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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word of the Week

In honor of the 80th birthday of The Oxford English Dictionary, I'm doing a word a week (or whenever I get around to it). For more info on the OED, check out my first WOW.

This week's word represents a state in which I often find myself:


The dictionary specifically links this expressiong to us good ole Americans (and, I assume, that includes the Americans north of the lower 48, too, among whom I have many relations). By that, they mean to distinguish it from, let's say, British or Australian English...
According to my sources, the expression derives literally from the wire used to hold hay bales together. My husband, who's of an age and background to remember this, vouches for the difficulty and care one had to take when using it. In fact, before the advent of nylon cord, he says you used to see hay wire draped over fence posts, left by farmers who opened bales for feed. If the same location was used year after year, lengths of wire would accumulate on the post. Being a city girl, I had to ask why the farmer didn't just take the wire with him and throw it away, and my husband had to explain patiently that the poor guy was in the middle of nowhere and there were no trash cans around. Duh...

As language goes, I guess this is a relatively new expression. It dates from 1905 and originally meant “poorly-equipped or makeshift." Turns out this wire was particularly popular in New England lumber camps where it was used for jerry-rigging anything and everything. The phrase “haywire outfit” came to mean a camp that was ill-equipped and always short of supplies.

The word developed its current meaning because the wire was springy and difficult to control us the sense of “go haywire” or, as I often do... go crazy.
So...any of you gone haywire lately?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's In A (Nick) Name?

So now that I’ve talked about titles, you’re going to think I’m obsessed with names. I never thought so, but sometimes the crazy person is the last to know.

In any case, I’m big on nicknames. I know there are those of you out there who hate, despise, and abhor a nickname, but Billy is so much warmer and more approachable than William, don’t you think?

This is as true when it comes to my characters as it is in my life. Nick in LIKE A KNIFE, was Nick, not Dominic or Nicholas. And to some in the book, he was even Nicky. The hero in TELL ME NO LIES was Henry to his mother, Hank to everyone else (including me). I also love it when characters give nicknames to each other. In DEAD RINGER, Angelina liked to call Finn, Sharkman.

My heroines have been called various sobriquets by their heroes:
Wonder Woman, Tough Girl, and Short Stack to name a few.

I already have a nickname picked out for one the characters in my next book, but I shall remain mum on what it is for now.

In my own life, nicknames reign high. My daughter is Boo, Lucy, Lucinda, Lucinda Binda, Beeka, and Sweetpea, depending on whose talking to her (3 guesses as to who calls her the latter…and it ain’t me). My own declensions go from Annie to Nanny, to Nahn, to Nahnny and Nonnie, and lately just Auhntie. I also get Short Person a lot (if you guess Sweatpea correctly you’ll also figure out who came up with this one) plus Whill and Qwhill--but that’s another story…

Do nicknames change who you are or how you behave? Is Katie more likely to spill the milk than Kate? There are times when you want to be formal—like accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and stuff like that. On the other hand, did Al Gore accept as Al or Albert?

And is it a true nickname if you give it to yourself? I suspect not. It’s gotta be bestowed on you, like the knights of yore: Kneel, Sir Knight! I now dub you Sir Nardo (alias of one of my brother’s friends) or Sir Karl (my brother’s evil twin, who comes out when he’s playing Euchre).

So…I gotta ask. Got nicknames?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend Update

Most Sundays I wake up and want to do nothing. Laze around. Pick through the NY Times. Play endless games of Letter Linker. This Sunday I woke up restless. I wanted to pop up and go somewhere. I bugged my husband into coming along.

So we drove through Warner Park, out Highway 100, and hit the Natchez Trace. Man that place is beautiful. A winding tree-lined road that looks as if the world never touches it. The trees were barely into fall colors, with only hints of yellow and red here and there, but the light was different. Not that harsh summer light that hurts your eyes, but crystal sharp and clear yet soft. Even though the landscape was mostly green it looked like fall.

And there were sights. We’d turn a curve and see two oblivious fawns grazing as if no one in the universe would hurt them. Around another curve, a group of wild turkeys wobbled and skittered away. Ever see a wild turkey? A first for me. I don’t think I'd seen any kind of turkey unless it was bagged and tagged by Butterball. Not the prettiest of birds, but then we all can't be swans...

Later a flock of huge, black vultures flapped into the air as we drove by. And as we were about to turn off the Trace we saw a hawk gliding in the sky above us. Not what I see everyday.

Sheesh, I sound like Outdoor Girl, or a shill for the Department of Tourism. So, okay, I was impressed. Wasn’t hard to be.

I imagine those of you who live in the country or on farms are a lot closer to the natural world than I am. I wonder if you get inured to it. Does it still seem magical if you see it every day?

I guess it’s hard for all of us to slow down and see what’s around us. I recommend a Sunday Drive. You never know what might be around the next curve.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Word of the Week (end)

I’m a writer, so words are important to me. It’s not unusual to see me staring off into space when I’m writing -- often searching for just the right word to express whatever I’m trying to say.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Oxford English Dictionary, that most definitive resource on the English language.

It was first published in sections called “fascicles” beginning in 1884. Here's a picture of James A. H. Murray, an early editor of the OED, in his "scriptorium" around 1880.

The “complete” OED was launched in 1928 after 70 years of research and compilation. The 1928 edition contained 415,000 words.

Today the number of volumes has doubled, and the 20 volumes weigh 137 pounds!

In honor of this seminal event, I thought it would be fun to feature a word a week here (or, OK, every other week, or once a month, or whenever the whim hits). This week’s word is (ta daaahh)....
According to the World of Words section at AskOxford.com, linguistic mythology traces the origins of ‘posh’ to the seafaring acronym Port Out, Starboard Home. These indicated the best cabins (shade side) on the trip between Britain and India—port side for the outward trip, starboard for the trip back. But no documentation using the initials P.O.S.H. has ever been found, so the dictionary suggests a more likely origin: nineteenth- century slang for a “dandy” which in turn derived from thieves’ slang for money.
“That posh got ‘imself a lot of posh," says Posh Spice.
So...how about you? Got a word you'd like to talk about?

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Rose Is A Rose Is A...

Well, here’s news, and don’t forget, you heard it first in blogland. My May release, once self-titled BLACK ANGEL, and then publisher titled DEAD CERTAIN, is now being re-titled ONE DEADLY SIN.

What’s in a name--er title--you ask?

Sales and marketing apparently. Since the book revolves around the deadly tokens the heroine leaves for her victims—tokens that take the form of tiny black angels—my title seemed completely appropriate. But, it seems, a reader might pick up a book titled Black Angel and think it was some kind of paranormal story. Never mind that the back cover copy would indicate it wasn’t. Or, maybe the thought was that Black Angel didn’t scream, murder, blood, and death enough. Hence Dead Certain. But as some very well-read fans pointed out, Mariah Stewart already had a book out with that title.

Flashback to 2004. My second book is released with, it turns out, the same title as one by Lisa Scottoline, and one irritated reader is angry that s/he bought my book instead of hers and how dare I “steal” her title. Little did this reader know that books are produced months in advance, titles chosen long before the book is released, and there was no conspiracy to commit theft, only an unfortunate coincidence.

Flashforward to present. I’m not too happy to anticipate more letters of a similar ilk. So, after a little wrangling, I get a stab at a third title. But as these things go, nothing I suggested was as “strong” as the one the publisher liked. Hence ONE DEADLY SIN. Are there “sins” in the book? None that are discussed in those terms. But, hey, we’re all familiar with the sixth commandment. Maybe that will wash around in everyone’s head while they’re reading (unless you’re Catholic, in which case I understand it’s the fifth…)

Now, if the title sounds familiar, it is. But when I pointed out how derivative it was nobody seemed to agree.

Lessons learned? Authors don’t always get to choose their titles (same for cover art, by the way). Titles can’t be copyrighted or “stolen.” And there are often many books that share a title. As long as they are in different genres TPTB say it’s honky-dory.

What do you think? Not knowing what the book is about, how does the title ONE DEADLY SIN strike you?

Oh—and if you want to read a similarly titled (but here unnamed) book written in the late 80s, and you get mine, please. . .don’t write.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekend Update

I have a new obsession.

I was in Bloomington over the weekend, and, in a twist of fate, they were having their Lotus Festival. As we wandered down Kirkwood after dinner we came across the most amazing site: a bus unloading characters that looked like they could have stepped out of Alice in Wonderland. Women in glittery short skirts and stripped tights. Men in tuxedo vests, top hats and T-shirts. Glittery lipstick and exotic blue eyeshadow. And best, not to mention strangest of all, stilts. At least a half dozen were on stilts.

This, it turned out was the March Fourth Marching Band.

A fantastic conglomeration of dancers and actors and musicians who perform to New Orleans Dixieland jazz with all the implied drums and brass. And then there are those amazing stilt walkers. They dance and sway do handstands and other impossible feats--all under a sliver of a moon and streetlights that made them gleam and glow and had the crowd dancing and clapping--and marching--along.

Truly wonderful and amazing. The minute I got home, I googled them. Born out of a Fat Tuesday celebration, they're out of Portland, so any of you in the Pacific Northwest--lucky you. Any viewings or stories, pass them on. Would love to bring these guys to Nashville.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

New Beginnings

I started a new book today. Why are beginnings so hard? Truth is, you should just plunge in. Anywhere. Just vomit up whatever you can and not worry about how it looks or how it sounds. You can always fix it in post.

But saying that and doing it is so hard. Taking that first step. Committing yourself. That’s when I wish I was a salesgirl at Macy’s. A job that requires no emotional commitment and no creative energy. And no deadlines. No editors to impress, no readers to disappoint.

That’s the crux of it, now that I think about it. The knowledge that whatever you do, you’ll be judged. Getting that knowledge out of your head, or at least sublimating it is vital to taking that first step. And the second.

Some people are better at it than others. I always admire those who have confidence in their own abilities. Rosie O’Donnell once told a story about Barbara Streisand that I’ll always remember. Streisand isn’t a typical beauty. Her voice, though powerful, has it’s issues. And let’s face it, she’s something of a character. So when she started out, she got a lot of rejections. So Rosie asked her how she managed to keep going when over and over people told her she wouldn’t make it. Streisand said she simply didn’t believe them.

Don’t you wish Ms. Barbra could bottle that confidence and sell it? I’d buy a caseload. Then before I start a new book, I'd drink it all up.

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