4 Blog Updates, 1 Household Hint and A Song

(Originally I planned to include three updates to previous blogs. But then something really surprising happened, so it’s four blogs to update.)

Blog Update #1. Last week I blogged about the book on writing, Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotinik and Mr. Plotnik himself commented on it! In that post, I had noted twelve words, the meanings of which I wasn’t sure, from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This week I am re-reading Freedom, Mr. Franzen’s most recent novel. Naturally, I’m finding more words that are I’m not familiar with, and since I am reading on my Kindle, I note it (handy Kindle feature) so I can look up those words later, and re-examine the sentences in which they appear.

As Mr. Plotnik says: “What if a word is likely to be outside the reader’s active or half-known vocabulary? Then even undefined it should lend some special aura, some majesty or exoticism, to the context.” So even if the reader couldn’t give the exact meaning of a word, the sentence in which it appears is crafted such that he still gets it.

This was a really big deal to me, that Mr. Plotnik commented on my post.

Blog update #2. I reviewed the excerpts from the finalists in the ABNA 2012 Contest in both the General and Young Adult Fiction categories. I did not predict correctly in the General category but in the Young Adult, I did.

A Beautiful Land by Alan Averill wins for General Fiction. It started out with a good hook but ended with a bad simile, the one about the Poe boarder.

But my pick for best Young Adult did win, On Little Wings by Regina Sirois. And the really exciting thing (to me) was that this author actually found the review and commented on my post. Think my post had anything to do with her winning? I doubt it, but I’m glad for her. It’s a good story.

Last year, I was 0-for-2. This year at least I got one right. Congratulations to both winners. What an accomplishment!

Blog update #3. Last October, I published The 24 Most Annoying Phrases for 2011 but I need to bump that up to 25. This phrase has been in use for a while, so it still applies to the year 2011.

Reach out!

This is how you make initial contact with someone in business-speak. You can reach out to someone in many ways: phone call, e-mail, instant message, or just bumping into the person who needs to be reached out to in the salad bar line at the cafeteria. Probably want to skip the rest room for any serious reaching out, but anywhere else is fine.

This phrase is so annoying that I made a solemn vow never to let these two words fall from my lips, consecutively, in the same sentence. Other assemblies of the two words in the same sentence are not considered offensive as long as there is at least one word between “reach” and “out”.

Alas. I was once upon a time on some sort of conference call and after much reaching out was being attempted by others, and before I had the proper amount of time to correctly formulate my thoughts, I heard the phrase “reach out” come out of my mouth. I had said it. Gagh! I have yet to forgive myself for it. I will go to my grave knowing that I once said “reach out” and meant it. (It’s perfectly okay to say it if you are being sarcastic or joking around, but if you say it and mean it, this is a vile happening indeed.)

One commenter on the post mentioned this phrase should probably be included in the list and I realized he was absolutely right, that this is one of the worst offenders and yet I had mistakenly omitted it. My apologies, Reach Out, for not including you, and kudos to you for being one of the most ridiculous, silly, meaningless buzzphrases of all!

Blog update #4. I once wrote a blog about marketing strategies that I didn’t think worked and one of them was the Jos A Banks “Buy 1 get 4 Free!” advertising methodology. They recently sent four coupons to my husband “in honor of his birthday”. How they got that information, I don’t know.  

Yippee! Each coupon was for $25 off on a $125 purchase. Okay, that’s nice. And there are four coupons remember. Or instead, says Jos, take $100 off a $500 purchase! But wait, that’s, uh, yeah, that’s 4 times $25 and 4 times $125… Got it! Obviously they think people can’t multiply. Come on, Jos, your customer base is buying cashmere coats and merino wool suits and silk ties. Which is a real good indicator that they aren’t Joe The Plumber and probably are educated and affluent and they can multiply a couple of numbers by 4. Geesh. It isn’t even insulting, it’s just stupid on their part.   

Household Hint. The e-cloth! Found in Real Simple magazine, this is a great way to clean up. These cloths contain millions of tiny fibers which supposedly grab on to all kinds of household gunk and remove it. You can clean anything with just water. Tile, showers, porcelain, glass and there’s even an eCloth for polishing your wine glasses. There are packs for the kitchen, for the bath, for the car, or “all purpose” eCloths. Dust cloths are used dry, all the others use plain water. No more chemicals. It’s fast and it works.

I have been trying to find a way to clean black granite for years – Voila! The eCloth was the solution. Highly recommended.

A great song. Coast by Eliza Gilkyson. It plays regularly on my Emmy Lou Harris Pandora station. Listen to how beautiful it is, how melancholy. Very moving.

12 Words I Had to Look Up While Reading The Corrections

This is not a book review, but I recently read (yet another) “How To Write Real Good” book by Arthur Plotnik. This one is called Spunk & Bite, a play on the title of another How To book called Elements of Style by Strunk and White, published in 1918’s, which makes it, well, to be kind, geriatric.

Elements of Style was a rather rigid set of rules about what not to do.  Do not affect a breezy manner. Do not inject opinion. Do not use foreign phrases. Do not prefer the offbeat rather than the standard. Do not, do not, do not.

One Do Not is to use words which will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of readers, those “big words” with more than two or three syllables and with which we may not have knowledge of their meanings. There is a lot of truth in this, that an author might not want to offput his audience by using a lot of verbiage which only demonstrates how well that author has mastered the English language. In other words, he’s a show off.

Jonathan Franzen contends that counter to the idea that “difficulty tends to signal excellence”, the writer must connect with readers in exchange for their commitment of time and attention to his work.

Yet Franzen himself does this very thing. Take his novel The Corrections, which I just finished reading for the second time. I found these examples (and more) of words that I either was not sure of or had no idea as to their meaning. (Italics indicates examples in The Corrections.)

 

Noblesse oblige – as if noblesse oblige. (I had a vague idea of what this meant, but wanted to bolster my confidence a little in order to use it without incurring smirks of condescension from others.)

A French phrase meaning “nobility obliges”. To imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibility. Sometimes used derisively, in condescension or hypocritical social responsibility. The term is sometimes applied, in American English especially, to suggest an obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.

“Certain persons in politics need not fear being cast into a perception of noblesse oblige.”

 

Misanthropy – misanthropy and sourness. (I am a little reluctant to admit I had to look up the work “misanthropy” which I felt I should already know, but wanted a better explanation.)

A hatred, dislike or distrust of humankind.

“Dude, whenever I go to a Wal-mart, I get this totally weird feeling of, like, misanthropy.”

 

Intransigently – folded her arms intransigently.

In a manner that is stern and indicates refusal to agree or compromise, inflexible.

“Certain members of the House of Representatives are motivated to behave intransigently.”

 

Invidious – he could already hear her invidious descants on the topic of

Intension to create ill will or give offense; hateful. Offensively or unfairly discriminating or injurious. Tending to cause animosity, resentment or envy.

“Chill, woman.  Everyone has to go through the body scan so no need to be overly invidious here.”

 

Pullulating  – he considered waiting for a less populated [elevator] car, a ride less pullulating with mediocrity and body smells.

To breed, produce, increase rapidly, swarm or teem.

“Facebook is no longer a social network considered desirable by the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers since it is pullulating with old people.”

 

Reverb – absolutely no reverb on a full elevator.

Rebound. If there is no reverb, there is nowhere to go, no escape, trapped, doomed, claustrophobized.

“Wow, I thought I was toast. Came down with a really bad case of The Plague, but I did a complete reverb.”

 

Riparian – with their damp hair they looked riparian.

Situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water.

“That shit we used to put on our hair in the sixties? That looked riparian and now they’re doing it again.”

 

Deliquescence – slushy ferric salts succumbing to their own deliquescence. (This refers to a man’s hobby, an ill-maintained basement laboratory.)

To become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, to melt away.

I tried but I cannot think of a sentence which takes advantage of this word.

 

Diurnality – diurnality yielded to a raw continuum of hours.

Behavior, plant or animal, characterized by activity during the day and sleeping at night.

“Man, my diurnality is seriously messed up since I’ve become a narcoleptic.”

 

Hectoring – her e-mails had been hectoring.

To act in a blustering, domineering or bullying manner.

“So, I’m like, whatever, and she sighs about a million times and I’m like, you are so totally hectoring me here!”

 

Plangent – her voice was plangent.

A loud, deep sound, resonant, mournful.

“Dude, what’s with the plangent tone? You sound like such a loser.”

 

Semaphoring – inmates semaphoring, waving their arms like traffic cops.

A system of signaling, usually with special flags held in each hand and various positions of the arms indicate specific letters or numbers.

“The Kardashian Mom is on Oprah and your semaphoring is blocking my view.”

 

I recommend Spunk & Bite. It is fun to read, the writing fresh and the ideas very usable. It is one of the best I’ve read. You can find it here.

Are you 50+? Then NBC Doesn’t Want You!

In May, NBC decided not to renew the series “Harry’s Law”. Why do you suppose they did that? Was it because no one watched it? No, that wasn’t the reason. It was the second most-watched series on NBC, 8.8 million viewers, just under the 9 million viewers who watched the first most-watched “Smash”. Well, then, why would they have cancelled it? Isn’t the show’s popularity what appeals to networks? Well, yes and no.

Don’t networks care that a lot of people are watching their shows? That depends on the advertisers. Don’t advertisers care that a lot of people are watching the shows wherein they air their commercials? Yes. As long as the watchers are between the ages of 18 and 49. Otherwise, not so much.

Networks kiss the rings of advertisers, so advertisers determine what we watch on TV. And they (these esteemed “Advertisers”) don’t give a rat’s ass if every single person 50 years of age and older is watching a program or not. They don’t want us. They want the younger crowd. So that would seem to say, “Seniors, suck it up! Learn to love what the demographic that we care about is watching. You are just too damn old to matter to us any longer.”

One NBC executive had the nerve (oh how I’d like to use another term here), to say, “Its [Harry’s Law’s] audience skewed very old and it is hard to monetize that.”

Monetize this, dipshits.

  • 75% of America’s wealth is controlled by those 55 and older.
  • We spend nearly $400 billion more than any other generation, each year.
  • We outspend the average consumer (whoever that is) in categories such as entertainment and dining, gifts and furniture, and these are the types of commercials that generally air during prime time.

Bottom line. We have more money and we spend it.

But advertisers still listen to the Neilsen Company, who has been monitoring what we watch for the last 40+ years or so. It would appear they continue to use the same methodology they did back in the 70’s.

The Neilsen Company is telling advertisers that the only people who matter are under 50. The advertisers are listening to Neilsen, which is a huge mistake, and threatening to pull ads where the demographic is suspect. No advertisers = no show.

The strategy the Neilsen Co. uses is installing a box in a select number of homes. These are the “Neilsen Families” and they are paid for the inconvenience of having their TV viewing privacy violated. I have never been approached by Neilsen to be one of their select “families” nor do I know anyone who has, but I would have told them where they might place their monitoring device, should they have invited me to become a “Neilsen Family”.

“Hello, may I speak to the head of the household?” says Neilsen.

“Speaking,” say I.

“We, at Neilsen, would like to invite you to become a Neilsen Family, and in that way you can take part in our ongoing quest for Accuracy in Television Viewing and aid our clients in determining who is watching what shows, and if they should bother to advertise on said shows or not, which will then result in those advertisers pressuring the TV networks to axe certain programs. And we would be delighted to bestow a small gift upon you and your family for your cooperation in this matter.”

“No way,” say I. And then I would have told them the location where the monitoring device might be deposited.

Click.

That’s the way that conversation would have gone.

Who would agree to do that? The checks they send aren’t generous, the term used is “token”, and anyone who would do it for that paltry money is certainly not the demographic Neilsen is targeting.

The Neilsen Company wants to “identify, message and find your [the Almighty Advertiser’s] most valuable consumers to maximize marketing efficiency”. They also hope to “adjust your strategy, product and/or marketing to better appeal to key consumers”. (Hint: We are not the key consumers of which they so eloquently business-speak.) And finally, they hope to “…identify white-space innovation opportunities based on a proprietary understanding of latent and emerging demand.”

Wow. WTF does all that purposely obfiscating, nonsensical stuff mean? It means basically, we’re screwed. You will watch American Idol and Dancing With the Stars and NCIS and like it. Turn to the AMC channel if you don’t like it, you old farts.

What’ll it be, Mother? The Travel Channel or The Weather Channel?

One of the reasons they say old-timers aren’t worth pursuing as viewers is that everyone knows that brand-loyalty is established between the ages of 18 – 34. Well, I sorta beg to differ on that one. I’ve switched brands lots of times, and I use products that weren’t available back then, and I’ve changed my mind about a lot of stuff so don’t tell me that I have any brand loyalty at all because I don’t. How do we establish brand loyalty for cell phones, and flat screen TVs, and eReaders between the ages of 18 and 34 when they weren’t around then? And never mind that the brands you might have been loyal to, have long been driven out of business anyway!

And another thing. What about all the 18 – 49 year-olds who DVR everything so they can fast-forward through the commercials. Everyone does that, but I’d be willing to bet Baby Boomers do it less than 18 – 49 year-olds.

Here’s the perfect solution. Advertise the products you think we are interested in (even though we’re clearly not), but in your infinite wisdom of what you think makes good business sense, it would fit in quite nicely. And then you can advertise these products on Harry’s Law.

A few products to consider:

  • The Pride Mobility Go-Go Ultra X 4-wheel Scooter
  • The Rollator/Transport Chair Walker Combo
  • The Medlift Economy Full Size Adjustable Bed
  • Depend® Real Fit Briefs – Discrete Protection (Choose the one which suits your lifestyle)
  • Poligrip Denture Adhesive (Helps keep food out)
  • Funeral Pre-planning (Give your family Peace of Mind)
  • The myriad of drugs marketed on the National News, including (but not limited to) ED helpers, osteoporosis, emphysema and “going and going and going” medications and all the other junk drugs that fix one problem and cause four more.

But give us back Harry’s Law.

I Want My Harry’s Law!

What do you think about this?

ABNA 2012 Young Adult Fiction Reviews

Below are my reviews of the three novels chosen in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – Young Adult Fiction. This category isn’t too easy for me to review, since many times the stories are quite far out of my realm of reason, as in, who does this appeal to anyway? The answer is clear. Young Adults, those who embraced the thousands of vampire, zombie, and werewolf books, not to mention fairies and angels for those young people who will mature into adults who read inspirational novels.

This year I rather liked two of the three. That would probably be for a couple of reasons including (but not limited to): there were no vampires, there were no zombies, and there were no werewolves. Are they going away finally?

I was majorly intrigued by one, less-majorly but still intrigued by another, and the third was not interesting to me at all, but that’s my genre bigrotry again, as I find it impossible not to be influenced by genre.

The judges have read the entire manuscripts and they usually post a review which tells what the book is about. Then they say what they believe is right or wrong with it, and then (and I wish they wouldn’t do this) they will say if it is their pick for the winner. The winners are chosen by the voters, but still, I wonder how much the votes will be influenced by what the reviewers have said.

Out of Nowhere by Rebecca Phillips. The first line:

I wasn’t sure what would kill me first—the nagging pain in my head or Dr. Kapur.

It’s a first line that is okay, but after further reading, it seems contrived. The narrator borders on hypochondria so in hindsight, the sentence is an exaggeration and is probably meant to be a good hook. I felt marginally cheated. Riley’s father died unexpectedly while microwaving a plate of lasagna a few years back, and she is not dealing with it well, and can’t walk on the spot in the  kitchen where he had fallen. It is also apparent that she is a loving sister to her seventeen-month old half-brother, by a man who is in and out, but mostly out, of her mother’s life. She disapproves of him thoroughly. It is well-written and I did like the author’s voice. But based on this excerpt, which is all I have, I would have to say it was only marginally interesting to me. It could get better but then the job of the author is to hook me immediately.

On Little Wings by Regina Sirois. The first line:

The DNA of mice and humans is 98% identical.

I like it. I liked the whole first paragraph. I found the first paragraph to be funny and witty, and even though it didn’t really tell me about the story to come, I was very much hooked and wanted to read on. 

Jennifer finds an old photo of a woman who looks uncannily like herself, tucked into the back of an old paperback from her mother’s bookshelf. She instinctively knows this woman is someone important to her, but her parents had said they were both only children. I would have liked it better if the revelation hadn’t been quite so dramatic, but turns out, this woman is her mother’s estranged sister, who her mother insists is a terrible person and who killed their mother. Jennifer then goes to see her best friend, to tell her about it. End of excerpt. The backstory of the best friend is well done, unique, an exaggerated ugly duckling scenario which was very entertaining. I liked this, loved the author’s voice. It promises to be a very satisfying story.

Dreamcatchers by Cassandra Griffin. The first line:

Two things occur to me at the same time.

As a first line, it is fine. This wouldn’t be a case of the standard first-sentence hooker because it doesn’t say too much but still, it’s fine. The first paragraph goes on to reveal the two things, an earthquake has happened, and our narrator appears to have amnesia. Uh oh. Not uh oh about these two things, but uh oh that amnesia is so lame. How many books have been written using that sorry clichéd storyline?

The earthquake unlocked the doors to some sort of hospital/mental institution (we aren’t quite sure) so the person with the amnesia was able to excape (though barely) into the night, clad in a hospital gown. She manages to score a blanket and escapes into a very bad neighborhood where she is threatened by a Very Nasty Person. She manages to get away from him by clocking him on the head. It is written in present tense, which I have come to like very much, and flows well. But it reads too much like a teen action flick for me to be able to connect with it too much. This is certainly my particular limitation, but then, I get to do that here.

My pick? Definitely On Little Wings. One out of three reviewers agreed with me. Not a good sign, but I’m sticking with my pick.