On Writing

There have been a few times in the past when I’ve been accused by some folks of being a somewhat skillful writer. Now it’s possible that these nice folks just don’t realize what skillful writing really looks like, so it’s also possible that opinions may vary widely among my readers (all three of them).

That being said, I was recently asked how I developed these skills. It all started with my mom. She was a stay-at-home mom when I was a wee lad, back in the early 60s; that’s the 1960s, not the 1860s. Anyway, mom took the time to teach me to read and write and appreciate books before I was in the 1st Grade. I will always be thankful for that.

Once I started on my educational journey, a classical Catholic school education, I was inculcated er… I mean educated by Sister Mary Himmler and her ilk at St. What-His-Name’s Catholic Penitentiary. While I rebelled against the incessant brain-washing and militaristic discipline, I did excel in those three fundamental Rs that were offered in schools during that era… Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.

I guess that some modicum of knowledge and skills were absorbed via osmosis and cracks of that 16″ wooden ruler applied to my knuckles (of the non-writing hand) and my ass cheeks during my stretch in the care of the Poor Sisters of Capital Punishment. Seriously, though… I do not regret my Catholic school education in the least. If there’s anything to rue about, it’s that I did not take full advantage and excel to even greater heights when I had the opportunity.

What brought this post to fruition today was a conversation with a friend a week or so ago. She had been admiring some article I had written somewhere (forget which/where now) sometime in the past and took a moment to ask me what reference books and such did I keep within reach near my writing desk that assisted me in my writing endeavors.

This then is that list:

  • St. Martin’s Guide to Writing (1997)
  • The Complete Plain Words by Gowers/Fraser (1973)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (14th Edition)
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Usage (1965)
  • Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (1969)
  • Thorndike/Barnhart Dictionary (1962)
  • Wheelock’s Latin (6th Edition)
  • Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (1921)
  • Roget’s Thesaurus (1969)

And because of the occasional need to brush up on my rusty Spanish:

  • The Bantam New College Spanish/English Dictionary (1987)

*click to view the full sized image

Note the cool brown bag book covers. Bet you haven’t seen many of those around lately, huh? There’s a whole story about those covers on this blog. Check it out, if you’re interested.

I also regularly use Internet sources in my writing. A few listed below in no particular order:

So, you might be asking at this point, “What does it take to be a skillful writer?” Well, Hell if I know. When I become one, I’ll let you guys know. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by visiting with me for a bit.

Go learn something. It won’t hurt you none, I promise.

Later,

~Eric

Spring Has Sprung (in Florida, anyway)

Today is the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Do you know where your butterflies are?

I walked outside early this morning and as soon as the sun got high enough to warm things up a bit, I watched the world come to life. It was a riot of activity with the birds chirping, the squirrels leaping from tree to tree, the flowers budding in the flower beds, the breeze shaking the chimes, even the bugs doing their buggy stuff out there today. It seems everything knows that spring is in the air.

I’ve always loved springtime. I loved it as a child because I hated school so much back then. I knew that once Spring was here, it would only be a few more weeks before school would let out for Summer. YAY! Summers were long and wondrous back then. Nowadays, they’re short and HOT AS HELL (wobal glarming). In Florida, we like to fry eggs, grill steaks, and brew tea on the hoods of our cars and trucks. Spray on a little PAM and whip up some tasty breakfast. You can also bake by wrapping food in foil and leaving it on your dashboard all morning. It’ll be hot and toasty by lunchtime.

Sadly, Florida really only experiences two seasons… mild and pleasant (some of the Fall, all Winter, some of the Spring), and torridly HOT and HUMID (Summer). Each lasts about 6 months. So, even though springtime is here, it’s just a short prelude to the miserable months until about the middle of November. Ah, well… it is what it is. I’m not going to bitch about it. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here’s hoping you folks in other places here and there enjoy your springtime, too. Take some time out from your texting and Twittering to appreciate the simple and beautiful things in life. Don’t put it off. Trump could butt Tweet the nuke codes from Mar-a-Lago while playing a few rounds of golf any weekend now.

Get your green on!

~Eric

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – a Brief Review

The JungleThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair*

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It may be a bit ironic, but I sat down to finish the last 20 or so pages of this book while enjoying a yummy dinner of spicy hot Johnsonville sausages with rice and beans. You’ll have to read the book to see why it was ironic. 😉

The book was an interesting read. However, the heavy push at the end regarding Socialism just kinda’ ruined it for me. The book went from a tragedy about the oppression of the working class straight to an expanded political pamphlet expounding the advantages of the workers’ utopia that would come about when Socialism becomes the way of the world.

Like I said, though… it was an interesting read. Just the descriptions of the Chicago meat-packing industry and the ridiculously corrupt politics of the early 1900s makes the book worth reading.

Could even turn you into a vegetarian Socialist!

Yippee, Comrade!


 

*This review was originally published on GoodReads.com

View all my reviews

Books I Should Have Read In High School

Wisdom does come with age, it seems. When I was a young lad in high school, we were assigned four books to read during the summer prior to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades (I attended a Catholic high school in Tampa, Florida). I can’t really remember which books were assigned which years, but I have a list from memory that I think is relatively accurate:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano
  • Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage
  • George Orwell’s 1984
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
  • Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • John Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent
  • Thor Heyerdahl’s Kontiki
  • James Herriot’s All Things Great and Small
  • Thornton Wilder’s Bridge Over San Luis Rey
  • Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (currently reading)

The reason there are only 12 books instead of 16 (four years’ worth) is because I got myself a little girlfriend in the summer between 10th and 11th grades. When school started in September, I also had a really cool ’69 Ford Mustang Mach I. I used to leave for school in the morning and drive to my girlfriend’s school and pick her up at the bus stop. We’d gallivant all over town for the entire school day and then I’d drop her back off as the bus was loading to take the kids home. She and I both missed so much of the first quarter of that school year that we could never recover in time to advance to the next grade. She had to attend summer school the following summer and I dropped out and got my G.E.D. from the State of Florida. Obviously, I had not yet attained enough of that previously mentioned wisdom at this time.

But back to this wisdom thing…

I‘ve often said since that time that these type of books should be mandatory reading for people in their mid-30s, not pre-teens or just-barely-teens. I don’t believe that children of 14 and 15 or so years old have the life experience needed to truly understand and relate to the stories and characters in these “classic” type books. Most everyone did just what I did. We skimmed and then bought the CliffsNotes in order to pass the quizzes and act somewhat knowledgeably about the characters and plots of these books. That’s a sad thing.

have always been a reader from a very young age. My mother taught me to read and write before I ever started school. However, I just didn’t like (and still don’t) someone telling me what I had to read. This is why I don’t join group reads or similar things. I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it. This rebelliousness or pigheadedness on my part kept me from reading these books way back then.

Fortunately for me, I corrected this situation later in life; once I was mature and experienced enough to truly appreciate the wonderful and profound things these authors were trying to communicate to their readers using the limited medium of the written word. I am forever grateful that I was wise enough to pick these books up and give them a go. They broadened my knowledge and enlightened me to many things I would not otherwise have experienced.

There only two books in the above list that I haven’t read as of yet. They are Kontiki and Winter of Our Discontent. I intend to read both of them sometime before the end of this year; might be some good reading for those cool winter eves here in Florida. Nyuck!

Anyway, should you be somewhere past 35 years old or so and are contemplating your next read, I strongly suggest you hark back to those days of yore during your teen years and pick a book or two that you didn’t read like you were supposed to. You won’t regret it.

Read something! It’s good for you.

~Eric

*You can find all the above books and millions more at Goodreads. There you can read a synopsis of the book along with other folks’ reviews and thoughts. It’s a great website.

A Goodreads Review of Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace

Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps, and the 10th DimensionHyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Science tends to be a bit dry, but Dr. Kaku manages to make it interesting; with just a small boring spell during the discussion of Kalusa-Klein and introductory string theory. This is to be expected, though. You just can’t make multi-dimensional imagery and vibrating strings very exciting to the lay person. It looses something without the excitement of its underlying mathematical foundation.

Dr. Kaku tries his hand at a bit of futurist prognostication, too… very LONG, LONG term future, I mean. The discussion of Type I, II, and III societies and their respective technical and scientific prowess was quite interesting. Sadly, though, the discussion about the impending death of our universe was a bit depressing. Good thing it’s a very, very long way off.

All in all, this 1994 book was chocked full of interesting scientific history and understanding of the amazing things around us. We’ve only just begun. Just a few thousand years ago, we could barely manage to keep ourselves warm and fed. Today we’re sending probes to other planets, asteroids, the sun, etc. Imagine what we’ll be doing in 5000 more years. I can’t wait to see. 😉

Read it. Science is fun.

View all my reviews

A Goodreads Review of Dan Simmons’ Abominable

The AbominableThe Abominable by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always enjoyed how Dan Simmons weaves his fictional stories so tightly around real non-fiction historical events. And while this particular story isn’t my favorite of his books of this type (The Terror and Drood were better), it is a wonderful story. It’s also one that he writes is a certain way, using certain styles (I won’t spoil it for you) that almost makes you wonder if it might just possibly be a true accounting of something that actually did happen. Of course, as a writer, if Simmons manages to get you to feel that way once you’ve closed that back cover after reading that last page, then he did his job… and did it well.

My only complaint about this book, which isn’t really a complaint, is the fact that it slowed down a bit here and there due to detailed descriptions of technical matters and procedures carried out by the characters in the story. It was all quite interesting, though, and actually got me searching Google for some more info on the things these folks were doing in this story. So, see… not really a complaint at all.

Read it. You might like it. 🙂

~Eric

View all my Goodreads reviews

Image credits: stock publisher’s photo of book provided by Goodreads. com

Bridge of San Luis Rey – Some Comments

This is one of those books that they are forever assigning to pimply-faced teens to read while in their early years of secondary school. Unfortunately, many of these books are just too deep, too adult, too mature (in the way they require age and experience to understand them) for kids to ken at all.

I was first assigned this book as summer reading when I was 14 years old. There’s just no way that a 14 year old is going to have the life experience and maturity to understand what lies in between the lines of Thornton’s outstanding book. And, of course, I didn’t at that time.

I skimmed and read the Clif’s Notes to pass the quiz and answer a few trivial questions during the one hour spent on this book once the school year started. It’s a shame that books like this are wasted on children. They should be required reading for adults once they reach the age of 30, though.

I’m glad I re-read this one. I enjoyed every word of it. It’s actually inspired me to give Thornton’s Our Town a try next. It’s on reserve at my local library.*

*Originally from my notes on this book at Goodreads.com

The actual edition that I read:

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 138 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Presumed to be 1st as edition is unstate edition (April 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060088877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060088873

The Bridge of San Luis Rey @ Wikipedia

Over 30? Give it a go. You might like it. 🙂

~Eric

Image credits: book – generic image

Boy’s Life By Robert R. McCammon – a Review

Do you remember the magic of summertime in your youth? Do you remember how bright the sun was or how blue the sky was back then?

I remember. Somewhere between the walks home from the baseball park through the cemetery and my first car/first girlfriend, I seemed to have misplaced that magic, though. I wish I could find it again; maybe when my second childhood starts and I revert all the way back to messing in my diapers (Depend®) again.

If you’ve forgotten the magic, then maybe you should pick up a copy of Robert R. McCammon‘s Boy’s Life. It will go a long way to reawakening that magic for you. If you were a child of the 50s or 60s as I was, you’ll be taken along for a ride by McCammon that won’t be too very unfamiliar to you at all.

Sure, the settings might be bit different (Alabama in the book) than those you remember, but they’ll be eerily familiar. McCammon did not lose the magic when he aged. If he did, he was definitely able to conjure it once again to write this story. Or maybe writers just never lose that magic. Who knows?

Boy’s Life is a story about a boy. How ’bout that, huh? His name is Cory. He’s 12 years old in the summer of 1964. A year removed from a tumultuous 1963 and a few years prior to latter historical events like Tet of ’68, Watergate, and the Summer of Love (’69). From Spring through to that year’s waning days, young Cory narrates his adventures growing up in the small town of Zephyr on the Tecumseh River in southern Alabama.

The events and the tragedies and the strangeness all whirl around one another weaving a story filled with that pure and simple magic of youth. You’ll meet characters who seem oddly familiar. You’ve met them in your own lives, in your own hometowns, in your own eras. They’re common to everyone, I think.

You’ll learn a bit of history while reading this book. It’s OK, though. It won’t hurt you none. If you didn’t know anything about the Civil War, the Wild West, dinosaurs, WWII, the Nazis, the Holocaust, etc., Cory’s telling of related events in his own childhood may lead you to the library to do a bit of research on these things. That’s a good thing.

I have a couple favorite “coming of age” type books: Stephen King’s IT and Dan Simmons’ Summer of NightBoth authors manage to bring back the magic long gone from my soul whilst reading these works. I think that’s why they both left lasting impressions on me. Anything that revives the magic is a good thing. There’s so little magic in adult life, sadly.

This would be a great book to curl up by the fire with one of these dark, cold winter nights. Oh, and you won’t have to be a boy to appreciate it. Little girls had a magic all their own. They’ll understand, too.

That’s it for now, folks. Stop being so busy. Get yourself a good book and sit down and read awhile. It’s a magic that we can still enjoy at any age.

~Eric

2014 In Review – It Was a Slow Year

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Baseball Games Too Long?

I just don’t think I’m going to like some of the changes that are being tossed around and tested for shortening game times in baseball.

Why Baseball Games Are Too Long – an article from About.com/Sports

MLB will be trying out some new rules in the Arizona Fall League to speed things up. Good idea. Baseball set a record this year for longest games averaging over 3 hours.

Roughly 30 years ago games took about half an hour less. Not all of that time is the extra commercials and promos. So in the Arizona League they’ll be limiting visits to the mound by catchers, managers and coaches to three per game, other than pitching changes. No more pitching on intentional walks. Hey, just take your base buddy. And hitters have to stay in the batter’s box. That’s key. They can’t step out to unfasten and then refasten their batting gloves on each hand after EVERY pitch.

Nope. I just don’t think I’m going to like this. They’re not just attempting to shorten games; they’re changing the game of baseball altogether. No intentional walks? Limited mound conferences? Nah… this ain’t gonna’ fly, I don’t think.

The MLB really stirred the nest up with its institution of the instant replay this season. I wasn’t for that, either. However, I must admit, it’s been used/handled very well so far. It may need a few more refinements, though, before its working optimally.

I’m a traditionalist. I’ve been a baseball fan for nearly 50 years. I just don’t like some of the things they’re considering these days. If you want to shorten games, get rid of the commercials. Yeah, I know… good luck with that. It’s always all about the $$$, ain’t it?

Well, we’ll just have to sit back and see how this all turns out. In the meantime, enjoy the World Series this coming week!

GO KC ROYALS!!!

Later…

~Eric