Friday, August 31, 2007

Tools of the Trade III, II

With this post, I hereby retire this blog's "Tools of the Trade" feature.

In response to my post earlier this week on word origins, my husband and one of his political cronies inquired about the origins of four additional words:


Alas, not one of these rated an entry in my Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph Shipley. I was reduced to relying on Google for assistance in the matter, which led to the discovery of a Web site dedicated entirely to word origins, the Online Etymology Dictionary. Seems rather silly for me to continue posting word origins when people can simply go to this site and look up any word they want. (Sigh.)

So, for my grand finale, the origins of the four requested words, as reported by the oh-so-thorough Online Etymology Dictionary:

"Buffoon" is from the French bouffon, which comes from the Italian buffone, meaning jester. This in turn is taken from the Italian word buffare, which means "to puff out the cheeks." Gotta love a culture that has a word meaning to puff out the cheeks!

"Brouhaha" is a French word which was used in medieval theater to describe "the cry of the devil disguised as clergy." This is believed to have been derived from the Hebrew phrase barukh habba', meaning "blessed be the one who comes." Not sure I understand the connection to today's meaning of the word, but there you have it.

"Irregardless" is a combination of the words "irritating" and "regardless," meaning those who use it to signify "regardless" are very irritating. OK, I made that up. According to the online etymology experts, the word is "probably a blend of irrespective and regardless, perhaps inspired by the double negative used as an emphatic." I like my definition better.

"Wombat" is taken from the aboriginal Australian words womback, and wombar. Check out a picture of the little guy below. (You won't find adorable graphics like this at the Online Etymology Dictionary, now will you?)

Update: Due to popular demand (see comments section), I have reconsidered my decision to retire this feature. Watch for "Tools of the Trade IV" to come soon to a blog near you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Hit the Qwikpick Jackpot!

Came home this evening to a bumpy little package on my doorstep. Huzzah! My very own Qwikpick t-shirt and signed copy of "Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood: A Star is Bathed," by Cece Bell.

Me decked out in Qwikpick swag, enjoying the adventures of one very dirty Sock Monkey!

Many thanks to Cece and Sam Riddleburger for these fabulous gifts. You can read my review of The Qwikpick Adventure Society here and learn about my personal Qwikpick adventure here. And you can find out how to get your very own free stuff here.

Now, back to my book! I'm dying to find out whether Sock Monkey will win the Oswald for Best Supporting Toy in a Motion Picture!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tools of the Trade III

If you missed the first two installments of my exploration of language via Joseph Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins, you can find them here and here.

Today we will take a look at the origins of:

Ku Klux Klan

"Ku Klux Klan" is related to the words "circle" and "cycle." It is taken from the Greek kuklose and kyklos, which mean circle. "Klan" is a bastardization of the word "clan," which has its origins in the Gaelic word clann. Despite its secretive nature, it is unrelated to "clandestine," which is derived from the Latin clandestinus. (And yes, I am a tad apprehensive about the Google hits I may get for having this term on my site!)

"Mystery" hails from the Greek word mysterion, referring to a secret religious ceremony, taken from myein, to close (lips and eyes), to initiate. A second meaning of the word, familiar perhaps to some Catholic or Episcopalian visitors, refers to the medieval plays depicting the life of Christ, which were called mysteries. In this case, the word came from the Latin words ministerium, the ministry, and magisterium which refers to the church's teaching authority.

"Scintillate" has at its root the Latin word scintilla, a spark. I found it interesting to note that "tinsel" also relates to this word. In French, the word etincelle, also derived from "scintilla" refers to sparkling goods.

As always, if anyone has an interesting word they'd like me to research, I'll be more than happy to oblige!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Merriment and Mischief at the Mall

I had a most excellent excursion to Tyson's Corner Mall this afternoon. First, I stopped in at the Ritz Camera store and bought my very own Canon PowerShot A560 ... not the fanciest digital camera around, but perfect for my needs. (Look, honey, no more borrowing yours!)

Next, I went over to the Barnes & Noble, where they had a panel of local authors signing their books. There I met Pamela Ehrenberg, promoting her debut middle-grade novel, Ethan, Suspended. I am one chapter into it, and I already love it. (You can expect a review here soon!)

Time to put my new toy to use:

Pamela Ehrenberg greets adoring fans at the Tyson's Corner B&N.

Next, it was over to my favorite section of any bookstore, the kid's area.

Time again to whip out the camera.

Look at this prime real estate ... the shelf just above the Harry Potter books. But, what's wrong with this picture?

Ahhh! That's better!

Sorry, B&N, but Rick Riordan's books are doing just fine. Time to put a little effort into promoting the very funny Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger.

Though I already own a copy of Qwikpick, I went ahead and picked up another one for my niece. (Hey, Sam! I want my signed copy of CeCe's Sock Monkey book! Have her make it out to "Lovely Linda, Qwikpick's biggest fan"!)

Friday, August 24, 2007

I, Too, Am Jumping on the Bandwagon

With this post, I hereby join the many writers participating in Poetry Friday, in which they highlight this important art form each week on their blogs.

Previously I established that I haven't a poetic bone in my body, so I'll be borrowing from the greats.

What better title for my first entry than "I, Too"? Written by Langston Hughes, it is a wonderful example (as is so much of his work) of poetry as social commentary. My senior year in high school, I wrote a comparative essay using several of Mr. Hughes' poems, and he has ever since been a favorite of mine.

I, Too
by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What a Novelty Band Can Teach Us About Humor

If you watch The Flight of the Conchords, you know there's a whole lot we can learn about humor from the show. I'll concentrate on just two points here.

First, for anyone who hasn't seen the silliest, goofiest, craziest and most entertaining show ever to make its way through that huge labyrinth of cables in the ground, Flight of the Conchords is a half-hour comedy on HBO about two New Zealanders trying to hit the big time as a novelty rock band in New York. The show has engaging characters, excellent writing and very funny storylines. Best of all, the two main characters break out in song for no apparent reason at random intervals. Nothing I can write here will do the show justice, so suffice to say, it's hilarious. If you have HBO on Demand, I encourage you to check it out ASAP. If you do not have HBO, don't despair ... I am guessing the full first season will come out on DVD at some point. (BTW, I found out today the show has been picked up for a second season ... yay!)

Now, introductions complete, let's get on with the Humor Lessons. (Did I mention the show is funny?) Here is how we can introduce humor into our writing:

1. Turn common conceptions and stereotypes on their heads. The show does this a fair amount. My favorite example: the episode where Bret meets a girl whose only interest in him is, er, physical. The show takes all of our guys-who-use-girls-for-sex- and-girls-who-go-along-in-the-hopes-of- fostering -a-lasting-relationship stereotypes and turn them around. You want funny? Take two guys and have them sing a song whose main chorus is, "A kiss is not a contract. But it's very nice. Yes, it's very, very nice." Great stuff.

2. Create one or two comical supporting characters. Sure, our main character(s) can and should have a sense of humor. But our supporting characters can be comical. We can have fun with this, giving these characters a "schtick" readers can easily grasp onto. The best FOTC examples are Murray, a tourism director from New Zealand who moonlights as the band's manager, and Mel, their only fan. Murray is well meaning but clueless. At one point, he advises Bret and Jemain on the dangers of the streets of New York. I don't remember the exact quote, but he says something along the lines of, "I tell all of our tourists that New York is a dangerous place. They should wear reflective vests, and avoid large crowds by taking back alleys. And yet, nearly every day, a New Zealander is mugged in New York." And Mel? Mel also is well meaning but is, well, kind of a creepy psycho stalker.

Of course, unless a story is intended to be over-the-top funny, as is Flight of the Conchords, we may need to dial back a bit on these techniques. But used in proper doses, I think they can take humor to new levels in our writing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rutgers Bound

Good news in the children's writing biz can be tough to come by. Getting published is tough, and rejections can bring down even the most determined among us once in a while.

So though this bit of happy news may not mean much to most folks, I'm going to celebrate it here. I always say: Savor even the smallest victories.

I found out today I've been accepted to the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature "One-on-One Plus Conference," being held in October. The conference organizers admit about 75 or so writers each year, based on their applications and writing samples. I am so pleased to be selected!

I'll be paired up with an author, editor or agent for one-on-one mentoring as part of the day-long program. A terrific chance to meet some talented folks who are dedicated to the craft and business of children's writing!

Counting the days ....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

That's Just the Kind of Nerd I Am

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and it's eloquence; and you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however you can probably be overly-critical of works.

It's okay. I understand.

Drama Nerd
Social Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Anime Nerd
Artistic Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

Monday, August 13, 2007

There's a Place Called Pocono ...

... that's where you want to go, to get away from it all.

OK, so it's not the Caribbean paradise that Jimmy Buffet songs are made of, but a week in the Poconos was just the ticket for me last week.

With the possible exception of the SCBWI Conference, there's no place I'd rather go. And not to be outdone by conference goers Jay, Robin and Eve; rilla; Stephanie Blake; or Elizabeth Dulemba ... with all their glamorous pictures of La La Land, famous authors and sparkly, sexy evening attire ... here are my photos from the mountains of Pennsylvania:

Here's me giving it my best shot on the resort's bocci courts. No, I didn't win, but I DID make it past the first round in both the couples and team tournaments.

Here I am with my little brother, doing my best karaoke version of "Safety Dance." No, I didn't impress the crowd with my singing, but I DID dress real neat from my head to my feet and surprise 'em with a victory cry.

And last but not least, here I am with my sweetie. No real reason to post this picture, except that it is one of the few shots of me I actually like. And Joe's not looking half bad either.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Taking Off

I'm heading off for a week in the Poconos with my extended family, so no new posts for a while.

I hope to be able to regale you with tales of bocci championships won and crowd-pleasing karaoke solos upon my return.

I can't sing worth a hoot, but there's a Japanese proverb that says, "We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance."

I'm planning on dancing 'til I drop this week!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Delectable (Literary) Side Dishes

One of my favorite casual dining experiences is at the Red, Hot & Blue, a local BBQ chain. Their pulled pig sandwich is fantastic, but truth be told, my favorite part of the dish is the redskin potato salad that comes on the side. Delicious.

Two books I’ve recently read remind me a little of the Red, Hot & Blue. While their main story lines provided great, satisfying reads, I found myself enjoying their humorous “side dishes” just as much.

Let me explain.

In Beauty Shop for Rent, Laura Bowers tells the story of 15-year-old Abbey Garner and her Granny Po, who learn to take control of their own destinies as the small-town beauty shop Granny runs is transformed into a modern-day salon.

Throughout the book, Bowers injects comic relief in the form of a quiz Abbey likes to take in one of the tabloids. Each issue poses a Hypothetical Question of the Week, complete with a variety of silly answers. For example: If you were to be tortured for twenty-four hours, which technique would you find most painful? Being stuck in a room with fifty kindergartners in squeaky shoes, or with fifty obnoxiously loud eaters, or with twenty toddlers rubbing Styrofoam together?

These questions cracked me up and added to my enjoyment of the book, even though they did nothing to advance the plot or illuminate its theme. Of course, they did make the reader stop and think about Important Questions. (For the record, one toddler rubbing Styrofoam together would be torture enough for me. I get shivers just thinking about it … like fingernails on a blackboard.)

The Girlfriend Project, by Robin Friedman, uses a similar device. In this story, formerly nerdy Reed Walton is taller, better looking and, well, less nerdy, as he enters his senior year of high school, and he has to learn to handle his newfound popularity.

Threaded into the main story is a running gag between Reed and his Grandma (another grandmother!) as they brainstorm for a contest to develop New Jersey’s new state motto. Among my favorites: New Jersey: You Got a Problem with That? and New Jersey: Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted. (BTW, the books says lots of nice things about New Jersey … and part of the charm of what is perhaps the most misunderstood state in the union is that its citizens are not afraid to laugh at themselves.)

These types of “side dishes” are lots of fun to read, but of course, they are not to be thrown into a book willy nilly. They must ring true for the characters and be inserted into the story in a way that does not detract from the main plot, but complements it. Both Bowers and Friedman proved themselves to be master chefs in this regard.