COOL: The Mysterious definition of cool.

I have always associated the word ‘cool’ with hip slang of the 1950’s and also with jazz. Imagine my surprise when reading Moonstone by Wilkie Collins published in 1868 when I came across the word ‘cool’ used thusly:

“She has been a guest of yours at this house,” I answered. “May I venture to suggest-if nothing was said about me beforehand-that I might see her here?”

“Cool!” said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

In other words, Bruff liked the idea. The usage seems contemporary as in ‘good idea’ not from a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. I had to explore the coolness of this find.

My Dictionary of American Slang has three columns on ‘cool.’ In the 1920’s cool was slang for killing someone, no doubt a gangster term. ‘Cool’ can  be ‘to postpone; to wait for; to be in control of one’s emotions; aloof, unconcerned; thrilling, groovy; satisfying, pleasant; crazy, gone, mad, wicked, far out, among other meanings.’ And yes, the weather can be cool.

None seemed to fit what Bruff meant. So I checked Online Etymology Dictionary and found the following: “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Now that is what fits for Bruff’s comment. Franklin Blake needs to talk with Rachel, a woman who refuses to see him. But it is imperative he talks with her to help unravel a mystery. So when Blake sets forth his idea, Bruff thinks it is an audacious plan. Cool!

Who knew?

Wilkie Collins was hip to use ‘cool,’ the perfect word for the reply. It reminded me to always search for the right word for the right reason in my writing.

Here are my cool e-Books, two fictional mysteries and a collection of short stories.

 

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Inside a writer’s mind and choices made

My soon to be published e-mystery, like my previous three e-novels, is written in the first person. It was the best choice for my first story, and because I have used the fictional characters in two other books, I was stuck with it. Not that I minded, but it does present problems.

But I thought to open my new book with a short scene in the 3rd person to set the stage, then revert to 1st person. The following is the opening:

Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.

Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off.

He had thought about stealing a boat at Gig Harbor or there about, but decided to take the long way, driving to Shelton, then up toward Bremerton, before turning right and heading south through Key Peninsula until he reached Home. Many people honed in on Home, a beacon to the wayward thinkers of the world, the originators, the oddballs, the free thinkers, the loonies, and sometimes, a hideout for those on the run. Otis was running.

Then Chet Koski, the main character, and his wife Eveleen find a head on a grave.

But writers like to tinker and though I liked the opening, I decided to take a paragraph from later in the story and begin the novel using it. The following, with some editing is how it began. I should mention we begin in the middle of a conversation. More about that later.

“Like I said, writers are cheap and replaceable, but you’re welcome. My secretary said something about a murder down there. You kill anyone? Or maybe a suspect, as neither would surprise me.”

“Neither at the moment. But I have a great story to make a great script.”

“So how does the script start?” said Zukor.

“I start with a man putting a head on a grave. . .”

“Can you read the beginning to me?”

“Yes. This is how it starts. Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.” I heard a loud yawn coming from the phone, but I continued. “Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off…”

“Okay, stop. What the hell are you doing, writing a novel or a script? I get the first part, the guy putting the head on a grave, there’s blood, and he’s trying to wash it off. Good imagery, but what’s the point of this ‘life abused body?’ ”

“He is a laborer, works outdoors, not a common criminal. He needs to look a certain way.”

“Fine. But why put in the part about ‘nothing he could do about the blood?’ We just need to see what is going on, that is what the audience wants. Don’t put in anything to make the director think about anything. Just give action and dialogue.”

“Right, I was just thinking out loud.”

“Leave thinking to philosophers. You write movies; you’re not a writer. Correct? No need to answer. You got till the end of the month, take notes, it might make a movie, you never know. Have a happy Thanksgiving and see you when you get back. You don’t need to stay any longer, so be here 1st of December. You can write in your office here on the lot you know. I have things to do and you’re wasting my time. Bye.”

The point was to incorporate the original 3rd person opening into a conversation between Chet and Paramount head, Adolph Zukor. I liked it. The problem was now with the conversation that took place in the middle of the story now gone, subsequent events did not work.

And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the original opening. So it went back in. I had saved the original opening (just in case), so I did a cut and paste over the phone conversation opening. I had done a cut and paste of the phone conversation, but because I did some changes to the conversation for the new opening, I had to rewrite a bit of the conversation when I reinserted it where it belongs.

I mention this because writers face more challenges than what characters say, grammar, proofreading, descriptions, punctuation, creating characters, scenes, and so on.

I like the original 3rd person opening, then changing to 1st person. It serves as a brief prologue and I hope gets the reader into the story. At one time book editors would say never do that, but so many writers wrote novels with different points of view, now only fuddy-duddies care.

After we learn about Otis and the blood, his dinged up Ford, I now have the following which was of course the original.

The last thing I expected on vacation was to find a bloody head resting on a grave. Actually it would not have been the last thing expected as I never would have expected it in the first place.

My wife Eveleen and I had taken a train from Los Angeles to Centralia, Washington, to visit my cousin Alma whose car we borrowed to drive around and visit other relatives while she was working at Farmers and Merchants Bank. We had been in town a couple of days and on our third day, after visiting two cousins, we drove around exploring the countryside and in returning got lost and ran out of gas. Getting gas however, was not the immediate concern. More important was my bladder that was near bursting. The cemetery was nearby.

While I found a spot away from the graves Eveleen was idly walking among the dead. When I finished I saw her standing still, so still I thought she must have walked upon a rattler, but this is Washington, they only have friendly garter snakes, at least on this side of the Cascades.

When I reached her she looked up and I looked down. There on the top of Hugh Pemberton’s grave, propped up against his headstone was the head of a woman, the neck bloodied, but otherwise no pool of blood anywhere.

I hope you enjoyed my reflections on opening a novel. Choices, choices, choices.

Here are two e-books with the same fictional amateur detectives.

They are on Amazon.

 

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What do Kafka and Virginia Woolf owe their fame to

Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf both had emotional problems, but they had more in common than mental issues. Both are literary icons today, but neither were much regarded in their time. So how did they go from obscurity to masters of storytelling?

Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and though his short stories were published in magazines beginning in 1909, he did not set the literary world on fire. He died at the age of forty to tuberculosis. Before he died he told his best friend Max Brod to burn all his writings; to not even read the unpublished stories, just burn them.

Had Brod followed Kafka’s wishes we would never have heard of him. Brod kept the writings and it was not until the 1930’s, years after Kafka’s death in 1924 that his works were translated from German, and not until the 1940’s when the French existentialists, primarily Albert Camus and Jena-Paul Sartre discovered Kafka and extolled his works.

It was a chain of events over decades for Kafka to be found, to have his works praised, to have is work admired, respected. He died not knowing his legacy to literature.

Virginia Woolf, born one year before Kafka, in Kensington, Middlesex, England, died at age 59 from suicide in 1941.

At the age of thirty She married Leonard Woolf in a marriage of convenience. They were part of the famed liberal Bloomsbury Group of artists and intellectuals. The Woolf’s published Virginia’s book with their own Hogarth Press. (Perhaps all writers should own their own little publishing company). She only sold a few hundred of her books before her death. Had they not had that press, she may not have been published.

But the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s brought fame to Virginia as women saw in Woolf’s books much fuel for their fire, due in large part to Woolf’s 1929 book A Room of One’s Own. The awakening feminist movement reawakened the novels of Virginia Woolf, decades after death, raising her from obscurity to world wide fame.

There are other writers who have gone from obscurity to literary prominence and honor. The message is just write, that is a writers job. Many popular writers of their time have been forgotten. The only things you can control is you keyboard and your imagination. Whatever happens, happens. It would be nice to have a friend like Max Brod though. Thanks Max.

My e-books, a couple in obscurity despite good reviews found on Amazon

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Was Tristram Shandy, 1723, the 1st post modern novel

Post modern literature,  according to literary scholars,  came about following World War II. In the above link many examples are listed, and like anyone with a list, not all will be agreeable to everyone. Some of the titles stretch the concept.

Of course post-modernism is often difficult to categorize, and the link I provided in above paragraph doesn’t get to the heart of it.

Much of post modern literature revolves around the author, the narrative, and nature of fiction. It is experimental in nature, it looks inward, is playful, chiding the author, the story, and the reader. Think Donald Barthelme, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon, just to name three of many.

My favorite novel is The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, proprietor. It is about  J. Henry Waugh who works for a small firm of accountants and bookkeepers. He likes B-girls and delicatessens and loves playing his creation-a baseball game played with dice. He has created teams, players, and results, not only of plays, but of histories for all his players. The game is as elaborate as any novel. As we get deeper into the story the more the players take center stage and J. Henry Waugh slowly disappears from the story until all that is left are the characters Waugh created who now have a life of there own.

Robert Coover is the author of the novel, but Waugh is the creator of the game-of course Coover is behind it all- and Waugh disappears, his (Coover or Waugh’s or both)characters are important, they are of interest, not the author. This is one of the playful non-narrative narratives of post modernism.

What is the nature of fiction? Of the author? Post modern writers play with these ideas through satire, humor, digressions, and all sorts of tricks.

But the nine volume The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne was written between 1759-1767 was not written post World War II, but two centuries before anyone heard of post modernism. Yet Sterne’s Shandy is bawdy, satirical, and has all the signs of post modernism. Shandy sets out to tell his biography, but his stories go off in so many tangents, he never gets around to his biography. Midway through his third volume he seems apologetic for not having gotten past the first day of his life. And now he realizes a year after starting this biography that he has 364 more days of his life to cover. He will never catch up.

The post modernist traits to Stern’s epic indicates to me the old Peter Allen song, Everything Old is New Again. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

I don’t belive my e-novels at Amazon are post modern, perhaps not even modern, but there might, perhaps could be, but probably not be . . . well who likes categories and pigeon holes anyway.

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How a Candy Bar Changed My Life

It happened when I was four years old. A seminal moment I will never forget for even at four I realized something, and what I realized changed my life.

My aunt was driving me someplace, the where and why forgotten. I remember she stopped at a drugstore and went inside to purchase something. She came back out and handed me a candy bar.

I was curious as to what the candy bar was called. I was a year away from learning how to read, so I needed some help.

“What is the name of this candy bar?” I said.

“You know,” she answered.

“Now I don’t.”

“You know,” she said a second time.

Being four and being a boy, I was subject at times to a temper tantrum. I was on the verge of one by saying with strong emphasis, “No I don’t know. I CAN’T READ!”

I stared at the still unwrapped candy. It was long, had a silver wrapper and some letters on it. I kept looking down at it while my aunt pointed to the first letter. She said, “This is the letter U and this is the letter N and this is a O. It says U-No.”

“OH!”

I realized the power of letters. I realized the power of words. I learned the power of being able to read. I felt I was on the outside, that I was at a disadvantage.

This point was driven home when I learned how to read. Beginning with the Dick and Jane readers, progressing to the Hardy Boys, moving on to Jules Verne, I kept reading because the power of words, what they meant, what they symbolized was like having a super power.

I still read. I read fiction, non-fiction, e-Books, magazines, newspapers. And candy bar wrappers. I read because knowledge is power, but knowledge is gained from reading and discerning, analyzing, and thinking about what I read. And it is the letters, the words, that convey all that you need. U-No what I mean.

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

Reading also led me to writing as these e-Books on Amazon attest.

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One Simple Paragraph . . .but

I recently read A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. It was originally published in 1960 and I would describe the book as literary, noir mystery.

The story is about a married woman named Daisy who hires a private detective/ bail bondsman to reclaim a lost day in her life. It has to do with her believing there is another person in her grave.

Of course she is alive; she knows that. But there is a reason for her belief. It is a nice hook to draw you into a story with some great twists and turns among believable characters.

There is a piece of writing, one paragraph that I loved that I want to share. It has to do with her trying to convince the detective, who thinks the woman is a bit off her rocker. The following is the paragraph:

“I didn’t lose the day. It’s not lost. It’s still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don’t simply vanish into nothing. They’re still available— hiding, yes, but not lost.”

We all have memories both pleasant and not so pleasant. But there are also lost days, days that if you live long enough, increase to the point where they far exceed what we do remember. But are there hidden within those lost days, if they were found, something pleasant that its recovery would be a wonderful memory, like a treasure hunter discovering Captain Kid’s treasure?

Of course the flip side is that there might be in those lost days something you may not want to discover. There are people surrounding Daisy that try to tell her some things are better lost, not found.

So I reread the paragraph. There is something wistful and naïve about her thinking. We as readers may stop and wonder about are lost days, that they can be recovered and wouldn’t that be nice. But then again . . .

It is one paragraph, well written, that lies within a well written story. The paragraph, like the story makes you think. That is good writing.

Whether my e-novels on Amazon make you think or simply entertain you can decide.
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Writers Trick to Pronunciation

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton, the lead character Charles is walking with his son at the beginning of the story looking for an address. When he finds the person he is looking for Charles introduces himself this way:

‘ Hi, I’m Wychwood.’

As a reader I immediately wonder if it is pronounced Witchwood or Wickwood. I not only like to read words, but I like the sound of them, and I do like to pronounce them correctly.

Ackroyd solves this problem for me and all readers by continuing with the scene this way:

“Mr. Leno sounded puzzled. ‘Which . . .?’

‘Wood. I telephoned this morning. About the books.’ ”

Since Charles did not correct Mr. Leno, we readers can surmise the name is pronounced with the sound of ‘which’ or ‘witch,’ as a minute later Charles is called ‘Mr. Witch.’ Now we have the author reinforcing the sound of the name, just in case we missed it the first time.

We learn the pronunciation of Charles’ name in a seamless manner, Ackroyd not telling us, but showing us through character interaction, a scene with humor no less.

It is not just a clever trick to pronunciation, but a way to introduce information without telling. It is so much better to learn things through characters than be told. After  all a novel is not nonfiction in which we are told things. We like novels, because-lets be honest-we are eavesdropping on people. And in this humorous scene which continues Mr. Leno, Mr. Leno, and Charles is fun to watch and listen in on.

The characters should tell the story, the author should be in the background, invisible; an observer like the readers.

Two of my five e-novels on Amazon are:

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Why Bookworms Need An Advocacy Group

People who read and study a great deal are called bookworms. If you love books and reading as I do, one should think it a compliment, but it is considered to be derogatory. So try not to belt someone in their sour puss if they call you a BW (bookworm).

Dictinary.com defines bookworms as “insects or maggots; there is no single species known by this name, which is applied to the anolium beetle, silverfishes, and book lice. See book (n.) + worm (n.)” You see what I am talking about. We are considered lice and maggots.

Merriam-Webster dictionary mentions synonyms for bookworms as  nerd, dink, dork, geek, grind, weenie, wonk, and swot (British). It is also mentioned that bookworm was first used around 1580, but it does not cite by whom, not what context, nor if the term was for the lice/maggots/silverfish/ beetle that wormed their way through pages and bindings eating everything up, or if they meant it was used in derision of people who read a lot.

I don’t want to be referred to as a dork, but dink doesn’t sound so bad. The only time I have heard the word is in a Jimmy Durante song called I believe inka-dinka-doo” and that is another matter.

Back to worms, I just finished a novel Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd in which one of the characters, Charles Wychwood, a poet, does in fact eat pages of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Charles had other problems, writing block being one, or perhaps like Bartelby, he preferred not to. But Charles was a bookworm in the truest sense. Bon appetite!

I don’t know who first used the term in derogatory, mean-spirited, insulting, demeaning, bullying way, towards, I am sure, wonderful people, but it goes back a long time. We need not put up with this any longer. It is time to step out of the bookcase and announce to the world we are bookworms and proud of it.

We can have march to the Library of Congress to make the nation aware of us. We can form advocacy groups across the country. We should form support groups to not only discuss the slurs directed at us, but eat pages of books like Charles. Also a yearly Book Worm conference with guest speakers. We can write pamphlets about the joy of reading and create lists of good books to eat.

“When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.”Virginia Woolf

My e-novels and short stories listed below you can not eat, but reading does bring it’s own reward. In the meantime I have a Heinrich Von Kleist short story to munch on.

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Making predictions by reading sortes virgilianae; Huh?

It started with Thomas Chatterton, a poet and forger, who committed suicide in 1770 at the age of 17. It was a short, but interesting life.

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton, in which some intrepid souls belive they have discovered evidence suggesting Chatterton never committed suicide, but lived long and forged poems attributed to other famous poets, such as William Blake, I came across this phrase ‘sortes virgilianae.’ I am at once, both impressed by writers who use phrases and words that force me reach for my dictionary to discover the meaning, thus furthering my knowledge, and irritated by the writers flaunting their intellect by using words and phrases that impress critics and intelligentsia and make me fell stupid in the process. I can feel stupid on my own, thank you very much.

If you did not tap or click sortes virgilianae I quote from Wiki, ” The Sortes Vergilianae (Virgilian Lots) is a form of divination by bibliomancy in which advice or predictions of the future are sought by interpreting passages from the works of the Roman poet Virgil. The use of Virgil for divination may date as early as the second century AD, and is part of a wider tradition that associated the poet with magic.[1] The system seems to have been modeled on the ancient Roman sortes as seen in the Sortes Homericae, and later the Sortes Sanctorum.”

Romans consider poets as diviners and prophets. It was believed that by opening Virgil’s The Aeneid, written between 29-19 B.C. at random and running your finger down the page, then stopping at your pleasure, that reading the next sentence or few would tell your fortune. The emperor Hadrian used it among other Roman emperors.

Sounds better than reading tea leaves.

And in the Middle Ages, it was still though to be a prophetic book and that Virgil was a pagan prophet. And we thought Virgil was merely telling  a story of a Trojan named Aeneas who traveled to Italy and became, in essence, the ancestor of all Romans.

So I thought I would try it. This is the passage that my prophetic finger stopped at:

“Ere now the stout ship of Ilioneus, ere now of brave Achates, and she wherein [121-152]Abas rode, and she wherein aged Aletes, have yielded to the storm; through the shaken fastenings of their sides they all draw in the deadly water, and their opening seams give way.

Well that is an eye opener. Does it mean I should yield to the storm? Sounds like the ship might be sinking. So much, if true, for my writing career.

This is where reading leads you with a dictionary at hand. But what choice does one have?

“I don’t think writers should write about answers. I think writers should write about questions.”
Paul Haggis

Virgil would agree.

I don’t think you will need a dictionary for any of my e-novels and short stories; there is a built in dictionary with e-books.

Thanks for reading.
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Have You Read Any of These Banned Books

As both liberal readers and conservative church folks know, there are books that should not be read, indeed, should be banned. But liberal readers will ignore banned books and read them with great delight. So will many church folks, otherwise, they say, how can I truly know how evil the book is.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was created by the Catholic church centuries ago to protect the flock from literary wolves. The books banned were considered heretical, or lascivious, or if it is really good, both. The list is a veiled way of pronouncing that you must agree with us on all things; we will think for you.  After all, we have your best interest at heart.

The list of authors and their books make quite a literary hall of fame. And many are surprising, such as Johannes Kepler (excluded from list 1835), because of his books on astronomy. God forbid Kepler could explain much about the universe and the heavens that conflicted with the church. Actually, neither God nor Church could forbid scientific explanations. Thank God.

Jean-Paul Sartre made the list, as did Victor Hugo (excluded in 1959), Spinoza, Kant, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Galileo, and David Hume among many.

Who did not make the list over time is more surprising. The works of Charles Darwin did not make the list, nor did D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and John Cleland. Dante was banned, but then reinstated like Kepler and Hugo. As was Justine and the Marquis de Sade. The Church was more considered, so it has been suggested, with blasphemy and heresy; less concerned with  sexuality or hate. Mein Kampf by Hitler, outlining his plans for power and hatred of the Jews was not banned.

The Index lasted over six centuries and was discontinued in 1966. But that has snot deterred other church organizations and even school districts from creating a banned book list. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain comes under fire every year in more than one school district. Being considered a great work of fiction, and perhaps the great American novel means nothing to the righteous. 

“Forgive my asking you to use your mind. It is a thing which no novelist should expect of his reader…”
Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains   

Unfortunately none of my e-books are banned. But I remain hopeful.

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