Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Here's a couple of good links

Infuze has a good interview with Dale Cramer. I have to read his books! You gotta love a guy who says this: "I honestly suspect that the best dialog writers are people who have always walked around talking to themselves. We're not nuts, we're practicing." Amen.

This is more of interest to KU fans, but Max Falkenstein is retiring at the end of the 2005-06 sports seasons. He's been a fixture of KU broadcasting for 60 years -- he's 80 now, but you'd never guess it to listen to him. KU games just won't sound right on the radio without Max's color commentary.

Some BoingBoing readers are trying to find ways to help. I think the guy at the bottom of this post has a great idea.

Tomorrow a lot of bloggers are going to participate in Hurricane Katrina: Blog for Relief Day. I'll be one of them (and it's not too late to sign up your blog). It's not much, but it's one way of getting the word out about a lot of organizations that are finding ways to help.

What can I say?

I've been reading the news, looking at pictures a lot the last couple of days. Nothing I have to say has much significance right now. Pray for the victims and emergency workers in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Now that I'm done whining ...

Obviously, there are places that having a worse day. Pray for the folks along the Gulf who are faced with Hurricane Katrina. It looks like this storm could make a mess for several days to come, too.

Just call me Charlie (as in Brown)

Today everything I touch breaks. I got to work this morning and the Internet was down (OK that wasn't my fault, but it was still frustrating). I filled the coffeepot with water, put the grounds in the basket, went to flip the switch to 'on' and the switch wouldn't move. Seriously. It's stuck in the 'off' position. It's very weird.

Now, this afternoon, I fear I've somehow broken the M&M dispenser. See, there's a candy dispenser in our unit that we keep filled with M&Ms. Put in a penny, turn the lever, and lovely chocolate goodies come out. A few minutes ago I decided I needed an M&M fix, took my pennies out to the machine, turned the crank and got a few, put the second penny in, turned the crank and it stuck. Yes, that's right, the little turny thing won't turn anymore. I broke it.

I'm now in my office with the door closed over listening to Alice in Chains. Maybe I won't break anything else before I go home.

Finding my voice

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about voice. Not as in singing (I like to sing, but my singing voice is only adequate at best), but my writing voice. One of the criticisms of my novel (from an editor who turned it down) was that it didn’t have a sharp enough voice. I think I’m beginning to understand what he meant, I’m just not sure how to achieve it.

I’ve become more aware of distinctive voices — the narrative voices of Peace Like a River and To Kill a Mockingbird, for example. Those books are written from first-person points of view, but that doesn’t always guarantee a distinctive voice. I can think of bloggers with distinctive voices, too: I think I would recognize Jeanne Damoff’s or Brenda Coulter’s writing even if their names weren’t attached. Chris is another one — I’ve read some of his writing and it conveys his own unique (and humorous) way of looking at the world. I could name several others, but I think I’ve illustrated my point. Distinctive voices pull me into a story, let me feel as if I know the writer a little bit. Without a strong voice, a story might engage me to some extent, but I never lose the sense that I’m reading a story. It doesn’t grab me by the throat and dare me to just try and put it down.

My mom recognizes my voice in my writing, but she knows me well. I suspect that people who don’t know me well, don’t find my writing voice that distinctive. So I wonder what’s lacking? Am I just not good enough? Is a distinctive voice one of those things you either have or don’t have? Or is it something that can be developed?

I suspect, though its not something I’m positive about, that finding my voice has something to do with writing from the heart. Mark’s post Friday has stayed with me, largely because I know that I hold back. Technically, I’m capable of being a pretty good writer, but if that’s all I can do, that’s probably not good enough.

There’s a scene in Gaudy Night where Dorothy Sayers, through her characters Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, ponders what it takes to write from the heart. Harriet tells Peter that she’s having trouble with her new novel — the characters just don’t seem to be cooperating. Peter offers some suggestions for clearing up some of the problems, but Harriet sees how that would introduce a new, deeper dimension into what started out as a standard sort of mystery. Harriet says:
“Yes—he’d be interesting. But if I give Wilfrid all those violent and lifelike feelings, he’ll throw the whole book out of balance.”
“You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.”
“I’m afraid to try that, Peter. It might go too near the bone.”
“It might be the wisest thing you could do.”
“Write it out and get rid of it?”
“I’ll think about that. It would hurt like hell.”
“What would that matter, if it made a good book?”

The truth is that growth, development, is often painful and I’m a wimp. Do I lack the passion, the drive to say “what would that matter” if it made me a better writer? Do I hold back too much of myself? (“Yeah right” you’re thinking -- she’s spilling her guts in a blog. But most people who read this don’t know me personally. I’m writing this as much for myself -- I’m spilling my guts to a computer.)

I’m generally pretty laid back, introverted, buttoned-down. I hold my temper, I restrain my urge to dance in public, I try to conform my behavior to certain socially-acceptable norms. I’m the classic people-pleasing oldest child. My teenage rebellion was much more internal than external. I’m still that way -- a lot.

But more and more I wonder what would it look like if I found a way to write from the depths of my soul?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Friday at random

Here's a few links to enlighten and entertain you this weekend. They'll also make you think.

First, Mick ponders Real Life or Nothing Like It, in response to Luci Shaw's book The Crime of Living Cautiously. This is one of his best (which is saying something) and gives me a lot to think about.

On a somewhat related theme, Mary learns more about true freedom in Christ.

Another guy that makes me think a lot about my Christian walk is Dan, who writes about A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Mark's post today at the Master's Artist is about writing from the heart. I think he did here.

Jeanne goes dining and dancing with her sweetheart. She makes me smile.

In a somewhat lighter vein:

Today's Foxtrot reminds me of a conversation or two I've had with my teenagers, before school started last week.

Tim Challies translates Canadian for his non-Canadian readers. (Tim usually writes about more serious topics, and he's worth reading then, too.)

Finally, from the Holy Cow! department: Robin Parrish, editor of Infuze, points us to the Amazing Lego Church. My boys have done some pretty impressive Lego building in their day, but nothing like this.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Adventures in Moving

Sometime around Aug. 24 and 25 is the anniversary of our move to Kansas. Pardon me if I’m a little fuzzy on the dates -- I had other things on my mind at the time besides checking the calendar. The summer of 1986 was rather eventful in our family. Our son Sam was born on June 25, my paternal grandmother died about 4 days later and my father-in-law was in a serious car accident about 3 weeks after that. We lived in Illinois and, with four small children and one car, we just didn’t see how we could make the trip to Kansas. Then a couple more things happened: Bob’s dad took a turn for the worse and, the same day, Bob’s employer told him that he wouldn’t be needing Bob’s services much longer. It seemed that God wanted us to move to Kansas. Where I said I’d never live. (I’ve since learned not to say things like that.)

Let me hasten to add, I’m not blaming God for the turn of events that led to our move, only that he used them to nudge us in the direction he evidently wanted us to go. Bob’s parents had opened an antique shop and had a furniture refinishing business in a small town in north central Kansas, but with my father-in-law in the hospital, it was hard to keep things going. It was clear they needed family near them and Bob and I were it. (Bob has an older brother but he was stationed in Germany at the time.)

So by the end of August we packed most of our worldly possessions into my in-laws’ old Dodge cargo van and our 1973 Pontiac Bonneville so we could move to Kansas. I had baby Sam and two other kids in the car with me and Bob drove the van with one kid. We spent the night at my parents and then set off on what should have been a one-day trip. (I can make the drive from northeast Kansas to central Illinois in about 9 hours now.) We did not really comprehend how slow a trip can be, though, with four small children (ranging in age from 2 months to 7 years old) and a loaded van that wouldn’t average much more than 50 mph.

It soon became clear that Sam was not happy with the situation. I suppose he sensed the upheaval and reacted to it, or maybe he didn’t like riding in his car seat so much, or maybe it was the water Julia and Megan squirted on him. They were supposed to be giving him a bottle of water to drink while I drove, but he wasn’t having anything to do with bottles -- he wanted Mom and he wanted her about every hour and a half. So we stopped often and the day dragged on and on. It’s the longest trip we’ve ever taken across northern Missouri (I-70 would have taken us out of our way south, and we didn’t like the Interstate anyway, so it was two-lane roads all the way).

By about 9 or so that night we were exhausted, so we found a truck stop on the Missouri side of the Missouri River and “camped” for the night. Bob managed to rearrange stuff in the van a little so he and Megan and John could sleep on a mattress on top of the stuff in the van. I had Sam and Julia in the car with me. What I remember most about that night is truck fumes and mosquitoes. We got up early the next day and ate breakfast in the truck stop, then set off on the rest of our journey. That day seemed a little anti-climactic -- we made it to the town where Bob’s folks lived by noon I think. If I remember correctly, it was a cool, rainy day.

It wasn’t a particularly easy move for us -- Bob had been told he’d have a part-time job in addition to helping his parents, but that job fell through. We had no money, no jobs, no appliances and four little kids. It seems almost a cliché to say that God provided, but it’s true. And he’s continued to provide all through the last 19 years. Bob’s parents have since passed away, but Kansas is our home now. It's been a good place to live and work and raise our family. And it's been a good place to learn about relying on God.

Sometimes it's hard to see what God is doing when you're in the midst of it. I certainly wondered when God was going to clue me in on his plan when we set off on our adventure in moving. But the last 19 years have been a lesson in trust that I've slowly learned. With God, the journey is important. So when you find yourself on an adventure of God's choosing, maybe you'll remember my little adventure in moving and it will remind you that God is faithful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Random day

For lack of anything interesting to blog today, here's a few links.

Amazon is publishing short stories for individual download and BoingBoing posted some info about it. It sounds interesting.

As the parent of adult children, I found the Internet Monk's post the other day very interesting and right on the mark.

Sometimes The Thinklings have deep thoughts. Sometimes they're just funny, as in today when Jared's post reminded me why I'm glad my children are mostly grown.

We've lived in Kansas 19 years as of this week. Tomorrow I think I'll tell a story about Adventures in Moving.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Way to go!

If you haven't read the comments from yesterday's post of random links, Chris has some good news. Way to go, Chris!

I haven't kept count, but it seems to me that the Publications thread over at the Faith in Fiction message board has been very active lately, what with people getting book contracts and stories and articles published. It's exciting to see what happens when a group of writers finds an encouraging place to hone their craft (and art).

When people talk about the next big thing in literature, they might mean this! (I just had to add this link after I read the story!)

Monday, August 22, 2005

To amuse yourself

Even sick, Terry Teachout is priceless. You might also enjoy the great quote about writers from James Thurber, too.

Katy's posted the picture she wrote about a few days ago -- it's great and she accompanies it with a good quote, too. I never travel far without reading material, either. One never knows when one will need to wait and reading is the most enjoyable way to pass the time, as far as I'm concerned.

Not much else today, except when I looked at my stats, I see that I've had a visitor from Norway! Cool. I haven't figured out why one day last week (Wednesday) I had a huge burst of hits, but they've trickled off back to normal now. I suspect it was just one of those days when my blog popped up when people hit the "next blog" button on Blogger.

Speaking of cool, it's 59 degrees in Soldotna, Alaska. And if you don't know why I care about the temperature in Alaska, this might explain it.

Chris has returned to his slack-jawed state.

For those of you who think Kansas is flat ...

I took this a couple of weeks ago at the overlook on K-177 south of Manhattan, looking out over the Konza Prairie. This is an expanse of the Flint Hills where researchers can study the prairie ecosystems. This picture doesn't begin to show the beauty of it. It was a hazy day -- sometimes those hills in the distance are much clearer.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The road taken

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from one of the organizers of my 30-year high school class reunion. The actual reunion was a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't make the trip back to southern Indiana because it was the last weekend Megan was home before going far, far away. So, the letter I got in the mail was the updates on their lives that my classmates had shared. (On the reservation form was a place to tell what we were doing now. I filled out mine and sent it in before the reunion.)

A few things struck me about this list — more of my classmates than I expected had been married a long time to the same person. I was glad to see that. But another thing I noticed was how many of them had never left southern Indiana. They were still living in or near Posey County and had married local boys and girls. There were a few, of course, who had left and come back. And there were even fewer that had moved away to other parts of the country (or even the world) for good. There were also some names notable by their absence. Maybe they chose not to provide an update, or maybe they were among those the organizers hadn't been able to locate. But some of the ones missing from the list were among the top students in the class and I wonder where they've ended up.

You can't tell a lot about people based on a brief paragraph that tells where they live and what they do and who they married and how many kids they have. But I remember an English teacher who came down pretty hard on us for not being able to see past our little corner of Indiana. I suspect not a lot has changed.

My parents moved away from there a couple of years after I graduated from high school and I haven't been back since then. I've traveled pretty far from there, done a few interesting things. I think I have a broader perspective on the world. High school was OK, but it certainly wasn't the high point of my life.

I'm thankful for the path God has led me along, though it hasn't been the most comfortable. If you've been wondering about where God might be leading you, I'd suggest you take a look at Your Writer's Group. Mick seems to be poised to take a new direction in life. He shares some good thoughts about being willing to take the risks God offers.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Happy Anniversary!

Today is my daughter Julia and son-in-law Mike's fourth anniversary. Congratulations and have a happy day!

Blame it on the fonts

As anyone who works with page design knows, fonts are evil. Chris Well has a new story at Infuze that proves it (cue evil laugh here). I like the way he delivers a lot of story in a little bit of space. (Note to self: find out if Chris ever does writing workshops.)

By the way, Harvest House has posted a blurb and cover about Chris's next book Deliver Us from Evelyn, scheduled to come out in the spring. Sounds good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Practice makes perfect

I love Calvin and Hobbes. Especially today. I believe parents of teenagers will especially appreciate this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Celebration of Christian Fiction

The August edition of the Celebration of Christian Fiction is at Kathleen's this month. Several of us posted on the subject of this quote by Bruno Schulz: "...under the imaginary table that separates me from my readers, don't we secretly clasp each other's hands?"

I hope you'll visit everyone this month and enjoy the different ways we have of looking at it. My own entry is here.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Here's the gang

Here's me and my kids at a picnic a week ago Sunday. Megan (the girl in the blue shirt and black pants) is now in Alaska, where she's a resident adviser at Alaska Christian College. We do make a crowd, don't we? It was a good chance to get them all together before Megan left and we had a good time.

My husband, Bob, was taking the picture of me and the kids. That's him with me (below).

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Writers and readers

“…under the imaginary table that separates me from my readers, don’t we secretly clasp each other’s hands?” – Bruno Schulz

Writers are needy people, aren’t we. I was reminded of this most recently because a story I wrote was published in Infuze. I was certainly happy and excited about it, and I was eager to see what comments people left for me. I was hoping that some of the writers I respect would read it and say nice things. Then I was ashamed of myself for worrying about what other people thought of it. I questioned my motivation for sending the story to Infuze in the first place. Do I write to receive the praise of men? Or do I recognize that my ultimate critic is God and he’s the one I need to worry about pleasing?

The quote Kathleen Popa suggested as a starting point this month relates to this issue. Because I believe that we don’t write in a vacuum. We expect someone to read our stories and essays. Even as I write this I wonder about the people who will read it. Will it resonate with them? Or will they dismiss it as the rambling navel gazing of an aging baby boomer.

Mark often talks about writing as being part of an ongoing conversation. He’s thinking more in terms of writing as part of a tradition extending from the great authors of the past into the present. And certainly there’s truth in that. We all can think of writers who have influenced us in different ways. I want to write mysteries, so I’d better be conversant with the tradition — from Edgar Allan Poe through Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to Sue Grafton and Michael Connolly. This very essay is part of a conversation about Christian fiction between writers from diverse backgrounds.

But the conversation also includes the readers. In fact, it must include the readers. I’ve read books and stories by all the mystery writers I named above. Before I was a writer, I was a reader (compulsively so – as a kid I would read the backs of the cereal boxes while I ate breakfast, I read signs posted in windows – if it had words on it, I read it.). When I open a book, there’s an unspoken contract between the writer and myself. The writer says “Here’s a story I think you’ll enjoy. Sit down, relax, let me share it with you.” And I say, “OK, I’ll see what you have to say and let you show me a different way of looking at the world.” A reader has to be open to what the writer has to say, and a writer has to be aware of the one who will read his words.

Of course, you can’t please every reader, nor should you want to. Stephen King, in his excellent memoir On Writing, says he writes for his Ideal Reader – his wife. He suggests that most writers have someone in mind when they write, someone whose opinion they value, someone they trust to give an honest assessment of the words on the page.

So I believe that writing is reaching out to readers. When I write, I'm hoping that my words will connect in some way with someone. It was a very satisfying feeling to read the comments on my story because I could tell that the story connected with the readers, even touched a few of them. They got it. In that way, the readers responded to me, clasped my hand under the table, so to speak. That may not always happen, of course. But I believe that by reaching out, I'm making myself available to God, to do his work through my words (if he so chooses). And even if there is no praise, the reaching out is what he wants me to do. Sometimes that will have to be enough.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Bride Most Begrudging

This month the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring Deeanne Gist's first novel, A Bride Most Begrudging. I've never been a big fan of historical romance, but this book may change that. I've been reading it and I'm enjoying it very much. The setting (colonial Virginia), the characters (an independent minded and highly intelligent noblewoman who finds herself in a marriage of convenience with a tobacco planter) and the writing are rich with detail and humor. This is not your mother's inspirational romance novel.

Other readers seem to feel the same way. The book is now:
#1 on CBD Bestseller List (Christian Book Distributors)
#15 on CBA Bestseller List (Christian Bookseller's Association)
#15 on Books A Million's Faith Point Bestseller List

A Bride Most Begrudging is the first book Dave Long, of Bethany House, acquired through his Faith in Fiction blog -- I think he made a good start.

If you want to know more about Dee, her journey to publication, and A Bride Most Begrudging, visit her Web site.

You can also order the book here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Conversion story contest

There's a short story contest at Faith in Fiction. Read all about it here. I've already started mine. Have you?


A couple of things have made me think of anniversaries today. For one thing, this is the anniversary of Nixon's resignation as President (more about that in a minute). But also, my childhood best friend, Rebecca, became a grandmother (for the first time) last week. So she and her husband, Bob, would have celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary a couple of days ago with their new little grandson, Ian. Bob sent me pictures -- Ian is a beautiful baby and the grandparents look so young! (Rebecca is the same age as me.) I remember the wedding well -- it was August in Knoxville, Tenn., and the morning was rainy and the afternoon was sultry. But it was beautiful wedding and a lot of fun. In fact, it was a great week because most of the wedding party came and spent the week before the wedding together.

The summer is usually a big time for wedding anniversaries and I've heard about several people celebrating milestone anniversaries recently. So congratulations to all of you who have made it 10 or 20 or 25 or 30 years or more. My husband (also named Bob) and I will celebrate 28 years in January, and my parents will mark 50 on Dec. 23 this year.

But here's the other thing I was thinking about today. I was going to be a senior in high school in the summer of 1974. As always, I went to church camp, and my week turned out to be the first week of August. The Watergate scandal had filled the news all year, but especially that summer. On the evening of Aug. 8, our camp manager said he was going to do something unprecedented at our camp -- bring a TV into chapel so we could watch history unfold. We watched Nixon announce that he would resign at noon the next day. We had a gathering later that evening in the dining hall and the manager talked about how different this was for our country -- how we would have a president who hadn't been elected to that office. (Gerald Ford) I think we watched the actual resignation the next day, too.

It was a strange time. I'm not sure how Watergate would have played out in a different era, but in the 1970s this is how it ended up. I'll admit that I tend to be suspicious of elected officials, and I expect Nixon had something to do with that. But I also came to appreciate how resilient our country is. In other parts of the world this sort of political upheaval is often accompanied by civil war, but here in the United States, the change occurred smoothly. As to whether or not we really learned anything from Watergate, I'll let you come to your own conclusion.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Fun weekend

It's been a busy weekend -- all my kids were home (all six of them). (I'll have pictures in a few days.) Three still live at home, but the older three don't, so it was nice. It might be a while before they all get together -- Megan is moving to Alaska in less than a week! She spoke at church today about her mission trip this summer and I was so proud and moved. We had several adults and college age kids who went on mission trips this summer and they all took a few minutes to tell about their experiences. It's exciting to see what God is doing around the world, and also in the lives of young people I've watched grow up.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Exciting day

A story I wrote called The Long Way Home has been published* at Infuze Magazine. You can read it here. I'm trying to be very restrained about this, but this is the first piece of fiction I've ever had published and I'm excited. Now I have to get busy and get some work done, but this is just cool.

* (I have now joined the ranks such famous Infuze authors as Michael Snyder, T.L. Hines, Chris Well, and J. Mark Bertrand. Oh, and how could I forget Deborah Gyapong!)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The uncomfortable truth

Do you want to squirm in your nice comfortable padded pew? Then read Mark's post. (Even if you don't want to squirm, you should read it.)


As I've said before, I have two daughters, Julia and Megan. This week Julia drove to Chicago to pick up Megan and bring her (and her stuff) home before Megan's move to Alaska. (In the picture at right, Megan is the one in the cap and gown.)

They called me last night as they drove from the Chicago area to my parents' house near Peoria. It was quite hilarious. Megan was driving and Julia was talking on the phone. Some of the conversation revolved around how well they'd learned to pack from their father (he's the master of packing), which is good because Julia brought the smaller of her and Mike's cars because it has cruise control. But Megan said she didn't have that much stuff. So there was some concern about the dangers of not being able to see out the back window. Then, Julia had been giving Megan "driving tips." I decided Julia is more like me than she cares to admit (and I know you'll probably read this, Julia). There was much laughter and I could hear Megan's comments from the driver's seat. You would probably have to be a member of my family to understand why it seemed so funny to me, so I'll just say that I enjoyed the "Julia and Megan show" very much. They are entertaining their grandparents today, then tomorrow they'll head back to Kansas.

This weekend I'll have all six kids at home for a little while. Yay! Then Megan leaves for Alaska at the end of next week. It'll be hard to see her go so far away, but I know she's serving God and I'm proud of her. My mom reminded me of what Grandma Myers said when her oldest child (my Aunt Helen) left to be a missionary in China with her husband. Someone asked Grandma if she didn't hate to see them go so far away, but Grandma said that she and Grandpa had raised their children to serve the Lord, so how could she not want to see her go. I think I understand what she meant.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Say what you mean

For some reason this week, I'm being reminded on all sides about the dangers of fuzzy language.

Here's another quote I found on page 6 of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English: "Soon, it is clear, we will be a society unable to distinguish one word from another, sense from nonsense, truth from falsehood, good from evil. We will soon utter only mono- and disyllabic words, be entertained only by what pleases our peers, and adore whatever is easy or effortless." (Robert Hartwell Fiske, in The Dimwit's Dictionary)

Then today, I read a thought-provoking essay by Lewis Lapham in the August issue of Harper's. In the essay, "Moving On," he writes about the changes in our society in the 31 years since Nixon resigned. One of his observations revolves around how truth has become so much a matter of spin that people don't seem able to discern it anymore. (I'm simplifying here.) He goes on to talk about how our language only perpetuates the problem when discussions of national affairs revolve around emotions and instincts, and history is forgotten. Here's what Lapham says at the end: "The language facilitates the transformation of a democratic republic into a military empire, moving on from a world in which words once were held accountable for their meanings, to a land of make-believe, securely defended, as is customary with empires, by the 'conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power.' " (Italics mine)

Maybe it seems nitpicky to harp on matters of grammar and usage, but how we use language says something about our character. If we cloud meaning with emotion and fuzzy language, it's harder to discern when we're speaking the truth.

The Bible encourages plain language, as well. Here are just a few of what I found:

"Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit." (Proverbs 12:17, ESV. The Hebrew translated 'speaks' means 'breathes out')

"Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity." (Jeremiah 9:5, ESV)

"But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." (James 5:12, ESV)

When I talk about using plain language, I don't mean simplistic. English is a rich language, but our speech and writing fail to reflect that. Beautiful, elegant writing conveys meaning clearly and distinctly. So take the trouble to find the words to say what you really mean.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Clearly cantankerous

I bought a book over the weekend: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English by Robert Hartwell Fiske. I own another of his books: The Dictionary of Concise Writing.

Fiske describes himself as a curmudgeonly sort and he's prone to lay down the law with regard to usage. I appreciate that. I've found his books to be interesting and helpful. He's also the editor of The Vocabula Review. (motto: A society is generally as lax as its language.)

Here's a quote (found on page 6, which is a compendium of Fiske quotes, just to sort of get the reader in the right frame of mind):
"Since how a person speaks and writes is a fair reflection of how a person thinks and feels, shoddy language may imply a careless and inconsiderate people -- a public whose ideals have been discarded and whose ideas have been distorted. And in a society of this sort, easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed." (originally from The Dictionary of Concise Writing)

Strong words, but worth thinking about.

I judge usage books by how they handle certain of my pet peeve words, such as the word comprise. This word is misused so often I think it should be avoided. (J.K. Rowling seems rather fond of it -- about half the time she uses it correctly.) So I looked up how Fiske treats it -- he uses several examples and then sums it up nicely: "The distinction is thus: The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole." Bravo!