A Literal Mind

I had an interesting realization about myself the other day, one that has implications for my interactions with people as well as my abilities as a writer.

I have a fairly literal mind.

When I read a story or watch a movie, I take everything at face value.  That’s not to say that I’m not looking for hidden plots or twisty bits – I love movies and television shows with those, and I like to predict them.  No, it’s the secondary meanings, the subtle allusions to other works, and the covert social messages that totally blow past me.

It also influences my understanding of other people’s humor.  I sometimes struggle with whether or not someone is teasing or joking, particularly if they are very dry and stoic with the delivery.  I’ve taken someone seriously on more than one occasion when they did not mean to be serious.   I’m intrigued enough to do some self-reflection and see if I can figure out what coping mechanisms I’ve developed for this.

Here are the implications for me as a writer.  If I want subtext or references to other works, I have to very intentionally select them and plan for them as I write.  It’s a challenge, so other than a few large-scale literary approaches (Dragon Pendant is a quest, for example), there isn’t a lot of extra meaning to my work.

Does that make it less significant in the grand scheme of literature?  Of course.  Does it make the story any less interesting or the characters any less compelling?  I don’t think so, although you’d have to read it for yourself to decide.

It’s definitely an insight that makes a lot of sense with my brain, and one that might help friends and family relate to me a bit better.


But My Apartment Is Messy…

It’s been one heck of a week.

There are several things I should do tomorrow, when I have a day off from work.  I should read the book I got from the library, especially considering that I’ve barely made it past the prologue.  I should relax, recuperate, and let my body recover from the last seven days.  I should get groceries and cook up some of the veggies I have left from my CSA.

The problem is that this week has also left my apartment somewhat worse for wear.

It’s very hard for me to relax when my apartment is messy.  There is something in my brain that just can’t sit still or power down when there is clutter on my bathroom counter or dishes that need to go in the dishwasher.

I also have trouble writing when my space is disorganized.  Since NaNo is quickly approaching, it is very likely that I will be cleaning tomorrow instead of reading or relaxing.  That way I can give myself the mental lift that comes from a clean house, and I can prepare my world for the writing storm to come.

It seems off that cleaning can be preparation for NaNo, but if that’s the kind of thing that distracts you, it’s a good idea to have it on the list of pre-November tasks!

Sharing Too Much

Tonight I feel I need to step up on my soapbox and say something about a trend I’ve been noticing on Facebook.  This trend is knee-jerk sharing.  It comes from seeing a post on a friend’s page, having an immediate emotional reaction, and sharing said post without doing any independent checking.  (Usually, the post ends up being wrong.)  This typically happens one of two ways.

First, there are the fake stories about toilet spiders, cash back scams, and other things that cause fear.  Most of these posts are written in the same manner as urban legends and email hoaxes, with the “it happened to someone I know” format.  They are scary, with supposed real details, and come with a warning to avoid certain things or do certain behaviors.  For some reason, people have become suspicious of these when they show up as emails (probably because we’ve all seen the ridiculous ones before) but when it’s a post on Facebook, of course it must be true!

The second that is starting to be more prevalent is the satirical article posted as if it was a real news story.  Either someone will post it honestly thinking that its real, or the poster will be joking but their friends comment as if the story was true.  Most people recognize that certain sites are satire, but these days there are many and it is often hard to tell that they are meant to be humor.

The first one is easy to avoid – there’s even a website out there that specializes in researching these kinds of items and classifies if they are factual or fictional.  The second is just a little harder; you have to actually check out the source website for the article.  Really, though, either one takes very little time.  Just do a couple minutes of research before you automatically click “share” and we’ll all be better off for it!

That concludes this message from our author.  We now return you to regularly scheduled blogging. 🙂


One of my friends teases me about “pumpkin time” when we go out in the evening.  I tend to set an end time that I need to be home, usually because I need to be up for work, sometimes in order to get a blog post in by midnight.  His reference is to the carriage from Cinderella; at midnight it turned back into a pumpkin.

Because this is the season for pumpkins, his comment tonight made me start pondering this odd fruit that has so many cultural meanings.  (It has seeds on the inside; botanically it is a fruit.  The seeds are quite tasty, in fact.)  Cultural phenomena are always interesting to consider as a writer, because they give us both a point of reference and a bias in our writing.

Like so many other squashes, the pumpkin ripens in fall and early winter.  This is why the pumpkin spice craze hits every year around this time; if you like pumpkin, there are many foods and beverages for you to enjoy right now.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin breads, and other pumpkin treats are associated with both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States due to the seasonal nature of the plant.

In addition, we have the other holiday associated with pumpkins: Halloween.  Jack-o-lanterns are probably being carved as we speak to decorate front porches, homes, and businesses across the country.  Some are spooky, some are intricate, and some are just fun, but all are a childhood tradition writ large.  I have fond memories of the newspaper-lined kitchen table, slimy pumpkin guts making a mess everywhere, and orange shapes cut from pumpkin flesh to make a grinning face.  I suspect that adults who carve artistic or disturbing pumpkins have similar memories from their early years.

To wrap up this wander through the pumpkin patch, I also need to mention the nickname “Pumpkin” that is often used for kids.  It is often spoken in a sweet tone, especially for small or cute children (or those that are both).  For some it sticks, and their parents use it into their teen or adult years.  I don’t know why this large, round, orange squash has become a term of endearment, but it has.

With that, it is my true “pumpkin time” and I am heading for my pillows.  Enjoy your favorite pumpkin of the season, be it carved, pie, or latte!

The Power of Suggestion

Tonight I am watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Want to guess why?

That’s right!  While I was writing yesterday’s post, the quote about the pirate’s code being guidelines rather than rules occurred to me.  Then Mike Coville mentioned it in his comment about the post.  Those two things combined made me realize that I haven’t watched the movie in a while, and the idea of having a little movie night got caught in my brain.

It turned out that (as usual) there wasn’t much on television on a Friday night, so movie it is!

It’s always interesting to think about the human mind and where ideas come from.  Usually they’re hard to trace, especially if the end result has been percolating for a while or combines many experiences and sources, but every once in a while there’s a very clear line from initial spark to final thought.

We’ll end with a fun quote from the movie:

Will: “This is either madness or brilliance.”
Captain Jack: “It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”

Yelling at the Wrong Person

I have to apologize in advance.  I am really worked up over a relatively minor issue (although in my world, anything that interrupts my sleep is not minor) and now that’s about all I can think about.  Thus, that is what this blog post will be about.

My smoke detector is not working.  Again.

This summer, the stupid thing started giving false alarms.  They occur sporadically (although much more frequently at the wee hours of the morning) and don’t last very long.  The most I’ve heard at one time is three beeps in a row, but even that is enough to rush adrenaline through the veins and interrupt a good night’s sleep.  The first time I called about it, maintenance came out, changed the battery, and it was fine for a few months.

At the beginning of September, it started again.  I replaced the battery on my own, which did not resolve the issue.  I called maintenance, explained the issue, and they came out again.  And again, all they did was replace the battery.

While I was quite irked at this point – they threw away a perfectly good battery! – I decided to keep the note and wait it out.  Sure enough, ten days later, it false alarmed again.

Tomorrow I am planning to call the maintenance hotline for a third time.  The person who answers is not the person responsible for the repairs, but she will probably get the brunt of my frustration.  Keeping in mind that she just answers the phone, I will be as polite as possible while still getting my point across.  But here’s what I really want to say:

I have an ongoing problem with my primary smoke detector, and this is my third time to call about this issue.  When I called two weeks ago, I was very clear that the problem was not the battery.  Not only had I already changed the battery, which did not resolve the issue, the sound that it was making was not the beep that indicates a low battery.  The sound is instead the “wake up, you’re about to die” alarm – not something you want to hear randomly at 2am – and I am insulted that you think I’m too stupid to know the difference.  The only step that your staff took to resolve the problem was to change the battery (and dispose of a brand new battery that I had purchased, by the way) and ten days later, the smoke detector is once again alarming randomly.  Clearly the detector itself is faulty, and needs to be repaired or replaced.  If I come home to another note that says the battery was changed, I will take down the detector and it will not be going back up on my wall. 

Actually, that sounds frustrated but not too angry.  I think I will use that after all, if I can keep it in a calm tone of voice, and maybe I’ll finally get my point across!

Sighing at a Blank Page

Maybe if I leave my laptop on the floor while I shower, Eli will blog for me.

(Insert shower break here.)


Yeah, that didn’t work.

Of course, I didn’t expect my dog to write for me!  Honestly, who am I kidding.  The bird is more likely to help out than the dog. 🙂

Tonight I’m having one of those moments that writers dread: a blank page in front of my eyes, a blank mind behind them.  Not entirely blank, really, but none of my ideas are worth much.  I thought about posting an existential not-a-post post, but I’ve done that already.  I considered playing another game, but that seems somewhat ridiculous two nights in a row.  (Thanks to those who played along, by the way!)

My usual default options when I can’t think of a good post idea are writing practice and query letters.  Neither of these things are bad; not only are they reasonable posts for this blog, they are also good for me as a writer.  Tonight, however, maybe not so much.  Writing practice probably wouldn’t have turned out well, given the current state of my creativity – I would have been sitting here for some time, staring, while I tried to gather scattered thoughts.  As far as queries go, well, the posts themselves are little and easy, but they require actually putting together the query packet, and it’s already late and I want to go to bed.  🙂

It’s harder to write a blog about writing when I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, the latter of which is an issue I desperately need to address.  I’ve drilled down to what I think is the problem, and it’s really two problems.  I’ve continued to be very busy at work, and here lately a lot of the work is somewhat creative in nature, causing me to spend my energies there.  That wouldn’t be too much of an issue – I’ve written a lot more while busier – if it weren’t for the fact that I seem to have a dearth of motivation.

Thankfully, November is approaching (next week is October?!) which means two things to help.  First, work should be a bit slower, giving me more time to write.  And second is, well, NaNo!  I always seem to use NaNoWriMo to kick-start my creative process.  Unlike some writers, I don’t fall down in mental exhaustion after a month of intense writing.  Instead, my brain jumps into gear and keeps me going.

So I guess I just need to make it through October!

Let’s play a game

Tonight we’re going to play a game!  (I’m tired; it’s the best I’ve got.)

Without looking at a dictionary, let’s come up with as many words as we can that start with F with at least 3 syllables.  I’ll get us started.


Okay, I did fifteen.  Now it’s your turn!  Add some more in the comments, and remember, it’s a vocabulary challenge.  No dictionaries!


Tonight I made ratatouille.  It didn’t turn out that fabulous, but it did get me thinking about words from other languages.

Every language has words that come directly (or nearly so) from other languages.  My high school language teacher (who was also something of a linguist) referred to them as “borrowed words” which I think is pretty apt.  I’m not talking about the gradual offspring words that grow naturally from a language’s ancestor, words in English that bear a similarity to those of other French or Italian because they evolved from the same original Latin root.  I’m talking about words that we got directly from another language, because we didn’t have a word for that and we needed one.  It’s the “Hey, they already have a name for this, let’s just use it” mentality, and you find it in every language.

The immediate examples I can think of are food and technology.  We’ll get to technology in a minute; let’s start with food!  Food is very regional (has anybody outside of South Dakota ever heard of chislic?) and when it gets moved to different areas, it often keeps its original name.  You can order paella or ratatouille, cook some farfalle to eat with your chardonnay, and none of these words will ping your spellcheck even though they are Spanish, French, Italian, and French again, respectively.  This doesn’t just happen in English.  You can go to Japan and order a hanbaagaa and biiru if you’re craving some American food.  (Say the a “ah” and the ii “eee” and you should get it.)  I especially like the example of hanbaagaa, because it’s a Japanese version of an English word borrowed from a German place!  (It’s a double borrow!)

Now let’s talk technology.  This is an area where things go global quickly, so the name sometimes just gets moved around the world with the item itself.  For example, in Japanese, Korean, and Polish, the word for computer sounds remarkably like the English word “computer.”  Of course, the nicknames that develop are different regionally – think “mobile” (British) versus “cell” (American) to reference the same kind of phone.  There are also places (like France) where the people in charge of the language will actually make sure to find a suitable word within the language, even for new technology.  (According to my best friend, there are not a lot of borrowed words in French.  They are very protective of their language.)

At this point I need to step up on my mini-soapbox for a brief minute.  As a former student of Japanese, it makes me crazy when borrowed words end up mispronounced.  Karaoke becomes “carry-oh-key” and I make ugly faces.  I mean, really, in what other English word is the letter A pronounced “ee”?  Kah-rah-oh-kay, people.  And sake ends in “ay,” not “ee”!

Let’s get back on track and look at what this means for writing.  Fantasy authors make up words (and sometimes whole languages) all the time, for fictional races and species.  Given how the real world works, with different cultures using the same word for something, wouldn’t it make sense that two races (humans and elves, perhaps) would experience a similar effect?  This would especially be the case if they were connected very suddenly, with sharing of food and technology and many other things all at once.  (That’s why Japanese has so many borrowed words – when they rejoined the world from years of isolation, they got a sudden influx of lots of foreign stuff.)

Just something to think about the next time you order sushi and work on your novel!

Might as well run with it…

There is a good possibility that I’ll be speaking soon to a group I’m part of here in town.  The subject of the talk is something that I know quite a bit about, but it will be a new presentation for me.  (It’s not something I’ve pulled into a structured talk before.)  Since I haven’t officially been put on the schedule, I wasn’t planning to work on the presentation yet.

Today my brain got caught on the concept.  I’d made some basic notes before, but now my mind was adding details.  I decided not to fight it; there’s nothing else that is especially pressing (unless you count finishing a library book with a looming due date), so I ran with it.

I ended up working on it, alternating between the PowerPoint and the outline, for about two hours.  (!)  I’ve got the basic outline done, and added details to the first third of the presentation.

Sometimes it’s worth it to just go with the flow!

Previous Older Entries