Friday, December 30, 2011

Potato, Potahto, Spud

I was pondering what sort of end-of-2011 blog to write when one of my Facebook friends posted a link to an article titled "10 Words You Mispronounce That Make People Think You're An Idiot." His posting touched off a longer, more involved discussion than most political posts do.

I had several objections to the article, the main being that the very idea that a person should be judged an idiot simply by how he pronounces certain words and not by the content of what he's saying is offensive. But of course, that's how humanity does these things -- judge a person by what they wear or how they comb their hair, rather than what they stand for and what they've accomplished.

Beyond that, the writer's entire viewpoint revolved around himself, his background and pronunciation he'd been taught in school. He obviously knew nothing about the history of words and speech, or about usage in regional dialects.

He didn't know, for example, that "sherbet" and "sherbert" originally had 2 different meanings, the first being a cold fruit drink of 17th century Persia and Turkey. "Sherbert" was more often used to describe ices made with milk, egg white and gelatin that became popular in the next 2 centuries. Now both spellings are used interchangeably to mean the ice, and can be pronounced either way (at least, according to most dictionaries, including my Merriam-Webster's). Sherbet is actually more often pronounced with the "r" in most regions.

Speaking of "often," this word was pronounced with a "t" through the 17th century. Probably because of regional dialects and popular orators dropping the "t" sound, the more common pronunciation became "offen" in the last few hundred years, but many dialects continued the old pronunciation, and it's experienced a comeback in the last thirty years. This doesn't mean it's wrong. And since the word's meaning doesn't change, no matter which way you say it, your neighbor pronouncing it differently from you shouldn't be a motive for murder.

The beauty of language is, I think, in it's flexibility and ability to evolve. The bottom line is that our language allows us to communicate. Sure, we have rules of grammar and spelling, and yes, pronunciation, but the rules are there merely to facilitate communication, and shouldn't restrict us or make us judge one another for the way we speak. We need to allow a bit of leeway for everyone's unique voice, which to my mind is one of the most beautiful of human traits.

If you're interested in the evolution of language, I recommend an excellent article in the November 19, 2011 Science News called Darwin's Tongues.

In 2012, I'd love to see everyone (myself included) make an effort to listen to each other -- to the meaning of words, instead of just the sounds. Concentrating on substance might allow us to see through the pretty soundbites of all those political speeches we'll be hearing the next 11 months.

Peace in the New Year,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Favorite Story

I'm often asked to name my favorite author. The first name out of my mouth is always Agatha Christie, not only because my writing's better for having studied her work. I can, and have, read her novels and shorts over and over, and still enjoy them.

But the second name I mention is Charles Dickens. I do, after all, write ghost stories, and he was a master of them. He wrote several, though most readers are only familiar with his most famous one. He was also a master of mood-setting description and, believe it or not, humor.

People ask me to name my favorite book, too, and I have more trouble. How can I name just one? But I had an epiphany a few nights ago. My absolute favorite story of all time is Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Not simply the book either, though I love it and read it every December. No, I love the story itself.

I first encountered Scrooge when I was 6 years old. My parents tuned the TV to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I didn't know then that the ghosts were out of order. I had no clue the cartoon was based on a literary classic published in 1843. I only knew that Marley and the Ghost of Christmas "Future" scared the bejeebers out of me to the point that I had nightmares, and that I loved Tiny Tim and his rassleberry dressing.

The next year (because of the nightmares) my parents weren't going to let me watch the show, but I insisted (closing my eyes during the scary parts). I watched it every year thereafter, then began adding other versions: Mickey's Christmas Carol with Scrooge McDuck, the old Alastair Sim film, Scrooge the Musical, the George C. Scott version, The Muppet Christmas Carol, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler, Scrooged with Bull Murray, etc.

I was in high school when I read the original for the first time. It was an abridged version, but I loved hearing the story in Dickens's own voice. I later read the unabridged and found out my earlier version had cut out all the funny lines. I'm still wondering why.

As I said, I read it every December, but I still watch the movie and TV versions, and I'm delighted to find a new (to me) retelling. As long as the strong bones of the story are intact and the nasty main character satisfyingly undergoes a transformation into a good guy, I'm a happy camper. I've had this story told to me for nearly 50 years and haven't tired of it yet.

Which is a lesson itself in what makes a story great.

What's your favorite TV, movie, or even radio version of A Christmas Carol?

Merry Christmas,
and God Bless Us, Every One!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Please Support Your Book Farmers

Most of us have been busy shopping for gifts. This year, I've heard lots of folks say they're boycotting the Corporate America sellers in favor of "Main St." If it's true, they're helping to strengthen their local economy, right?

Only in part.

In my neighborhood is a mom-and-pop produce place. I love that store. Besides being part of our local economy, their goods are usually the same price or cheaper than the supermarket. There's one catch. Much of their produce is pre-bagged, so I can't choose my own pieces and I have to take 4-6 of each. But, hey, if I can save 50% on Florida grapefruit or Mexican bell peppers or whatever, I don't mind checking the bag carefully and taking a set quantity. And it feels good to support a local store.

However, I still buy some produce at the supermarket. Why? In the summer especially, the big market carries the harvests of farms within a 50 mile radius. They even list the farms who provide the produce. Supporting local farmers is as important to me as supporting local indie stores. If my little indie store sold more local farm produce, I'd be absolutely faithful. But in my mind, the farmers have to come first. If they disappear, our local food economy disappears.

How does this translate to the book industry? I find lately that the prevailing opinion is "Indies good, box stores and Amazon evil." The people spreading this simplified view of the economy are only looking at the retail level of it. No one seems to be stating the publishing-level equivalent--"Small presses good, corporate publishers evil." And no one is mentioning the workers who actually manufacture the product, your friendly self-employed book farmers: the authors.

The majority of writers (at least the vast majority I know) are truly the sweatshop laborers of the industry. For the months of work put into a novel, even from authors who can write quickly, the average amount earned over the time that book remains in print is almost always less than minimum wage. If you add in the hours an author spends on promotion of that book, and subtract expenses for travel, advertising and the rest, sewing stuffed animals in China starts to sound like lucrative work.

I know truly amazing indie stores who support authors in all kinds of way. They not only stock my books (or are willing to order them if a customer asks), but they also aren't afraid to deal with legitimate small presses. They have a pile of books waiting for me when I do a signing. They ask me to sign a couple copies for the store before I leave. They publicize my appearance. They talk about my books before I arrive and after I leave. They do this for all their local authors and ones passing through on tours, and in return, the authors send customers their way.

In the last 5 years or so, though, I've come across an increasing number of indies who seem to order books only from big corporate publishers, even if they've scheduled an author event or are a dealer at a conference. The majority of authors I've appeared with at signings in the last year have had to schlep their own books to events. What's up with that? I realize that some small presses play fast and loose with industry standards, but mine doesn't. Yet many bookstores won't even call to ask questions.

Amazon, evil empire that it is, at least gives all authors a little shelf space and a page on which to promote our wares. Amazon might be huge and making profits hand over fist, but right now, they treat authors better than the rest of the industry.

I'm not saying shopping at indies is wrong. Far from it. I do my best to support the good ones. I have a link on my website to help readers find indie bookstores near them. All I ask of indies is that they support authors in return. We can help you sell more books. Really.

All of us as readers need to take a closer look at who's taking our money and where it's going from there. The economy doesn't only exist on the retail level. How many bucks are making it back to the guy down at the bottom? I've known too many authors who've quit writing the last 5 years because they just can't take the frustration and inability to make ends meet. And that breaks my heart.

We have to support our book farmers first. If they disappear, bookstores disappear.

Go read,
Elena (who's getting too old to schlep books)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Holiday Mystery in the (St.) Nick of Time

Here it is, December, and lots of mystery readers are looking for novels with holiday settings.

Last summer, when my first Twins mystery, TWO-FACED, made its debut, I was about halfway done the sequel, DOUBLE CROSS, which takes place in the four days leading up to Christmas. I never thought it would be out for this season, but everything went smoothly and I'm happy to announce that DOUBLE CROSS is now available for Kindle (and cheap, too, only $3.99).

DOUBLE CROSS continues the story of Gen Ziegler, a young criminal psychologist just starting her career. She's been estranged from her twin sister, Sara, but now Gen's moving back home during winter break. She and Sara are driving Gen's U-Haul trailer cross-country from Arizona to Pennsylvania when they're forced spend a few days in a tiny West Texas town right outside Guadalupe Mountains National Park. They find that the area is full of secrets, a few wanted outlaws, and of course, murder and danger, seemingly behind every sagebrush. Not an ideal situation for sisters just looking for a quiet holiday and a chance to heal their dysfunctional relationship.

I put extra information about DOUBLE CROSS on Shelfari. Also, watch this blog for a DOUBLE CROSS contest in the near future (you have to read the book to find the clues before entering, though).

Happy Holiday Reading,


Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors