Dictionary Of Clichés

A couple of weeks ago when Cindy and I were over at Daytona Beach, we stopped in at a used book store we had visited before.

I walked back to the “Writing” section and after a minute or two of scanning the 6 shelves they had dedicated to the subject, I came across this beauty; The Dictionary of  Clichés by James Rogers, for an excellent price of only $5.00. This will be a great addition to my reference bookshelf!

The Dictionary Of Clichés

There was also an extra “kick” in it for me because when I opened the Dictionary Of Clichés up and began to browse through it to be sure it was intact, I glanced at the first entry and was pleased to see that I already knew the origin and definition of A-OK.

A-OK Entry in The Dictionary Of Clichés

Yeah, I’m easily amused.


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Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens Died On This Date In 1910

Samuel 'Mark Twain' ClemensIt was on this day 105 years ago that the man who is often quoted as saying “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” did, in fact, really die. What Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens actually said to the journalist who came to his door in 1897 to investigate his presumed fatality was “The report of my death is an exaggeration,” but the various misquotes about Clemens’ denial of death have taken on lives of their own.

In 1909, 73-year-old Clemens proclaimed: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”

He was eerily accurate in his prescience. He died of a heart attack that next year, on this day exactly one century and 5 years ago – April 21, 1910 – at the age of 74, precisely one day after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach to Earth. He was buried next to his wife in Upstate New York. His only surviving child placed next to his grave a monument that was 12 feet long, or two fathoms deep – the depth at which it’s safe for an average steamboat to pass, a riverboat expression known as “Mark Twain,” from which Samuel Clemens chose his pen name.

Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac for some of the above.


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Neil Gaiman On Writing

Neil Gaiman in front of a bookshelf.Neil Gaiman says just write; just get the words down; don’t worry about your first draft, no one will ever see it; get the ideas and the words down. Just write.

That is hard advice for me to follow. I need to know where the story is going and how it will get there. I need to go over the words and examine the phrases and inspect the plot and, and, and all the other things I need to do first.

But I’ll try it.

Because Neil Gaiman said it.

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25 Maps That Explain The English Language

I know just enough Latin to be dangerous (though how dangerous can a dead language actually be?) and only enough to understand the basis of words in English.

And I do the same with other languages such as Spanish (took it in high school back in the Ice Age), Greek (studied it in college back in the Paleolithic Age), and French (tried to learn it 8 years ago before we went to France). But I freely admit that, outside of understanding word origins, I have never really enjoyed learning a language enough to speak and write it. You may feel the same since, “only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English.”

So for those of you like me who want to dig deeper but don’t care to go exploring in dusty old tomes filled with the words of old or dead university professors, then you might enjoy the visual learning aspect of these 25 Maps That Explain The English Language.

Map of the English Language

Just be careful…I’ve gotten lost in there a few times.

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20 Phrases You’ve Likely Misused

Intents and Purposes misuseWe’ve all done it, at one time or another. Like misheard lyrics of a song (‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy), a misheard phrase can and does easily work itself into our everyday speaking, sometimes to hilarious effect.

Here is a list of 20 phrases you’ve likely misused. Of this list, I’ve only been guilty of number 10, but there is also no doubt I’ve misused others that are not included in this particular group.

Do you see any you may have misused?

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The I Love Writing Weekly Roundup

Global English Editing logoEvery Wednesday, the good folks at Global English Editing post their “I Love Writing” weekly roundup of the best writing on the web for the previous week. I’ve been subscribing to their RSS feed for a few weeks now and there’s always some interesting stuff in there.

For example, last week there were articles on syntax, how to improve clarity and conciseness, female writers using androgynous names, writing what you DON’T know, and thinking like an editor.

Take a few minutes to peruse their past few roundups and see if you find some interesting subject matter for yourself.

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“The Scarlet Letter” Published 165 Years Ago Today

the_scarlet_letter325pxIt was on this day in 1850 that “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne was first published. I remember my 11th grade American Literature teacher in high school assigning it to us to read and how legalistic in their religious practice I found the Puritans to be. Sadly, it reminds me of many who still operate in that fashion today.

Hawthorne was living at a time when there was almost no such thing as American literature, in part because the American publishing industry was so behind the times. In order to publish a book, a single printer would edit the manuscript, set the type, operate the printing press, bind the pages into books, and then sell them. It was remarkably inefficient, and so it was almost impossible to produce a best-seller, since so few copies were available to be sold.

But by 1850, books were being printed by machines. Long, continuous sheets of paper were fed into steam-powered printing presses, and factories of workers folded, pressed, and stitched the pages into books.The Scarlet Letter became the first great American novel in part because it was the first novel that could reach a large audience.

scarletletter325pxHawthorne had long been fascinated by America’s Puritan history, especially since one of his own ancestors had been a judge in the Salem witch trials. Ten years before starting “The Scarlet Letter”, he had read a historical account of a woman who had to wear the letter A on her chest as a punishment for adultery. He used that woman as the main character of the novel, and he named her Hester Prynne.

He finished writing the book on February 2, 1850. He was exhausted and felt sick from spending so much time indoors, without exercise. The next evening, he read the conclusion to his wife; he said, “It broke her heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.”

On March 16, 2,500 copies of The Scarlet Letter were published, and they sold out within 10 days. Critics loved it, and it established Hawthorne as one of the best writers in America. Henry James would later call it “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in this country.”

Over the course of the weeks my American Literature teacher spent dissecting and analyzing the book (I read it though completely the first night it was assigned, then read along with the class), allowing us to ask our questions and state our views, I came to truly enjoy the characters of Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale, while feeling sorry for what anger did to Roger Chillingworth and intolerant legalism did to the Puritans of the town.

If you’ve never read “The Scarlet Letter”, I highly recommend it.

Thanks to “The Writer’s Almanac” for portions of the above.

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Neil Gaiman Explains Where He Gets Story Ideas

Neil Gaiman in black leather jacketOne of my favorite writers is Neil Gaiman. He has an imagination that creates some fantastical, out of this world stories and the writing talent, skill, and ability to make those stories believable.

In this short four minute video, Mr. Gaiman reveals where he gets his story ideas from. It’s not from the Idea of the Month club, as one writer answered, or a little store in Schenectady, NY, as Harlan Ellison claims.

You might be surprised.

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Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac!

kerouac_with_cat325pxIt’s the birthday of Jack Kerouac, born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1922. He was from a working-class French-Canadian family; he grew up speaking French, and he wasn’t fluent in English until he was a teenager. In New York City, he met a group of friends who would eventually be known as the Beat Generation — Allen Ginsberg, William S. Boroughs, Neal Cassady, and others. Kerouac wrote his novel “On the Road” in 1957 about Cassady.

Kerouac famously wrote “On the Road” in just 20 days, during a coffee-fueled writing spree in the spring of April 1951. He typed it on translucent draft paper that he found in a closet at a friend’s apartment — he cut the paper to size and taped it together so it would work in his typewriter. It’s true that Kerouac produced that version of “On the Road” in just a few weeks, but the novel itself was a long time in the making. In 1947, Kerouac began collecting material for a new novel. In 1948, he described it in his journal: “Two guys hitch-hiking to California in search of something they don’t really find, and losing themselves on the road, and coming all the way back hopeful of something else.” Notes and ideas for the novel filled hundreds of pages of journals, letters, and notebooks. In a letter to a friend, he wrote: “These ideas and plans obsess me so much that I can’t conceal them […] they overflow out of me, even in bars with perfect strangers.” Throughout those years of writing Kerouac continued to take cross-country trips with Neal Cassady, and recorded their adventures and conversations.

In late March of 1951, his friend John Clellon Holmes had just finished a novel about the Beats, and he showed Kerouac the manuscript. Kerouac was angry, feeling that Holmes had stolen his subject matter. Kerouac’s wife convinced her husband that instead of stewing about it, he should go ahead and get his own novel written. He began writing on April 2nd and finished on the 22nd. He wrote to Cassady: “Story deals with you and me and the road […] Plot, if any, is devoted to your development from young jailkid of early days to later (present) W.C. Fields saintliness … step by step in all I saw. […] I’ve telled all the road now. Went fast because the road is fast … wrote whole thing on strip of paper 120 foot long (tracing paper that belonged to Cannastra) — just rolled it through typewriter and in fact no paragraphs … rolled it out on floor and it looks like a road.”

Once Kerouac finished that draft, he rewrote it, typing it up on normal paper. Then he tried to get it published, but it was rejected again and again. In 1957, “On the Road” was finally published by Viking, who had previously turned it down. Viking editors insisted that Kerouac change the names of real people so they couldn’t be sued for libel, so Neal Cassady became Dean Moriarty.

When it was published, “On the Road” got mixed reviews, but its success made Kerouac famous — and uncomfortable. He wrote to a friend: “I really wanta dig into my art like a maniac and pay no attention to promotion (which everybody wants me to do … what a waste of sweet life!)”
His books include “The Dharma Bums” (1958), “Doctor Sax” (1959),”Visions of Cody” (1960), and “Big Sur” (1962).

kerouac_house_college_park325pxMost people in Central Florida are familiar with what has become known as “The Kerouac House”, located in College Park, a suburb of Orlando Florida. It is the home Kerouac lived in beginning in July of 1957 and while writing “The Dharma Bums” between November 26 and December 7, 1957. To begin writing “The Dharma Bums”, Kerouac typed onto a ten-foot length of teleprinter paper, in order to avoid interrupting his flow for paper changes, just as he had done six years previously for “On the Road.” Today, the home serves as a writer-in-residence facility for the Kerouac Project.

Kerouac died at 5:15 on the morning of October 21, 1969 due to internal hemorrhaging caused by cirrhosis of the liver as a result of his lifetime of heavy drinking. He was 47 years old.


Thanks to “The Writer’s Almanac” for portions of the above.


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Happy Anniversary, Book Of The Month Club

Book of the Month Club advertisementDo you remember the Book of the Month Club? I can recall that my mom was a member when I was growing up. You could initially join by choosing 3 or 4 books from their catalog of bestselling books and authors for the low, low cost of $1 each, IF you agreed to purchase a subsequent minimum number of books (usually 2 more books) at the regular price over a certain time period (usually a year, sometimes 2 years) from their monthly offering that arrived in the mail like clockwork. There was typically a “Featured” book that was priced below the retailer’s price and a small catalog of other books, fiction and nonfiction, that you could peruse.

If you wanted the featured tome you did nothing and you would be sent that offering the following month with a bill for it which included shipping and handling. If you did NOT want the featured book you had to return the enclosed “reply card” to prevent it from being mailed and billed to you. You could also use the reply card to order books from their small monthly catalog.

The Writer’s Almanac provides this history of the Book of the Month Club:

The first Book-of-the-Month Club book was published on this day in 1926. The club was the brainchild of Henry Scherman, a former copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in New York City. He built the idea off of the enormous popularity of the “Little Leather Library,” which he also co-founded. The Little Leather Library was a mail-order venture that published classic books in a small format and bound in cheap leather. Scherman and his partner, Robert K. Haas, wanted to perform a similar service for new fiction.

They devised a plan to send a new book to their subscribers every month. The books were chosen by a Selection Committee, whose names and qualifications were made known to subscribers. The club’s first selection committee included such luminaries as Christopher Morley, Dorothy Canfield, and Heywood Broun. The club targeted a middle-brow demographic; or, as committee chair Henry Seidel Canby described a typical subscriber: “the average intelligent reader, who has passed through the usual formal education in literature, who reads books as well as newspapers and magazines, who, without calling himself a litterateur, would be willing to assert that he was fairly well read and reasonably fond of good reading.”

The first “book of the month” was Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman, by English novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner. It was about a widow who moves to a town that is involved in witchcraft. The novel wasn’t a huge hit among the club’s original 4,000 subscribers, but that didn’t stand in the way of the venture’s ultimate success. Twenty years later, the subscriber base had grown to 550,000. Membership numbers peaked in 1988, with 1.5 million subscribers; the advent of the Internet and huge chain bookstores spelled its eventual decline.

Were you ever a member of the Book of the Month Club? Give it a shout out in the comments.


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Happy National Grammar Day!

national_grammar_dayOn National Grammar Day, we honor our language and its rules, which help us communicate clearly with each other. In turn, clear communication helps us understand each other—a critical component of peaceful relations. March 4th is observed as National Grammar Day not only as a date, but with the imperative to March forth on March 4th to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!

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Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

dr_seuss325pxI first discovered Dr. Seuss when I was 5 years old and in kindergarten. Our bookshelf contained “The Cat in the Hat”, “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back”, “Horton Hears a Who”, “Green Eggs and Ham”, and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and perhaps a few others that I can’t recall for sure.

Born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, MA, he was a poet, writer and cartoonist who published 46 children’s books in his lifetime.

In 1997, the National Education Association designated National Read Across America Day as a day to celebrate reading and to be held on the school day closest to March 2nd, the birthday of Dr. Seuss.


Dr. Seuss passed away on September 24, 1991 in La Jolla, CA at the age of 87. But he still lives on in all the wonderful children’s books he wrote and published.


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Book Review – Write Your Best Book

"Writing Your Best Book" coverAfter reading and reviewing “What Every Author Should Know”, I leapt at the chance to receive an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Deb Vanasse’s latest book for writers, “Write Your Best Book.”

Vanasse begins by dissecting the “exceptional book” which includes high concept, transcendence, and how we’re all wired for story (or narrative) from infancy to adulthood, as well as how each writer needs to be aware of their audience, their genre, and why we write.

She then covers where ideas come from, rabbit trails and strategic meandering when we daydream, and the seemingly eternal question of whether to outline or not.

With the above foundation, Vanasse has prepared us to cover the ingredients of writing our next book, such as a great beginning, character, conflict, plot and plot pacing, back story and endings. She also discusses the beauty of language, voice, metaphor, dialogue and fine tuning the effect of revision.

Finally, the book examines the habits of effective writers, rituals, scheduling, avoiding time sucks and the importance of always writing.

One of my favorite features of the book is the “Try This” suggestion at the end of each section, helping you put the offered advice into action in your own writing.

Like “What Every Author Should Know”, Vanasse lays out the foundational basics that every writer either needs to know or has experienced. This isn’t some “pie in the sky” book that offers platitudes and not much more. This is the nuts and bolts of producing the best book you can.

If you truly want to make your own next book into the best it can be, Deb Vanasse’s latest work will give you all the guidance you need to Write Your Best Book.


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Book Review – Triggerfish Twist

Back on Sunday, February 8th, New York Times bestselling author Tim Dorsey was appearing late in the afternoon at the downtown branch of the Orlando Library. I really wanted to go, but I already had a previous engagement that prevented my attendance.

I first met Mr. Dorsey almost a decade ago in February of 2006 at an Orlando Writers Conference in Maitland, FL where he was the keynote speaker and subsequently reviewed one of his books that I bought during that meeting. This is the book review I wrote in April of that year.

Triggerfish Twist coverThis past February I attended my first Orlando Writers Conference up in Maitland where the featured keynote speaker was Tim Dorsey, a former newspaper reporter and editor who has written eight novels featuring his principle protagonist, Serge Storms, a light-hearted but obsessive serial killer who limits his murders to the same kinds of bad guys we’d all like to “off” once in while. Mr. Dorsey was so funny during his speech that I had to see if his writing was comparable, so I purchased “Triggerfish Twist” from him that evening. Due to having a stack of books in waiting, I did not get to start reading this one until last week.

In “Triggerfish Twist” mild-mannered Jim Davenport, a corporate efficiency consultant, is moved with his wife and children by his company from the Midwest to beautiful, balmy Tampa, Florida and a house on a typical residential grid street named Triggerfish Lane.

I thought my neighborhood was weird, but this one has it beat all to pieces. There’s the redneck little league coach across the street who has some real control issues and a rabid pit bull; the house full of college students who do nothing but stay drunk and/or high; Rastafarians who don’t smoke dope; pizza deliverymen who race through the neighborhood; four spunky old ladies known as the E-Team (all their first names begin with the letter “E”); an old man who pretends to be the rich head of a large corporation that likes to take test-drives in Rolls-Royces and Ferraris; a speed-snorting landlord who took an infomercial real-estate course and is intent on running any normal homeowners out of the neighborhood by filling his rental houses with the strangest people he can find; and of course, the newest tenants in the neighborhood, Serge Storms and his stripper girlfriend Sharon plus Serge’s coke-addicted crony, Coleman.

Within 320 pages, Dorsey weaves a seemingly complicated tale of multiple threads int a cohesive yet wild ride of a story. Jim loses his job shortly after arriving and accidentally kills a member of the notorious McGraw Brothers Gang. Jim is cleared by the police, but not by the other brothers who are intent on revenge. Jim is also being stalked by a former bank employee who was “downsized” because of a consulting report that wasn’t written by Jim, but has his name on it nonetheless. In the meantime Serge, who has an obsessive knowledge of Florida lore and trivia, poses as a college professor for a semester (even being invited to be the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony) just for fun and systematically, but with a dash of fun and style, murders a whole host of bad people. By the time the climatic finale arrives the laughs and the body count are piled up higher than the SunTrust Center building in downtown Orlando.

I know what you’re thinking; a funny serial killer? I had my doubts too before reading but Dorsey does pull it off with a style that is part crazy, part outlandish, part unbelievable and all funny.

That being said, Dorsey’s style is like the chocolate dessert I sampled today…much too rich for constant consumption. I liked the story and found it enjoyable and entertaining, but I’ll wait a while before reading another of his books. Otherwise I think I’d make myself sick in a hurry.


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The Parable of Writer James Joyce

The following story about James Joyce is told by Stephen King in his famous memoir, “On Writing” (which I need to read again).


James JoyceA friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?”, the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk) replied, “Seven.”

“Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.”

“Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up, “I suppose it is but…I don’t know what order they go in!”


Writers know that it can be exactly like that some days. Sometimes you can even achieve a full page’s worth of words in a day, but you will sit there and agonize endlessly over whether all those words are in the best order they can be in to get your message or feeling across. It CAN be despairing when you want to convey something through the use of your written words and just don’t feel like you are talented enough or skillful enough to do so properly.

Thankfully, Joyce did manage to produce a few works of literary art of the highest level.

Despite our feeling otherwise, we can do so too.


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Book Review – “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”Fourteen year old Kevin Gillooly and his mother retreat to her father’s Appalachian mountain home in eastern Kentucky following the horrific death of Kevin’s three year old brother. There, both mother and son heal under the wise and caring influence of “Pops”, while Kevin begins a friendship with local boy Buzzy Fink that will be tested as Kevin navigates the secrets and behaviors of a mountain people that are strange to him, deals with the hate crime murder of a beloved town resident, and watches his grandfather oppose the power hungry actions of a local man who wants to continue his coal-mining company’s process of blowing tops off of mountains to obtain scarcer and scarcer veins of coal.

By the time a mysterious figure appears trying to kill Kevin, Buzzy and Pops as they go on a two week “tramp” up and down the beloved mountain property of Pops, Kevin finds he will have to dig deep to apply what his grandfather has been patiently teaching him and what his family’s heritage will make of him.

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a classic coming of age story blended with a story of personal and familial redemption that initially intrigues the reader and then relentlessly pulls said reader along as the plotting and pace leave no other choice. The first half of the book I found myself reluctant to put down while the latter half was impossible to leave.

Christopher Scotton is a writer who writes with such compelling imagery (“…diligently weaving his anger into a smothering blanket…” is one of the early and favorite phrases that grabbed my attention) and ability to move the story at the pace it demands that you would never guess this is his first published work. His characters are, for the most part, full and complete, giving the reader the feeling that he knows who these people are and why they do what they do. No small feat and one that many writers find difficult or impossible to accomplish.

I highly recommend “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” and look forward to Mr. Scotton’s next work.


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