Adventures in Editing, or The frustration of English.

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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question.
Currently, I am working on reviewing galley proofs for an upcoming Steampunk Fantasy from Pro Se Productions.
What’s a galley proof? Very simply, it is the last step before publishing. It’s an ancient term, from a time when type was actually hand set using wooden or metal blocks and placed into metal trays called “galleys.” Then single-column pages of type, or “proofs,” was printed. The authors would edit and make corrections to the text and send it back to the printer. The printer would then take great delight … uhm, curse the author to the third generation, while rearranging the blocks of type that needed to be corrected. Lather, rinse repeat until the book was perfect.
In this case, a) not my book just double-checking the copy edits and b) it reads well. There is not much in need of correction…except two lines which caught my attention. And they don’t need correction, they just got my curiosity up. They are:

  1.  “You’re always snooping around the back alleys…”
  2.  “There are other means of employment besides back-alley robbery,..”

Do you notice the difference? Yeah, there is a hyphen in one and not the other. Ever had that experience where you look at a word, and it just doesn’t look right?
In the first sentence, “back alleys” is a noun. It follows the standard definition of Person, Place, or Thing. An alley, or alleyway, runs behind a row of houses, or between rows of houses. Definitely a place then. What about context? In the United Kingdom, (our story is set in London), a residence or other premises whose only entrance is on a back alley will have an address of the form “Back of [number] Something Street,” where the row of houses is in “Something Street.” It would appear, according to my sources, no hyphen is needed here.
Except… in sentence number two it is an adjective. A word or phrase naming an attribute added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it. By modifying robbery, back-alley (with a hyphen) is defined as dirty, unprepossessing, sordid, or clandestine.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to burn too many brain cells on it. A quick check of a sound source on editing questions, Editor Group, had the answers about hyphenation. Still, it reminds me of a quote about the English Language.
“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
–James D. Nicoll
Pretty sure we can add torture to its list of crimes too.
Thank you for reading
Ernest Russell

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Monday’s Musings

Types of Currency

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I’m in my late fifties now and have had regular jobs since I was twelve. Throughout working these various jobs, a majority of them dealing with people and money, I naively believed I had seen the different categories of currency used in transactions. These categories, as I am calling them, relate more to the condition and method of carry at the time of a cash transaction. I share with you now my observations.
New Currency
Yes, this is the category of bright, crisp money. The bright greens popping against the white, wrapped in bands of green, reds, yellows, violets, and mustards being the most common wrappers denoting denomination, the number of bills and the amount of the bundle.
These are pretty unless you are a cashier. These deceptively attractive bundles which reputedly cause the world to go round are really quite the hazard. These same new bills take delight in striking to cause paper cuts. There is a legend in some circles these stiff, sharp bills can be just a sharp as any well-honed blade. Their intent to slip through your hands, laughing as they make good an escape. Their Velcro-like tendency makes it easy for two or even three to act together as one. At closing, anticipating a balanced drawer, your frustration growing as you try to balance. A vain search for the escapees, only to make up the difference from your own meager supply of cash.
Regular or “used” Currency
Have no fear, over time these bands of bloodthirsty marauders of the cash drawer and wallets are handled and beaten in submission. As we stuff them into our wallets, purses, and pockets their edges become blunted and the Velcro-like surfaces are sanded to a sleeker finish something begins to change. No longer brash and beautiful, the minty freshness dwindling to a memory as it is laundered, folded and crushed. This legal tender transitions in just that, an object as soft and pliable as a well-loved pair of comfortable jeans.
Now, you would think these are the two types of currency yet, they are not. There are other categories created by people. Just as our influence affects our surroundings, so too have people created subcategories of cash based on the method in which it is carried.
After all, how did you suppose this money achieved its delightfully soft and plaint condition? It has probably been through one, or more, of the following methods of carry.
The first of these subcategories is usually seen carried by women, and it breaks into two subcategories.
This is not meant to be a sexist reference in any way, it merely involves apparel those identifying as male generally don’t wear. The bra.
Yes, I am talking about –
Bra money.
Upper Bra Money
One of the amazing things is the number of items some women can carry in their bras without creating the appearance of being lumpier than badly mashed potatoes. No, it’s not a flattering picture, but when you watch the assortment of items some women remove from their décolletage, it can be downright scary to watch. Externally, there is no evidence all this “stuff” was ever there!
It’s the body pocket trope made real. You know the one where a character, often animated, reaches into a pocket or other space and pulls out a series of gag items until they find what they need. The array of cell phones, lipstick, makeup, keys, hard candies/mints, small wallets/ids/credit cards, hankies, and of course, money is impressive. Stages magicians weep at not being able to stuff this much up their sleeves.
This is cash stored in the bra on top of the breast. Presented with the amount due the customer reaches into her top extracting payment from the upper portions. The money is always warm and depending on the weather may be slightly damp.
Under Bra Money
Sharing many traits in common with Upper Bra Money it is found under the breast, held in place not only by placement between the bra and the breast but by the weight of the breast itself. This money is always damp, occasionally has an aroma, and the bills could be difficult to separate.
Both of the above methods do seem to represent a somewhat secure method of carry. Neither is likely to cause any loss of funds.
Those identifying as a male of the species rarely carry the particular forms of currency so far described. A predominately, though by no means exclusive, male category of currency is carried in the sock.
Sock Money
Sock money, as the name implies, is carried in the sock(s) of the bearer. The quality of this currency varies on many factors. Weather, as with Bra money, is a primary factor regarding the moisture level. So too does where in the sock the money resides. If an athletic tube sock, the cash held in place between the ankle and top of the sock, those bills on the interior of the fold may be relatively dry. The outer bill, or bills, which wraps the others will absorb any sweat produced.
Migration can occur with this method. If the cash migrates too far up the sock, there is a danger of it falling out, or even ejected between the elastic and motion of the calf muscle. At times, the bills carried in this manner may be pushed downward wedging itself between the ankle and edge of the shoe. It is recommended not to allow this position to continue as the cash rubbing against the side of the foot could cause various degrees of irritation.
I have witnessed some to carry the money placed deep in the sock, so the foot rests upon it. Thus providing additional arch support. Not being an orthopedic specialist I cannot attest to this and would suggest speaking with a qualified podiatrist before attempting.
Positioning the cash in this manner causes all of it to become soaked foot sweat and should it be raining it guarantees the money to be soaked thus rendering it very tender indeed. A condition for the cashier akin to separating wet newspaper.
As mentioned, carried above the ankle cash presented from this form of storage is generally damp for the outer bill or two absorb the sweat, leaving the inner bills in reasonable condition, and they exude little odor. For those bills which are carried inside the shoe, a very different matter. As one person removed his shoe, setting it upon my desk, thereby guaranteeing if I were any species of canine with a tracking ability I could find him anywhere, before proceeding to remove his sock. As he reached into the ecru nylon tube, it may once have been white, and stained with his footprint, I wondered what might emerge. Flashbacks to episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle flashed before my eyes:
“Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out this hat.”

“Again? That trick never works.”
Indeed, many things came out of the sock. An ID, some loose change, and a crumpled bus pass. But no cash. He had forgotten which sock the money was located. The idle thought crossed my mind if he went through this process whenever he rode the bus, I suspect it was carried higher up. It is a question I regret not asking.
A repeat performance on the other foot occurred. This time cash was produced. It was damp, to the point of slimy but not to the point of inseparability, and for the rest of the day, the cash drawer emitted the distinct aroma of the combined unwashed contents of a basketball teams gym bags. It took several doses of Lysol, Febreze not yet invented, and a pine tree-shaped air freshener left in the drawer for about a week before the offending effluvia dissipated.
Honestly, until recently I had thought these were the ways people carried their stash of cash. Over the past few months, on a reasonably regular basis, there have been enough instances of this for me to think a new category should be added. Are you ready?
Underwear Money.
Yes, you read it correctly. For a few years, as almost everyone is aware, there has been a fashion trend among young males to wear their pants below their underwear. Not a style which suits me, but to quote Tim Gunn, “”If that’s the look you were going for, that’s quite a look!”.
My first encounter with this form of currency remains quite vivid. It was time for the young man to pay for his purchase. After hearing the cost he stands up, I thought to reach into his pocket. But no. It was to reach down the front of his black and white checked underwear. Not the pants, he very definitely pulled the underwear forward and reached down plunging about half of his forearm down the front of his pants, having to lean forward slightly as he did so.
Was this was some parody of Cleavon Little’s Sheriff from Blazing Saddles? It would not have surprised me had the young man said: “Excuse me, while I whip this out.” Which, disappointingly he did not, as he whipped out a crumpled wad of bills.

It did make me wonder if he had seen The Sting. There is a scene where a grifter is showing a numbers runner to carry the cash down the front of his pants “because no cop is going to frisk you there.”
So there I am with this crumpled wad of bills, glistening from unknown fluid, with a rather strong musky odor emanating from them. The young man proceeded to sort and count out the correct amount then duly returned the remainder to their resting place and sat back down. With no hesitation, I used a paper towel to scoop up the bills and left them covered by it in my cash drawer.
Several pumps of hand sanitizer later I felt almost clean again. This has not been the only time I have seen this occur. It has happened with enough frequency that it must be included here, though I do believe it to be limited to only young males at this point.
I leave you now with my observations on the ways people transport their money. Perhaps you have run into some and not others, if you have spotted other means not mentioned, I would be interested in hearing them. For now, it is enough to have shared my two cents and the descriptions herein. Until next time, try not to think about where your money may have been.
As always, thank you for reading,
Ernest Russell

World Building

 

This past weekend I attended an online seminar on world building host by Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Productions and Gumshoe Research Consultants.

 

Already it is making a difference. It has slowed me down just a little but will be a boon in the long run. The work sheets and the information I entered as part of the exercises is already helping me catch continuity among the stories in the anthology I am writing.
The slowdown is I am catching continuity problems here and there. Having those sheets handy is making it easier though. As I come across something I need to decide upon or fix they are a great place to organize the world structure.
The work sheets are cool, but the other part that sank in was the discussion among the participants. Being able to discuss the points made in lecture among a great group of authors really drove home some ways of thinking differently about how I was handling some of the points in my current project.
Writing several short stories set in the same universe, being able creating and having this resource is great. It’s definitely having an impact on the Fairy Tale Noir Anthology and will carry into projects.

If I walked away with anything it is there has to be a story regardless of the world setting, but the better I know my world, the richer and fuller it becomes for my readers.

Thank you for reading,

Ernest

 

 

Decrepit Snake Pliskin

So, it has been three days since my first eye surgery. Since there is a significant difference in vision between the eye which has been operated on and the one with the remaining cataract, I am wearing a patch over the eye with the cataract.

With my black leather trench I have the appearance of a decrepit Snake Pliskin, greying hair, paunch, playing with a knife. There’s a Cosplay in there somewhere. Granpa Pliskin. Though I have much more respect for any action hero with an eye patch. The disorientation of no depth perception is aggravating. The grueling hours of practice to overcome the vertigo and adjusting for the lack of stereo vision would have taken extreme focus. Makes me very glad I only have until the 13th before the next surgery.

A walk to the store and back left me with a bit of vertigo. I have dropped three bottles because though I felt them on the table but missed having them far enough back from the edge by a quarter inch. And yet, the clarity of vision I am experiencing is one I cannot recall. My doctor says it will be four to six weeks before the eye is fully healed, same for the next. Every day my vision improves. I look across the room and books which were barely in focus are now clearly legible.

I have been in glasses since I was in second grade. I have no real recollection of sight without glasses. And over 45 years, because I have always had almost no vision beyond the end of my nose, it has become natural for me to hold some things very close and look over my glasses. Now, if it is less than 12 inches it is still rather blurry. Total opposite of what I have known all my life. This morning I can see my phone if at full arm extension. I tried to write yesterday and set at 200% could see the page, but a couple hundred words in I began developing a splitting headache. Guessing I am beyond that since I am over that word count now.

One last thing to say here which I need to say, I say it last not because it is the least, it is the most important.

None of this, there is so little in my life at this time that I would, oe could be doing without my incredible partner. There have been many who encouraged me to write, but she is my day to day support. Following up, gives me editing advice, tells me when and where something needs to be re-written. And it is she who has given me this gift of vision. This is one of those times the words “Thank you” just feel entirely inadequate.

Lessons in Life – My life anyway.

I am entering a period of my life with a lot of change.

One thing being a writer does to us all, we examine ourselves. Discovering our fears, finding our strengths, and we pour all the attributes which makes us human into the mold of our characters. Then we share it. Sometimes through our characters, sometimes we just overshare. >grin<

Yes, writers are students of the human condition. I watch everyone. Listen for reactions during conversation. The next booth in more than one restaurant has provided inspiration. Might be a poem, a story, or a character. Watch newsfeeds on FB and Twitter, listen to old radio shows and read. Read a lot. People are infinitely fascinating. Real life or fictional.

For me as a writer, they all have one thing in common. They are only the reflections of what someone else wants me to see. The only person we can truly know, is ourselves.

I’ll be having cataract surgery on both eyes soon. This is a major step in my life and it alone has awakened some anxieties and fears I did not realize were so strong.

Moving, for the first time since the army I am making a move in a few months which I am not initiating. Its an odd realization. The reason is great, my partner has a new job and everything sounds fantastic. There are so many benefits. But I have very little control. This is not a bad thing, just an odd feeling, the realization of a difference in my role.

A pitch for my first novel was accepted. I have several short stories and poems under my belt. Looking forward to the stretch on the novel but a little anxiety there too.

A lot of changes, and while there are anxieties, there is also hope. I am looking forward to the coming challenges. It interesting to see how I pour this knowledge into upcoming characters.

The finest thing in the world is knowing how to belong to oneself and then share it.

Thanks for reading,

Ernest

Where did it begin?

The weekend of April 9th, I had the chance to be in New Orleans. Well, anytime you can visit New Orleans, you really should go. The opportunity allowed me to visit friends, do some research and visit the radio show I do some work for as they entered their new studio. If you are in the New Orleans area you can hear on 99.5 WRNO on Sundays at 7 or catch them on podcast as The Week in Geek.

Opportunity arose for an impromptu, mini-interview. One of the questions Brian asked was where did it start for me?

I gave a quick answer on air, but the question has lingered. First, one of the things I am grateful to my grandmother and my mother was they did manage to instill a love of reading. That was the start. I could fairly well before I started school. Some of those early books I recall were Babar, Robin Hood, Paul Bunyan, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and of all things, I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe through The Gold Bug.

Once I was hooked, I found all I could at the library. I devoured Poe. By the time I was in third grade I had read many of his stories. Poe was stirring, and amusing. And all was well.

Until third grade. Not sure what possessed her but she thought reading The Tell-Tale Heart and Cask of Amontillado to third graders, even if it was Halloween, would be a good idea. Still, she did not reckon with me.

As she read them, many did get scared. Except me, having read them, knowing what was coming and watching the others get scared, I giggled.

Yeah, third grade and I was giggling at some of Poe’s scarier stories. It actually seemed to unnerve the teacher. I was sent to the principals office where I had to explain why I giggled.

My humor has always been a little dry and often dark, sometimes a gallows humor, this was probably some of that origin. But I also think it was what made me want to start writing. See, I liked watching the others react, and I wanted to make other react. Put words in front of them and pictures in their mind to which they would react.

Thank you for reading,

Ernest

Heroes

A coworker and I were discussing heroes today. Specifically, what makes a hero? There are many ways to describe one. The dictionary definition is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

My coworkers point was we do not have any real heroes. We both agree we need heroes but he feels they can exist only in comics or fantasy as an ideal. The media takes anyone who approaches the heroic in real life and works to cut them down. Take away the ideals which make them a hero. Prove they are really just ordinary people and ordinary people can’t be heroes. Superman is his ideal hero, power tempered by compassion. He has a code of honor and morality which lets him overcome any adversity. In his eyes heroes should be perfect.

If you like vanilla, Superman is okay. I tend to prefer my heroes to have flaws. Heroes’ flaws are what allow us to relate to them. You want to cheer them on or feel for them when they stumble. But the flaws do not hold them back. Through the classic heroes journey as we watch the hero grow and overcome their flaws. Stan Lee with The Amazing Spiderman was groundbreaking. Peter Parker had all the problems of any high school and teens had a hero to whom they can relate.

It is walking with the hero as they move forward against the odds. In spite of, and sometimes because of, their flaws overcoming challenges can be inspiring. And they do not have to be in shining armor. Give me one whose armor has been used and shows its wear. Frank Miller is quoted as saying “The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact he’s a hero the whole time”.

In the end, we agreed to disagree. There are acts which are heroic; there are heroes who perform them. There are everyday heroes. Some represent the best of people, to paraphrase something Mary Peters once said on a Peter, Paul, & Mary special part of their secret to success was they sang to each other’s highest ideals. Individually, we may not stop a bank robbery or save the world, but we can be heroes to each other by representing the best of ourselves. Be the person willing to help others to the best of your circumstance and ability. Be someone’s hero.

Thank you for reading,

Ernest

My Lover, My Friend

Once I was lucky enough to live in New Orleans. I visit the city often as I can, and this weekend I was finally able to put into words what I have long known.

New Orleans is an entity; some cities have a soul. Those that do look you over, deciding if it likes you, if you belong. If it does, it will find ways for you to stay. If you need a job, someone has a friend who needs help. Place to stay? Suddenly there is a room available.

Whether she likes you or not, New Orleans has a way of sinking her hooks in you. She latches onto your soul and becomes an ache, a yearning for her. Are you a Tourist? Fine, you get home and within a week you are planning that next trip. Each time you visit, it’s a little harder to leave.

Oh! You lived there, got to know her a little, and had to move? How many nights do you dream of her? If she likes you her siren call is strong.

If you fell in love with her you search the job pages, maybe you’ll find one. Maybe you wonder if you dare step out to live on that edge.

We flirted this weekend. I think she likes me.

Cycles of Circles

This weekend has been spent visiting a town I left almost ten years ago. I lived here almost 20 years. Has been wonderful catching with some old friends, old haunts and introducing my partner to some favorite restaurants.

It got me thinking about this piece.

In chaos there is meaning.

The meaning is there is no meaning.

Chaos

The weirding of the word

Is a lie to its content.

 

A portion of the great Ain Soph.

The mind grapples what it cannot conceive.

In the no-thingness of chaos

Is contained the birth of all.

 

Order,

Born of chaos,

Dies

Kicking and screaming

As chaos

Welcomes

It home.

 

All cycles,

All possible,

Extremes,

I climb the tree to live.

 

Looking out

Over the great mass of non-being

I see

In the distance

Another tree.

 

Looking out from the tree

Is me…

 

 

Stretching my Genres

By now you know I am a new author, sort of, I have been writing off and on for years. Poetry, flash and science fiction/horror but it has only been in the past year and half I have made attempts to market any of my stories.

One question I keep being asked is, when I am going to write a stand-alone book? I am giving it a shot now. A good reason to write short stories is to expand your genres, get a feel for what you like writing, try something new and flex the grey matter.  Shooting for 25,000 – 30,000 word novella for a pocket digest. My goal is to tie at least a couple of my short stories together since they are set in the same world.

So far, I have marketed weird tales, noir, poetry, adventure, mystery, gothic romance/horror, and historical fiction. All of them, except) the poetry, fall into a broader category of pulp. My favorite genre to write so far is the supernatural/weird/horror tale. The only one I have not overly enjoyed writing is the straight historical fiction. I have been told by a couple of beta readers that is really pretty good. I am glad to hear that because it will be a long time before I do another.

The mystery and the noir were fun. It was a murder mystery based on characters by D.L. Champion. The hardest part was coming up with the murder and the solution. Still, I would enjoy writing more about that character. The noir was a satire based on the Three Billy Goats Gruff. It will be out this summer in an anthology called “Once Upon A Mystery” from Beyond The Threshold Studios. I will post some excerpts of it later this week along with an update where it is in the publication process.

Writing in these varied styles gave me a feel for first attempt at a stand alone. And yeah, I chickened out, going for the comfort zone. >grin< As long as I am writing and submitting to Pro Se Productions, which I consider to be my writing home for now, there will always be opportunity to stretch my creative styles.

Thank you for reading,

Ernest