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Harry Potter vs. Cormoran Strike vs. JK Rowling vs. Robert Galbraith

Pottercuckoo

First of all, in a fight between Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike, Harry Potter would win.  Most reasonable people would agree with that. But a struggle between JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith?  I’m not so sure.  I’m not comfortable with female vs. male match-ups.  Maybe I’m sexist, and maybe I should be careful about how I word controversial ideas, but… sometimes men have physical advantages over women.  Then again, JK Rowling claims that she’s Robert Galbraith, and so a JK Rowling-Robert Galbraith match-up would end up being an internal struggle, and those are always boring to watch.

I have to admit, I haven’t read any of the books involved.  I started the first book in both series (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Cuckoo’s Calling), but I didn’t get far.  Maybe I shouldn’t analyze novels I haven’t finished, but that hasn’t stopped me before.  I write about Moby Dick all the time, and I’ve never read the whole thing.  Maybe I’m the best person to write about these books because since I haven’t finished them, I have nothing emotionally invested in them and so I’m as unbiased as a book critic(?) can be.

I read 10 pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I stopped because of the word “Dumbledore.”  I don’t know why I find “Dumbledore” annoying, but I do, and I can’t help what annoys me and what doesn’t.  I was surprised that Dumbledore was enough to make me stop reading.  I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my time, and I’m sure there are lots of names more annoying than Dumbledore, but I can’t think of them offhand.

Who knows?  Maybe I could get past Dumbledore and read a Harry Potter book, but there are seven books in the series, and I don’t read more than three books from any author anymore, so I might as well not try.  I won’t read A Song of Ice and Fire because it’s too many books, and I don’t think Dumbledore is even a name in Game of Thrones.

I read 50 pages of The Cuckoo’s Calling before I quit.  I didn’t see any annoying names in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and if there isn’t an annoying name in the first 50 pages, a book is probably safe to read, but I didn’t quit reading The Cuckoo’s Calling because of a name.  I quit because after 50 pages not much had happened

The first 50 pages of The Cuckoo’s Calling are kind of slow.  I have a feeling that The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 450 page book with a 150 page story.  When I read a mystery, I just want the case solved and justice served. I don’t care much for personal details about the detective.  I like my 150 page mysteries solved in 150 pages (or maybe even 200 if the detective is really really interesting).  There must be a market for 150 page mysteries in 450 page novels.  I keep running into them in libraries and bookstores.

Maybe comparing JK Rowling to Robert Galbraith isn’t fair to Robert Galbraith.  After all, Harry Potter was more groundbreaking for fantasy and YA literature than Cormoran Strike is for mysteries.  And whether she deserves credit for this or not, JK Rowling is seen as mainstreaming fantasy at a time when it was for oddballs (and I mean that in a good way because I was an oddball who read fantasy… I just don’t like the name Dumbledore).

The conspiratorial side of me believes that JK Rowling isn’t really Robert Galbraith.  The conspiratorial side of me believes that Robert Galbraith is a friend of JK Rowling and he wrote a book, and it didn’t sell that well, and so JK Rowling came to the rescue by having a lawyer “accidentally” reveal that she was using Robert Galbraith as a pseudonym.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy and far-fetched, but if the U.S. government can stage a fake moon-landing, then JK Rowling could stage a fake pseudonym.

This fake pseudonym thing could be a new career move for JK Rowling.  Whenever a decent new author writes a novel that struggles in sales, JK Rowling can swoop in and declare that she’s the real author trying a pseudonym, and the new book will become an instant bestseller.  She could be like the next James Patterson, and she wouldn’t even have to share valuable cover space with a co-author.

If JK Rowling really wanted to, she could compete with James Patterson for most-books-sold-ever.  I’m sure a bunch of new authors with no book sales wouldn’t mind.  If JK Rowling came out one day and said Jimmy Norman was one of her pseudonyms, and she had written a short ebook called The Writing Prompt and that she also writes a blog called Dysfunctional Literacy, and The Writing Prompt became a bestseller, and Dysfunctional Literacy got millions of hits, I don’t think the real Jimmy Norman would mind, as long as he got a good chunk of money out of it.  I’d even keep my mouth shut.

If this happened, I’d still badmouth James Patterson for having coauthors write (unknown portions of) his books for him.  I might be a hypocrite, but I’d also be JK Rowling, so I could afford to be a hypocrite.

*****

But enough about me.  What do you think?  If JK Rowling said you were her pseudonym, would you be okay with that?  Is it okay to write about books that you barely started?  Are the Robert Galbraith books as slow as I think they are?  Was I wrong about who would win in each fight?  Would you rather read a 150 page story in a 450 page novel, or a 150 page story in a 150 page novel, or a 450 page story in a 150 page novel?  Is The Silkworm also a 150 page story in a 450 page book?

What Makes a Bad Word a Bad Word?

I'm usually a polite guy, but sometimes certain inappropriate words must be said (image via wikimedia)

I’m usually a polite guy, but sometimes an  inappropriate word must be uttered. (image via wikimedia)

I yelled out “Sh*t!” in the grocery store today.  It was a little out of character for me.  I rarely use profanity or bad language when I’m out in public.

In this case, I might have been justified. I was reaching for one of those metal handles in the refrigerated section, and I got zapped so hard I could hear the “ZZzzzpppp!”  I yelped out my profanity and danced around swinging my hand when I noticed a family with a bunch of kids watching me.  I’m not sure if they found my profanity or my dancing (or maybe both) curious, so I moved on, embarrassed.

Maybe I shouldn’t have felt bad.  “Sh*t!” is just a word.  I mean, it’s one of those words that I was taught not to say as a kid, but it’s still just a word.  It’s a word that led to me getting my mouth washed out with soap when I was a kid, but it’s still just a word.

Years ago, after I had gotten my mouth washed out with soap (it’s worse than it sounds) and I’d had a moment to reflect, I wondered why some words were so bad to say.  Why was it okay to say “defecation” but not “sh*t”?  Why is it proper to say “copulate” or “fornicate” but not “f*ck”?  Why is it tactful to say “male appendage” instead of “d*ck” or “pr*ck” or “c*ck”?  I almost feel sorry for the male appendage because there’s almost no way to mention it without offending somebody.

As an adult, I understand.  It’s all about the syllables.

If you’re going to refer to a socially sensitive body part or bodily function, you have to use a word with more than one syllable.  “F*ck,” “sh*t,” “c*ck, and almost every other good cuss word has a root word that is only one syllable.  “Fornicate,”  “defecate,” and “appendage” all have several syllables.  Yes, “motherf*cker has four syllables, but the root word is “f*ck,” and any word with “f*ck” is going to be considered a cuss word.  The same principal applies to “sh*thead,” or “sh*tty,” or “sh*tfaced” or “pieceofsh*t.”

The good thing about multisyllabic profanity is that I have a chance to correct or censor myself before I finish swearing.  If I’m with my kids, I try not to swear, but if I’m driving and others on the road aren’t cooperating, I can’t help it.  I catch myself saying/yelling things like:

“Motherf….!”

“You sunuva….!”

“You pieceof…!”

“What the…!”

If I don’t complete the last syllable, it’s not really cussing.  At least, that’s what I tell myself (and my kids).  I’m an adult; I can determine for myself what is profanity and what is not, and a half-swear is not nearly as bad as a full-swear.

Kids, on the other hand, are not allowed to half-swear.  If kids aren’t allowed to use full profanity, they shouldn’t be allowed to half-swear either.  If a kid yells out “Sunuva….!” without completing the word, it should still mean a good mouth-washing (depending on the child protective laws of your state or country).  I wasn’t allowed to half-swear when I was a kid.  Today’s kids shouldn’t be allowed to either.

Since kids sometimes accidentally read Dysfunctional Literacy, I feel obligated to censor the profanity in some way. I’m not sure it’s effective.  If I write “sh*t,” everybody knows what it means.  The * sign isn’t really hiding anything or changing the meaning.  It just makes me feel better as a human being.  I’m a better person than a blogger who actually spells out “sh*t.”  I don’t mean that, but it still makes me feel better.

H#ll, I don’t even know which symbol to use when I write censored profanity. None of them look right.  Is there a standardized symbol for each profane word?  If there isn’t, maybe somebody should develop one.  I’d do it, but I’m kind of wishy-washy, and none of the symbols look right to me anyway.

It’s probably because of people like me that words are considered vulgar at all. After all, I have standards.  I want civilization to be civilized.    If it weren’t for people like me, everybody could walk around naked in public yelling “F*ck!” all the time and nobody would care.  But yelling “F*ck!” all the time would get old quickly (and I don’t want to see most people naked).  It’s not really censorship because I don’t believe the government should put you in jail for yelling “F*ck!”  I think a disapproving look is enough (except for kids, whose mouths should be washed out with soap).

In a civilized society, some words (and maybe even ideas) should not be spoken publicly.  And some words should not be spoken by kids until they’re adults.  Kids should have something to look forward to, and freedom of profane expression is awesome when you’ve been getting your mouth washed out with soap for 16-18 years.  I just realized that my mom wasn’t being abusive when she was washing out my mouth; she was guaranteeing that I would appreciate profanity when I was an adult.

Profanity has its place.  It can be a useful stress reliever if the words are used sparingly.  Spout your curse words too frequently, however, and they lose their power.  I don’t know if that’s really true; it just sounds good to me.

So the next time you crack your head against a cabinet, and the only relief from the pain comes from screaming “F*ck!” really loud, thank people like me.

*****

What do you think?  Is there such a thing as a bad word?  Is there any logic behind it?  In what situations do you use bad words?  Was getting my mouth washed out with soap that bad (or is my memory over-dramatizing things)?  Is a half-swear as bad as a full-swear?

Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: Moby Dick

Reading about Moby Dick might be more fun than actually reading Moby Dick.

Reading about Moby Dick might be more fun than actually reading Moby Dick.

Despite a title that causes some snickering, Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classic for a reason. When readers who love Moby Dick discuss Moby Dick, they talk about stuff like symbolism and theme.  But when readers who despise Moby Dick explain why they hate it, they usually mention the way it’s written.  The sentences are tough to read, and there are way too many of them.

I almost didn’t want to write about Moby Dick because people will automatically assume that I am making fun of the title, but I’m not.  I’ve made fun of the title before, and it’s probably not fair to do that because the word “dick” didn’t mean the same thing back when Moby Dick was first published, so readers (probably) didn’t snicker at the title back then.  If they did, they were ahead of their time.

Even though I’m not a big fan of this classic novel, I have to admit that Moby Dick starts off strong with one of the best opening sentences in all of literature.

“Call me Ishmael.”

As far as opening sentences go, it’s not a bad sentence.  It’s short.  It’s diagrammable.  It tells you who the narrator is.  But it’s misleading.  It doesn’t prepare the reader for what comes next.  And a reader like me needs to be emotionally ready for a sentence that soon follows “Call me Ishmael.”

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral that I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

Maybe this shows my deficiencies as a reader, but I was okay with the “damp, drizzly November in my soul.”  I think Melville (or Ishmael) could have stopped right there and gone straight to “I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”  Everything else just made the sentence worse (and the novel longer).

There are a lot of these kinds of sentences in Moby Dick.  For example, at the end of Chapter 24 “The Advocate” is this sentence/paragraph:

“And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Maybe the semicolon usage was correct back in 1850.  Maybe it was a stylistic thing.  I understand that. but it’s confusing to be taught one way to use semicolons in school and then see them used differently in classic literature.  If I had used semicolons the way Melville used them in Moby Dick, I would have failed my English classes.

A sentence doesn’t have to be long to be a bad sentence (but it helps).

For example, this bad sentence at the beginning of Chapter 28 “Captain Ahab” describes a “rod-like mark, lividly whitish” on Captain Ahab’s face and neck.

“It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded.”

Maybe I’m wrong to not want more, but I was okay with “rod-like mark, lividly whitish.”  To me, the sentence about “that perpendicular seam” is more distracting than descriptive.   The thing is, I’ve never seen THAT kind of “perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it,” so it’s difficult for me to visualize it.  Maybe rural readers in the 1850s were more accustomed to seeing seams in trees than they were in seeing scars.  Maybe I don’t appreciate metaphors enough.  Maybe that’s what keeps me from being a successful writer.

I’ll admit, it’s easier to read a difficult book when you look for bad sentences.  I’ll never read Moby Dick because I’m old enough now to decide what I’ll read and what I won’t read.  But if I absolutely had to read it again, I’d purposely look for bad sentences while I was reading.  It’s fun to look for bad sentences.  Also fun is trying to figure out what bad sentences mean.  It’s like doing a crossword puzzle without so much necessary prior knowledge.

Not all sentences in Moby Dick are bad.  I’d be foolish to suggest anything like that.  Some sentences are great.  I’ve already mentioned the first sentence.  And toward the end of the novel in the final full chapter “The Chase-Third Day”, Captain Ahab shouts out:

“What ho, Tashtego!”

That’s a great sentence.  It’s difficult to top a rhyming greeting or farewell.  I’d never heard of “What ho, Tashtego!”  I’ve heard “What’s up, Chuck!” but “What ho, Tashtego!” is way better because it rhymes.  It’s like “See you later, alligator!” or “In a while, crocodile!” except you can use it to greet people instead of saying farewell.

I think we should bring back “What ho!” as a standard greeting (but I don’t want to be the first guy to try it).  I think it’s time we mature adults reclaim the word “ho” and bring it back to its original meaning.  We should make “What ho!” so common that nobody laughs or starts fights over it.

After that, we can take back the word “dick” and just make it a guy’s name again.  But that might be asking too much.

*****

What do you think?  Were these sentences from Moby Dick really that bad?  Or do I just NOT get it?  What other bad sentences can you find in Moby Dick?  What other book would you like to see next in “Bad Sentences in Classic Literature”?

A Brand New James Patterson Joke!

James Patterson's co-authors wrote five books in the time it took to take this picture.   (image via Wikimedia)

James Patterson’s co-authors wrote two books in the time it took to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

It’s tough to write a James Patterson joke because you know that very few people are going to get it, and the very few who do understand it probably won’t think it’s funny.  Despite these obstacles, I felt again compelled to write another…

BRAND NEW JAMES PATTERSON JOKE!

*****

James Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steel, and an unknown author were competing to see who could write a 300-page novel in the fastest time.  The six authors gathered at a coffee shop, pulled out their laptops, tablets, and other assorted writing devices, and began composing furiously.

While the other authors stared at screens and tapped at keyboards, James Patterson sat back on a couch, smoked a cigar, and drank coffee.  I don’t know if James Patterson really smokes cigars and drinks coffee, but he does in this story.  He occasionally checked his tablet/smart phone, and then went back to smoking and drinking coffee.

After a few hours  of writing, the unknown author finally stopped and took a deep breath.  The other authors (except James Patterson) continued writing.

“Done!” James Patterson suddenly declared.  He printed out hundreds of pages of text and handed a manuscript to each of the competing authors.  James Patterson then left to take a break while the other authors judged his work.

“This manuscript is full of half-page chapters,” Stephen King said.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

“The plot is far-fetched, and the dialogue is atrocious,” Janet Evanovich said.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

“I can barely see my name because his takes up all the space,” the unknown author complained, squinting at the cover of the manuscript.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

*****

Cough, cough!  Okay, it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these.  I guess I’m a little rusty.

The Introvert’s Guide To Protesting

These guys probably wouldn't be needed at an introverts protest. (image via wikimedia)

These guys probably wouldn’t be needed at an introverts protest. (image via wikimedia)

There might be some protesting today or tonight or tomorrow.  I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I hear.  I’m not a fan of protests. I mean, I don’t like social injustice, but I don’t like loud people either, and protesters are often loud, so I usually stay away from protests, even if I agree with the protesters.

Protesters might say that I’m part of the problem since I’m not taking action, but I’d say that they’re part of the problem because most of the time their protests make things worse.  Maybe both of us are right and wrong at the same time.

Since I’m a quiet guy, the only protest I’d join would be a silent, moving protest.  I could go along with that.  I could battle social injustice if my surroundings were calm and serene.  I’d even agree to not read a book while I was there.  Protesters might think that I wasn’t taking it seriously if I was reading a book while we were fighting social injustice.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that maybe introverts like me should try the silent, moving protest.

What’s so awesome about a silent protest?

First of all, no slogans.  Stupid slogans are one of the most annoying aspects of protesting, and you can’t have slogans if you’re marching silently.  American slogans are usually pretty stupid.

“What do we want?”

“An end to social injustice!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

Well, that never works.  Every once in a while a protester thinks of a clever slogan (“Hey, George, stay out of my…”), but then it gets repeated so many times that it becomes annoying.  With the silent protest, nobody becomes annoying, unless a bunch of mimes show up determined to ruin everything.

Also, no violence is important.   Anytime that I’m in a large crowd, I’m paranoid that I’m going to get conked on the head.  I’ve been conked on the head before, and it was a horrible experience.  I’ve vowed that I will do anything reasonable to make sure I never get conked on the head again.

It’s tough to get a mob riled up enough to commit violence during a silent protest.  Most violence is loud, and any noise would be noticed during a silent protest.  I would feel pretty safe in a silent protest.  I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get conked on the head at a silent protest, unless I show up as a mime.

No property damage would be pretty nice.  I can park my car near a silent protest and not worry about it getting overturned, broken into, keyed, tire slashed, or defecated on.  There’s nothing worse than spending an afternoon with a bunch of shrill screamers denouncing injustice, and then returning to find my car upside down, on fire, with a big load of steaming defecation on it.

That’s the problem with protesters who vandalize.  They don’t care whose property they destroy.

Constant moving around might also help.  The silent protest is a quiet march through a public place.  I like walking on a nice day.  When people are walking, they have to keep moving and usually won’t cause any trouble.  Most problems at protests occur because people are just standing around, and when people are standing around, they get irritable and tempers flare.

During a silent protest, when you’re marching and the police tell you to move, you can smile pleasantly and whisper, “We’re already moving, officer,” and there’s a sense of good-will.

If people are standing around shouting slogans and the police tell you to move, some troublemaker who just took a dump on the sidewalk will say something derogatory to the cop, and the next thing you know, pepper spray’s flying around and protesters are getting conked on the head (sometimes by other protesters).  Like I said, I hate getting conked on the head.

I prefer no bodily waste at a protest.  When people are marching, there’s no time to urinate or defecate on the streets.  Everybody’s on the move, and anybody who tries to stop to urinate in public is going to get pushed or nudged.  Nobody likes to get pushed or nudged while urinating.

I have never understood how a guy could urinate in public during a protest anyway.  Even if I wanted to urinate in public during a protest, I’d probably get stage fright and stand around too long in that compromising position, and I’d end up getting arrested for public lewdness.

I wouldn’t want to try explaining that one to the judge.  I’m pretty sure if I go to a protest, it needs to be a silent protest.

*****

I respect the protesters in other countries.  Protesters in other countries have more to lose when they protest than Americans do.  If we protest, we might get arrested or pepper sprayed, but that just means we can sue the government and get a cash payout in a few months.  Protesters in other countries risk getting shot or having their families disappear, and I don’t think they have the option of suing their totalitarian governments.   Protesting in other countries can have serious consequences, so I respect almost anybody who’ll do it, as long as they’re not chopping off heads and burning people alive (or anything like that).

The protesters from other countries could even shout stupid slogans (I wouldn’t understand them if they shouted them), and I would still respect them.  That’s how much I respect the protesters from other countries.

*****

What do you think?  Would you attend a silent moving protest (if you agreed with the cause, of course)?  Do you attend loud protests?  Am I part of the problem by not joining loud protests?  Does the modern protest (loud with property damage) ever make things better?

 

My Daughter Lied in her Memoir

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my oldest daughter’s English teacher said to me after I introduced myself to her during Literacy Night at the local junior high.  The teacher seemed earnest, and her statement caught me off guard.

“Thank you,” I said hesitantly, out of politeness, as I thought: what loss?

I glanced at my daughter and noticed that her face was reddening, and she looked around the hallway at other parents and students wandering around the classroom.

I felt that asking about my loss would lead to an uncomfortable moment, and I do whatever is possible to avoid uncomfortable moments, so I moved on to another topic.  My daughter’s grades were good, the teacher said, she was a wonderful writer, and she talked a little too much in class.  That sounded about right, but I was curious about the loss I had suffered.

As we exited the teacher’s classroom, I asked my daughter, “Do you know what your teacher was talking about when she said she was sorry for my loss?”

“Yes,” she said, and then kept walking quietly, ignoring a couple of her friends waving at her.

I paused, annoyed (but I nodded at other parents and pretended everything was okay).  I knew I shouldn’t have to ask a follow-up question, but I did anyway.

“Would you please tell me why your teacher said she was sorry for my loss?” I asked.

Instead of explaining, she reached into her folder/portfolio and handed me her memoir assignment from a couple weeks ago.

When I read her memoir (I leaned against a set of lockers so nobody could sneak up from behind me), I learned that my daughter had a younger brother named Steve who died from a horrible disease when he was six.  I had never heard of the disease (just as I had never heard of my son Steve), but my daughter had the details down.  If there’s one thing that the internet is good for, it’s finding out horrible details about horrible diseases, and my daughter seemed to have done her research.  She described the disease, the effects on Steve’s ravaged body, how much she missed Steve, all the memories that she shared with him during his final weeks, and how much she would miss him.  She even wrote about how she keeps Steve’s favorite teddy bear on her bed with her to remember him.  It was heartbreaking, and I might have shed a tear if I had thought it was true.

“Your teacher believed this?” I said.

My daughter was new to the school, so her teachers wouldn’t know any better.  I found out later that the English teacher had shown the memoir to other teachers, and that they had cried over it in the faculty lounge.  I was jealous.  Nobody has ever cried over my writing, except me, in frustration.

It was my fault that my daughter lied in her memoir.  A couple weeks earlier, I had read her first version where she had described overcoming her fears on a rollercoaster ride.  It was well-written and funny (and true), but I told her that a lot of other students probably wrote similar stories.  My daughter’s English teacher probably read dozens of amusement park stories every year.  According to an English teacher friend of mine, this is what happens when you tell teenagers to write about a memory; amusement parks, concerts, and video games are what teenagers remember.

During the drive home, I explained to my daughter that it was wrong to manipulate people’s emotions like that.  I didn’t mention James Frey and how Oprah Winfrey felt betrayed and then got revenge on her TV show because even normal non-Oprah-like people don’t like to be manipulated.  It was probably fun to do as a writer, but that English teacher will influence her grade for the rest of the year and may (or may not) write recommendations to certain high schools or colleges.  Plus, outright lying in a memoir is wrong.

Her English teacher gave her a very good score for her memoir (the highest grade possible), but I don’t know how much of that was a pity score.  A teacher can’t give a bad grade to a student who writes about a sibling who died from a horrible disease.  It’s probably taught in English teacher college (if a student writes about the death of a family member, that student gets an automatic bereavement A).

I don’t want my daughter to get a pity grade.  It teaches her a bad lesson.  So I told my daughter that she has to confess.  She can choose the method of confession.  She can talk to the teacher.  She can write a note to the teacher.  And she has to accept whatever consequence her teacher decides for her. If her teacher decides to give retaliatory bad grades the rest of the year, that’s my daughter’s fault, and she has to accept it.

“I’m proud of you,” I said, giving my daughter a quick hug when we returned home.  Despite not having suffered much personal loss in her life yet, my daughter had described the grief very convincingly.  I had to give her credit for that.  “Now don’t do it again.  And you have to tell your mom.”

That conversation went better than expected.  My wife is far more honest than I am (which isn’t saying much), and I had expected lots of lecturing about honesty and trust. Instead, when my wife read the memoir, she handed it back quickly to my daughter and said:

“Thank you for not killing me in your story.”

*****

What do you think?  Should I worry about a daughter who lies in her own memoir?  Should junior high students write memoirs?  What should students write about if the only memories they have are amusement park rides?  If you had ever had to write a memoir for school, what would you have written about?

Words Not To Say In Front Of My Kids

I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they'd better not say. (image via wikimedia)

I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they’d better not say. (image via wikimedia)

I told my daughters this morning that they’d need to take a sack lunch to school tomorrow, and they laughed at me.  I wasn’t expecting them to laugh.

It took me a moment to realize why they thought sack lunch was funny.  When I was their age (around 35 years ago), sack lunch wasn’t funny.  I carried a sack lunch to school every day, and nobody laughed.  I think I even called it a sack lunch.  Everybody called it that.  But somewhere along the way, kids picked up on the word sack, and a new source of humor was created.

Now I can’t say sack in front of my daughters; I have to say “brown paper bag.”  If I had two sons, maybe it wouldn’t matter much.  But I don’t expect girls to laugh at the term sack lunch.

I’m not sure when kids started laughing at the word sack.  I don’t remember that being on my radar when I was a kid, but I was a late bloomer, so I might have missed it.  When my history teacher talked about how the Visigoths sacked Rome, I don’t recall a bunch of girls giggling.  Then again, girls giggled at everything back then, so maybe they did and I didn’t know it.

Sack isn’t the only word that can get a laugh.  When my oldest daughter read an abridged version of The Iliad for school (a very abridged version) it said that Agamemnon wanted some of Achilles’s booty.  My daughter thought that was funny.  I explained to her that back then booty meant treasure, and she assured me that she knew that but still thought it was funny.

I never use the word booty, so I don’t have to worry about saying that in front of my daughters.

My wife blames me for my daughters’ taste in humor, but I have nothing to do with it.  My humor is more sophisticated than that.  I have a blog full of sophisticated humor to prove this.  I blame the schools.  I only say that because schools are an easy scapegoat.  If I blame cable and the internet, my wife might cancel our cable and internet, so I blame the schools.  My wife can’t cancel the schools.

I also have to be careful when we go to fast food restaurants.  If I order a #2 meal, my daughters laugh.  #2 is funny.  If I order a meal that happens to be a #2, I now have to state the full title of the meal.  It doesn’t take much effort to say “The Cheeseburger Deluxe Meal,” but the cashiers look at me funny. The cashiers probably don’t have daughters who laugh at #2.

I don’t know how “#1” and “#2” came to mean what they did.  Merriam-Webster doesn’t list number two as a word (it lists number one but not as a bodily function), so I can’t research its etymology.  I’m sure Oxford doesn’t have it either, but I haven’t looked.

I’m dreading the planets units in my daughters’ science classes because of Uranus. Uranus has been funny as long as I can remember.  Still, I feel uncomfortable at the idea of saying “Uranus” around my kids, so instead, I’ll have to say something like “that planet that is located between Saturn and Neptune.”

I have a bad memory about the word Uranus.  A friend in middle school challenged our science teacher in front of the whole class by saying, “Tell us about Uranus.”  With a straight face, the teacher lectured us about planets, stars, and alignments, and then he gave us a quiz afterward, and all of us failed it.  We told our friend to never be funny in science class again.  He might have even gotten beat up after school, but he did some other stuff to deserve it.  He was kind of a jerk.  I tell my daughters to never be funny in class.  They can be funny at home or in the cafeteria but never in the classroom.  In the classroom, being funny can have consequences.

I don’t know if Uranus is still funny, but I know that 30 minute lectures about planets, stars, and alignments are never funny.

These aren’t the only words that I can’t say in front of my daughters.

I can’t say, “Do it.”  If my daughters need to complete a task, I have to use the antecedent for “it” in the sentence.  I have to say, “Do your homework” or “Do the dishes.”  I usually say “please” to be more polite.

I can’t say “business” or “duty” either.  Whenever a new Call of Duty comes out, my daughters laugh.  They also laugh at the boys who stand in line to buy Call of Duty.  They also laugh whenever news programs announce their business segments.

My daughters don’t laugh at profanity.  In fact, when my daughters hear profanity, they don’t bat an eye.  I guess they’re used to it.  It’s not my fault.  I don’t swear around them (often).  It’s the internet and cable.  And probably the schools.  Remember, always blame the schools.  And the teachers too.

40 years ago, profanity was funny because we rarely heard the words.  Cable and internet didn’t exist, and network television was relatively safe.  I’d listen to George Carlin albums just to hear him swear.  I didn’t understand a lot of the jokes, but his swearing was funny.  It was the only place I could hear consistent swearing.  But now swearing is everywhere.  There’s nothing shocking about it, or funny either.

I could probably get away with swearing a lot in front of my daughters, but I don’t.  I don’t want them swearing in front of me, so I don’t do that in front of them.  I want them to have something to look forward to when they become adults, and swearing is a lot more fun when you weren’t allowed to do it as a kid.

“Do it.”  Haha.

*****

But enough about me!  What words don’t you say around your kids?  Am I too sensitive about what I say in front of my children?  Am I wrong to blame the schools for my daughters’ low brow humor?  And most important, am I wrong to blame the schools for everything?

Revealed!! The Shocking Secret Famous Authors Don’t Want You To Know!!

If you're doing this, you might never become a famous author. (image via wikimedia)

If you’re doing this, you might never become a famous author. (image via wikimedia)

Famous authors give the same advice to struggling authors over and over again.  Don’t use adverbs.  Skip boring parts.  Write every day, no matter what.  Read as much as you can, even if you aren’t writing.

For all my adult life, I’ve followed the advice of famous authors, but I’ve never become successful.  It’s been frustrating.  But last week, famous author James Ellroy (in an interview found here) may have unintentionally revealed the true secret of being a successful author:

“I don’t read many novels because I write them and I want them to be perfect. And I can’t tolerate imperfection when I read fiction, and how often do you see perfection?”

Ummm….

What?

All my life I’ve been told that if you’re going to be a successful writer, then you have to never stop reading.  Maybe that advice has been wrong. Maybe the secret of being a successful author is that they DON’T read books.  I feel like I’ve been lied to. Maybe the famous authors lie to all of us amateur authors.  Maybe the famous authors don’t want the competition.  Maybe famous authors figured out for themselves that the key to being a great author is NOT reading other authors’ novels, and they think the rest of us should have to figure this out for ourselves.

It makes sense. If all of us struggling writers stopped reading most novels, then the famous authors would go broke.  Famous authors need us reading their novels, so of course they would tell us that we have to read in order to improve our writing.  It’s in their best interest to keep us reading.  It’s in their best interest to keep us down!

The more I think about it, the more I think it could be a conspiracy.    A few years ago, Stephen King wrote a glowingly positive review of a novel called The Passage, and I was pretty certain Stephen King hadn’t really read the book.  I know I shouldn’t accuse Stephen King of lying about books that he’s read (I don’t want to get sued), but I’m just saying it’s a possibility.

Maybe Stephen King lies about all of the books he’s read.  Maybe Stephen King has never (or hardly ever) read any of the books he’s claimed to have read.   I don’t see how he can read so many books when he’s so busy writing his own. Maybe no authors really read the books they claim to have read.   Maybe it’s their secret to success that they don’t want to share.

I’m grateful to James Ellroy for helping me to figure this out, but this also ticks me off.  I feel like I’ve wasted so much time reading novels when I should have been writing.  All of those imperfections from the novels I’ve read have been branded into my own writing style.  It might take decades to eradicate those bad habits, and I’m not sure that I have decades left.  That ticks me off too!

I’m glad I don’t have to read novels anymore.  I’m kind of tired of reading novels.  It’s football season, and I’ve fallen behind on my movies and television series, and I may never have time to catch up on all of them.  It’s tough to write books, blogs, and tweets while reading novels, watching football, and working a full time job while taking care of a family.  Something has to give.  Maybe I’ll stop reading novels for a while and still continue writing, and maybe I won’t feel like I’m missing anything.  After all, I notice imperfections in novels that I’m reading too, and I’d sure hate to have those imperfections continue to find their way into my own writing.

Now that I know that reading novels can be harmful to my writing, I’m going to ignore other advice that famous authors give.  I’m going to use a lot of adverbs, especially the word “very.”  I’m going to intentionally add boring parts.  I’m going to write only when I feel like it and I’m NOT going to write every day.  And I’m probably not going to read many novels anymore.

At least, if I ever become a famous author, that’s what I’ll say that I’m doing.

*****

What do you think?  Is James Ellroy telling the truth when he says he doesn’t read novels?  What writing advice do you think is complete hogwash?  Would you stop reading novels if you truly believed it would improve your writing?  Are famous authors trying to keep us amateur writers down by giving us bad advice?

Is This The End Of Amazon?

Maybe... but probably not (image via Wikimedia)

Maybe… but probably not (image via Wikimedia)

It must suck trying to compete with Amazon.  You spend 24 hours every day perfecting a business model that allows you to provide a service to the public and make a little money at the same time.  Then, just when you start to turn a profit, Amazon comes along and destroys you.

Amazon isn’t just big.  It has a secret weapon, one that’s unavailable to most business owners.  Their weapon?  A bunch of investors who don’t seem to care if Amazon doesn’t make a profit.  You can’t compete with a monolithic business that doesn’t care if it loses money.

But what if… just what if… shareholders cared if Amazon made a profit?

Last week Amazon announced that it might lose money in the fourth quarter this year. This happened the same week that its shares dropped more than expected.  Investors aren’t always known for their patience.  I watch Shark Tank; I know how things work.  And if shareholders lose patience with Amazon NOT making money… (dramatic pause)… would that mean the end of Amazon?

I like Amazon, and I don’t want it go away.  Amazon Prime is a great deal if you use it enough, and it’s changed my buying habits.  The only reason I don’t do the Kindle Unlimited  is because my local library is pretty good, and I can usually grab a new book before the blood stains and boogers show up.  Either that, or the librarians do a good job cleaning up the books.  That’s a job I wouldn’t want, the library-book-decontaminator.

I’m not an Amazon investor (or a competitor), so I don’t mind Amazon’s unprofitable business practices.  If Amazon’s shareholders don’t mind the company’s lack of profits, then I don’t mind saving money off their speculation.  In fact, I have an obligation to take advantage of Amazon while the deals still last.  I wish I had more money to spend on saving money at Amazon.

At some point though, even Amazon’s shareholders are going to get worried over Amazon’s lack of profits.  When the investors pull out, what happens?  Will eager new investors take their place?  Will a bunch of other investors panic and pull out at the same time, causing a jaw-dropping crash that destroys the entire American financial sector?  Or will the reaction be somewhere in between?

Just because Amazon isn’t making a profit now doesn’t mean it never will.  Trends don’t always last forever.  After all, the last three letters in “trend” are E-N-D.  I’m pretty sure Amazon can turn a profit when Jeff Bezos decides to do it.  I mean, a bunch of real investors believe that, so it must be true.  For Jeff Bezos’s sake, it had better be true.  I wouldn’t want to be Jeff Bezos if Amazon tanks and a bunch of investors decide to sue (or do worse).  Or maybe it’s a great deal, to take investors’ money and blow it.  Arriana Huffington seems to be pretty good at that too.  If I could get people to call me a genius and give me their money, I’d do it.  But nobody’s ever called me a genius, and people usually try to take my money instead of giving me theirs.

I would like to invest in a growing company like Amazon, but I’m the kind of guy who can destroy a good thing.  If I invest in stocks, the market crashes.

If I steer my car into the fastest lane, the cars in front of me slow down.

When I push my shopping cart into the smallest checkout line, the old lady at the front argues about coupons and pulls out a check book.

When I buy a house with a nice view, a high-rise blocking the view is built a couple lots away.

That’s just how it goes.  It’s my X-Men mutant gift.  I’m surprised Amazon didn’t go belly up as soon as I published my first ebook.

Maybe it’s a mistake for me to write about business stuff like Amazon because I don’t know much about business, but I’ve seen the talking-heads on cable business networks, and they don’t seem to know any more than I do (but they’re more attractive and speak with much more authority than I do).  Now that I’ve asked if this is the end of Amazon, Amazon will start making huge profits, and I’ll look like a fool for even asking the question.  But at least the good deals will continue.

*****

Enough about me!  What do you think?  Is Amazon getting too big for its britches?  Is Amazon going to flame out and leave its shareholders with nothing?  Or will Amazon start making mind-boggling profits to justify its shareholders’ faith?  Is Kindle Unlimited a good deal?  Should I vandalize the high-rise that ruined my view?  What bad investments have you made?  What’s your X-Men mutant power?

Bad Topics For Writers (or anybody else) To Talk About

When you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

If you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

When it comes to writing, the topic is everything.  I’d rather read a poorly-written piece about an interesting topic than a well-crafted selection about something boring.  I’m pretty sure most readers agree with me.  I don’t have any statistics to back me up on this, but if I repeat myself loudly enough (“Most readers agree with me!!”), my assertions will eventually become accepted as truth (except I have a quiet voice so nobody will hear me).

If an author delves into a bad topic, the author can phrase things carefully and revise heavily before publishing.  But when an author talks about a bad topic, he can get into trouble just like anybody else.

Last week, famous author John Grisham got into trouble for talking about child pornography in an interview. Child pornography is probably the worst topic ever to bring up.  I don’t know if John Grisham brought up the ch*ld p#rn#graphy himself or was asked about it, and I’m not going to read the interview to find out because that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m not going to try to figure out if John Grisham actually had a point about men “accidentally” stumbling onto ch*ld p#rn sites because it … it… it…

All I know is that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic.  It’s so bad that I want to repeat that I’m not talking about ch*ld p#rn#graphy; I’m talking about bad topics.   I don’t want readers to accuse me of hypocrisy for stating that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic but still writing about ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  I’m not.  I’m writing about bad topics.  If I become a famous writer and somebody asks me about ch*ld p#rn#graphy, I will say, “I’m not talking/writing about that.  It’s a bad topic.”

This is such a bad topic that I don’t even want to write the words.  So from now on, I’ll refer to ch*ld p#rn#graphy as THAT topic.

THAT topic is so bad that I don’t want people searching for THAT topic to accidentally find my blog.    THAT topic is so bad that even publicists who believe all publicity is good publicity will think that THAT topic is bad publicity.

THAT topic is so bad that even John Grisham would never write a thriller about it.  I’m pretty sure a novel about a guy who accidentally stumbles on a child porn site and then gets put in prison for it would never become a best-seller.  Maybe if the guy was getting framed, like he wasn’t really watching THAT kind of site, but still… I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems like a bad idea for a book.  It’s such a bad idea that even I wouldn’t try to write it, and I’m a big believer in bad ideas.

When Orson Scott Card wrote about politics, a bunch of people who disagreed with his views vowed to never buy any more of his books.  When Stephen King wrote about gun control, a bunch of people who disagreed with him vowed to never buy any more of his books.  I don’t boycott authors I disagree with.  I figure I’m going to disagree with everybody about something sometime and I can’t boycott everybody.  Also, I  enjoy reading/hearing opinions I disagree with, as long as it’s not obnoxious or insulting.  I can disagree with an author or celebrity about most topics.

But THAT topic?  When an author chooses THAT topic to talk about in an interview, it at least makes me wonder.  I can’t boycott John Grisham, not because I completely oppose boycotting, but because I intentionally stopped reading his books about 15 years ago (maybe more).  After a few novels in the 1990s, his books all seemed the same to me.  That, to me, is a great reason to stop reading an author’s books.

There are a lot of bad topics to talk/write about to people you don’t know: abortion, race relations, religion.  The whole reason we have changes in the weather is so that we have something to talk about to strangers.  Weather is the universal conversation topic.  Football SHOULD be the universal conversation topic, but some people don’t like football, so the universal conversation topic has to be weather.

I’d like it if the universal conversation topic was books, but some people don’t like to read. Plus, some irresponsible authors bring up bad conversation topics like ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  Thanks, John Grisham; because of you, we have to talk about the weather.

*****

What do you think?  Are there any topics worse for a celebrity to talk about than THAT topic?  Should John Grisham books be boycotted because of THAT topic?  What other topics are you willing to boycott an author over?    If weather changes didn’t exist, what would be the universal conversation topic?

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