Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What I've Been Up To

It has been a busy couple of months... but in the down time (on conference calls or as a break in between tasks) I've been organizing my massive collection of random word tickets to integrate into my upcoming JumpStart Jar projects.

Taking it from this:
Then sorting them into 4 basic piles:
  • Nouns
  • Verbs

  • Descriptors: Adjectives/Adverbs/Prepositional Phrases

  • "Provocative" Phrases
I do have some other piles that I'm sorting them into. The tickets for the "Flagrantly Foul" project which has all of the colorful swear words, graphic sexual content, drug references, etc. Basically all of those things that are too impolite to say around your boss or the kids. I don't know if the "Flagrantly Foul" jar will ever see the light of day or not, but I can't bear to throw any of them out right now. Another pile was for all of the name-brands, products and pop-culture references, which I've been told by a reputable attorney, would not be good to include as content for the jars. But again, being the pack-rat that I am, I cannot bear pitching them. I also had another pile, which I called the "Remainder" pile was where I collected all of the conjunctions (and, but, or); determiners (A, an, the); the singular prepositions (of, for, on, in): the exclaimations (hurrah!).

When you look at words in this way... the raw components of language, you see it a bit differently. As a writer working with language every day, it tends to blur into the background if you are not careful. The wonderful thing about word tickets, and undertaking a massive project like this, categorizing, sorting and thinking about each and every one of them... it forces you to really think about the language and how it works.

A lot of words easily fit into two of t
he three major categories: Nouns, Verbs and Descriptors (Adjectives/Adverbs). Our habit of gerund-ing nouns provides a lot of words that are both nouns and verbs. Some examples: hike (hiking); blog (blogging).

Then there are those that can cross into all three territories. Words like light, test and fine.

ght - The light emanating from the leg lamp was glorious (Noun).
He lights the candles in the hayloft, which will, of course, burn down the barn (Verb).
I went to Hoggy’s for a light snack (Adjective).

Test – I think I flunked the driving test when I swerved to hit a copperhead, sunning itself in
the road (N).
“Don’t test my patience,” I said to the cop that pulled me over.(V)
I’m a NASCAR test driver (Adj).

Fine - The judge fined me a small fortune, suspended my license, and held me in contempt (V).

The fine was hefty, but worth the look on his face (N).
I was a fine looking boy, so my cell mate told me (Adj).

Go out there and have some fun with words. Collect your own bits of sound and language and see what you come up with.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Muse Reviews: Pep Talks, Warnings and Screeds

Pep Talks, Warnings, And Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom And Cautionary Advice For Writers Pep Talks, Warnings, And Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom And Cautionary Advice For Writers by George Singleton

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Maybe I just need to get out of the review of writing books game. This one is nothing new really. A prolific writer of fiction who has taught at all levels of education tells us the wise things that he’s learned by both through his work and teaching of how to work to others.

It is loosely organized into three sections entitled Pep Talks, Warnings and Screeds. But the advice really doesn’t strictly fall into the category in which it is organized.

Each tidbit of advice is just a paragraph or two long (which is what attracted me to the book in the first place). I no longer can tell if I didn’t like it because a lot of the advice I saw was commonplace: Write down your ideas or you’ll forget them; take it easy on the exclamation points; don’t rely only on spell check; etc; or because that some of the ideas were unclear and confusing, or simply didn’t make sense. Singleton loves putting stuff on your writing desk that he calls: essential tools. Some of the things that he suggests that you put on your desk to remind you about various aspects of writing: a wrench, a micrometer, a pet rock, a whetstone, a compass, a can of WD-40, paddleball, swizzle stick, sponge, hand sanitizer, a 3 pack of flints, a grappling hook, a spinning top, a cow, a glass eye… you get the picture. Doesn’t leave much room on the desktop for paper, pens, or a laptop does it? Each item is supposed to constantly remind you of a writing lesson: sponges, to remind you to soak up everything around you for your stories… images, conversations, mannerisms, etc. A cow reminds you to rewrite and rewrite again, much like a cow chews and re-chews its cud.

I like the author’s tone within the book. It just doesn’t seem to be consistent or (a lot of times) provides helpful advice in clear language. It seems as if he hides behind his cleverness from time to time and forgetting the point he was trying to make.

It is an OK book that I wouldn’t recommend for beginning writers or advanced ones who have a good understanding of the writing and publishing process. So if you are somewhere in between, you might find some useful info within this book. If just one of these paragraphs gives you a unique perspective on a problem that has challenged you, then it has done its job well.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Harper's Index Now Online!

I do not read Harper's Magazine often, but when I do, I LOVE the Harper's Index, a luscious potpourri of statistical trivia goodness. What a great FREE resource of offbeat facts and stats.

Here is a small example of the bounty within:

6/07 Minimum number of different books sold in the U.S. last year, as tracked by Nielsen BookScan: 1,446,000

Number of these that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000

Number that sold more than 100,000: 483

9/07 Number of goats that Chattanooga, Tennessee, has rented to roam city land and clear kudzu: 12

Number of llamas it has had to rent to guard the goats from neighborhood dogs: 2

City of Chattanooga Public Works Department

So if
you are looking for an oddball statistic to use for a story-starter, or idea, the free Harper's Index is the place to go.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's My Excuse?

I think it all started when I lost the all of the data on my USB jumpdrive when Elvira, my imposing feline office-guardian, leapt off of the monitor, landed on the edge of my laptop, causing it to do a complete flip and landing on the jumpdrive inserted in the USB port when it hit the floor. The good news: the jump drive must have absorbed all of the impact when it landed and the laptop was fine. The bad news: It fried the drive... and I hadn't backed up the drive in MONTHS. I should know better. And considering that I had data on it was more valuable to me than a horde of gold buried in a rabid survivalist's back yard, I sunk into a morass of self-pity and self-loathing. The contents included: a completed book proposal, all of the data for the Fantasy and Sci-Fi JumpStart Jar tickets (which I had been wrapping up at the time of the "Leaping Cat Incident," the spreadsheet that had been tracking all of the books that I had bought or read since 2004, (which hadn't been updated in about 6 months), along with dozens of other projects in various states in completion.

I should know better. I've worked both in IT and technical writing for over a decade now, and have seen similar catastrophic data loss many times. Did I learn anything?

I spent days scouring the internet for tricks to revive the drive. I even tried to solder it back together (which appeared to be successful), but all it did was make the broken drive hot enough to burn my hand. But losing data is like losing someone close to you... and you must go through the grieving process mentioned in
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' book, On Death and Dying
  • Denial - You can fix this jump drive enough to get the data off of it. All I need is it to let me copy a few files... You're not so stupid as not to have backed this up this week... right?!?
  • Anger - Damn cat! How dare you jump on MY computer! POS jumpdrive! How could you break after such a perfect flip and then crashing down to the floor so far from the desktop above!? Haven't they tested these types of scenarios in Quality Control?!?
  • Bargaining - Please, please, PLEASE let me have backed this up to an obscure folder somewhere on the external HD... I PROMISE to set up extensive alarms and reminders in my Outlook and Palm Pilot to nag me incessantly to back-up if you'll JUST LET ME RETRIEVE MY FILES THIS ONE TIME! Please?
  • Depression - I can't believe I was sooooo stupid. Those files were a ticket to the best-seller list for me... I'll never be able to create anything as brilliant as this again...
  • Acceptance - Now?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Starting All Over Again...

I’m digging out of my long funk at last. It has been about 2 years now since I’ve really been actively engaged in any writing projects and that is a lot of lost time. With a new little one that we adopted from China last summer, and my wife going back to grad school, I’ve had to cut back my teaching schedule as well.

So this is going to be like starting all over again and re-discovering my writing identity. As well as finding out what Grist’s new identity is as well. This will be a process which we will go through together I think as I use the blog to drive content for the newsletter once again. Drop me a line. Let me know what you are up to.

What I do know is that Grist for the Muse will be part good info that I find out on the net… both writing-related and non-writing related… it may have some ranting and raving, maybe a little unsolicited opinions about the world and life in general. I’ll try to make it visually appealing with an occasional picture or two. But mostly it will be about me, the writing life, and trying to figure it all out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had very high expectations for this book. Several people I know read it and loved it, and I love anything that has to do with time travel so this seemed to have all of the elements of a favorite book right there. But it fell flat.

Maybe this is a guy vs girl thing. Chicks think this story is romantic, finding the perfect, eccentric, man who just happens to be a fantastic lover... but he disappears from time-to-time, oh and he can win the Lotto... at will. I don't know, maybe I need to get the female perspective on this book. Maybe I'm missing something.

Things I Liked
  • I liked how the story was told in short, out of sequence segments, it built the characters based on the relationship between the two of them in different times.
  • As a writer, I can appreciate how difficult it had to be to tear this story apart, stitch it back together, and make sure that it fit and had no loose ends.
  • Claire and Henry are likable viewpoint characters.
  • The book is engaging. You want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next, expecting something big... but the problem is, nothing big ever does happen.

Things That Bothered Me

  • There's something kinda creepy about you traveling back in time to visit your future wife at age 6.
  • The author really glossed over some of the more interesting aspects of time travel, like how he can't change something that has already happened. She presents it as he's just powerless to act (sort of like losing your voice or being unable to move in a dream). It is a cop out. I also find it strange how he can time travel to be with himself... isn't there paradox issues to deal with here... I mean I really was trying to suspend disbelief here, but it was a bit hard to believe. In any good sci-fi or fantasy you need to clearly delineate the rules that govern the fantastic power and she didn't do that here.
  • Not a lot of conflict throughout the story. Other than the inconvenience of the time traveling, but the characters mostly all got along with few issues between them.
  • Why is Henry a librarian? He doesn't have to work a day in his life, yet he works there.
  • Why does Claire's family accept Henry so easily considering the age difference, the class difference, and the just plain weirdness that surrounds him?
  • Why does Henry change his hard-driving, womanizing lifestyle so easily after meeting Claire? It seems as if he would not change overnight, and that could have created some much needed conflict for the novel.
  • It ended too abruptly. The loose ends between Claire and Gomez, Henry's last letter to Claire... did she heed his advice? I can't tell.

View'>">View all my reviews.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Muse Reviews: The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit by Seth Godin

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Seth Godin is a marketing demi-god. And he knows a thing or two about everything else as well. He is one of those rare individuals who deserves the title of visionary. His blog at is a must read if you are in the workplace as an owner, manager or cubicle grunt.

And he knows what’s best for this ADD brain of mine. Keep it short (a mere 96 small pages with big print) and keep it focused. The core idea the entire book centers around one dilemma that each of us has faced in our lives at one time or another: Do you quit? Or do you gut it out, hoping that things get better? And how do you know when to make this decision. This book focuses on one key principle: the dip AKA that “long slog between starting and mastery.” You know what this is… the difference between the guy who is the resident golf pro at a country club and a member of the PGA tour, or the writer who has finished a manuscript and has gotten it rejected, but with a personal note to try again, and the agented, published writer.

The dip creates scarcity. That is that it weeds out the people who aren’t that serious about what they want, and creates the demand for the skills and products for those that make it through the dip to the other side. Godin insists that you need to be able to determine what is a dip and what is a dead-end, and to make sure that you don’t waste energy on the dead-ends. Sticking with something because “winners never quit” is a stupid strategy, because it is inherently untrue. We all are quitters in some way.

Godin has some interesting ideas (as always) but I’m not sure I’m in 100% agreement with him here. I understand the need to strive for excellence. But, if I can’t be number 1 or 2 in a market, it is time to get out?!? Not sure about that one. If I play Football Tycoon on Facebook, should my goal be for the Poo-Flinging Sock Monkeys to get trophies for being #1 or #2 in several categories? What if you take a job (or are in a dead-end job) that simply meets the needs of your family for now, even if it is not going to inspire you or catapult you to the top of the organization? I think there is some value in “settling” in the short term and acknowledging that there are different definitions of success.

It is a good book that makes you think about how you spend your energy and how to decide when to cut your losses and run.

View all my reviews.