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My Favorite Author is a Hack

Five years ago I made a list of bestselling authors who I thought were hacks. Almost all of these authors are still writing bestsellers, even those who are now deceased.

My favorite hack from five years ago is still alive and writing, but I won’t read his books anymore. I tried his new book a few months ago and I could have sworn I’d read it before, even though it had just come out. He’s still my favorite hack, though. I’ll always give him that.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Angry Talk (Comic Style) If you call a writer a hack, this is the response you might get. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Is it just me, or has Stephen King become a hack?” I asked a bunch of my peers in a writer’s group a few years ago.

I’m often surprised at what makes people snap.  I had figured that if I stayed away from politics and religion in my group’s post-writing-critique discussion, that we  would be safe from any potential group-splitting controversy.

I was expecting an even-handed response (you know, because we writers have such stable personalities).

Instead, another writer snapped at me, saying, “Stephen King has forgotten more about writing than you’ll ever know.”

That was true, and it was kind of my point.  Yes, Stephen King had indeed forgotten a lot about writing, and he was demonstrating that in his recent novels.

When I had started that discussion moments earlier, I was just asking…

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Is Ain’t A Word?

My youngest daughter’s first month of school has been relatively uneventful, but she’s noticed that a few teachers have bad speaking habits. One teacher casually uses the word ain’t while giving directions to the class. Another teacher keeps saying that assignments are due “on tomorrow.” She also has a librarian who pronounces the word library as “lie-berry.”

I have complete confidence that my youngest daughter goes to a very good school. And I’m not overly concerned about any of the common errors that these teachers are making with the English language.

Except ain’t. I’m pretty sure that a teacher shouldn’t say ain’t. I mean, I was taught that ain’t isn’t even a word.

But is it?

Dysfunctional Literacy

If it's in the title of a song, it has to be a word. (image via wikimedia) If it’s in the title of a song, it has to be a word. (image via wikimedia)

40 years ago, nobody thought ain’t was a real word.  After all, it wasn’t in the dictionary.  At least, ain’t wasn’t in any of the dictionaries that we students looked in.  The conventional wisdom back then was that if a word wasn’t in the dictionary, then it wasn’t really a word.  It never occurred to me then that a dictionary could change its mind.  Nowadays, if enough people start using words, then the dictionary will bend its judgement and include them, infuriating purists and grammarians everywhere.

If any non-word should become a word, it’s ain’t.  I don’t have proof to back this up, but it’s probably been one of the most commonly used non-words over several generations.

In elementary school, I had a friend who used to say, “Ain’t ain’t a…

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What Your Writing Habits Say About You: Take the Quiz!!!!

Maybe calling this a quiz wasn’t a good idea. Some people get nervous when taking a quiz because it brings back unpleasant memories of school.

Don’t worry! There’s no grade involved and no judgement on my part. And the results are completely confidential, unless you choose otherwise.

Perhaps questionnaire would have been a better word.

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via Wikimedia) (image via Wikimedia)

Writing habits can explain a lot about your personality.  Take the quiz below, keep track of the points as you go, and see what kind of writer (and human being) you really are!

A. When a commenter on your blog tells you that you suck, what do you do?

  1. Feel bad that the commenter didn’t like your writing.
  2. Feel proud that somebody cared enough to tell you that you sucked.
  3. You enjoy comments, but they don’t have any effect on you.
  4. Get mad and leave a “You suck!” comment on the commenter’s blog.

*****

B. When you get writer’s block, what do you do?

  1. Stare at the screen until you fall asleep.
  2. Write “I don’t know what to write” until you think of what to write
  3. Shrug your shoulders and go do something unrelated to writing.
  4. Throw a loud, profane fit.

*****

C. When your spouse/significant other tells…

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Why Is Bastard a Bad Word?

Even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones, this guy just looks like a bastard.

Saying the word bastard is fun.  When I was a kid, I liked saying bastard, even though I didn’t know what it meant.  I knew what most other forbidden words meant.  I knew what the words shit, damn, and bitch meant, but I didn’t know what a bastard was.  It had to be pretty bad, I thought, because I wasn’t supposed to say it.  I believed at the time that bastard was the male version of bitch.  Maybe a bastard was even a male dog.  Then I found out what a bastard really was.

What a disappointment.

I was surprised that such a cool sounding insult wasn’t very insulting.

Technically, a bastard was a guy who was born out of wedlock.  The word was considered an insult because in the old days, bastards couldn’t inherit anything, and in a society built on a strict class structure, that was a big deal.  Non-bastards would look down upon bastards because non-bastards were socially superior.  Today we would call that non-bastard privilege.

Man, those non-bastards used to get all the breaks.

When I call somebody a bastard, I don’t mean it literally.  I usually have no idea what the guy’s background is.  I’m just using the word bastard because the guy did something I didn’t like and I’m tired of using other derogatory terms like dick or @sshole.  If I had to rank them, I’d probably put bastard between dick and @sshole, with @sshole being the worst, and dick being the least offensive.  A dick is somebody who’s a little worse than a jerk.  A bastard was a dick who deserved two syllables.  An @sshole was somebody who is completely out of control.

I can’t find my definitions anywhere else, so it’s not official.  It’s just the way that I see things.

When I was growing up, bastard was seen as the male version of bitch.  If you called a girl a bitch (which I don’t condone), you weren’t really calling her a dog.  It was just the go-to insult.  You could call a guy a son of a bitch, but sometimes the guy was just a dick but you knew his mom was okay so you didn’t really want to insult the mom by calling her son a son of a bitch.  So you called him a bastard.  Even if it wasn’t literally true.

Maybe bastard shouldn’t really be a bad word, or even an insult.  A guy can’t help it if he’s a bastard.  It’s not a character flaw.  Maybe those old-timer European elitist snobs thought being a bastard was a character flaw, but most people don’t care.  I just like saying the word.

I’d hate to say the word bastard in front of somebody who might be sensitive about it, though.  I’m sure it’s happened, and I just don’t know about it.  I guess I should stop saying the word bastard, just in case that situation come up.  I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

But bastard is such a fun word to say.  Bastard!  Bastard!  Bastard!

Ugh, this is going to be a tough habit to break.

*****

I’m a cheap bastard, I admit it.  I’m so cheap that I even made my books inexpensive.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!                  Now available on Amazon!

Now only 99 cents each on the Amazon Kindle!

Should You Finish Reading Books You Don’t Like?

I’ve started reading a bunch of books over the last few months, but I haven’t finished many of them. It’s not that all of the books were bad. Only a couple of them were stinkers, but between my job and my family and my other hobbies, it’s tough to find the time to finish every book I begin.

But I wasn’t always like this.

Dysfunctional Literacy

As far as my American Lit professor was concerned, I finished Moby Dick, the book, not the comic. (image via Wikimedia) This was as close as I got to finishing Moby Dick. (image via Wikimedia)

When I first started reading, I took pride in finishing every book I started.  In elementary school, I finished Harold and the Purple Crayon, even though Harold was getting out of control.  In middle school, I finished The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, even though I was being mocked for carrying big books around the school (they were WAR books, I explained… luckily, I had a copy of Massage Parlor II that kept me from getting beat up).  In high school, I finished Noble House, despite having to read a bunch of Willa Cather books in my English class.  In college, I finished reading The Mists of Avalon, even after my girlfriend broke up with me for calling it a “woman’s book.”

But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion…

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Literary Glance: Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

25 years ago, I never believed Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton would ever get published.

I’d better clarify that.

When I first heard of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series back in the early 1990s, I thought it was a dumb idea.  After all, the alphabet has 26 letters, and that meant there would be 26 books with the same detective, Kinsey Millhone.  I was reading B is for Burglar, and I thought it was pretty arrogant for an author to assume she could get 26 books out of the same character when she was only on her second novel in the series.

That just shows you what I know.  It’s over 25 years later, and Sue Grafton is on her 25th book in the series.  I don’t know if all the books are good because I’ve only read a couple of them.  I remember that I enjoyed parts of the books, but I thought there were too many details about her characters’ personal lives and habits, and sometimes unnecessary details slowed down the story.

Again, that shows you how much I know.  Her die-hard fans love the details about her characters’ habits and personal lives.  Those details separate her novels from the countless other detective novels out there, I guess.  Sue Grafton’s fans will defend her when a blogger like me criticizes her for writing about too many mundane details about her characters’ habits and personal lives.

I wish I had fans like that.  I’m jealous.  Even James Patterson fans don’t defend him like Sue Grafton’s fans will defend her.  I respect an author who has fans like that.

Anyway, about Y is for Yesterday.  The beginning is different from the other Kinsey Millhone books I’ve read.  Usually the action focuses on the detective as she solves the case (and does a bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with the case).  In contrast, Y is for Yesterday starts off 10 years earlier than the rest of the story at a private school and focuses on a girl who is not Kinsey.

After the prologue, though, Grafton goes back to her usual prose, giving us a lot of descriptions about Kinsey Millhone’s everyday life and background.  Here she even describes the habits of her 89-year-old landlord, Henry:

In the interest of conservation, Henry had stripped his backyard of grass, which left us with dirt, sand, and steppingstones.  Henry’s two Andirondack chairs were arranged in conversational range of each other on the off chance we might want to enjoy a late afternoon cocktail as the sun went down.  This was never the case.  I didn’t want to sit contemplating barren packed earth, which doesn’t promote relaxation in my humble opinion.  His potting bench and gardening gloves were superfluous and the row of larger tools he’d hung on the side of his garage- shovels, wood-handled garden forks, and pruning shears- had been unused for so long the spiders had spun webs and now lurked in ominous arachnid tunnels in hopes of snagging prey.  Henry’s cat, Ed, seemed to look on the backyard as one big litter box and he made use of it every chance he could- one more reason to avoid the area.

That’s not bad writing at all.  But Grafton’s books have the reputation for using lots of seemingly unnecessary descriptions.  To be fair, there isn’t much like that in the prologue or first chapter.  So far, the novel moves at a decent clip, faster than some of her other books.

Even though Y is for Yesterday was published in 2017, it takes place in 1979 and 1989.  I wonder how difficult it is writing about those time periods without using anachronisms.  I grew up in the 1970s, and I have false memories of me checking my cell phone all the time as a kid, even though I know I’ve only had a cell phone for about ten years.  It might be easier to write about the 1800s than it is about the 1980s because there’s no way you’ll accidentally put a cell phone in an 1800s story, unless you’re writing steam punk.

I know Sue Grafton isn’t going to have Kinsey Millhone carry around a cell phone in 1989, but it would be cool if she did.  It would probably help her solve the case more quickly.  And it would make the everyday descriptions of Kinsey Millhone’s personal life and habits more interesting.

6 Reasons Why Football is the Best Sport Ever!

Even though there’s a bunch of crazy stuff going on around the world and in all our personal lives, I’m excited because today is the first full day of the NFL season. I won’t be able to sit down and watch the games (because of all that crazy stuff), but I’m still glad that the games are on.

Despite all the problems with football (concussions, off the field behavior, etc.), I still think it’s a great sport, and I’ll defend the game of football to the bitter end.

Dysfunctional Literacy

English: Houston Texans cheerleaders at an eve... Cheerleaders might be a great reason to watch football, but they don’t make the top six list! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The same thing happens every autumn.  Football season begins, and my intellectual friends wonder why I spend so much time watching it instead of reading books and writing schlock.  I don’t wear face paint or get into drunken brawls, but I’ll flip channels and go split-screen to watch several games at once, and I’ll yell and curse even though I’m usually a quiet guy.  This puzzles my intellectual friends.  I’m supposed to be a smart guy (I think I still have most of them fooled), yet during football season, I don’t always show it.

So every fall, instead of hiding my love for football, I defend it by trying to explain what makes (American) football so awesome.  At first, it was difficult to explain.  I couldn’t find the words except for…

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Literary Glance: It by Stephen King

The movie It is getting some good reviews, and that almost surprises me. I remember the 1980s when almost every movie based on a Stephen King book would suck. Even though the Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson version of The Shining is seen as a cult favorite now, back when it came out, most people thought it was too campy.

I wouldn’t say The Shining movie sucked, but it had its issues. I cringed at the “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny” moment when I first saw it, while the rest of the audience was laughing. Too many kids today know “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” from The Shining, but they don’t know who Johnny Carson is. At least they know “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny.”

Anyway, Cujo the movie wasn’t very good. Christine the movie was bleh. Children of the Corn? Haha!

I remember It was a decent TV mini-series from the early 1990s. I remember John Ritter was in it, but that’s about it which is fine because I don’t remember if I’ve even read It or not. It’s about time somebody made a good version of It. It deserves it, even if I don’t remember reading it.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Sometimes I read books from decades ago just to see if they’re as good as I remember them.  I’d like to do that with It by Stephen King, but I don’t remember reading it.  I had it in my house for a long time.  I remember looking at it.  I remember some friends talking about how great It was.  But I don’t remember reading It.

I remember enough about The Stand to know that I’ve read it.  I remember enough about The Shining to know that I’ve read it.  But It?  I don’t know.

I think It was the book that ruined clowns.  That’s too bad.  Before It, clowns were still kind of socially acceptable.  They were annoying, but there wasn’t quite the universal hatred for them.

Back then before It, everybody hated mimes instead of clowns.  Mimes were way worse than clowns.  Mimes wore the…

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Literary Glance: Seeing Red by Sandra Brown

Seeing Red by Sandra Brown is an entertaining novel so far, but the main character’s name is John Trapper.  John Trapper? That’s just a reverse of the character Trapper John from the TV show (and movie) MASH.

At first, I thought John Trapper was a lazy name for a main character, but now I realize it’s brilliant.  JK Rowling used this strategy, taking a character’s name from the television show MASH, but Rowling didn’t even bother reversing the names.  She just took the name Harry Potter from MASH and kept it as Harry Potter.

That was a wise decision.  If she had named her character Potter Harry, the books might not have been as popular.

The next time I write fiction, I ‘m going to take a character from MASH and reverse names.  The male protagonist could be Blake Henry, or Pierce Hawkeye, or Winchester Charles.  The female protagonist can be Houlihan Hot Lips.

Hot Lips.  Haha.  It cracks me up that a righteously progressive show from the 1970s like MASH started off as really sexist.

Anyway, the first scene in Seeing Red with John Trapper has some humorous moments, but I won’t excerpt it because I’ve said there are humorous moments.  Once I’ve proclaimed that a scene is funny, and then you don’t think the excerpt is humorous at all, then I’ve lost credibility from your perspective.  At any rate, I’ve kind of enjoyed the early scenes with John Trapper so far.

While the author Sandra Brown seems to handle humor well, the action so far in this novel can be a little clunky.

Before the readers meet John Trapper in Chapter 1, there is prologue scene where a journalist named Kerra is stuck in a locked bathroom while somebody outside the bathroom door is trying to kill her.

The double-hung window behind her was small, but it was the only chance she had of getting out alive.  She felt for the lock holding the sashes together, twisted it open, then placed her fingers in the depressions of the lower sash and pulled up with all her might.  It didn’t budge.

(Then after a couple paragraphs establishing the danger Kerra was in…)

She put all she had into raising the window, and it became unstuck with such suddenness that it stunned her for perhaps one heartbeat.

The ‘it became unstuck” seems a bit passive for an action scene.  Technically, “became unstuck” might not be passive because became is a linking verb (I think), and I don’t think linking verbs are categorized as active or passive.  Still, I’d want an action verb in this action scene.

The phrase “the window suddenly flew open” might be lazy, but it doesn’t feel passive, and I think a lazy action verb is a slight improvement over any linking verb.

I also think “for perhaps one heartbeat” is unnecessary.  Kerra is getting shot at; the window probably isn’t going to startle her more than gunshots.  If anything, there would be a short-lived moment of relief.

Maybe all that is nitpicky.  If you think I’m overthinking things, here’s what I noticed a little later on.

Chapter 1

Six days earlier

Trapper was in a virtual coma when the knocking started.

“Bloody hell,”he mumbled into the throw pillow beneath his head.  His face would bear the imprint of the upholstery when he got up.  If he got up.  Right now, he had no intention of moving, not even to open his eyes.

The ‘right now” isn’t really right now because the story is using past tense.  Maybe ‘right now” is technically grammatically correct (I don’t know if it is or not), but when in doubt about phrasing, I change the phrase to avoid potential confusion, even if the confusion is my own.

It would have been easy to have changed the “right now” to “at that moment.”  “At that moment” is clear, and it doesn’t change the flow or pace of the prose.

I know, these are minor issues in what might be a decent best-seller.  The professionals who put out these books get paid a lot more for their writing than I do, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.  Or maybe writers and editors are getting lazy/sloppy because they’re churning out so many books from the same authors.  I don’t know.  What do you think?

Should Readers Be Angry at George R.R. Martin?

Now that Game of Thrones Season 7 is over, fans have to find other stuff to talk about for the next year (or maybe more). There were some great moments in Season 7, but there were a lot of pacing issues, and the dialogue wasn’t always as sharp as in previous seasons.

Game of Thrones Seasons 1-4 were so awesome because the TV show could directly use so much great material from the books. Now that the show has passed the books, the quality of the HBO series has gotten worse (in some ways) every season. Some fans blame the TV writers/directors/producers. I understand that. But maybe some blame could go to the author of the books, George R.R. Martin. Without original source material to work with, the TV show seems to struggle a bit. If he had sped up his writing, maybe the last few seasons of the TV show would have been better.

It’s probably too late for the new books to help what’s left of the TV show, but maybe George R.R. Martin should hurry up and finish the darn books anyway!

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via wikimedia) (image via wikimedia)

It’s easy for fans to be mad at George R.R. Martin.  Last week the Game of Thrones author  announced that he won’t be able meet the January, 2016 deadline for his long-awaited 6th book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter.

Some readers are angry with George R.R. Martin, claiming that he is taking too long with these books.  It’s been several years since the last novel, he’s working on other projects, his blog posts are long when he should be writing books instead, and the HBO series has caught up with his books.  In other words, fans are getting restless.

I understand.  I don’t read the Song of Ice and Fire series, but I empathize with frustrated fans.  When I was a kid, I got depressed after I saw The Empire Strikes Back because there was a cliffhanger…

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