Language Blogs Round-Up

Canadian science fiction reviewer James Nicoll said, “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

Among the many reasons I love writing is the way it allows me to explore the wonders of the English language. Here are some of the posts I’ve written on this blog that directly concern how language can enhance or destroy writing.

 

Commonly Confused Words

  • Mind Your A’s and The’s
    • Pay attention to what you mean to be saying when you use a or the to designate something. In general, a indicates one of many possibles while the is restrictive to one specific person, place, event, item, etc.
  • The Limits of Spellcheck
    • Spellcheck programs will not generally recognize incorrect word usage if those words are spelled correctly.  Eliminating word confusion is up to you.  This is a writing prompt to practice correct usage of some of the most commonly confused words.
  • Choosing the Pronoun for Your Purpose
    • Know the rules of grammar so you can use them or abuse them to suit your purposes!  Pronouns can be subject (I/ you/ he/ she/ it), object (me/ you/ him/ her/ it), or show possession (my/ your/ his/ her/ its).
  • I’m Not Alone Here
    • The right word vs. the almost right word is the difference between sounding articulate vs. sounding pretentious—and uneducated. Bottom line: only use words you know for sure.

 

Cutting the Flab from Writing

  • Practicing Similes
    • Similes add color and tone to your writing. Don’t overdo. And avoid the worn and weary ones–such as hard as a rock, soft as a cotton ball, etc.
  • Cut the Flab
    • Flabby writing is writing that includes unnecessary words or phrases. I’ll talk about four common types of flab: stating something for which there is no alternative, saying the same thing twice, naming characters or relationships already known, and stating an action that is inherent in another action.
  • Writing that Irritates Readers
    • Here are a few examples of the worst habits of flabby writing
      • Going off-key on tone: This is when something just doesn’t feel right, such period inappropriate slang.
      • Close but no cigar: Using the wrong word, such that for who or imply for infer
      • Redundant verbiage: Using extra words to modify ideas that need no modification
  • Let Your Punctuation Speak for You
    • This is a variation on two themes: show, don’t tell and trust your reader. The point is that the reader will get your meaning without both the punctuation and the accompanying explanation.
  • Bitch Blog
    • A USA Today best-selling author who shall remain nameless has written a series of books that are filled with egregious examples of the flabbiest of flabby writing.
  • Clichés—True But Tired!
    • This is an extensive but not exhaustive list of some of the worst, most over-used, most obnoxious cliches.

 

Close Attention to Detail

  • Getting Up Close With Nature
    • Be specific.   Perhaps the foremost is be specific. Don’t say “a tree,” say, “a willow oak.”
  • Be Specific
    • To avoid wimpy writing, attend to the details. I already talked about avoiding weasel words like some, few, or many in favor of specific numbers or quantities. The same applies to vague nouns: flower, tree, shrub, car. Tell the reader it’s a rose, an elm, an English boxwood, a Ford.
  • The Five Ws
    • You have a vague recollection that sometime in the past–perhaps in high school–someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.
  • Observe More Closely
    • Nature writing can be add depth, precision, and detailed setting in any genre of writing.  This post provides examples of various genres in which nature writing has been used effectively and some tools to develop your own nature writing skills.

 

Careful Use of Modifiers

  • Choose Modifiers Carefully
    • The same advice on adverbs applies to other modifiers. Make sure they add something to the story. “Very” should be on your hit list, along with all sorts of weasel words and phrases, such as a little, a lot, big, small, somewhat, sort of. . . You get the idea.
  • Use Strong Verbs
    • How do you recognize a weak verb? Look for adverbs! When you find a sentence in which you give the reader a tag telling how an action was performed, chances are you have a lazy verb–one you didn’t really think about as you plugged it in.

 

Period Appropriate Writing for Genre or Setting

  • A Little Dialect Goes a Long Way
    • A touch of dialect helps establish voice, and may lend authenticity to the writing. But for the beginning writer, knowing how much is enough is often difficult. A story studded with apostrophes and phonetically spelled words draws attention to the writing, detracting from the story.
  • Kids Say the Darndest Things!
    • Children’s language development is a very interesting study for psychologists and linguists.  It is important that child characters behave and speak appropriately for their age to be believable.  However, every child is different; outliers on either end of the development scale can add interest but must have believable groundwork laid.
  • Use Slang and Clichés Effectively
    • In my opinion, the best use of slang is setting the time of the story.  Used effectively, it lends authenticity to dialogue. But if writing about any time other than the present, tread carefully. Inappropriate slang can ruin the tone and undermine the credibility of the entire story.
  • Horror Week is Here
    • The blog Now Novel provides excellent advice for techniques that are most effective in various genres, including horror.
  • Historical Fiction
    • Writing historical fiction requires extensive knowledge of the period in which the story takes place, including the slang and speech styles common at the time.  This blog provides several resources and suggestions for writing effectively about the chosen time period.

 

History of the English Language

  • Shades of Professor Henry Higgins!
    • The development of the English language into the distinct dialects used in various English-speaking nations around the world can be mined for examples of characterizations by word choice and syntax.  It is also a fascinating story on its own.
  • Loving Language
    • Our everyday language is full of phrases we use without thinking of how they came to mean what they mean. Delve into the origins of words and phrases. You will find amusement as well as information!
  • Is the Quality of Writing Declining? And if So, Why?
    • Research suggests that writing ability in American students has fallen, combined with (or caused by) a decline in concrete guidelines and principles for those teaching writing.  Reading for pleasure has also been declining over the last few decades.
  • Emojis: Yea or Nay?
    • I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill.  How do you feel about emojis?

 

Editing or Proofreading Yourself

  • Talk to Yourself
    • Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it–literally. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
    • Be selective–and restrained–in using exclamation points and italics. More than one of these every few pages probably means you are using these visual markers to shore up weak word choices.
  • When, While, Then
    • Search your work for these words and closely examine each usage. They often contribute to run-on sentences that would be stronger and clearer if they were revised into two or more shorter sentences.  Be especially wary if one sentence contains two or all three of these words.
  • Skip The First Word That Comes To Mind
    • When you are trying to get something on the page, moving quickly and just getting it done is the way to go. But know that isn’t the finished product. Go over your draft and mark commonplace words–particularly forms of the to-be verbs and vague adjectives. Consider at least three alternatives–and consider the value of the least expected.
  • Didn’t Get it Right the First Time?
    • Noah Lukeman is my favorite guru on self-editing. He’s highly readable, clear, and interesting. But if you need some quick-and-dirty guidelines right now, here are a baker’s dozen.
  • Attributing Words to Characters
    • We are often in need of indicating who is speaking and/or how. In doing so, beware of distracting—or irritating—your reader. Here are my personal guidelines for making attributions.
  • Treasure Trash
    • I’d bet nearly everyone who’s written a book has edited out not just words, but paragraphs, scenes, or entire chapters. Don’t delete chunks of text.  Save them in a separate file.
      • It makes it easier to cut the flab (anything that doesn’t fit this piece of work), sometimes known as killing your darlings.
      • Those chunks may come in handy in the future, either as additions to as sparks for something totally new.
  • Verbal Tics— Use and Abuse
    • Everyone has verbal habits, including tics. As a writer, be aware of your favorite words and use them sparingly! In the right context, they can convey education level, social class, and even age.
  • Across Years and Miles
    • This post includes a list of common errors in grammar and syntax, each humorously illustrated by use of the error it advises against.
  • When Less is More
    • “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger. These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Structural Tips for Writing

  • Beware Long Descriptions
    • Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether.
  • Writing Tip for Avoiding Redundancy
    • Redundancy takes many forms and it makes for clunky, dull writing.  This post demonstrates some common examples of punctuation, description, and incorrect word use that often lead to redundancy and can be removed.
  • Matching Tone & Structure
    • Sentence length and structure should be used to echo the tone of the action: short, simple sentences for quick or abrupt action; longer, more complex sentences for slower scenes or poetic description.
  • The Distancing Effect of I
    • Whenever the narrative Point of View is first person, the story is, by definition, about the narrator. In this case, as in any writing, your goal is to draw the reader in. Therefore, if you choose to use “I” as the narrator, you need to present a quest that many readers would care about.
  • Use and Abuse of Passive Voice
    • If you want your words to seem impersonal, indirect, and noncommittal, passive is the choice.  Bryan A. Garner identifies six ways in which the passive voice is acceptable or even preferred.
  • Dialogue Dos and Don’ts
    • Dialogue is essential to every genre of fiction; however, sometimes it’s hard to get it just right. Bad dialogue can trip up a reader, and sometimes doing so will make them want to stop reading altogether. That being said, here are a few dialogue dos and don’ts that can help you with writing speech.
  • How Do You Read Now?
    • Research (and book sales) suggest that modern readers are more interested in story than in style. Many writers appear to focus more on technique and self-awareness, according to an article by Adam Kirsch.  Consider whether you think plot or style is more important.

 

Words and Dictionaries

  • Homonyms
    • This post provides a writing exercise to familiarize writers with the pitfalls and opportunities of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different thing.
  • WHY CONSIDER THE F WORD?
    • Here is a discussion of when to use profanity directly and when to use a euphemism instead, with a brief description of the history and current usage of this particular bit of profanity.
  • Conglomeration
    • This is writing prompt derived from one of the author’s favorite words.  Conglomeration is another of those words I love because it sounds so much itself. Technically, it has to do with a spherical shape, and disparate things brought together in one. But its more common usage, of miscellaneous or even random things brought together (no particular shape) make it a very useful word.
  • Use Uncomfortable Words
    • Uncomfortable words are perfectly correct and not obscene. Nevertheless, they often surprise–or even shock–the reader. Sometimes they make the reader uncomfortable.
  • Beware Beautiful Words
    • Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them. This is a quick list of some interesting words that can add flair and tone to your writing.
  • This Just In!
    • As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours.
  • What Would You Call a Bunch of Bluebirds?
    • Here are some of the most interesting collective nouns for species of birds, with illustrations from the author’s garden.
  • Color Your Writing
    • With so many specifically named colors in the English language, it is important to be specific about which one you mean.  There is a close tie between color and mental or psychological state, which can have a great influence on readers’ perception of a scene, a character, or a work as a whole.
  • Word Wealth
    • There are dictionaries available for nearly every specialty, dialect, and profession.  They can provide a wealth of detail and precision to any setting in any genre.

 

Examples of Other Authors’ Successful Habits

  • What Writers Can Learn From Diana Gabaldon
    • There are many things this author gets absolutely correct, but this post will focus on vivid language. We have all heard or read that we should use fresh, vivid language and strong verbs.  Here are some of my favorite examples of Diana Gabaldon’s sensory and emotional writing.
  • What Writers Can Learn from Political Campaigns
    • Careful word choice, audience appeal, actions or words open to (mis)interpretation, complementary characters, innuendo, denial, and characters revealed by reflected traits of associates are all extremely important in any political campaign.  The 2016 election was full of examples of all of these, which are also used in good writing.
  • Communicating Without Words: Campaign Lessons
    • You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The 2016 presidential campaign offers several educational examples.
  • The Good and the Bad
    • The 2018 June 18th issue of The New Yorker includes an article titled “High Crimes” by Anthony Lane, a review of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s book The President is Missing.  The article highlights some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés, offered here for your  amusement.
  • Writers on Writing
    • This post offers writing tips and advice from a few successful authors, including Stephen King and Virginia Woolf.
  • Bradley Harper: The Man Behind the Writer
    • An interview with Bradley Harper reveals some of his most effective writing habits and techniques.
  • Going Long
    • Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge.  She discusses her methods of creating a tight, closely-written short story.

 

WHY CONSIDER THE F WORD?

 
When Jesse Sheidlower wrote this book, he was the Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The book was published by Oxford University Press, one of the most prestigious academic presses in the world.  The 49 pages of front matter and the 269 pages in the body of the book deal exclusively with the F word.  Seeing this started me thinking.  Ultimately, I concluded that the F word is one of the most important words in the English language.  And therefore writers should consider its many uses.
One indicator of importance is the number of euphemisms coined to express the F word without tipping into the vulgar or obscene.  A woman born and reared in North Carolina once told me that when a Southern Lady wants to say the F word, she says “Fine!”

That one wasn’t familiar to me, but we’ve all heard many others.  These are what is sometimes called a “minced oath.”  Here are some examples:

  • Effing
  • F-bomb
  • F word
  • F*ck
  • F**k
  • F***
  • F-ck
  • F—k
  • Flaming
  • Fracking
  • Fricking
  • Freaking
  • Frigging
  • FUBAR
  • Fudge
  • WTF
  • Flipping
  • Fork/ Forking
  • Foxtrot Uniform
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
  • Smurfing
  • Frelling
  • Bleep/ Bleeping
  • Fark (not to be confused with FARC, which might add unintended political themes to your work!)
  • fiddle-faddle
  • fiddlesticks
  • fug
  • cotton-pickin’
  • I could keep going, but the internet would eventually run out of pixels…

Although listeners know exactly what the euphemism stands for, many feel that the impact of the euphemism loses much of the cathartic value of the original and may come across as tepid, ineffectual, or just plain namby-pamby.

The original namby-pamby himself, poet Ambrose Philips

William Shakespeare was one of the most creative users of minced oaths and euphemisms to describe everything from copulation to defecation, writing some of the most vividly imaginative phrases to avoid the censorship of the age.  Juliet may have had the sheath to make Romeo’s dagger happy, but no children’s ears had to be covered.

Miniature, Jean de Meun, The Roman de la Rose, Couple in a bed, Chantilly, musee Conde, Miniature. (Photo by: Christophel Fine Art/UIG via Getty Images)

Of course, this still wasn’t clean enough for Dr. Thomas Bowdler and his sister Harriet.  In 1818, they announced the publication of a G-rated book of Shakespseare’s work, in which “those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.”  The Family Shakespeare didn’t sell particularly well (and was a pretty short book), but “bowdlerise” became a term for overdone, fussy, prissy censorship.

Note to writers: consciously decide whether to use a euphemism or the original.  There is a time for vulgarity and a time for bowdlerising.

The F word is so prominent in English that the basic entry for fuck in Slang and Euphemism runs a full half page, followed by 60 entries directly involving the word, and surrounded by acronyms that take the place of actually saying the word.  Though the origins are unclear, it dates back at least to 1475.

Basically, it refers to a sexual act, an act of copulation.  It’s universally characterized as obscene or at least vulgar.  However, over time, much of the resistance to the original word has been diluted by long and frequent use.
 And it is arguably the most versatile word around.  In modern usage, the F word and its derivatives (such as fucker and fucking) can be used as a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, conjunction, interjection, or adverb.
 
Verb:
  1. A sexual act in its most straightforward form, as in “Let’s fuck.”
  2. Transitive: John fucked Mary.
  3. Intransitive: Mary was fucked by John.
  4. To cheat or mistreat someone, as in “She totally fucked me.”
No matter your use of the verb, taking inspiration from spiders is probably not a good idea.
Noun:
  1. Referring to the act itself, as in a specific event being “ A great fuck.”
  2. Referring to a partner, as in “A great fuck” referring to the other person involved.
  3. Referring to an incentive or strong feeling on any subject.

Note to writers: make sure the context clearly specifies ambiguous meanings.
 
Pronoun:
  1. Used in place of his/her, as in “Tell the fucker at the end of the bar that I buy my own drinks.”
“…and tell him I prefer not to drink fire.”

 

Adverb:
  1. A modifier to a verb as in
That was some fucking dancing out there!

or

He was fucking sleeping on the job!

2. A modifier to another adverb, as in “The Broncos played fucking well out there.”

3. A modifier to an adjective, as in “Fucking beautiful.”

Adjective:
  1. A modifier to a noun, as in “That was some fucking speech!” or “I had a fucking good time.”
Conjunction:
  1. Connecting two parts of a sentence, as in “I left, fuck the boss’s order.”

Exclamation or intensifier: fuck can express innumerable emotions.  Most often, as a single word, it expresses joy, despair, surprise, or anger.
 
 
 
But fuck can intensify virtually any emotion, depending on surrounding situation or text.
  • Ignorance: Fuck if I know.
  • Trouble: Mary returned and  I’m fucked now
  • Fraud: I got fucked in the real estate deal.
  • Aggression: Fuck you!
  • Displeasure: What the fuck do you think you’re doing?
  • Difficulty: I can’t understand these fucking data!
  • Incompetence: You fuck-off!
  • Stupidly or incompetence: You really fucked up that negotiation.
  • Rejection: Get the fuck out of here. Fuck off.
  • Suspicion: What the fuck are you doing?
  • Apathy: I don’t give a fuck.
  • Dismay: Oh, fuck, they left without us
  • Anxiety: I am totally fucked today.
  • Greeting: How the fuck are you?
The Bro-Hug, as explained by Higher Un-Learning
The F word has a long and varied history.  Though its origin remains somewhat obscure, it most likely derives from an early Germanic root, such as peuk (to prick), fokken (to thrust), or peig (hostile).  Though linguists can’t seem to agree on the etymology, most agree that “fuck” has been a vulgar or taboo word for most of its very long history, which contributes to the difficulty of tracking down its history as it was not officially used or written down often.
Is this frelling or fracking?

It has a Wikipedia entry that runs to 19 pages, which goes into the history and gives examples of modern usage in politics, marketing, and literature.  And as the Urban Dictionary says of it, “The only fucking word that can be put everyfuckingwhere and still fucking make fucking sense.

Bottom line for writers: The F word is useful, versatile, and becoming ever more acceptable.  But should you decide to use it, use it sparingly as the narrator, and limit it to one or a few characters.  It loses its impact with repetition (see The Wolf of Wall Street).

MENTIONING THE UNMENTIONABLE

People—and by extension, characters—regularly do things that they don’t mention, or even admit to, even though they aren’t illegal, immoral or physically harmful.  Writers can make their characters more realistic when said characters engage in unmentionable behaviors.  What follows is an extensive but not exhaustive list of possibilities.

 

Photo by Nancy Rivera of Splash News
Nose Picking is a prime example of a virtually universal unmentionable behavior.  It has its own Wikipedia entry, complete with a technical definition (extracting nasal mucus with one’s finger) and formal label of rhinotillexis.  Psychiatrists at the Dean Foundation for Health, Research, and Education in Wisconsin conducted a study revealing that 91% of people said they were currently nose pickers (though only 75% believed everyone did it).

 

So, how and where does your character nose pick?  Always the same digit?  Always the same place?  Always the same time of day?

 

And then what? Is the residue flicked off? Wiped on a tissue?  Wiped on the underside of an article of clothing?  Wiped off on a rug?  On furniture?  Added to a booger wall?  Or maybe the residue is eaten.

 

Everybody Does It!
Mucophagy is the technical term for eating nose pickings.  Most societies condemn it, but some scientists claim there are health benefits.  Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, a leading Austrian lung specialist, says that eating one’s mucus gives “a natural boost to their immune system” because the mucus contains a “cocktail of antiseptic enzymes that kill or weaken bacteria that become entangled in it.”  Reintroducing weakened bacteria may allow the immune system to safely produce antibodies.

 

Time considerations for nose picking.  How often?  A few times a day—however unmentionable—isn’t odd.  But one-to-two hours daily?  When it becomes an obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s called Rhinotillexomania.

 

Wiping your nose on anything available.

Enough said.

 Urination is another universal. How about peeing in the shower? Or the bathtub? The ocean—or the swimming pool? Is your female character comfortable urinating outside?

 

Recently, there have been a number of devices developed and put on the market to allow women the same ease of urination as men.  They come in very handy on long car trips or when getting to the bathroom requires a trek through an unheated house, up a snowy mountain, and behind a tree to squat over an unsettlingly drafty hole in the ground.

I once spent two weeks on a whitewater rafting drip on the Colorado River. People were required to pee in the river. (Recall that urine is sterile.) In camp men simply walked to the edge of the water. Women often waded out and pulled down their pants. On the water, men stood at the stern. Women pulled down their clothes, hung onto the cargo straps, and cantilevered out over the water.

In all of these circumstances, the other people politely looked the other way. But then how did it happen that the last night out I was voted the person most improved in peeing off the side of the raft? So if your character is urinating in unmentionable ways, consider both culture and circumstances.

 

Defecation is always fertile ground. It seems whole herds of people get completely naked to poop—every time.  Imagine trying to use a public toilet!

Consider a character who wipes his/her anus and looks at it.  Or smells his/her fingers afterward.  One justification for frequently smelling one’s anus or genitals (via finger swipes) is being familiar with one’s usual smell so that changes that might signal a change in health status would be recognizable.

Not washing hands after using the bathroom.  Or even turning on water so others in the public toilet will think you washed when you didn’t.  And it raises the question of why not wash?
 
Burping, a cousin to the more offensive Passing GasThese things happen.
I remember a joke from grade school. “What did the stomach say to the burp?” “Be quiet, and I’ll let you out the back door.”
But what about someone who burps and/or farts on purpose, on demand, or as loudly as possible?

 

What about someone who intentionally farts in elevators, subway cars, on trains or busses and casts a blaming glare at those nearby?

What about intentionally expelling loud farts and/or burps but only when alone?

Or sniffing farts to try to figure out which food made it smell that way.

For truly obnoxious characters (and spouses), there is the dreaded Dutch Oven: farting in bed and then pulling the blanket over your bed partner’s head, trapping them in the stench.

The other Dutch Oven, unfortunately
And consider whether your character has an extreme reaction to other people’s flatulence. I know of a woman who became furious if someone passed gas in her presence: smell is a molecular sense, so smelling a fart means taking in fecal molecules.
 

Eating is fraught with unmentionable behaviors. For example, eating food off the floor after 5 seconds have passed.

 

Eating from the cooking pot.  Eating/drinking directly from the container.  (In this case, whether your character lives alone is relevant. )
Eating your big sister’s foot is photographable but not mentionable

Eating food other than snacks or sandwiches (for example, tossed salad) with fingers.  Eating the unthinkable as a regular thing: chalk, insects, dirt, tissue paper, etc.

Modern Toilet Restaurant in Taiwan has very interesting serving dishes
Nakedness is sometimes necessary, of course.  But what if your naked character regularly sits on the sofa and reads?  Cooks dinner?  Sits on the deck or patio—and if so, at what time, and how private is the space?

 

Or gets naked and runs the Boston Marathon?
What about taking naked selfies for no particular reason?  Saying you deleted the naked pictures sent to you but you didn’t?

 

Sucking Blood From a Cut.

He would be happy to help …
Having sexual thoughts about an inappropriate target.  Think relative, someone else’s spouse or partner, subordinate—whoever is beyond the pale because of relationship or other taboo.

 


Self Absorption.is almost always unmentionable!  Narrating thoughts aloud—while driving, planning, etc.   Closely related to talking to oneself.

Consider cracking up at one’s own jokes, even when alone. Practicing pick-up lines in the mirror, ditto facial expressions. How about making weird faces at yourself? Or googling oneself?

 

 

Women Only Unmentionables. Shaving—where and how often.   Plucking or shaving facial hair from eyebrows to chin and jowls.  Obsessing about changes in body odor during menstruation.  Collecting “fuck me” shoes in colors to match every outfit.
Men Only Unmentionables: measuring his dick, jerking off to fantasies of his friend’s girlfriend, windmilling/ helicoptering his penis, frequently resettling his junk in his banana hammock.

 

Miscellaneous unmentionables could be almost anything.

  • Dancing like no one with the authority to commit you is watching
  • Running up the stairs on all fours
  • Eavesdropping or otherwise spying on people—including reading another person’s mail, email, or texts
  • Squeezing pimples or blackheads
  • Climbing on furniture
  • Bouncing on the bed
  • Making weird noises
  • Breath syncing to someone else, music, in the extreme known as sensorimotor obsession
  • Arithmomania, a strong need to have one’s life governed by odd, even, or certain numbers, brushing teeth to setting the thermostat, etc.
  • Blow-drying “down there”
Overview for writers: Make your character more human by giving her/him a characteristic unmentionable behavior or two.  Don’t go overboard unless your character is totally neurotic and/ or you are going for humor.  And remember that such behaviors are even more revealing if the characters do such things in the presence of others.  Have fun!

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: N.B., Games, not Sports

 
RedEye LAN Party (from Obsolete Geek)

Nearly 70% of Americans play video games on at least one device, and nearly all play on smartphones.  Indeed, if you do an online search for games, best games, or similarly general queries, you will be inundated with info about video games in general as well as individual games.  If game playing is one of your character’s activities (and your story is set in the current time or near future) decide whether s/he is part of the majority or the minority here.  Consider what the game of choice says about the character of your character.  For example,does success depend more on speed or strategy?  Does a round end quickly or take a significant time commitment?  Can it be interrupted/paused?  How violent is it?  And is it mechanized violence or hand-to-hand?  Does s/he play alone, against the program, or with/against other gamers worldwide?

As I indicated in the opening sentence, most people in the U.S. currently play video games, but these are a relatively new phenomenon.  In the remainder of this blog, I shall focus on card games and board games—for three reasons:
  1. They are suitable for current settings as well as throughout history.  Just check out what games were around when the story is set.
  2. I believe that the majority of readers are more familiar with them.
  3. I am not a “gamer” and—truly—I always try not to say too much about any vast canyon of ignorance.
Modern playing cards may have originated in China, India, or Persia, but they were commonly used in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century.  The number and composition of cards in a deck varied throughout history and from country to country.  Some decks had mounted knights, noblemen, peasants, and Church figures.  Some countries used bells, hearts, leaves, acorns, swords, cups, or paving stones to differentiate suits.  Over the years, the royal figures have been labelled as Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Solomon, Empress Judith, Sir Lancelot, Joan of Arc, Hector of Troy, and various mythological figures, to name a few.  As printing became widely available and playing cards were produced cheaply, the modern deck of cards gradually came into being and was eventually standardized to those we use today.  (For more details, check out the Snopes article on the topic.)[The history of playing cards is kind of interesting:

 

Advantages of card games:
  •  Equipment is inexpensive
  • They are extremely portable
  • Lots of choices from total luck games to highly skilled strategies
  • Can be played alone or with others
  • Can be totally competitive or in partnerships
  • Suitable for people of almost any age
  • Games with simple rules can transcend language barriers
“Dead Man’s Hand” in Poker

 

If you search for the most popular card game(s), poker is at or near the top of the list.  Poker is associated with gambling, whether in a casino, bar, country club, or private home.  As the name implies, penny ante poker means minimal stakes.  Other associations with poker include alcohol, smoking, and maybe the Wild West.  It is still a male-dominated game.
Writers: as always, consider the value of going with the flow or defying the images.  Many variations exist, and it can be played online.

 

Other popular card games in the US:
  • Spades: created nearly 100 years ago, hit its peak in the 90s
  • War: one of the easiest games, suitable for children, no skill involved; also good as a mindless activity
  • Gin: aka gin rummy, is related to rummy (see below); very popular right now, a fun gambling game; started in the U.S in the 1800s and has remained popular ever since; reached its peak in the 1930s and 1940s; faded in favor of canasta in the 1950s
  • Rummy: popular around the world, especially In India; involves matching and memorization; can be played online
  • Blackjack (aka twenty-one): largely a gambling game played in clubs and casinos; lots of luck involved; players play against the dealer rather than each other
    • If a player is able to calculate probabilities and keep track of cards in play, s/he may be able to “count cards” to win nearly every hand.  This technique is outlawed by many casinos, but it can be a good way to demonstrate a character’s extreme intelligence or pattern recognition skills.
  • Crazy Eights: originated in Venezuela; has lots of variations; requires two or more people
The most difficult card game is bridge.  Some call it the world’s greatest game.  It probably originated in Russia, and was popularized in the Middle East; today, it is played worldwide.  Bridge requires strategy, memory for who played what card, working with a partner, communicating during bidding (which can involve “conventions”—what the heck is a Jacoby transfer, anyway?).  Women take more bridge classes than men and more women than men play, but men dominate in serious competitive play.  For an extended discussion of the pros and cons of bridge, go to WHY PLAY BRIDGE? at bridgeworld.com.

 

Agatha Christie wrote an entire murder mystery, Cards on the Table, that hinges upon who was playing in what rotation at what time during an evening bridge party.  Hercule Poirot deduces alibis and personalities entirely by studying the notations people made while keeping score, enabling him to identify the murderer.

 

Card games and board games have been used as a method of teaching and developing military strategy skills throughout history, including by the American CIA An online essay The Appeal (and Manliness) of Card Games includes a subsection on 6 Card Games Every Man Should Know.  The essay notes that men’s games are often symbolic representations of more violent clashes and war.  In my opinion, what this says is that games are a non-violent way of competing to be the alpha male.  When only men are involved, there are often jokes and insults to demonstrate the art of clever talk.  According to this essay, the essential manly card games are:
  • Gin Rummy: game scholars think rummy is a card variation on the Chinese game of mah-jong, perhaps dating to the 1700s, much modified since then; generally played to a specified number, often 100
  • Hearts: a trick-taking game stemming from whist, except the goal is to avoid collecting tricks; the person with the fewest points wins; first appeared in he U.S. in the late 1800s; played online since the 1990s
  • Poker (specifically, Texas hold ‘em): perhaps originated in 1820s New Orleans on Mississippi River gambling boats; poker really took off in the 1980s when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, legalizing casinos on Native American land
  • Solitaire: first developed in the mid-1700s; originally played with multiple people, it’s now a game played primarily alone—any of more than 1000 variations; surged in popularity with the advent of personal computers
  • Cribbage: beloved for centuries, technically involves a board for score keeping, it’s essentially a card game for 2 (possibly 3 or 4); came to the colonies by English settlers; especially popular in New England
  • Blackjack (aka 21): most widely played casino game; fast and easy to learn; dating to the mid- to late 1500s, became more popular int the U.S. in the late 1950s
Cribbage Hand and Score Board
The Most Popular & Fun Card Games as posted on ranker.com
  1. Uno
  2. Blackjack
  3. Solitaire
  4. Hearts
  5. Gin Rummy
  6. Cards Against Humanity
  7. Go Fish
  8. Bluff (also known as BullSh*t)
  9. Magic: The Gathering
  10. Euchre—a personal favorite with my family
  11. Poker
  12. Crazy Eights
  13. War
  14. Apples to Apples
  15. Rummy
  16. Pokemon trading card game
  17. Spoons
  18. Exploding Kittens
  19. Assh*le
  20. Old Maid—truly classic
  21. Phase 10
  22. Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading card game
  23. Monopoly Deal
  24. Munchkin
  25. Cribbage
Writers: consider the value of a character playing a card game against type, such as a woman playing poker or a man playing bridge.  Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon are more commonly played by children, but an adult could play with a child they are caring form.  How would a quintessentially honest person behave in a situation requiring bluffing, such as playing poker or Bluff?  What might a young person discover by learning to play Hearts as a means of bonding with an older relative?

 

5 Hardest Games to Master in the World: According to Casino.org, these are the most difficult to master, regardless of how long it takes to learn. 
Note: this lists includes 4 board games and only 1 card game

 

  • Go is an ancient Chinese game dating back over 5,500 years—making it the oldest board game still played today.  It’s also one of the most complex, involving abstract strategy aimed at occupying the most territory on the board. 


    • Go is referenced, played, or used to demonstrate a character’s attitude toward traditional values in lots of Japanese media, including manga and anime.  It is so widespread in Japanese culture that there is an entire anime about a schoolboy haunted by the spirit of an ancient Go master: Hikaru No Go.
  • Chess, arguably dating back to the 6th century in India, but perhaps it originated in China—as many games did.  It’s a game of strategical conquest played by two people.  The essence of success is forward planning.  Historically, chess has been used as a means of teaching battlefield tactics; that is why, in modern chess rules, the king is relatively constrained but holds such strategic importance.
Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Bajwa playing chess with a student from Islamabad
  • Bridge is the only card game included in this list of hardest games to master. See above.
  • Diplomacy was released in 1959; as games go, it is still in its infancy.  It is a strategic board game for two to seven players, played on a map of 1914 wartime Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, geared toward conquest. There are no dice, but lots of negotiation skills are required.
    • Diplomacy was one of the first games (other than chess) that could be played by mail, which made it available as a form of connection for people who were not able to play together in person.  Writers, consider the possibilities this provides for characters in a historical setting who lived far apart or were shut-ins or prohibited by social taboo from playing together, etc.

       

  • Hex, released in 1942, was inspired by Go and has since been tweaked.  The goal is to make a connected string of shoes from one side of the board to the other before the other player.
Card Games vs. Board Games
 
As noted above, card games have many positive qualities, especially portability and ease of set-up.  Board games require more complex “equipment,” lengthy set-ups, and can take a long time to complete.  Many board games are quite cerebral, chess being the ultimate example.  In board games, every player is likely aware of the possible moves of the other player(s).
The Top Ten Board Games of All Time
The website hobbylark.com provides a brief history of board games and ranks the top 10.  Many that have been around for literally thousands of years can now be played online. Details of all of these are, of course, available online.
  1. Chess
  2. Stratego
  3. Monopoly
  4. Risk
  5. The Settlers of Catan
  6. Scrabble
  7. Battleship
  8. Clue
  9. Dominion
  10. Ticket to Ride

There is no board game equivalent to solitaire.  By their nature, board games require other players, and thus involve social interactions.

Most people do not follow the correct rules for Monopoly, making games longer and more repetitive.
Game Considerations for Writers (whether cards or board games)
 
  1. If you include a game as a character note, consider the general character of players of that game and whether you want to go with the general image or have a character who goes against the grain.  Why does your character play that particular game?  Where, how, and with whom (if anyone)?  Under these circumstances, chances are you establish the preference and make only brief references to it thereafter—unless the character is addicted.
  2. If the game is an element to advance the plot, it will probably involve a more detailed description of the game itself, so that readers will better understand the important people interactions around the game.  Did playing the game establish or refute an alibi?  Reveal important info through the chat around and over play?  Is someone trying to establish dominance?  Losing more money than s/he can afford?
  3. In associating a character with a game, be aware of the possible correlations: when in history your story is set, age of the character, region of the country (or country in the world), social class, and possibly ethnic background all are considerations.

Bottom line: games can be good for your writing!

2017 Dota 2 Champions

Alcohol for Writers

"alcohol for writers" whisky poured into tumbler

Keep it on the page!

Surely everyone can name at least one famous writer also famous for drinking. Think Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe. . . . If not, an internet search will turn up titles like these.

 

  • Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers
  • Drinking Habits of Famous Authors
  • Top 10 Drunk American Writers
  • 99 Writers who Were Alcoholics, Drunks, Addicted To Booze, Etc.
  • 25 Great Writers Who Battled Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
  • All The Drunk Dudes: The Parodic Manliness Of The Alcoholic Writer
  • ‘Every hour a glass of wine’—the female writers who drank
  • What drives writers to drink?
This last question has led to numerous academic examinations and investigations of the topic.

 

As for “How to Drink Like Kerouac, Hemingway, and Other Famous Writers,” don’t try this at home, lest you end up on the list of “Famous Alcoholic Writers Who Died of Alcoholism.”

 

wine rack, alcohol for writers
So, although I don’t advise writers to drink, I do advise knowing about alcohol. It’s such an integral part of life in America—celebrations, business dinners, relaxation, sports events, picnics, parties, all sorts of gatherings from weddings to funerals—that one can hardly write realistically without scenes involving alcohol. So here are a few basic facts you should be aware of and ready to justify if you go against them. See below for why your petite female PI would be unlikely to drink a hulking athlete under the table.

 

Alcohol for Writers: The Facts

  • In general, bigger people, more muscular people, and males get drunk slower than smaller people, less-muscular people, and females.
  • Even controlling for height and weight, women absorb alcohol faster and metabolize it slower than men. In other words, they get drunk faster and stay drunk longer.
  • In general, the health-related problems for women drinkers come on faster and are more devastating than for men.
  • People get drunk faster on an empty stomach than after a full meal. I’ve read that ancient Romans drank olive oil to coat the stomach before their binges, because that slows-down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  • People who drink regularly and heavily have a greater capacity (tolerance) than those who drink less.
  • People are more likely to blackout from fast drinking than from slow drinking of the same amount of alcohol.
  • A standard drink is defined as 1.5 oz.shot of liquor, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer. Most wine coolers are the equivalent of one standard drink. FYI, heavy drinking = anything more than two drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women.
shot glass, beer glass, wine glass
  • Having 2-3 drinks can cause a loss of motor control 12 to 18 hours after drinking. Name your accidental injury—falls, drownings, automobile accidents, etc.—and the incidence goes up with alcohol consumption. Name your intentional injuries—shooting, stabbing, physical violence, rape—it’s more likely to happen with alcohol.
  • There’s a reason athletes don’t drink before big events. Two to three drinks can deplete aerobic capacity and decrease endurance up to 48 hours after consumption.
  • Alcohol impairs both learning new information and recalling previously learned information.
  • Alcohol is a depressant for the central nervous system. People initially get “high” because the first thing to get depressed is inhibitions, creating a willingness to party and live dangerously. But beyond the buzz is the risk of seriously depressing metabolic functioning. A pulse rate below 40 or a breathing rate slower than 8-10 per minute is a medical emergency!
  • The website brad21.org is a great resource for writers! B.R.A.D. stands for Be Responsible About Drinking. It’s a series of bullet facts, well-footnoted for further reading.

Other Things Writers Should Know

…especially if a main character drinks.

 

First, perhaps most obviously, you need to decide on a preferred drink. According to bartenders, here are 10 drink stereotypes to help you create the desired impression. (Taken from complex.com, “The Funny Ways Bartenders Stereotype You Based On What You Drink.”)
-Vodka sodas are for people who want to lose weight—or want people to think so—but not enough to quit drinking.
-Jager bombs and vodka Red Bull are for basic bros.
-Blue Moon is for craft beer posers.
-Real craft beer drinkers are actually pretty cool.
-Annoying people act like they invented picklebacks. (Apparently a shot of whisky followed by a shot of pickle juice—really.)
-Buttery Chardonnays are for soccer moms.
-Only rookies drink Appletinis.
-Bud Light is for sporting events and day drinking, not Saturday night.
-Martinis are a classic, classy drink.
-Shots should be taken with a beer or a celebration. (Otherwise they’re for alcoholics.)
For a funny but useful commentary on everything from absinthe to wine see pointsincase.com, in an article titled “What Your Drink Says About You.”
Scotch whisky and bourbon bottle

 

Second, know your character’s drink. Know what it looks like, how it smells, how strong it is, and its taste. Also, whether wine, beer, or liquor, a drinker is likely to have the everyday brand and the special-occasion brand.

 

Third, know your character’s drinking habits and reactions. Know when, where, under what circumstances, and how much s/he drinks. People usually have a pattern of reaction to alcohol, roughly: fall asleep, talk more, repeat him/herself, verbal abusiveness, physical violence.
beer, beer glass

 

Takeaway for Writers

What’s good for characters isn’t good for authors!

Education and Writing Inspiration

Where do you get writing inspiration? You may recall that I recently blogged about the pros of trivia for interest and entertainment.

 

trivia books
Trivia for writing inspiration

 

I mentioned that tomato juice is the official state drink of Ohio. While having a character mention that fact might bring a smile or a raised brow, a writer could milk that tidbit for a whole story—such as a Buckeye living in a famous tomato growing county in Virginia alienating everyone at the annual tomato festival by bad-mouthing the local product, and someone ends up dead.

 

Famous First Facts: Third Edition, Kane, book, trivia, writing inspiration
Famous First Facts

 

If your genre includes historical fiction. . . 

Then this is the book for you. It includes an alphabetical listing of firsts, covering everything from the first abdominal operation and the first importation of Aberdeen-Angus cattle to the first zoological laboratory to the first zoom lens—thousands of story ideas just waiting to be exploited. For example, the first coeducational medical school in the world was the Boston University School of Medicine, founded in 1873. Imagine that first co-ed class—and the classes they would have had, such as anatomy in the days of grave robbers.

 

If you are obsessed with money. . .

Then delve into Charles Reichblum’s collection.

 

What Happens to a Torn Dollar Bill?, Charles Reichblum, book, trivia about money, writing inspiration
What Happens to a Torn Dollar Bill?

 

Suppose your character is in a bar and another drinker says, “Okay, mate, here’s the deal. I’ve won the lottery, and I want to share the wealth. I’ll give you $1000 a day for a month, or one penny doubled each day for a month.” What would the character choose? Why? And then what happens?

 

If your genre is magical realism. . . 

There’s no better place to look than science.

 

Genetic mosaics are not so rare, formed by fusing two gametes in utero or a placenta shared between fraternal twins or by the mother’s cells crossing the placental barrier and continuing in her child. Imagine that a woman had children with all of her genetics, so the cell lines were thoroughly mixed.

 

But it isn’t necessary to turn to hard-core science texts. Bits of science turn up everywhere.

 

You are One-Third Daffodil and Other Facts to Amaze, Tom Nuttall, book, trivia, writing inspiration
You are One-Third Daffodil and Other Facts to Amaze, Amuse, and Astound

 

Each newly conceived human has approximately 300 harmful genetic mutations. The life expectancy of professional cyclists is approximately 50. The closest living relative of tyrannosaurus rex is the chicken. And people are genetically one-third daffodil. Create a plot relating any two of these facts and voila, you’re launched.

 

Whatever your genre, books of little-known information are great sources of ideas.

 

A Compendium of Indispensable Facts, book, trivia, writing inspiration
A Compendium of Indispensable Facts

 

All sorts of genre’s could generate stories based on which big cats can interbreed, in the wild and in captivity. (Lions with tigers and leopards. Leopards with lions, tigers, jaguars, and pumas. Jaguars with pumas. Servals with caracals.)  It could revolve around an animal rights conflict, a new breed going out of control, zoo politics, or love in the workplace—or whatever your brain produces.

 

The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Noteworthy Achievements, Events, Feats & Blunders of Every Conceivable Kind, Bruce Felton, Mark Fowler, book, trivia, writing inspiration
The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Noteworthy Achievements, Events, Feats & Blunders of Every Conceivable Kind

 

This volume includes topics from consumer products to sports. You can read about a boat race in which two-member crews inside bottomless boats grip the gunwales and run a foot race along a dry river bed—which certainly be fodder for humor. And if you want to tie in to current events, base a character on Victoria Woodhull, who endorsed short skirts, an end to capital punishment, legalized prostitution, birth control, free love, and vegetarianism. On April 2, 1870, she became a candidate for president, running on the National Radical Reformers ticket.
Victoria-Woodhull-by-Mathew-Brady-c1870
Cabinet photograph of Victoria Woodhull, c.1866-1873. Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Readers like to learn something new, especially when it pertains to the plot.

Takeaway for writers

Whether you start with an idea and look for off-beat information to support it or welcome inspiration for novel ideas, off-beat information is the way to go.

Trivia Pursuit

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I like having books about places I’ve lived. I was born and reared in Ohio, and now live in Virginia, so those are two of the states I am drawn to. And given that I’m also drawn to the weird. . .

 

trivia books, Weird Ohio, Weird Virginia
Weird Virginia and Weird Ohio

 

From books like these, you can gain such vital information about Ohio as the location of Crybaby Bridge; abandoned hospitals, prisons, and asylums; and graveyards worthy of a safari. And as for Virginia, you might think Civil War Statues—but what about a statue of a giant Viking, or Johnny Appleseed, or the Auto Muffler King?

 

trivia books, Virginia, Ohio

 

Did you know that the official state drink of Ohio is tomato juice? Or that the 50-star U.S. flag was designed by an Ohio high-schooler? And FYI, the dorm room occupied by Edgar Allan Poe at the University of Virginia is on permanent display. And Secretariat was the first Virginia bred-and-owned horse to win the Triple Crown.

 

 

Of course, trivia can come in all forms. I have several books of lists. I like knowing the 6 illegal substances that occur naturally in our bodies, 21 biblical contradictions, and 12 erotic works by well-known writers. (Anne Rice? Piers Anthony?)

 

If ever evidence was needed that people will compete in anything, just check out weird records: the longest time balancing a Christmas tree on the chin (56,82 seconds), the longest time keeping toe in mouth while hopping on one foot (1min. 49.02 sec.), and the largest grand piano cake (300 lbs, shaped like a baby grand).

 

And examples could go on. But why? Either you love trivia—and therefore will own these books or others like them—or you won’t. In which case, why are you still reading?

 

Trivia positives for readers

Trivia is interesting, often funny, can serve as a conversational gambit, and you needn’t worry about coming to a good stopping place before going to bed.

 

Trivia positives for writers

Giving your characters off-beat information or obsessions adds interest—and you can enjoy the research!

A Murder of Crows

A murder of crows
Crows and ravens have been popular in myth and literature for centuries–Odin’s Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory or Mind) to Poe’s “Raven”–often with menacing depictions. Perhaps it’s because ‘murder’ has been the collective noun for a group of crows since the Middle Ages.

But I like crows! Every year they star in my autumn table.
a murder of crows in an autumn centerpiece
Indeed, I like the entire corvid family of birds—crows, ravens, jackdaws, and rooks. I once took a two-week float and paddle trip through the Grand Canyon, and every campsite came equipped with a pair of ravens. Our guides warned us about their tricks. Even so, we were taken unaware when a raven landed a few feet away and started performing—hopping about, dragging first one wing and then the other in a beautiful raven dance. In the meantime, its partner was unzipping fanny packs and making off with bits of food and anything shiny!
Raven overlooking Grand Canyon
Photo by Matteo Paganelli
The only one that seems to hang out near where I live is the American Crow, featured in the March-April, 2016 issue of Audubon, along with articles about Common Ravens and a corvid cousin the Eurasian Jay.
Audubon magazine featuring "Crows' Feats"
The articles provide fascinating glimpses of these bird brainiacs and the research that delineates their amazing abilities. Corvids are among the smartest animals on earth. They can make and use tools, play tricks, teach each other new things, and hold “funerals” for their dead. With only one exposure, they can form memories of human faces to be trusted and faces to be feared. Not only do these memories last for years, the fear response is taught to others born after the original exposure, and long after the exposed birds have died.

 

Birds are in the reptilian line of the animal kingdom (who knew?) but relative to their body size, corvid brains are comparable to primates. They appear to have cognitive abilities comparable to a four- or five-year-old child.

 

"Crows" by Candace Savage
Crows are survivalists and exploiters who thrive in urban and suburban environments. According to the Audubon article, “The crows in your neighborhood know your block better than you do. They know the garbage truck routes. They know which kids drop animal crackers and which ones throw rocks. They know the pet dogs, and they might even play with the friendly ones. If you feed them, they probably not only recognize you but your car as well, and they might just leave trinkets in return.”

 

They’ve been observed putting hard nuts in the street to be run over by cars and then collecting the cracked nutmeats after. They cache food, hide their caches, and steal from each other.

 

A murder of crows may not sound as appealing as an exaltation of larks, but I find them more interesting!

 

TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS

Why use tired images of crows in a cornfield or birds on a wire? When a mention of birds fits your story, infuse your writing with much more interesting bird behaviors!
 
So, given how smart crows are, how long will it be before these learn that I only want to take pictures? I’m waiting for the day they let me come close!

The French Chef Lives On!

On February 11, 1963, WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts launched “The French Chef,” featuring Julia Child. By the time The French Chef Cookbook was published in 1968, she was an international icon.
The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child
The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child

 

As far as I know, she is the only chef whose entire kitchen has been reassembled as a display at the Smithsonian.

 

“Writer” probably isn’t the first word you associate with Julia Child, although she authored or coauthored eighteen books. The success of “The French Chef” launched a whole genre of TV shows about cooking. If you visit the PBS website, you can find an alphabetical listing of cooking shows on Public Television. I counted 50 from letters P through Z!

 

Overstating the breadth and depth of Julia Child’s influence—both culinary and cultural—would be difficult as sprinting up Mt Everest! Her kitchen identity is French, complete with butter, cream, cheese, and eggs, and yet vegan chef and restauranteur Miyoko Schinner acknowledges her debt to Julia Child and Mastering The Art of French Cooking.
 
The Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner
The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner
 

Heads up, writers!

Julia Child’s reach would have been much more limited if not for her personality. She was witty, appealing, with distinctive voice and body language. Your assignment: go on-line to view clips of her slapping the poultry around and rattling off one-liners, and then capture her in written words! And when you create characters for your stories, try to make them as compelling and vivid as Julia Child.

February: My Least Favorite Month

How do I loathe February? Let me count the ways.
I’ve never been a fan of February. For one thing, the weather can be all over the place. And then there’s the question of whether to pronounce that middle R. As far as I am concerned, the best thing about February is that the days are getting longer.

 

But in all fairness, I must admit that many people and organizations feel otherwise. February, in fact, is a very popular month. You can celebrate any of the following for the entire 28 days.

 

statueAmerican Heart Month

 

An Affair to Remember Month (Is there any other kind of affair??)

 

Black History Month—more widely celebrated than any of the others

 

canned food on shelf, February is Canned Food MonthCanned Food Month

 

Creative Romance Month

 

Great American Pie Month

 

National Cherry Month

 

grapefruit, February is grapefruit month
National Children’s Dental Health Month

 

National Grapefruit Month

 

National Weddings Month—which is odd, given that February is one of the least popular wedding months. (The most popular is June, followed by August, September, and October.)

If—for some reason—you prefer weekly celebrations, the 3rd week in February is International Flirting Week. And FYI, the internet makes international flirtations available to virtually everyone.

February Writing Prompt

Your assignment is to write a story involving as many of the romantic aspects of February as you can work in: an affair, creative romance, Valentine’s Day, an international flirtation, and/or a wedding!

 

Alternatively, write an essay on the theme of why any of these things should be tagged to February!