Monday, November 25, 2013

Big Words

Spellchecker is my best friend. I know it shouldn’t be, but wait till you hear my reasons. It’s not so much for finding those misspelled words, it’s more for weeding out the long words that are not supposed to be long in English.

I came up against this recently while working on a translation job and it got me thinking about language again. In Dutch, and also German, there are words that are stitched together to make one long word explaining exactly what it is you're dealing with. They show that together these words perform a function that they otherwise would not as independent words.

Let me give you a simple example.

kitchen + table would logically make ‘kitchentable’ but not in English. It works in Dutch and indicates that there is absolutely no ambiguity about the purpose or place of that table. In English they stay separate, I suppose in case you want to use the table somewhere else.

High+school+ student another one which in Dutch would be one word, such as “havostudent” (havo indicates the level of high school but that’s a different story). In English it’s 3 words. You may not smush them together into one nice long word that tells you exactly what you’re dealing with... not that we ever truly know what we’re dealing with when it comes to high school age.

So this is where spellchecker saves me every time I build long words in the Dutch tradition that don’t exist in English. Although sometimes we can use a hyphen to indicate that two words belong together, such as a "long-haired cat", it’s still not the same as actually making a satisfyingly long word.  A friend with considerable experience in the English language recently told me hyphens are on a fast track to extinction.

It’s a bit like a puzzle, I suppose, taking words and making new ones by adding or taking away other words to change meanings and uses of words. But then again in English, at least American English, we take that in a different direction by turning words and expressions into quick and easy acronyms, such as LOL and ROFL. This makes for a different kind of puzzle and a new kind of shorthand that's supposed to make communications faster. And that is the way language evolves and grows, it is after all a living thing that through daily usage changes and develops.

I’m learning to adapt, though, I will confess, it took me a full 10 minutes to figure out the response to a simple question, which I thought was short and to the point, I texted my offspring recently:
ME: “Do you have math homework?”
HE: “idk”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November Book Review

                                                                  Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics) Cover

Death comes for the Archbishop
By: Willa Cather       

A classic and a book often included in top 100 book lists. Certainly a book that stuck with me, as much for the storytelling as the beautiful writing. It’s descriptive without being flowery or cluttered, but gives just enough to leave you with a rich impression of time and place. Almost like ‘reading’ a large watercolor tableau.

Willa Cather was a very insightful and intelligent author with great understanding of human nature. In 1927 when she wrote this she was able to evoke the time in the 1850s when her characters lived with uncanny detail. 

The story is that of two childhood friends from France, one driven by his faith and the other by his devotion to his friend (to the exclusion of all else), who enter the Catholic church and become missionaries to the new territories on the North American continent, New Mexico in particular. Both must endure considerable hardships in terms of the climate, the terrain they travel - often by mule - and the characters they encounter.

The beauty of the book is that it captures not only what these two outsiders are feeling but also the growing pains of a country as it’s being settled. It shows lives lived quietly and simply; often making due with very little as they travel around and spread the word to people too busy surviving in a harsh land to understand it. But through their kindness and faith they bring a new richness - however subtle - to the people.

The one with his unshakable faith makes greater progress in the church and eventually builds a church and becomes archbishop, whereas his friend is content to be a parish priest, Father Joseph. His faith grows as he struggles against the land, the people and his own demons, but always finding solace and strength in his friendship.

It’s a quiet book which is surprisingly hard to put down. Though the action is not what we have come to expect from our entertainment today, it is fitting with the lives these two men lived, from boyhood through the adult years, to the end. It’s a love letter to the American Southwest, and a deep exploration of friendship.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another interview with me

Building a career involves talking to people and Dianne Lynn Gardner, fellow writer, was a pleasure to talk to. Below find the link to her interview with me. You may recognize her from an interview I did over the summer. The Seattle area is rich in authors and stories!


Tale from the Fountain Pen a historical novella written by Lynn Hooghiemstra

A few months ago a lady from Seattle offered to do an interview for me, and to feature my book on her blog. Authors are always interviewing one another but this lady went the extra mile. Several in fact. She took the Washington State ferry over to Bremerton where I met her and we sat and chatted at a local Starbucks. Today I have the extreme pleasure of reciprocating that gesture and interviewing Lynn and her new novella

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Talking it Over

This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with my publisher, Jay Hartman from Untreed Reads, and talking writing and stories for well over 2 hours. Nothing like a quiet corner in a Starbucks to tease out the intricacies of the publishing and writing business.

We talked at length about the challenges of getting ‘eyes on the page’ with so many E-Books and paper books out there. How do you differentiate and how do you get your name out there? Or, better yet, how do you build the brand that is you?

Truly that is what it’s about these days. Of course good writing and storytelling is ultimately what will help you go the distance, but there is a need to find that niche and connect with readers.

I’ve been thinking back to the marketing and business books written by the guru Peter Drucker that I had to read in college, but sadly not much of that information is still available in my long term memory vaults. My creative brain tends to focus on other things than marketing. And let’s face it, even as recent as 20 years ago an author didn’t have to market their book to nearly the extent they do now; a publisher would see to that.

From that topic we moved on to the book I’m currently working on. I have been struggling with the format and Jay, without reading the rough draft, suggested that perhaps it was not a good format as the main story is strong enough and possibly epic enough to stand on its own.

I had been wondering if perhaps I was writing two different books in one. Or if I was possibly typecasting myself by trying to blend 1940 and 2013 into one book. But then again, if I do it right, it might become my trademark.

The ‘magic’ element, as Jay calls it, works for Tales from the Fountain Pen, but might not work as well for a different book. Even if done differently it might still become gimmicky and stall a career. 

As I’ve said before, much as we think of ourselves as lone creators writing away in our little writing garrets, it is very much a collaborative effort.

I’ve sent the, rough, first 6 chapters to a few beta-readers and I’d like to find a few more. If nobody comes forward in the comment section, then perhaps I’ll post the first two chapters here for comment sometime in the coming weeks.