Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Decluttering

VaseWithTwelveSunflowers-VanGogh1888Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. (not this one – but it’s one of my favorites) Think about that one a moment. His paintings now go for millions of dollars each and yet, he got nothing for them, other than the love of the art. Does that make him crazy?

Well, he was indeed mentally ill. Just which affliction he had has been debated and cannot be proved. Still, along with some of the most beautiful, stirring artwork ever produced, he also left behind a huge series of letters to his beloved brother Theo. I’m reading Irving Stone’s edited version of the most important of those letters. He could have been a writer. His words are beautiful, as well.

”If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.”

Did you realize he started his young adult path studying to be a minister like his father? From his letters, it’s obvious he was trying hard to throw his heart into it, but it wasn’t. It was expected. Pushed, possibly. He didn’t like the constant book studying. He didn’t like being cooped within walls instead of out exploring beauty, which he did see everywhere. That’s what stands out so far about his letters: his descriptions.

It has me wishing he’d set the studies aside earlier and began focus on his true love earlier.

Of course, I often wish I’d done the same. I spent too many years not writing when I could have. Now, I’m finding myself pulled in many directions that yank away writing time.

”If one had no sense of duty, who would be able to collect his thoughts at all? The feeling of duty sanctifies everything and binds things together, making one large duty out of the many little ones.”

I’m starting to clear out some of those extras. It’s spring, a natural time to restart, de-clutter, renew. I have tons of little herb seedlings coming up and more seeds to plant while spring is still attempting to push away the last remnants of winter (winter does appear to be resisting well, too well). I’m doing my filing (ugh) and disposing of a lot of old paperwork I no longer need to make room for the new. And I’m clearing things out online, as well. I’m handing over and bowing out, refurbishing what I still want and letting go of what I don’t need.

I need more time and more focus for my art. Even if I don’t get more out of it than Van Gogh did during my lifetime, at least it’ll be out there. Maybe some day someone will wish I’d started earlier. Since I can’t do that, I can at least make better use of the time to come, whatever that may be.

I’m also quite grateful to live in a time where people can get mental help if they need it – just in case, you know – and wish they could have helped him at the time.  

It’s also comforting to know he had constant doubts about his art. Most artists do, whether or not they are selling. It’s part of an artist’s curse: subjectiveness. There is no way to determine actual quality of art. Some people will detest the same piece others love. I suppose as long as some love it and enjoy it, that needs to be good enough. But a real artist will never accept that. What can you do?

”It is certainly true that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done!”

The farther I read into Dear Theo, the more I feel justified in narrowing my focus to what I love, to what I most love. What will the extras matter in the long run? It’s the passion that survives. The art. And the heart.

All quotes taken from Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh, Edited by Irving Stone, Plume, 1995.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: The Princes of Ireland

Maeve Binchy calls it “A giant, sprawling, easy-to-read story told in James Michener fashion.”

I’ve yet to read Michener (*blush*) but if he fills his books with as much history as Rutherfurd, I look forward to doing so.

I’m enamored of Ireland. Maybe it’s my more-than-a-quarter Irish blood. But I like to think it’s because of the spirit of the Irish: hardy, humorous, independent-minded, rebellious. Of course, as becomes apparent in The Princes of Ireland, that applies more to western and southern Ireland than to eastern Ireland (Dublin and thereabout). We were there in 2008, in both Dublin and out along the west coast (Galway, the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Kilfenara), and although I enjoyed Dunguaire Castlecertain things in Dublin, such as seeing the Book of Kells, in general, I was much more comfortable in the west. It felt more … Irish, so to speak. Maybe that doesn’t seem to make sense, but once you read Edward Rutherfurd’s sweeping saga of Irish history, it does.

When the novel began, I felt a true excitement of being “there” at the Pagan beginnings of the “western The Burrenisland” with the hardy souls inhabiting the cold, wet, rocky land. It is cold, wet, and rocky. Even in June, it was hard to stay warm. As is pertinent in any story of Ireland, mythology was pulled in, the mysticism of the ancient Irish mixed with the reality of animal and human sacrifice and a connection with a greater power.

As it went along, I began to have the feeling that it was more non-fiction than fiction, with hints of Story tying the events together and connecting them through the centuries. It does read largely as non-fiction. There are a plethora of details, names, ruling families that can be hard to keep all together from beginning to end. In fact, this one would be a good candidate for multiple reads (although I’ve yet to do that, either).  It’s a very long novel. Expect to spend plenty of time with it.

Also expect to come away with a new understanding of Ireland and its mix of people and cultures, from Druids to Vikings to Scottish warriors to St. Patrick’s Christians to English slaves, and later to English Catholic colonizers. And expect toSt. Patrick's Cathedral have questions raised in your thoughts about what Christianity, and then Catholicism, actually did to Ireland (and beyond). This is a straight-forward account of how religion has always mixed with politics and how it’s impossible to separate one from the other. It’s non-judgmental, well researched, and as straight forward as the ancient Irish themselves.

The Princes of Ireland is very highly recommended for Ireland enthusiasts, religion enthusiasts, as well as history enthusiasts in general.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

By the way, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (shown above) is a protestant church and corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional Irish food. It’s Americanized Irish created by Irish immigrants who had to cure their meat well enough to transport it. In my view, that makes it the perfect American Irish way to celebrate the day!


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Grammar pt. 2

I didn’t intend to continue the grammar lesson, but my daughter reminded me last night of something else that drives me crazy: 

Double Superlatives and Double Negatives. No, you don’t have the most prettiest flowers in the garden. You have the most pretty flowers or the prettiest flowers (and prettiest is preferred to most pretty). Most prettiest is a double superlative. On the same token, if you say you don’t want no flowers in your yard (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t), you’re actually saying you do want flowers in your yard. The double negative (don’t & no) cancel each other out the way –3 x –3 = +9. Don’t ask me to explain that one; I had to learn math rules whether or not I understood them. And I realize English is the same for many.

By the way, “I could care less” means you really can care less than you do already. If you can’t, say, “I couldn’t care less.”

While I’m here: I saw, NOT I seen. I have seen this done so often it’s becoming common usage. Yikes! Please don’t.

A lot are two words, not one.

Literally means it actually did. For instance, if your head literally exploded, you wouldn’t still be around to tell us it did. (Well, maybe in a sci fi book you could be.)
Figuratively means it felt like it did, and then you could tell us about it.

A favorite of politicians and newscasters these days: No, you did not up the bar. You raised the bar.

I have to point this one out, and my crit partner for Off The Moon will laugh if she reads it: Ryan felt nauseated. He should not have felt nauseous. I left it as nauseous on purpose and she probably cringed when she read the final copy. But, I write closely from the POV character’s thoughts, and Ryan, as smart as he is, would have thought “nauseous” instead. Why? It’s common use. If I’d changed it to “nauseated” it would have made him sound more uppity than he is (and yes, I have been thought of as uppity simply because I tend to use proper English – Ha! You should have seen me struggle through science classes!). If I wrote as a narrator instead of AS the character, I would have used nauseated instead. Was that a bad idea? Maybe, except your dialogue must reflect your character, and since my narratives are all inner dialogue, I felt it was the right choice. I’m sure someone will slam me for it. *shrug* I also use fragments on purpose, for effect. We novelists can break rules, as long as we know the rules first and break them for a particular purpose. I wouldn’t use them in formal writing.

There is a difference between writing fiction and non-fiction, just as there is a difference in formatting a bibliography for MLA style or APA style. If you’re writing non-fiction, stick with the rules.

Can I also mention that soldiers do not drive Hummers on duty? They may drive them off-duty if they can afford to buy them, but the Army uses Humvees, not Hummers. Yes, there is a difference. [Official name: HMMWV for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle]

Okay, so I also have to highlight a news story a fellow author shared this morning. Have to love the ingenuity, but with an excerpt like this, I’d have to pass on the book to come:

"A woman walks from the bathroom, whom I still have no memory of, in this bedroom that I have no memory of, and out to some other room that I have no memory of... 'Headache. Terrible headache,' I say through my teeth. 'Killing me. I think something's wrong...'"

What’s wrong with this? Oh, so many things. First, “whom” is modifying the bathroom, so if she means she has no memory of the bathroom, she should say which instead. If she means the woman, she needs to move the whom phrase behind the woman so it modifies her: “A woman, whom I still have no memory of…” Also, it should be who, not whom. And it should be “into this bedroom” not in. On top of that, it's repetitive without saying much, and it’s vague, and it sounds like distant third person POV with “a woman walks” and yet it’s using first person POV.

Posting sections of your still-to-come novel on posts around NYC might get attention (although it also might be littering), and it might be creative, but before you get creative and get attention … please, learn your craft.


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Friday, March 04, 2011

It’s Grammar Day; Have To Do It!

Crayonbox-blankIn honor of National Grammar Day (yes, there is such a thing!), I can’t resist posting a bunch of grammar rule breakages that drive us grammar nerds totally bonkers. Some are my own. Others came from either Writer Beware’s Facebook page (Mar 4, 2011) or from’s For Authors newsletter (Feb 23, 2011). Since I torture my nearest and dearest often enough by correcting grammar, I thought it was only fair to spread the favor.

It’s and its – not really that hard: it’s means it is, a contraction while its is possessive as in, “Virtue is its own reward.” (so is correct grammar, by the way)

They’re, their, there – They’re means they are, again a contraction (the apostrophe means you’re leaving something out). Their is a pronoun meaning it belongs to them: Their boots are muddy from the rain. If you don’t mean they’re or their, then use there, as in “over there” or “there is” or “put it there.”

Take and Bring – My grandma drummed this into my head when I was young: you take something there but you bring it here. “Take the cake next door but be sure to bring the plate home with you.”

Irregardless – Yikes! Please don’t say that. The word is “regardless” even if some will let you get away with it because it’s become common usage.

These ones or those ones. – No! These or those or that one or this one. No other options.

Affect and Effect – affect is a verb, effect is a noun: The effect of the bill is that it will affect the environment. (There are less obvious uses of these words, but in general, this is good enough to remember.)

Further and Farther – This one might be tricky, as it will tell you in some dictionaries that they are interchangeable in common usage. I’ve done the same because I simply like the sound of further better than the sound of farther. However, I no longer do so. Farther is a measurable distance. Further is figurative. As in, “The farther you go down the road the further into trouble you’ll get.”

Less and Fewer – Fewer is a counting word, as in you have fewer books on your Ereader than on your shelf. If you can’t count the object, you can’t have fewer, you can only have less. You have less time to read the fewer books you have. And be sure to tell your local grocery store that their signs should read: 5 items or fewer, NOT 5 items or less. If you can count the items, you can’t have less. Of course, you could have fewer minutes. You still only have less time, though.

Should have, NOT should of!

To and Too
: To is a preposition (I want to go there.) Too is an adverb (I want too much. Are you going, too?)

And, please don’t use a contraction when you mean a plural: Murphy’s Bar is correct since the bar belongs to Murphy (possessive). However, your Christmas card should say “The Murphys” as in there is more than one of you Murphys in the picture. (If there is only one of you in the picture, then The Murphy would work but it might sound pretentious.)

I’m not even going into lie and lay, other than basically a person can lie himself down but he must lay something else down. “I need to lie down now; my head is spinning. Lay the grammar book down and grab a drink.” I admit I tend to avoid other confusion with lie and lay by preferring to say, “He let the book remain where she set it.” Set is easier. Okay, I’m not claiming to be a grammar expert. Winking smile

I do have to point out the difference between that and who: a person is a who (no matter how small), while that is a thing or a critter. “A person who yells on a regular basis is less likely to be heard than he who only yells when it’s truly necessary.” Or, “It’s a smart little grasshopper that keeps its singing muted while a toad is looking for its dinner.”

Ah, your and you’re: again, the contraction vs. the possessive – “You’re likely tired of the grammar lesson and would rather be reading your new book!”

And so, I’ll stop here and see if anyone else would like to add to the list in the comments.

Don’t you feel sorry now for my loved ones who have to put up with this on a regular basis?

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