The Story of English

Story of English in 100 WordsLike many writers I have a particular fascination with words. I have an extra interest insofar as I write historical fiction and like to use words that reflect/suggest the language of the time. Thus, in Sophia’s War, I even included a glossary of 18th century words as befit this narrative of the American Revolution. Here is swinking: to labor, toil, hard work. And plout: to fall with a splash. Remembering my childhood, I’m very fond of glowflies: fireflies. Moreover, there is no reason not to use such words in contemporary narrative.

Let me recommend then, The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal (St. Martin’s Press), who is referenced as the “foremost expert on English.” He writes lucidly, with wit and erudition about one hundred English words, by which he unfolds the evolution of the language with its immense vocabulary.

Why does the word DEBT, have a B in it? Just what does FOPDOODLE mean? Would you be surprised to find the word MATRIX was first used in Tyndale’s 16th Century English translation of the Bible? I was. Exactly where, when and why does OKAY arrive? What New World location did POTATO come from? Haiti! Ain’t that interesting? And there is a chapter about AIN’T. For that matter, when did the word ENGLISH first come into the language? 10th Century.

Each of the hundred words is treated with a short chapter, each easy to read, and I promise you, full of things you didn’t know.

But do know I have taken time to EDIT this post, a late 18th century word.

Dedicated to …

A dedication is perhaps one of the few things a writer can give that others cannot. With almost eighty books published I’ve posted a lot.

Things That Sometimes HappenThe first one—my first book (Things That Sometimes Happen)—was to my son, Shaun. After all, I wrote the original stories for him. Indeed, all my children have had books dedicated to them. Nieces and nephews too. Cousins. Aunts and uncles.

I have even considered composing a memoir by simply writing about all these dedicatees, and relating why they were important in my life.

By putting a name in Beyond the Western Sea, I was, as it were, announcing publicly how fond of this particular lady I had become. Indeed, I married her.

Iron ThunderThere is not necessarily a connection between the content of the book and the person’s name which sits on the page. Often it is just my way of noting affection and/or appreciation. There are exceptions. Iron Thunder is dedicated to a good friend of mine because he grew up in the vicinity of the place where the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac took place. A few people are named, not because I know them well, but because I admire them. There are some professional names such as editors.

The two people noted in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle at some point became angry at me, and no longer will speak to me. Their names remain.

True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleMost people when they learn I have dedicated a book to them say “Thank you,” and that’s more than enough. Some speak of a “Great honor.” Others have never responded. (Maybe they felt insulted by the book.) One person (nameless here) said “It’s about time you did that.” One book has no dedication because I think I wished the name to be a secret. Alas, I cannot remember who that was. Another book simply reads “For us,” meaning for my wife and me. I never dedicated a book to my parents because they were opposed to my becoming a writer. An admission: before writing this I looked at some early dedications. There are two which are a mystery to me.

Oh well: This posting is affectionately dedicated to my blog readers.

Isn’t it lonely?

charactersThe question is often put to me: “Isn’t it lonely being a writer? Sitting there at your computer, having no one else around?”

I wish it was lonely. I sometimes pine for solitude. In truth, I am surrounded, badgered, hounded by my characters. In the midst of a project they never leave me alone. “You’re thinking about your book!” my wife will (kindly) tell me altogether too aware that I have not been listening to what she (or anyone else for that matter) is saying or doing.

In truth, I might be sitting at the table (at a dinner table!) surrounded by nice, chatty and interesting folks, and all of a sudden my head is telling me, “That’s not what she would do! That’s not what he would say. They would react in a different way. It should work this way.”

The she, he, and they, are my characters. Pestering me. Telling me what to do. And write. And since I am always working on something, it can be rather annoying, all these people.

Yes, it is slightly (or more than that) obsessive. And yes, it’s not totally a wrong thing, because I am getting the book right. Or think I am. I do truly think that it’s very hard to write by fits and starts, though many have to work that way.

Alas, speaking for myself I need to be totally immersed in my fictional world, seeking to make it real. Sort of a lunacy, but absolutely not lonely. I wish, sort of …

A glimpse as to how this writer spent his summer

hammockOn Sunday I reread MS of book A, and made such changes as I thought productive.

On Monday morning I worked on a new book B, which is due at Editor’s desk on November 1.

On Monday afternoon, having received (via US post) final notes from Editor on book A, I made the changes she requested. Read through the book anew and went to bed late. For bedtime reading read a book that pertained to book B.

On Tuesday, I worked some more on book B, and then made some Spanish language corrections on book C, as suggested by a pal who knows a lot more Spanish than I do. I also spoke to an old writing friend who asked me to read the manuscript of her new book. Said yes.

On Wednesday, I received the just arrived galleys of book D, and began to make such changes as I thought necessary.

Chatted (via phone) with new writer about clauses in the contract she has been offered. She told me she had consulted with a currently famous author who told her “I never read my contracts.”

Also checked the internet to read up on how to get rid of newly established family of raccoons.

The Nature of the Work


Photo: Idrutu |

At about eleven AM—having started at six AM—I went through my new manuscript for the Xth time. I decided it was done. Was it truly finished? I had been working on this, the first draft, for six months. No, not finished, but finished enough that my editor needs to evaluate it. The only one who has heard (not read) the book is my wife. While she is a terrific critic—and indeed some of her suggestions have been incorporated into the text—she is my wife, not my editor.

So, I must send it in.

Am I fully confident the book will be accepted? Well, actually, no. For this writer, anyway, there is no such thing as a sure thing. Most of the book—I think—is good –but I would not bet my life on it. I’m anxious then, and will be for at least a month—or longer—until I get a response.

But I do have the satisfaction that I have reached this point.

Then, at about 2 pm—same day—I drove to the post office—in this rural area, a back and forth drive of twenty-miles–to pick up my mail.

In the mail was an express package from another editor, with notes for another new book. The book was submitted about six months ago, in fact, just as I started working on the book mentioned above.

The notes—at first glance—look complex.

I’ll need to start working tomorrow. Not all bad. It will keep me from thinking about the just submitted book.

Those of you out there who hunger for the life of a writer, just know the work never ends. Never. As for you professionals out there who are kind enough to read these notes, you know exactly whereof I speak.

S.J. Perelman—a 20th century funny man, was once asked about his life as a writer. “Love the job,” he said. “Hate the paperwork.”

Favorite Quotes #12


Future Past

The future begins in the past.
 [some university professor of mine]


MRBP #1: When you sense something is wrong

And this article, folks, is the most-read article of all on this blog. This was first published in April of 2014. Thanks for taking this journey back through my Most Read Blog Posts. I’ve had a good summer of writing … books you’ll be able to read soon! 

Trust your intuitionYou are working on a project and you have a nagging sense that the book is not going well. You work on your text, and you change, this, that, and the other thing. Small stuff, really. Been there. Done that. The negative nagging persists. If you are a reader—and I do not know how you can be writer without being a reader—your intuition tells you that something is still wrong.

I vote for trusting your intuition. If you sense something is wrong, I am betting something is wrong, missing, not written. Still, you do not know what to do. This is why society has priests, psychologists, partners, spouses, best friends, book-writing groups, and editors. You can determine your own order of importance—for insight into your work.

Because here comes the hard part. Sometimes you need to make a BIG change. As in life, so it is in writing: big changes are hard to make. What kind of changes? A fundamental shift in plot, character, ending, beginning, middle …. Something BIG is needed. Believe me, such changes—as in life—are very hard to do. Been there. Tried to do it.

Years ago, I was teaching a writing class and a student wrote something truly banal. I said to this writer, “Is this anything like life? Anything like your life?”

“No,” the writer whispered.

I said, “Why not make it like life as you have truly experienced it?”

There were tears in this writer’s eyes. “Because no one ever gave me permission.”

Permission granted.

The next thing this writer offered me was terrific.

Stay tuned. New articles will begin again on September 6th.

Favorite Quotes #11

Educated“An educated person is someone who knows what they don’t know.

—not sure where this comes from

MRBP #2: Dust jacket flap

This was first published in March of 2015. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 2, in which we look at something every hardcover book has: the jacket flap.


the jacket flap for my book Catch You Later, Traitor

There is an aspect of book writing and publishing that folks don’t talk about much, but is actually quite important: what is called flap copy. Flap copy is the brief description of the book that appears on the inside flap of the book cover. There is also the bio. And there is copy on the back of the book.

Consider how people select a book to read. The title. The cover. Very important. And very often they read that flap copy to see what the book is about, (subject matter) the kind of book it is (science fiction, mystery, romance, etc.) and perhaps the style (funny, sentimental, scary) and so forth. It is key in helping the reader decided if they are going to read (buy? borrow?) that book.

Who writes that copy? Generally speaking it is the editor who writes it. Sometimes someone from the marketing department does. Often, but not always, that draft is shared with the writer. Do I like it? Do I think it gets the book right? Do I approve? Want to change it?

Remember, one has only a few words in a small space.

There have been times I have had very little to say or suggest. There have been times I have rewritten that flap copy entirely. Today I received flap copy for my collection of short stories, The Most Important Thing, which will be published (Candlewick) in 2016.

It was fine, but there were ways I thought it could be smoother, a bit more engaging. So I worked on it, sent it in. The editor felt it was improved. It’s another example of the collaborative nature of publishing but a facet rarely mentioned. But, oh, how important!

But it’s always worth making a flap.

Favorite Quotes #10

Paula Fox

Paula Fox (Victoria Will, AP)

“The writer’s job is to imagine the truth.

—Paula Fox

Learn more about her.