10 Things I’ve Done That You Probably Haven’t

One of my favorite bloggers, John Scalzi, posted a list of his 10 this morning and invited readers to follow suit. I enjoy cards, so here ya go:

  1. Moved to Germany twice and to Oklahoma twice.
  2. Crossed the Atlantic in an airplane 58 times.
  3. Sang a capella on the streets of Zurich, Switzerland, and on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic..
  4. Petted a tarantula in spite of severe arachnophobia.
  5. Fractured my tailbone twice.
  6. Completed more than 80 oil paintings.
  7. Learned English and German fluently and achieved proficiency in French and Koine Greek.
  8. Stood atop a scaffolding to paint a church building.
  9. Viewed Dead Sea Scrolls: Psalms 31 and 33 from Cave 4, A.D. 50.
  10. Accidentally went mountain-climbing in the Alps without any gear.

________________

How ’bout y’all? What snippets of your life make your unique top ten list?

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Resource: Ent Larva and Dances With Testicles

Or: Writerly shenanigans with words, cuz that’s how I roll.

In case you didn’t know, I grew up in Germany and speak German fluently. I also speak a fair amount of French and a smattering of Italian, and I’ve had four years of Ancient Greek. This is the reason why in many of most of my novels, I make up words such as “Saltmarch” and “banegold” and have characters who speak in dialects. (I’m trying to dial back the dialect stuff, since it turns off some of my readers. See? I love y’all enough to kill my darlings!)

*ahem* Where was I?

Oh. Languages. Yes. Well, today I read something German that included the word “heimsuchen.” I’ve always considered it a peculiar word. It’s used to describe uncomfortable or scary events, mostly related to natural disasters. It’s translated as beleaguer, infest, devastate, afflict, obsess, haunt.

So, a stalker “heimsucht” a victim. Or Moore, OK, was “heimgesucht” by tornadoes on May 11th. Or the spirits “heimsuchen” the graveyard. Et cetera.

But directly translated, “heimsuchen” means “homeseek.”

That just flips my bangerang switch penchants all over the place. Homeseek. It could be a verb: the action of a specially programmed missile. It could be a noun: a tiny creature you carry around with you on your quest, only for emergency use when you’re hopelessly lost in Thornbird Forest. It could even be an adverb, although I don’t recommend those and don’t know how you’d use “homeseekily,” anyway.

Ooh. A title. Pillars of the Twelve: Homeseek (totally arbitrary number). Go do something with that.

The more I thought about this strange word “heimsuchen” and its incorrect translation “homeseek,” the more excited I got about finding other German words or phrases to translate into fantasy/sci-fi inspiration. So I did some pondering and came up with the following. Use at will–it’s all free inspiration! Credit me if you like, or not. But don’t be surprised if I use some of these myself. ; )

German word: PECHVOGEL

Correct translation: jinx, unlucky person

Direct translation: tar bird

A mech bird that dumps tar or something equally unlovely upon citizens for public infractions? A bird made of tar, created by a wizard to plague people?

German word: SÄUFERSONNE

In this case, the correct and direct translations have to be one and the same, because I don’t know of an English phrase for this. The word translates to “drunkard’s sun” and refers to the moon: Either the person is too drunk to tell the difference and thinks the moon is the sun; or s/he spends the day sleeping off a hangover and never sees the actual sun, so the moon must suffice.

But it makes me think of the phrase “drinker’s sun,” which leads to “drink the sun,” which could be really creepy in some evil ritual by the bad guys in a fantasy story.

German phrase: HEILIGER STROHSACK

Correct translation: Holy mackerel!

Direct translation: Holy straw sack (Batman)!

German word: HEUSCHRECKE

Correct translation: grasshopper, locust

Direct translation: hay scare

German phrase: SCHWEIN HABEN

Correct translation: to be lucky

Direct translation: to have pig

I think this would be awesome in a fantasy novel with villager characters. : )

German word: EISBEIN

Correct translation: knuckle of pork (in cooking)

Old usage: ice skate (noun)

Direct translation: ice leg

German word: ENTLARVEN

Correct translation: to unmask

Direct translation: to de-larva

Maybe Tolkien’s ents start out as larva? I dunno. O_o

German word: ELFENBEIN

Correct translation: ivory (the dentine, not the color)

Direct translation: elf leg

What’s the connection between elves and elephants? Write it!

German word: HOTTEHÜ

Correct translation: horse (babytalk)

Direct translation: rightleft (noun)

German word: FRIEDHOF

Correct translation: graveyard

Direct translation: peace yard

German word: EIERTANZ

Correct usage: to beat around the bush

Direct translation: egg dance

BONUS: can also translate to “testicle dance” O_o

German word: JEMANDEN MUNDTOT MACHEN

Correct translation: to muzzle someone, to shut someone up

Direct translation: to make someone mouth-dead

So there you have it, folks! Some of my favorite, inspiring mistranslations. Feel free to share which of these inspires you — and then go write it! Or draw it, or paint it. Whatever you want!

Me, I’m having visions of mouth-dead elves made of ice, tending to peaceyards full of larva that hatch into tiny trees, all whilst dodging the tar birds sent to drink the sun.

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn't you?

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn’t you?

Insomnia + Twitter = Random

This post is really for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and, therefore, don’t get the pleasure of perusing the oddities that spew from my thumbs when I can’t sleep (which is happening more and more often of late). But those of you who do follow me might appreciate having the recent randomness collected in one place, so here it is. Enjoy. ; )

Two Whats of Twitter

1. RT = retweet

When someone tweets something I want to share with my followers, I “retweet” that person’s tweet. This means that my followers will then see the tweet with “RT” and the original Twitterer’s handle attached to it.

2. Hashtags

A “hashtag” marks keywords in a tweet and is preceded by a #. So if I tweet about writing and tag the tweet with #amwriting, my tweet will appear listed with other #amwriting tweets if someone clicks on #amwriting. Hashtags help categorize tweets and make it easier to find information on a certain subject.

Just for fun, some of us like to make up hashtags that no one is going to be searching for. A popular, “legit” hashtag is #firstworldproblems ( = frustrations with luxuries available only in First World countries). In one of my recent tweets, I made up the hashtag #literaturenerdproblems, which no one will be searching for, but it made me giggle as a play on #firstworldproblems.

So. There, dear inklings, is your brief “Twitter 101” for the day. Now you’re ready for the #tweetsomniac weirdness!

@courtcan’s Insomniac Tweets

Oh. Hi, insomnia. Fancy meeting you here. #donotfancyatall #goaway

Hi, I’m Courtney, and I’m a tweetsomniac. #Twitter #insomnia

That sad moment when you have a new interaction on Twitter and realize that you tweeted at yourself. #firstworldproblems

.@JoshuaUnruh “Holy cats” is “heilige Katzen” in German. In case you wanted to start using that.

When you’ve gestated 37.5 weeks, random contractions that just peter out into nothing (instead of turning into true labor) are #notfair.

Tweeting isn’t helping the insomnia. #amwriting wouldn’t help either, but I am sorely tempted to get out of bed and do some.
(For the record, I didn’t.)

Yesterday on Facebook, my dumb phone autocorrected “rood” to “roof.” #literaturenerdproblems

I think The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” is one of the most beautiful songs ever. #music

Aw, now that’s just sad. RT @val_q: Things He Says to Hurt Me #2: “Claire Danes and Jared Leto? What show was that?”

I used to want to be an archaeologist too! RT @YMinisterswife Today I shall embark on an adventure I call “toy box excavation”.

Someday, I really want to throw a surprise birthday party for the next #random person to enter the public restroom.

Also of a good story. RT @CHRISVOSS One very important ingredient of success is a good, wide-awake, persistent, tireless enemy. -F Shutts

RE previous RT: Your story is only as strong as your antagonist. Discuss. #amwriting

I have gephyrophobia. #abouttheauthor #random

#insomnia has taught me that my usual suspects on Twitter are not awake at 5:30am CST. #firstworldproblems

With reservations as delineated by @barryeisler in comments, I added my name to NoSockPuppets. http://nosockpuppets.wordpress.com #NSPHP #amwriting

Look, Ma — no sleeps. #insomnia *sigh again*

‏Are u one of my family members who posts awkwardly personal updates about ur romantic life on Facebook? Please don’t tell anyone.
–@ApiarySociety, retweeted by @courtcan

#insomnia #frustrations #feelingpitiful #readytohavealegitreasonforsleeplessness #legitreasonequalsbaby *sigh*

I cannot describe the depth of my disappointment the day I discovered that #fantasyfootball has naught to do w/ elves, trolls, and dragons.

I grew up as an American in Germany. We weren’t military. Pretty sure our phones were tapped during the ’80s. #TCK #adventures

If you didn’t know: #TCK = #ThirdCultureKid = originates in one culture, grows up in another, assimilates them into 1 unique culture.

#TCK advantages: extreme cultural adaptability, flexible personality, independence, broadened horizons, heightened empathy.

#TCK disadvantages: adjustment difficulties, commitment issues, rootlessness, frustration w country of origin, never fitting in anywhere.

For me, #TCK advantages far outweigh disadvantages. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

I should blog about this. #TCK

Being pregnant is like having eaten the biggest meal of your life & feeling crazy stretched & bloated, but w empty tummy. Also, epic boobs.

#insomnia = #lackoffilters #tweetinginappropriatethingsatsixam

I’ve been reading “Night of the Iguana” by T. Williams. So far: Nymphos = 1, nubiles = 2, lechers = 1, natives = 2, iguanas = 0.

So many blogs with headlines like “This Is Why Your _________ Is a Failure.” <-- Define failure?! Maybe the struggle is just part of growth. Also a spiffy scarf. RT @LukeRomyn: Don't buy roses or chocolate, get her a tank of gas. My phone is dying. Probably a sign I should try sleeping again. Later, y'all. #insomnia

5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

Hile, inklings,

If you pay any attention at all to publishing industry news — specifically e-pub and indie pub — you know that we indie writers have a nearly insatiable craving for online reviews.

There are many reasons for this, but the crux of it is that the more favorable reviews we get, the more books we sell. Our greedy little writer-hearts like to know that the world is reading and enjoying our stories (not to mention the fact that our pocketbooks appreciate sales, too), so seeing favorable reviews and selling more books flips our bangerang switches most verily.

(Translation: We like it a lot.)

A Word on One-Star and Two-Star Reviews

And that word is: “blech.”

(By which I don’t mean “Blech,” which is German for “tin.”)

No, we don’t like low-star reviews. But I would venture to say that most of us accept them (whilst heaving heavy sighs), accept the reality of them, and accept even the necessity of them. A well-written low-star review can actually tell us valuable information about what works for readers and what doesn’t.

(Philosophical sidenote: Though I don’t believe in pandering to the crowd, I do believe in knowing one’s audience. Understanding + respecting reader expectations = okay. Pandering = not writing what writer really wants to write = not okay. Please to be noticing the difference.)

(Also, sorry about the penchant for parentheses. It’s a thing today, apparently.)

Me, when I read a low-star review of one of my own works, I indulge in a 24 to 72-hour wallow of self-pity. (I do not write a response to the review.) Then, I re-examine said review to see if there’s anything of value in it. If there is, I file that information away for possible future reference. If there isn’t, I attempt a brain-dump so that the self-pity doesn’t come back.

Sometimes, I have to repeat the brain-dump several times before it takes.

But I digress.

Brief Interlude

NOTE: Yes, I am a writer. Yes, I have strong opinions about the reviews I receive. BUT. I do recognize that reviewers aren’t writing for me. Reviewers are writing for their fellow readers.

Allow me to re-state, because this is a thing of importantness:

A book reviewer writes a review for the benefit of other readers, not for the writer’s benefit.

Basically, the purpose of a book review is to tell other readers why they would or wouldn’t enjoy reading a particular book.

Keeping this in mind, I shall ignore my greedy little writer self for the remainder of this blogpost. You’re welcome. ; )

Onward to what you really came here for.

5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

1. Make it readable.

Use good grammar. If people can’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, then your review will “fall on deaf ears.” Don’t make review readers squint at their computer screens as they try to decipher whether you thought a character didn’t win ( = lose) or whether you thought he was a slut ( = loose).

For the same reason, and for the sake of all that’s good and writerly in this world, check your spelling. Use a spellchecker if need be. The pregnant main character is not a rotary phone: In the third chapter, she’s dilated, not “dialated.”

And if you’re going to write more than 7-10 lines, do please consider the beauty of the paragraph. Giant blocks of text hurt the eyeballs.

2. Be honest.

If you loved the book, say so.

If you feel neutral about the book, say so.

If you hated the book, say so.

If you didn’t finish the book, say so.

Recently, I challenged a reviewer who left a one-star review on a friend’s novel. I didn’t challenge the solitary star. I challenged the fact that the reviewer provided erroneous information in his review: He stated that Character X did not appear in the novel. He also admitted to not having finished the novel.

My challenge: Character X actually does appear in the novel — which the reviewer would have known, had he finished the book.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate reading all the way through a book you’re not enjoying. I don’t finish books I don’t like. Who has the time for such shenanigans?

But. If you don’t finish the book, be honest about it — and be cautious about making absolute statements concerning the parts that you didn’t read. If you provide erroneous information about a novel, you are not helping fellow readers make informed decisions about their reading choices.

3. Give your fellow readers something they can relate to.

“If you like beach reads, you’ll enjoy this one.”

“Fantasy readers are going to eat this up.”

“This book is for the reader who’s always wondered what would happen if Orson Scott Card collaborated with V.C. Andrews.”

“If you enjoy YA novels, this probably isn’t the book for you.”

“This book reads very differently from the author’s other works, so keep that in mind.”

Whatever genre you’re reviewing, write toward it — because most of the people who read your review are going to be familiar with that genre. Let them know how a book follows expected conventions. Let them now how the book breaks from convention. Let them know whether or not the break from convention works well.

Know the expectations your genre’s readers will bring to the novel you’re reviewing. Tell them whether or not the novel will meet those expectations.

If the writer does something crazy original that amazed you, tell them to expect that, too.

But for the sake of all that’s good and writerly, do heed the following point:

4. Warn fellow readers of spoilers.

Provide details.

But not too many.

You know when you’re reading a review, and you’re trying to figure out based on the review whether or not you want to buy this book that sounds kinda cool but you’re on the fence about it, and you’re reading along and BAM! the reviewer tells you exactly what happens at the story’s climax?

No? You don’t know? Well, maybe it’s just me. But trust me — it stinks.

The words “SPOILER ALERT” are your friends. For the love of Grabthar’s Hammer, use them.

5. Have fun with it.

Don’t worry too much about what I said in #1. Make your review readable, yes. But nobody’s going to grade you. Your fellow readers just want to know what you liked or didn’t like and whether or not they can relate to your opinion.

I was going to continue this point by saying that you should have fun with your review even if you didn’t have fun with the book. But you know what? That’s probably not very realistic of me, and that might be the writer in me coming out.

If you didn’t have fun with the book, you’re probably not going to have fun with the review (unless you’re feeling gleefully vindictive, I suppose). If you feel dismal about writing the review, then your tone will likely show it. And — although the writer in me mourns this part — that’s probably something your fellow readers need to hear about, too.

________

And there you have it, y’all. My thoughts on writing an effective review. So, who are my blog-reading book-reviewers out there? Did I miss anything? Is there anything here you disagree with? Let’s talk about it. I’ve got a lot of opinions, but I’m not in the habit of reviewing everything I read. So I’d love to hear from you! What do you think?

I Was a Weird Kid, and Here’s Proof

Or: My Parallel of Trout Fishing in America.

 

Or: Snail Hunting in Germany

Once upon a time, my parents and I moved to Darmstadt, Germany, two weeks before my 3rd birthday, and that’s where I grew up.

From ages 3-6, I attended Kindergarten. (In my early 1980s Germany, “kindergarden” was basically the American equivalent of daycare. We played, we did crafts, we had field trips, and at least one of us acquired a foreign language from her fellows and from her teacher, Frau Apfelrock [Mrs. Appleskirt {I swear I am not making this up.}].)

At age 6, I started Grundschule, German elementary school.

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

The Grandson: What?

Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

While in elementary school, I attended an afterschool “daycare” called Kinderhort. Kinderhort was within walking distance from school, and it was designed for kids whose parents worked fulltime. This way, we didn’t have to go home to empty apartments and get ourselves into trouble. ; ) At Kinderhort, they fed us lunch, we had extensive playtime indoors and out, and we had to sit down every afternoon and do our homework. After late afternoon snacktime, parents arrived to pick us up.

The Plot Thickens

One day, probably in 3rd grade, it was time for our first overnight Kinderhort trip. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t just overnight, it was several overnights. I remember feeling vaguely apprehensive over being away from my parents for most of a week, but I don’t remember saying anything about this out loud.

My parents, however, perceptive people that they are, must have known which jig was up, because they sent this note along in my suitcase:

Yes.

You read it correctly.

To bribe me into participating fully in a fun-filled field trip, my parents promised that we would go snail hunting once I got home.

Because that was what I liked to do.

Snail Hunter Extraordinaire

Even as a kid, I hated spiders. Bugs held no fascination for me. I did enjoy the roly-polies (amusingly known as Kellerasseln in German) we occasionally found beneath rocks and rotten branches, but it’s not like I wanted to take them home with me.

Snails were a different matter.

Forget the “sugar and spice and everything nice.” I had the spice, all right, but other than that, I was “snips, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails all the way.”

I HEARTED SNAILS ALMOST BEYOND COMPREHENSION.

I found them, and I brought them home. Pink shells, yellow shells, striped shells, big, little, medium. I made homes for them in terrariums (terraria?): potting soil in the bottom, sticks and stones to crawl over, shallow containers for water, and all the lettuce and cucumbers they wanted. Once a day, I misted them with water from a spray bottle. The top of each terrarium I covered with mesh held in place by rubber bands.

Do please click to embiggen cuteness.

I read books about snails. Like, the educational kind of books. I learned about how they eat, how they sleep, how they mate, how they repair damage to their shells. When some of my snails inevitably got frisky with each other, I watched the whole process and felt amazed. When the snails laid eggs, I researched carefully how best to care for them. When the eggs hatched, I suddenly had tiny escapees all over my bedroom and had to find a tighter mesh with which to cover the terrariums/a.

Me with my pets, ca. 1985. Click to embiggen.

When my friends came over, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just want to sit there and watch the snails.

Hmm.

Most of my snails hailed from the large courtyard between our apartment building and the surrounding buildings. They were fairly common garden snails, common enough that the parents frequently had to make me set some of them free. And, of course, there was the occasional death in the snail family, which generated space for the occasional new addition. (Yes, I mourned the death of each gastropod.)

The one snail that lived with us consistently for several years, though, was The Big One.

In German, she’s called a Weinbergschnecke: literally, a wine mountain snail. Extrapolating from the “Berg” (mountain) part of her nomenclature, I named her “Bergie.” Why did I decide that this snail was female? No clue. Except that she looked like a girl. And like a Bergie. (Snails are actually hermaphrodites.)

Bergie was a helix pomatia, also known as “escargot snail.” That’s right, she was one of the edible ones, and I kept her as a pet. I always felt right courageous for having rescued her from a terrible culinary fate. Besides, she had a damaged spot on the top of her shell when I found her. Though she’d already repaired it, I knew she needed a little extra TLC.

At some point — I don’t remember why — it came time for me to set all of my snails loose, and I knew I wouldn’t be acquiring more. When I placed them carefully into the damp underbrush in the big courtyard, they slimed happily away without a clue that they now found themselves in a bigger, more dangerous, and yet more variegated world. I said goodbye to them all: pink, yellow, striped, big, little, medium.

But the only one I truly regretted was Bergie. She poked her head out, unrolled her eye stalks, and looked around as though she knew exactly what was going on. I was sad, but I thought she might be excited about this new adventure. I watched her for a few minutes as she got acclimated. Once she was well on her slow, meticulous way into the grand expanse of Untamed Flowerbeds Plot Next To Stone Wall, I went home.

Some time later — it might’ve been a few months, it might’ve been a year — we moved away. A few days before we left for good, I went hunting in the courtyard one last time. Sure enough: There, under the well-drenched leaves of a stinging nettle, sat a Weinbergschnecke with a telltale scar on the top of its shell. Bergie! Weird kid that I was, I grinned like an idiot.

But I didn’t bother her. If she had forgotten me, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by making her remember.

Bergie

(Click for what’s pretty much life size!)

On Sarcasm: How Much Flesh Will You Eat?

Earlier today, I read and commented on Twitter Angst and the 2012 Olympics by blogger Ben Howard**.

Notably, my comment did not concern my aversion to the American usage of the word “Angst,” which in German has no aura of mental-emotional weirdness about it but, instead, simply means “fear.”

*ahem* But I digress. ; )

No, my comment was in reference to what Ben writes about the apparent increase of snarkiness, negativity, and cynicism on the Internet. What I said was this:

As time goes on, I watch the attitude of the masses with growing concern. When did pithiest and snarkiest and most cynical become the ideal to which we should all aspire? It seems like if you don’t infuse your every word with the utmost of sarcasm, then you’re not worth listening to.

What’s frightening about that is that the Greek root of “sarcasm” is the same as “sarcophagus” — which, directly translated, means “eater of flesh.” So basically, if we’re not tearing at each other’s vitals, then we have no right to a voice?

Is it just Ben and me? Or has anyone else noticed this?

eater of flesh


To get attention on the internet (and maybe we should be asking why you would want to), you’ve got to have the snappy, snippy comeback. You’ve got to infuse your every line with passive-aggressive insult aimed at one group or another. In order to make your side look good, you gotta make the other side look bad.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my best friend and I got teased all the time by a couple of boys who were two or three years older than we were. They laughed at us. They made fun of us. (Scarily, they picked us up and swung us around because we were too light-weight to fight back.) They mocked and insulted us at every opportunity.

I told my parents about it and tearfully asked why those boys were treating us this way.

My dad replied, “Honey, it’s because they’re bullies. They feel really bad about themselves. They feel like really small people, and it makes them feel better and bigger when they make others look smaller.”

What he really meant by “smaller” was inferior, but it would be a couple of years before I fully grasped that concept.

So. You get what I’m saying here, right? It seems that in the cyberverse, the best way to get attention is to be a bully: to make yourself look bigger and better by making someone else look smaller. You don’t get to feel superior, you don’t get to have others think you’re superior until you make someone else look inferior.

Is the internet really nothing more than an elementary school playground? Are we all really nothing but a bunch of petty, childish bullies?

I say “we” on purpose, because I know I’ve been guilty of this. When I mentioned “the masses” in my comment on Ben’s post, I mentally included myself. No, I haven’t outright bullied anyone. But I’ve done more than my fair share of sarcastic snarking. In his response to my comment, Ben calls the use of sarcasm “seductive” — and he’s right, it is.

When you’re a writer, you tend to be good with words. When you’re good with words, you tend to know pretty quickly, in any given situation, which words and phrases will cut the deepest. And if you’re in the mood — or if you’re mad about the situation/topic — or if you’re just a bully, you shoot the stealth zingers without hesitation because you know you’re going to hit your mark and feel triumphant…better than you felt before you aimed and fired.

“You.”

…I?

Sarcophagus: eater of flesh.

Sarcasm: ripping the heart and soul out of an adversary.

Or out of a friend?

Out of a beloved?

Are we creating this online culture of negativity, hate, and cruelty? Do we think because it’s not “IRL*” that it doesn’t really matter? We can toss our verbal grenades, let them explode and cause the requisite amount of damage, and then turn off our computers and pretend that we didn’t just maim someone?

No. People, NO. What happens online is real. What we say online is REAL. Words matter, and they do hurt. We don’t get to pretend that our sarcasm doesn’t affect the world IRL. We don’t get to pretend that we’re not gleefully tearing at the flesh of another soul. When we let ourselves speak those words — and yes, you do know the ones I mean — when we indulge in the pithiness, the snark, we make ourselves over into tombs for rotting meat and dead men’s bones.

And we carry that stench into every corner of our lives. Online and offline.

How many pounds of flesh are we going to eat tomorrow?

_____

*In Real Life

**Beneath his post, Ben says of himself:

“When he isn’t channeling Andy Rooney for a post about the Olympics, Ben spends his time in a field with Snoopy waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin,”

which I think is positively cramazing.

Weak Strengths or Strong Weaknesses?

Yeah, I wish this were my biceps. But it isn't.

Hey, inkling loves,

This week, I read this post by Becca J. Campbell. You really should click through and read, because Becca makes a great case for being honest with ourselves and with each other about our weaknesses…

…but especially telling ourselves the truth about our strengths.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be really hard on myself about my weaknesses, enough so that I’ll quietly beat myself up about them while presenting an everything’s-okay face to the people around me.

I work constantly at developing a level of transparency that will prevent me from hiding my self-doubt. It’s a lifelong growth process.

Along with that, I try to infuse into my heart a particular principle I read a few years back (sadly, I don’t remember where):

Focus on improving your weaknesses, and all you’ll end up with are strong weaknesses and weakened strengths.

Focus on building your strengths, and you’ll end up with strengths solid enough to carry you through the weaknesses.

 

My Solid Strengths

Becca’s post concerned our writing strengths specifically. So, in the interest of not beating myself up about my writing weaknesses, here are a few things I consider my writing strengths:

1. I have a good feel for language. This is one part innate talent, one part intensive training, and one part life experience. Although I don’t believe for a second that a person has to be born with a certain set of skills in order to be a writer, I did start writing when I was 8 years old. So I suspect there’s something inherited there. I am also the child of two teachers, one of whom taught English for 30 years. She sent me to school but also taught me at home, so I got it from all sides. And on top of that, I learned a foreign language (German) at age 3, which did all sorts of interesting and odd things to the way my brain processes and produces words. I bring all of that to bear on every sentence when I sit down to write.

2. I see scenes, characters, and actions as picture sequences in my head. If you read Becca’s post (which I think you should), you’ll see that I share this in common with her, and she calls it being a “visual writer.” When I’m crafting a story, I feel as though I’m watching a movie inside my head and simply writing down everything I see, hear, feel, and taste. Sometimes, a scene is blurry, and that’s when I know not to force too much detail into a scene. When it’s clear with crisp edges, I know it’s time to divulge more of what I’m seeing. I rarely have to rack my brains to figure out what something looks like.

3. I’ve experienced Not Writing. If you’ve read my posts tagged “confessions”, you know that there was a period of years during which I forgot that I was created to create. I forgot that I was allowed to be a writer. I sank into horrid darkness and turned bitter, sorrow-filled, and hostile. But now that I’m out of that, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the gifts of creativity, freedom, time, and support. I know where I’ve been; I know I never want to go back; and I know that the best way to give thanks for the gifts (and to declare the One who gave them to me) is to apply myself to writerdom with uncompromising passion.

4. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” Strength #3 pretty much takes care of this for me. I practice gratitude and passion by not allowing “writer’s block” to stop me. When I experience the I-don’t-wanna lassitude or the words-just-aren’t-there frustration, I know that my reaction cannot be simply to stop writing. When “writer’s block” hits, I know it’s a challenge to think and work harder. Is my attitude the problem? Is the story broken somewhere? Do I need to change writing locations? (For more on writing locations, read this post.)
“Writer’s block” never means that I can’t write. It only means I need to rethink, review, revise, or relocate.

5. I have a keen awareness of cause-and-effect (aka “what’s the because?).
Cause: My mom did not go with my dad when his quartet, The Four Naturals, made a recording in Nashville in 1966.
Effect: The Four Naturals didn’t get my mom’s “managerial” advice while in Nashville, so they never went pop, and my family ended up moving to Germany in 1980.
Cause: In 1940, Frances Hair eloped with Wilborn Weger instead of going to college.
Effect: I exist.
Cause: Aaron and I played Rockband together at a church party in May 2009.
Effect: I’m published.
Cause: In my WIP (Elevator People), side character Joplin giggles when main character Went says the word “pickpocket.”
Effect: Ten chapters later, they end up battling a psychopath and a vampire on a planet in another dimension.
And so forth.
Cause-and-effect are what you might call “essential” to life. And to a story’s development. ; )

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So! There are a few of my writing strengths. What are some of yours? Share in the comments! Or, even better, write your own blog post about your writing strengths and share the link with us!

Making this list required some clear thinking and deep analysis on my part: honest reflection and a stern refusal to let myself slip into self-deprecation mode. Yes, this was all focused on writing…but it was also an act of kindness toward myself as a person. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a writer, I encourage you to make a list of your own strengths in whatever area you like. Let yourself accentuate the positive; show your Self some love.

If you can demonstrate compassion toward You in this way, you’ll be able to do the same for people around you. And blessing others with compassion is a strength worth solidifying in each of us.

How You Spell Dis?!?

This is the moth I drew with my mouse. And he is pretty. Shut up.

Once upon a time, a young man of my acquaintance named Matt told me the following story:

In college, Matt roomed with a foreign exchange student. I don’t remember the other guy’s name or where he was from, so I’m just going to call him Riku and say he was from Japan. Riku was always trying to improve his English, and anytime he heard a word that was new to him, he would ask Matt, “How you spell dis?” And Matt would oblige, spelling the word and helping Riku use the new word in a sentence.

One day, Matt came back to the room he shared with Riku and found his roommate cowering in a corner, pointing at the light fixture and making sounds of a concerned and fearful nature.

Matt: What’s wrong?
Riku (still babbling incoherently, stabs finger in direction of light fixture)
Matt (looks closely): Oh! You mean the insect flying around?
Riku: Yes! Yes! What is dis?
Matt: It can’t hurt you. It’s just a moth.
Riku: Moth?!
Matt: Yes, just a moth.
Riku (still jabbing finger at moth in fearful manner): HOW YOU SPELL DIS?

Expanding the Universe

I’m not gonna go into a long diatribe about how proper spelling lets us communicate better. There are enough essays and blogposts and master’s theses out there that cover the subject ad infinitum ad nauseam.

However, I do love Riku’s story and recount it here because it shows so clearly how we use language to define and comprehend the world around us. Giving something a name allows us to categorize it. Understanding a thing’s name lets us have a little extra measure of control (however illusory) of our environment. It makes our universe just a little bit bigger. Knowing a thing’s name and communicating it to another lets us establish a closer connection with that other person.

And, sometimes, this naming and communicating lets us remove the element of fear, which enables all of us to become more fully the people we were created to be.

Indeed: How do you spell dis?

But none of that fantabulous stuff happens when we don’t spell things in a way that gets the right message across. When Riku asked “how you spell dis,” Matt would’ve done his roommate a great disservice by giving him the wrong information. Imagine the confusion that would’ve ensued had Riku gone on to tell his friends that he’d had a close encounter with a terrible, flying “math.”

Spelling’s important, y’all. And by that, I mean “you all,” not a small, two-masted boat (aka “yawl”).

So, keeping said importance in mind, I shall now share with you five misspellings I’ve noted recently. Some of them aren’t misspellings per se but grammatical errors. But this is all part and parcel of clear communication, kids. So Ima mush it all together here. Because I want to. And this is my blog, so I can. Nyah.

; )

How do you spell…?

 
1. DEFINITELY

INCORRECT: definately, definatly, defiantly, definitly.

Correct:
DEFINITELY

2. LOSE and LOOSE

INCORRECT: I am going to loose my mind if you keep spelling this wrong.

“Lose” means “not keep” or “not win.”

“Loose” means “not tight” or “release.”

Correct:
I am going to LOSE my mind.

Maybe even if you start spelling it right. Only time will tell.

3. DRINK, DRANK, DRUNK

INCORRECT: He had drank too much the night before.

Correct:
He had DRUNK too much the night before.

Which was why he was drunken, if you want to know.

I drink. I drank. I had drunk. And don’t read more into this example than you have to, dears.

4. SPRING, SPRANG, SPRUNG

INCORRECT: Mount Olympus buzzed with gossip for a week because Zeus’s daughter, Athena, had sprang fully grown from his head.

Correct:
Athena had SPRUNG from Zeus’s head.
Olympus only knows why.

I spring. I sprang. I had sprung. Or, rather, Athena had sprung. I was born through more conventional processes.

5. A LOT

INCORRECT: Alot of people are afraid of moths.

Correct:
A LOT of people are afraid of moths.

As in, a certain quantity of people.

I don’t think Lot in the Bible was afraid of moths. But if he was, I’m sure a bunch of them burned up in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I’m sure the moth-fearing Lot was happy about that.

_________________
I had a close encounter with a terrible, flying math in high school. They spelled dis C-A-L-C-U-L-U-S. Riku’s fortitude was not mine. I lasted three weeks, then ran shrieking and never looked back.

Of Figs and the 9th Circle of Hell

Sometimes, I am a nerd.

Okay, yes, most of the time. And nerdery happens on this blog pretty much all of the time. This post about Google Analytics is a good example.

I had an awfully cramazing good time with that post, and a few days ago I was tooling around in Google Analytics again, and I thought to myself, “Self, you really should write another blog post about keywords, because that was just rockin’ awesome fun,” and myself replied, “Heck YEAH.”

So. Here are a few recent keyword phrases that have led people to my blog. Some of them make sense. Some of them, in the timeless tradition of haiku about refigerators* ***, do not. But I am going to answer them anyway. Because that’s just the kind of sweet, kind, helpful person I am. Booyah.

Six Keyword Searches…

…in order of my amusement:

1. three creative sins

Not sure what we’re talkin’ about here, y’all. If it’s three sins in creativity, how’s about this?

  1. Letting other people tell you how to be creative.
  2. Telling yourself “I’m not good enough to (insert creative activity here).”
  3. Neglecting to hone your craft.

If it’s creatively-executed sins you’re looking for, this might not be the blog you’re looking for.

(Email me.) ; )

2. what is the german word for “here”

The German word for “here” is “hier.”

BANGERANG. Next question.

3. what to write on my first blog post?

Most importantly: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? Why are you blogging? Why do you care? This is pretty much The Question you should answer for yourself before you even write that first blog post. If you do that, you’ll forge a connection with your readers before you even have any. Readers, that is. I know this is very meta, but trust me, I’m an expert**.

4. why are short stories short?

Um.

Because they’re not long?
Because they’re not novels?
Because short story cat is short story?

It’s because of reasons.

Oy.

5. why grocery shopping is the 9th circle of hell

Shopping carts in parking spaces. Packed aisles. Twenty-five cash registers and only 3 checkers. Sugar cookies jumping out at you from every endcap. The woman in bunny slippers, curlers, and a see-through blouse. The guy at the meat counter who turns to you with wide, shining eyes and says, “Have you tried this ground chuck? You should try this ground chuck!

I really don’t think I need to elaborate on this.

6. writing a story about court

You’re writing a story about ME? You are fantabulous! I love you! You are my new favorite person for the next ten minutes! Do I get a superpower? Oooooh, can I be telekinetic? And have vorpal unicorn morphing powers? I wouldn’t mind a teleporting ability, too, since I’ve kind of been wanting to go to Australia lately. Thanks!

_______________________

* I misspelled “refrigerator” as I was writing this post. I happened to be writing this post while at Consortium Time. I turned to Aaron and Becca and said, “I need someone to write a sci-fi story about a device that regenerates figs. It would be called a ‘refigerator.'”

They were not amused.
Although Becca said I had her until “figs.”

** Also, I seem to be a pathological liar.

*** Jessie mentioned haiku this week, which is why Japanese poetry is so randomly present in this blog post. Gadzooks, Brain.

Okay inklings, here’s your German word for today…

…and that word is lecker!

le•cker

  • delicious
  • yummy
  • delectable
  • scrumptious
  • or even scrum-dilly-umptious, if you will

A fantastic German sentence in which to use your new vocabulary word would be:

Mein Eiskaffee ist lecker!

Which brings me to our bonus German word for the day…

EISKAFFEE!!!