure/understanding might drive them to ghosts as an explanation of anything otherwise inexplicable.

BOTTOM LINE: The lack of scientific support for the reality of ghosts is unlikely to separate believers from their beliefs. The sheer variety of ways ghosts/spirits are thought to manifest themselves means one can always find experiential “evidence” that supports one’s belief.

The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch – Manao Tupapua
Paul Gauguin