Category Archives: Reading

Serial Storytelling

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Are you a fan of serials? Do you like to read your stories parceled out, or would you rather binge read on a weekend? See what Elizabeth over at Eight Ladies has to say.

Eight Ladies Writing

serial_imageWheaties.  Frosted Flakes.  Cheerios.  Oh wait; wrong kind of cereal.

Today we’re talking about serialized fiction – stories that are released to readers in installments over time.  I am also including serials – stories that are written as they are released over time – in this definition, although the two are technically distinct kinds of stories.

Serialized or episodic storytelling is nothing new.  If you watch television, you’re already familiar with the concept, and if you watch broadcast television, rather than binge-watching shows from Netflix or something similar, you know what it is like to have to wait from one week to another to find out what is happening in your favorite shows.

During the Victorian Period,

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Is It Better To Be Brave Than Kind?

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Does art imitate life? Over at Eight Ladies, Jilly reports on a study that shows what men and women really want when they go online to date.

Eight Ladies Writing

Is It Better To Be Brave Than Kind?Women prefer bravery, courage and a willingness to take risks rather than kindness and altruism in their partners.

Do you agree?

The above statement is a direct quote from an academic paper about online dating, written by Professor Khalid Khan of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Sameer Chaudhry of the University of North Texas, published in the Journal of Evidence Based Medicine. I read about the paper in an article online this week and thought it sounded like story gold, so I took a closer look.

The paper’s stated objective is: to determine, for people seeking a date online, what activities and behaviours have an effect on the chances of converting electronic communication into a face-to-face meeting.

Or to paraphrase, how to win at online dating.

And since success at the preliminary stages of online dating is all about establishing a character

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Let’s hear it for the girls

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Catas-TrophyToday I found a fun and inspiring story about publishing, and I always like those. It’s about a book. Here’s the opening:

“Miss Peacock felt the warm tears welling up in her eyes…. It had been Miss Peacock’s lifelong ambition to hoist the trophy aloft with two victorious arms. Apart from basketball, Miss Peacock’s two more modest pastimes were knitting and the regular manufacturing and drinking of hot chocolate in the staff canteen.”

Thus begins The Catas-Trophy, a 140-page mystery about the theft of a prestigious basketball trophy from a school in London. The author(s): 29 girls, students in Class 5 at the Teresian School in Donnybrook, Co Dublin, ages 11-12. Each student wrote and illustrated a chapter.

Caoimhe Ní Fhaoláin, the girls’ teacher, assigned the project to develop the students’ writing and teamwork skills. The girls voted regularly to decide the direction the story should take.

“It was a great lesson in diplomacy,” said Ní Fhaoláin. “They worked together to develop the characters and ensure that the plots are flawless throughout.” The students were responsible for the front and back cover design and illustration, blurb, and title.

Printed volumes of The Catas-Trophy are sold locally, and it’s also available on Amazon. Proceeds go to the Irish Cancer Society and Down Syndrome Ireland. Because that’s how the girls voted to do it.

So, excuses for not writing and publishing, anyone? I didn’t think so.

 

Flash fiction challenge: The car chase

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Chuck Wendig issued a flash fiction challenge: write a car chase in 2,000 words. I’m cheating a bit, because while my antagonist leads the chase in a car, the scene is about the chaser, not the chasee. And the chaser is a food truck. But, hey. There’s a car in there. Somewhere. Comments welcome!

When the Eklunds broke away from the race and sped across town, Karen Renfrew turned from the orange and blue paisley–painted, Indian-themed food truck and stared as the small cavalcade—the electric sports cars driven by the investors, and then the electric support vehicle—bashed their way through the traffic cones that marked the route and peeled off in the wrong direction.

“Well, that’s really weird,” she said to Uncle Boo-boo, who had taken her to his sister’s startup food truck and was introducing her to the tasty miracle that was chicken tikka masala. “Why are those cars going off the track? Why is Phoebe following them?”

“Perhaps it is secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said, beaming.

“What are you talking about?” Sanjay asked, sticking his head out of the food truck’s order window. “What CIA business? What’s Phoebe up to now?”

“We don’t know!” Karen said, frowning after the cars. “It’s very odd.”

“I think it’s secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said.

“Maybe we should follow them,” Sanjay said. “Phoebe has a exhibited a distressing habit of taking risks. Perhaps she could use our help.”

“An excellent suggestion!” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Let’s go!” He unhooked the chalkboard menu that hung from the side of the truck and stashed it on the counter. Sanjay disappeared inside, and in seconds, a cloud of black smoke erupted from the tailpipe as the truck roared to life.

“We’re chasing them in the food truck?” Karen didn’t think they could catch them in the food truck. Or even keep them in sight, no matter how bright those ghastly yellow cars were and how tall the cones stood out on the vehicles’ roofs.

“With what else do we have to chase them? By all means, in the food truck!” Uncle Boo-boo clipped the menu securely to the counter and then nudged her toward a small door in the side of the truck. “You do not see any other vehicles here, do you? The food truck is what we have. The food truck is what we’ll take.”

Karen heard a shout from inside the truck, and a skinny teenaged boy started slamming down the window covers. In seconds, the truck was secured and ready to go.

“No time to lose!” Uncle Boo-boo beamed and opened the side door.

In for a penny, Karen thought, and tripped up the steps in her killer heels. At the top she bumped into the teenager. “Oh, sorry!” she said.

“This is the nephew of my nephew Sanjay,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Justin.”

“Justin?” The teenager, a beautiful younger replica of Sanjay with dark brown, almond-shaped eyes, dark hair, and pants at least four sizes too big, shrugged.

“Don’t ask me.”

“Better sit!” Sanjay yelled from the driver’s seat. He ground the gears into first and stepped on the gas. The truck was heavy and slow, but even so, the lurch sent Karen flying into Uncle Boo-boo.

“Here, we have seats in the back,” he said, holding onto her firmly. “With belts. Better than an airplane.”

They staggered to the back of the truck, where Uncle Boo-boo pulled down a jump seat for the two of them, and Justin braced himself in a crevice between two built-in cupboards.

“Hang on!” Uncle Boo-boo called gaily as Sanjay ground the gears into second and the truck lurched again. Uncle Boo-boo grabbed Karen’s leg for emphasis, which was a lot less irritating than she thought it would be. She looked into his twinkling eyes and smiled.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Can we still see them?”

“We will catch them,” Sanjay called, glaring into the traffic, his eyes focused on the road. “They will not get away.” With one hand on the wheel, he dug his phone out of his pocket, and hit the speed dial.

“Phoebe!” he said. “What are you doing?” He listened for a minute, swerving around traffic with one hand, leaning on the horn when he had to. “We’re right behind you! Alert the hotel!” He disconnected and shoved the phone back in his pocket.

“The Swedish-Korean terrorists are making their move!” he said to his passengers. “We have to step on it!”

“Terrorists?” Karen said. “What terrorists? I never heard anything about terrorists.” She’d never really been positive that Phoebe had worked for the CIA. Her daughter just seemed to have a boring desk job at some gray agency in Washington where she sat all day and pushed paper around. She was a spy? When did that happen? And—chasing after terrorists like this, somebody was bound to get hurt.

“The Swedish-Koreans! I told you! They have guns! They are on the move! We must stop them!” Sanjay stamped on the accelerator. Hungry pedestrians, seeing the food truck barreling down the street, tried to flag him down, but he gestured wildly to get them to move out of the way. Then he turned on the truck’s exterior speakers and hit a button. Music from a Bollywood musical blared out into the Las Vegas desert.

“Ah,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “That is Lat Lag Gayee. Very nice tune.”

“What?” Karen said, hanging on to Uncle Boo-boo for dear life as Sanjay careened around a corner.

“From Race 2,” Uncle Boo-boo said, holding Karen firmly. “Not my favorite film, but I do like the music, don’t you?”

“Ah, sure,” Karen said. The truck sped down the street, music streaming out to the public. Several other vehicles honked. Sanjay honked back. From her position on the jump seat, Karen could see only a tiny sliver of the front-facing windshield. Buildings sped by, but she had a hard time orienting herself to where they were. And then Sanjay slammed on the brakes, and they all lurched forward.

“We’re here!” Sanjay threw open the driver-side door and leaped out of the truck. Uncle Boo-boo helped Karen to her feet and she, feeling unexpectedly hampered by her stilettos, followed him out the side door, gratefully taking his helpful hand. Justin jumped down and hiked up his pants with one hand after he landed. Karen looked up at the imposing façade of the Desert Dunes casino and the yellow electric SUV parked in front. What was Phoebe doing here? What was happening?

“Hey!” the liveried valet parking guy said. “You can’t park here!”

“CIA!” Sanjay flashed his food vendor’s permit for less than a second.

The valet parking guy grabbed Uncle Boo-boo’s arm. “Stop right there!”

“They’re with me,” Sanjay said. “National security!”

“At least turn off that music!”

“CIA!” Uncle Boo-boo said, shaking his arm loose and flashing his realtor’s license. “It’s most urgent.”

“I’m the cocktail waitress,” Karen said, wondering if the valet parking guy might actually hold her back. She thought that might be a good idea. He was kind of cute, and her feet were killing her. When she’d accepted the date with Uncle Boo-boo to see the race, she hadn’t expected to do so much running herself.

“Hey! Wait!” The valet guy said, but Sanjay ran to the revolving doors without looking back. Uncle Boo-boo towed Karen, who tripped along as fast as she could, and Justin slouched behind.

“We’re in,” Sanjay said, looking around the lobby for Phoebe, or alternatively, any sign of trouble. “Now let’s go save us a Secretary of State.”

One million words and counting

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Michael Proffitt on the grounds of Oxford University Press. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Michael Proffitt on the grounds of Oxford University Press. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

I read recently that the next (third) edition of the Oxford English Dictionary would come out approximately in the year 2034. This seemed like a really long time until I read more. The first edition was proposed in 1858 as a 10-year project. Five years in, the philolgists were up to “ant.” They needed 70 years to pull the first edition together. It came out in 1928.

The second edition was started in 1933 (so they got a little vacation in there) and came out in 1989. The third edition, now underway, began in 1994. It will have one million or more words in it.

These facts were interesting to me because when I was a young editor, I decided that when I was old and established and could afford it, I’d buy a copy of the OED and keep it on a book stand. To me, the OED was like a badge to a cop or a tiara to a princess. It was an emblem of certification, of accomplishment: I’m an editor, see? I have the best dictionary in the world.

For one reason or another, I never bought it. And now it’s probably too late. When the third edition is finished, it will have 40 volumes if it’s published in print. But the current editor, Michael Proffitt, says that unless at the time of publication a market develops for the print version, the reference will be placed online.

The work is going slowly because new words are being added to the vocabulary at an unprecedented rate. Each edition has more words than the last, because once included in the reference, no word is ever taken out. “We can hear everything that’s going on in the world of English for the last 500 years, and it’s deafening,” said the associate editor Peter Gilliver in an interview with The New York Times. Gilliver spent nine months revising definitions for the word “run,” currently the longest single entry in the OED.

The current OED text contains, in addition to literary references, blog and Twitter postings, quotations from gravestones, and an inscription in a high school yearbook. The philologists want to find the earliest and most illustrative uses of a word—not certify a word as “proper English.”

I feel a little nostalgic that my first professional icon of editorship—that of owning a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary—won’t come to pass. Of course, I could still buy the second edition (20 volumes for about US$1,700), or I could buy an on-line subscription. I probably won’t, though.

But I do love a good reference book. What writer wouldn’t? When you’re looking for just that one perfect word, it’s nice to know that somebody has compiled a million of them for you.

So here’s a little quiz. The following entries are in the OED. See if you know when these terms first appeared in the language.

OMG, I Am, Like, Literally Unfriending You. Whatever!

OMG. The first recorded appearance of this breathless acronym for “Oh, my God!” comes in a letter to Winston Churchill.

1917 J. A. F. Fisher Let. 9 Sept. in Memories (1919) v. 78. I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) — Shower it on the Admiralty!!

LITERALLY. Examples of this inversion go back to 1769. Even Mark Twain did it.

1876 ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20 And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.

LIKE. Few words annoy the purist like “like.”

1778 F. Burney Evelina II. xxiii. 222 Father grew quite uneasy, like, for fear of his Lordship’s taking offence.

UNFRIEND. Facebook was born in 2004. Unfriending began earlier.

1659 T. Fuller Let. P. Heylyn in Appeal Injured Innoc. iii, I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.

WHATEVER. It’s not as old as “unfriend,” but it’s been around for a while.

1973 To our Returned Prisoners of War (U.S. Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs) 10 Whatever, equivalent to “that’s what I meant.” Usually implies boredom with topic or lack of concern for a precise definition of meaning.

 

 

Banned books are good for you!

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Huck FinnHere’s good news: A new study of Texas teens finds no connection between reading “edgy” books and mental health issues or delinquent behavior. By “edgy,” what the researchers meant was books that contain “violent, sexual, or occult” elements (would that include Peter Pan? The Wizard of Oz? Cinderella?)—books that typically are banned in school and public libraries across this great nation, including the great state of Texas.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s what the researchers also said: “Consuming edgy material … may provide teachable moments to discuss ethical issues between parents and children. Banning such material may be counterproductive in removing these teachable opportunities.”

The new research, conducted by Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson,  and published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, suggests these “edgy” books may indeed have an impact on impressionable young minds.

A positive impact.

The study showed that South Texas teens who read “banned books” were more likely to be engaged in civic activities such as volunteer work. “[T]he influence of banned books on behavior are not worrisome, and may be positive overall,” Ferguson wrote.

Ferguson surveyed 282 students, aged 12–18, who live in a small, predominantly Hispanic Texas town. He gave them a list of 30 books that the American Library Association have identified as “commonly challenged…over the past decade because of content.” These books ranged from the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The youngsters read the books and responded to questions that were designed to reveal antisocial personality disorders about how they felt toward friends and family. The kids were also asked about whether and how frequently they engaged in three civic-minded activities: volunteer work, charitable giving, and elections/electoral processes. Their primary caregivers filled out a survey describing the student’s behavior and reported his or her most recent grade point average.

The results: “Reading banned books did not predict nonviolent or violent crime, or contribute to school GPA,” Ferguson reports, but was “positively associated with civic and volunteering behaviors.” Furthermore, “…reading challenging books may be eye-opening and move individuals to help others.”

Such works can prompt readers to ponder ethical dilemmas, or—better yet—to discuss them with parents or teachers. In this way, he writes, the books “may foster higher-level thinking about these issues and promote more civic mindedness, even if the material is dark.”

Furguson noted that a few kids showed a correlation in both the consumption of banned books and mental health symptoms. “It may be possible that youth with higher levels of mental health symptoms may select books that speak to them, offer them a chance for introspection, or a release from their symptoms,” he wrote. Although this correlation “may serve as a red flag for parents,” the study suggests that for the vast majority of kids, reading banned books isn’t harmful and may even contribute to emotional and moral growth.

I tried to find the list of 30 books that Ferguson used for this study, but could not—well, I’m sure the list is in the original study paper, but I couldn’t get past the abstract page in the database. The ALA publishes a new list of “commonly banned books” every year and bases its choices on a historical time line of challenges. This is the list I found, starting in 1982. It looks like it might be the one Ferguson used, or at least it’s close:

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (nominated, National Book award)

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (winner, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction)

In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak (winner, Caldecott Medal)

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (winner, Newbery Medal)

Forever, by Judy Blume

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

The Satanic Verses, By Salman Rushdie

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck (Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962)

Sex, by Madonna

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012)

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (winner, Pulitzer Prize. Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

All But Alice, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Daddy’s Roommate, Michael Willhoite

Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers (winner, Coretta Scott King Award)

Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Harry Potter (Series), by JK Rowling

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (winner, Newbery Medal)

King and King, by Linda De Hann

It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (winner, Carnegie Medal)

Gossip Girl (Series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

TTYL, by Lauren Myracle

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (winner, National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature)

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire