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In this week's New Yorker, in a piece called "The Word Shed," Colum McCann writes of his father, a features editor and author, typing away in a shed. McCann, at the time, was a kid. Wanted to play soccer. Didn't pay his father's two-fingered typing much mind.
Until a book his Dad wrote appeared, written for kids, called "Goals for Glory," the story of a boy without much money who dreamed of soccer triumphs. McCann read the story by flashlight, he says. One year later, when the book was published, he took it to school, where his teacher read one chapter per week to McCann and his classmates.
I pick up McCann's telling of this perfect story here:
I will never forget Christopher Howlett, my red-headed desk mate, jumping around like a prayer in an air raid as Mr. Kells reached the final page. Georgie scored the winning goal. The classroom erupted. The kid from my father's shed—that tangle of hair that had somehow sprung up from behind a typewriter ribbon—was carried with us outside the school gates, down Mart Lane, through the swamp, and into the field at the back of Dunnes Stores, where, with a soggy leather ball at our feet, we all became Georgie, at least for a minute or two.
Two days ago, I wrote here of why I write, of how it calms me, of how it releases me, for a spell, from the world. I'd like to amend that post to say this as well:
I write for that one reader (there need be only one) who may "jump around like a prayer in an air raid" while reading toward or listening for the story's end.
Do we love Colum McCann? Oh, yes we do. Do we love his dad? That, too.
Recently, I've posted about how to make your protagonist and antagonist interesting. Today I'm going to write about a character who never gets as much attention as those two, the sidekick.
First of all, your story might have multiple sidekicks. Both the antagonist and the protagonist might have a sidekick, and they might even have a different sidekick in different scenes. I'm going to focus on the hero's sidekick, his bestie, but what I say applies just as much to other sidekicks.
Have you ever read a story where the sidekick is just an extension of the hero, a helper character who sees the world in much the same way as the protagonist? Of course you have. It happens a lot. But to write a sidekick that way is to rob a ton of potential from the story.
A sidekick, like the protagonist and the antagonist, is her own person. Like all people, she has her own objectives and perspectives. She might be helping the protagonist win the day, but she's doing it for her own reasons. Sure, a big part of it might be loyalty to her best friend, but that loyalty only goes so far. As a person with her own views and needs and wants, she does everything to further her own agenda. Remember, every character has an agenda, and those agendas create conflict.
Just because two characters are best friends and are helping each other doesn't mean they always agree. The best sidekicks are an additional source of conflict. Think of Frodo and Sam, two characters whose affection for each other is almost sickening. They both want to get to Mt. Doom at all costs. And yet, there's conflict between them. As Frodo sinks into ring-induced paranoia, he no longer trusts Sam, and this causes trouble and, more importantly, enhances the plot.
The same is true of Luke and Leia, Harriet and Sport, and many other characters. In fact, the sidekick often seems much like another antagonist.
The sidekick provides help and shows the protagonist other ways of thinking, but at the same time, the relationship is often strained by conflicting goals and differing views. In many stories, the protagonist and sidekick aren't even friends. They might not even like each other. They might be reluctantly traveling the same road.
Remember, stories depend on conflict. There shouldn't be anything in the story, including your hero's sidekick, that does not add more conflict and peril. There is probably no other character who gives you more opportunity to add emotion and heartbreak as the sidekick.
As the hero's life goes out of control, she needs to be steadied by her sidekick. But the sidekick has his own ideas, and is sometimes unable to offer the support. He might even oppose the hero's goals and actions. Best friends, siblings, and spouses all oppose each other sometimes.
One of the most important things to remember as you write is that every character is a person, and every person has his or her own story. That the stories intersect in the one you are telling doesn't mean their individual paths are any less distinct. This is true whether characters appear to ultimately be on the same side or not.
My first novel, Like Water on Stone, just came out (Delacorte, Nov. 2014). Of course, I’m smiling. The cover and interior of the book are beautifully produced. I’ve poured my soul into it.
“What’s it about?” people ask me.
When I tell them, “It’s the story of three siblings who survive the Armenian genocide of 1915 with the help of the guardian spirit of an eagle,” I’ve learned that I better get my smile under control.
Genocide and smiles do not go together.
And yet I know that “smile-worthy” hope and the power of the imagination fill this story, even as it minces no words about the violence. The three young siblings not only survive, but they survive intact, because their imaginations protect them. Ardziv, the eagle, embodies imagination. Just as he protects the young ones as they journey, he protects the readers.
Ardziv also protected me as I wrote this story.
Like Water on Stone, grew out of one the very few things my mother told me about her own mother’s life: “After her parents were killed, she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo.”
I was in elementary school when I learned this, and it took me decades to fill in the flesh around those bare bones. I knew this story had to be told, especially in the face of global politics that allow for continued denial of this first genocide of the 20th century. But I knew it had to be told in a way that would pull readers along, instead of punishing them.
The story flowed out in lyrical free verse instead of prose, the abundant white space providing safety for the reader, just as Ardziv does. The crumbling Ottoman Empire, whose leaders orchestrated the genocide, is distant in time, space, and experience for readers. Free verse evokes the feeling of foods, music, dances, and ritual from another land. Because it works through metaphor and magic, free verse also shows all that was physically lost, and how it persists in the imaginations of survivors.
Keeping my Armenian identity hidden, I had traveled to my grandparents’ homeland the summer of 1984. With the hospitality characteristic of the region, I was welcomed into people’s homes and fed foods I had known my whole life. In Palu, I asked locals if they knew of any mills—my great grandfather had been a miller. I was sent across the eastern branch of the Euphrates River on a modern bridge next to a crumbling one built of stone, and into the woods when I found a mill, set along the banks of a stream. On the rooftop the woman of the house served me tea, a half dozen children watching us, mounds of apricots drying in the sun.
Palu Mill Wheel
When I asked about the mill’s history she told me that it had been in her family for sixty years, but before that it had belonged to Armenians. Joy and pain converged as I thought this could perhaps have been my family’s home.
Psychologist Paul Ekman—who has spent a lifetime analyzing the connection between emotion and facial expression— shows us that when we remember the death of a loved one, our faces reflect a blend of strong sadness, moderate anger and moderate joy.
When a book touches me, it passes the “tear test”-- bringing tears to my eyes not because of sadness but because of connection.
We write to connect. We read to connect. Connecting is complicated. Our faces reflect that.
This human capacity for hope, magical thinking, and imagination in the face of the deepest pain, builds a bridge from the dark places to joy. We know this complexity and connection in the marrow of our bones, that place where our bodies make our blood and keep us flowing.
The countdown is on! The days rush by with ‘to do” lists that grow with the rapidity of the nose of a less-than-honest Pinocchio. I saw the phrase “rushing and remembering” as the lead in to an article in our local paper and it brought me up short. I wanted to sit down and write a heart-to-heart to all young parents during this time of the rolling year. I wanted to plead with them to stop rushing so for their own sakes, and build “remember whens” with their children. For THAT is what their children as they grow older will say to them. “Remember when… mom?” And it will be followed by the memory.
My girls are young women now. They have their own lives and we often talk about their growing up years in hindsight with an evaluative eye. They say hindsight is twenty twenty. Believe me, it can bring a halt to your gallop when they tell you what THEY remember as a precious moment from a holiday, versus what I, as a parent, tried to fashion into my ideal of perfection that I thought they needed. VERY differing viewpoints, let me tell you, were the outcomes of our little tete a tete times.
All I can say is that THEY remembered harried parents rushing, rushing rushing, with little time and much to do to make everything LOOK effortless. All that perfection is exhausting! Remember in the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy and her pals unmask the Wizard behind the screen? He’s huffing and puffing, frantically pulling levers and implementing sound effects to create an illusion of who he tries to be. Why? Because he thought that’s what the Munchkins expected for a Wizard to be and that’s what he became. We all have expectations this time of year and we try frantically as parents to meet them, for ourselves, but mostly for our children.
What DO my girls remember of past holidays? They remember the traditions of TIME SPENT TOGETHER and not dollars SPENT ON THEM. They remember a song, a story, an ornament they loved, sock fights (they’re fun and softer than snowball fights) or the taste of a favorite cookie we always baked together.
Most of all they remembered the family time we spent with one another. Maybe it was driving around town to see the decorations at other houses, playing the carols from my own childhood as we decorated the tree, figuring out whose turn it was to put up the star on top of the tree and diving through tissue paper in search of those crumbling Play-Doh ornaments they made in elementary school? Did they survive another year packed away?
Whether you know it or not, THESE are the rememberings YOUR children will take with them for a lifetime. And here comes my plug. Please make one of their rememberings a favorite picture book story at the end of the day or maybe MIDDAY, with the two of you cuddled up. Snuggling is a very underestimated healing activity during the rushing season, they say.
There is a reason for all the herculean efforts we make this time of year. It’s to build memories in time of shared experiences! President Harry Truman had a very unusual phrase he called “foxholes of the mind”. It spoke to a moment in time that he could relive that was sweet and satisfying from the past and that he could call up when needed. Strange how fortifying those “foxholes” can be to children and adults today in our very stressful, fast forward world.
Rush to make memories this season. For in the life of a child, that is probably the most meaningful present you can give them – yourself.
Quick note: If you’re searching for a gift for a writer friend or family member, consider giving the gift of a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. Click here for details.
For today’s prompt, write a high poem. Now, I know the word “high” is a loaded one–so take it where you may. There are high temperatures, high heights, and other meanings related to high. You can even transform high into the greeting “hi,” which then leads down a whole new rabbit hole.
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balancing is the same at 3 inches
as it is at 3 feet or 3 stories. the trick
is thinking 3 stories is 3 inches.
when i let myself, i’m still scared
of the dark. a corner conceals
a burglar or poltergeist. nothing’s
different, but i let my mind wander.
falling from 3 stories is much
different than falling from 3 inches,
but balancing is the same.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.
He is not a fan of heights or the dark, though both are fine for other folks. That said, he does like to write late at night and on airplanes–maybe to channel the anxiety?
I bought A LOT of books for Christmas gifts this year. I went crazy with my daughter’s Scholastic club flyers and realized the other day that my kids are getting a combined total of 18 books from us this year, and that’s not even counting the ones I bought for other family members. Here’s just a few:
For my 6-year-old daughter:
THE SNOW QUEEN: A POP-UP ADAPTATION OF A CLASSIC FAIRY TALE byHans Christian Andersen(Author), Yevgeniya Yeretskaya(Illustrator) — Like most girls her age, my daughter is “Frozen”-obsessed. While the original tale is darker than the Disney version, I think she’ll enjoy seeing where the whole idea came from. She also LOVES my crusty old mildewy pop-up version of SLEEPING BEAUTY from when I was a kid. The illustrations in THE SNOW QUEEN are much more beautiful and elaborate and I think she’ll be in awe of it.
For my 9-year-old son:
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LITTLE KIDS FIRST BIG BOOK OF WHY by Amy Shields — My son is in 3rd grade, but he’s on the Autism Spectrum and doesn’t quite read at grade level. He is obsessed with the National Geographic joke books (Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Why did the chicken cross the dusty road twice?” “Because he was a dirty double-crosser!”) He also loves Science. It’s his favorite subject. I think he’ll really enjoy the bright beautiful photos in these books as well as the layout which will be easier for him to read the cool information. And his aunt has him covered on more joke books!
For my mother:
THE INDIA FAN by Victoria Holt — I’ve mentioned several times in the past that my mother and grandmother instilled my love of books through their collection of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. Recently, I asked my mom for what remaining books she had so that I could reread them. In her search she realized that she’d given away her Victoria Holts while she was downsizing and she sounded somewhat regretful. When I was searching for more of my favorite Phyllis Whitneys to read on my Nook, I was disappointed to see that most of them are not available in ebook and are all out of print. But when I searched for Victoria Holt, I was thrilled to learn that Sourcebooks Casablanca had reprinted a bunch of them into beautifully packaged trade paperbacks. I’m buying this one for my mother so that she can reread a favorite too.
I was hired by Scholastic as a junior copywriter back in 1985 for the princely sum of $11,500. To get the initial interview, I mailed in my near-empty resume and a writing sample, which addressed the hot topic of the day, Bernie Goetz, New York’s “subway shooter.”
After the first set of interviews with Willie Ross and Carol Skolnick, I was given a bunch of children’s books and asked to write about them in two voices. First, for young children, and secondly, for teachers. Writing about Curious George to students, I wrote something like, “Yikes! That silly monkey is in trouble again!” For teachers, the idea was to take a different tone, such as, “In this classic tale, award-winning author H.A. Rey conveys the hilarious antics of Curious George, one of the most enduring and beloved characters in all of children’s literature.”
I got the job writing the SeeSaw Book Club.
One of the first assignments I was asked to perform was to write a brief promotional brochure on three authors: Ann McGovern, Johanna Hurwitz, and Norman Bridwell. I was given their phone numbers, told to call them, set up an interview.
“Call them?” I asked.
“On the phone?” I asked.
I stared at that phone for a few minutes, mustered up my courage, and pushed the numbers.
That’s the first time I spoke with Norman Bridwell. He was then, as he would forever remain, a humble, soft-spoken, generous man. The first Clifford book, published in 1963, came out in two-color, in an inexpensive, horizontal format. It looked cheap, because it was. But in the early 80s somebody at Scholastic had the bright idea of repackaging those books in a mass market, 8″ x 8″ format — and in virbrant full color. The books took off and the Big Red Dog became one of the great success stories in children’s literature. In fact, one can accurately imagine the Scholastic corporation as a great sled with Clifford the Big Red Dog hauling it through the snow. That benign character helped propel a company to greatness.
Through it all, Norman remained the same kind, gentle man. No one ever spoke badly of him. No one, not ever.
He was always courteous, generous, kind. Even grateful, I think. Norman always seemed to consider himself lucky. And the truth is, he was fortunate. I don’t think anyone makes it really big in this business without a little luck shining down on you. Norman understood that.
He deserved his success, for he had created something pure and genuine that touched hearts, and through it all he remained faithful to the essential core of what those books were all about. The love between a child and her dog, with a bunch of jokes and gags thrown in to get you to that final hug.
One other quick story about Clifford. It was sometime later, let’s call it the early 1990s, and I was in Ed Monagle’s office, chatting away. At that time, I’d moved upstate, gone freelance, and was trying to survive as a writer. (True story: I’m still trying to survive as a writer.) Ed was a terrific guy, but also a numbers guy. A financial analyst, chief bean counter at Scholastic. Ed cared about the books, and believed in the central mission of the company, but he was also impressed by profit-and-loss statements. He admired Clifford’s sales numbers, and respected the size of Norman’s royalty checks.
So on this day, Ed gave me some friendly advice. He said, “Jimmy, this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to invent a character that everyone loves. Look at Clifford the Big Red Dog. Do you have any idea how many of those books we sell? You could do that!” he continued. “I mean, think about Clifford. He’s a dog. He’s big. He’s red. How hard could it be?!”
That’s the thing with magic, I guess. It never looks difficult.
Ed was right, of course, the idea was laughably simple. He was also completely wrong. Clifford the Big Red Dog was an exceptional idea, marvelous in its simplicity, executed to perfection.
My technophobic wife has taken an increasing shine to internet shopping.
Point, click, receive, wrap… Point, click, receive, wrap…
At this point, you might be thinking this is another husband-rant about all of the clicking activity and the bill that will come due in January. Well, that may be a subject for another post (I hope the title changes), but right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around the amount of email spam that her clicking has brought us. You see, we share an email account. Mistake? Maybe… but it has worked thus far.
Here is the problem, cleaning my inbox is the one thing I’m OCD about. I need it to be current or I lose focus. At work, I churn through emails faster than a Gopher on balsa-wood. If I can answer it immediately, it is gone. If it makes me mad, gone. If it is ambiguous and may not pertain to me, whoops, I hit delete. My inbox is squeaky-clean. The one at work, that is.
The shared inbox at home gets bogged down in December with order confirmations, shipping information, and advertisements. Oh the advertisements. Did I mention my wife is a technophobe? So, while she has mastered the checkout function of two hundred seventy-four websites, I can’t convince her that they won’t think any less of her if she unchecks the little box that says, “Would you like us to send you an ungodly amount of emails that are irrelevant, obnoxious, and likely to cause enmity between husband and wife?”
I should be working a second job to prepare for the aforementioned bill, but I spend my December trying to unsubscribe from every mailing list known to mankind. Only they lie to you when they allow you to hold the illusion that leaving them is an option. It’s a web of deceit – an impossibility. You cannot be removed from mailing lists. “You have been removed from our mailing list. We are sorry to see you go” is a lie from the bowels of the earth.
What the little button should say is, “Thank you for verifying your existence, I will now torture you every fifteen minutes with a blinking email reminder of your incompetence.”
After trying unsuccessfully to remove our email address from yet another list, I marched to the den, bowed out my chest, and sternly gave my wife an ultimatum!
“Either you learn to uncheck the subscribe button, or we are changing our email address!”
Women don’t like ultimatums.
Of course, our email address remains the same and though wounded and alone, I am off to fight a MailChimp.
age range: 7-12 setting: Wyoming
Tess Hilmo’s website
“Drawing on rich Western lore and creating characters as gritty as the earth itself, Hilmo paints a picture of a town where everyone is connected . . . A heartening, comforting story with enough tension to keep readers hooked.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A robust cast of well-developed characters and a delightful, swiftly moving plot will leave readers wishing for Jade to extend her stay in Wyoming.” – School Library Journal
Please tell us about your book.
Skies Like These is a fun, friendship-filled novel with a cowboy twist! It’s intended for the middle grade audience (ages 7-12).
What inspired you to write this story?
My husband and I celebrated our 40th birthday (which are just a couple of weeks apart) by taking our friends on a bus ride up the canyon by our home for a chuck wagon dinner party. At that party, a fun story about Butch Cassidy was told and I sat there under a breathtaking star filled sky thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a modern-day twist on a Butch Cassidy story?” And I did! Skies Like These was inspired by that fun night with friends – by the Western skies I am privileged to live under – and by the crazy tales of heroes gone by and heroes longing to be. I also think of it as a nod to The Great Brain series I loved so much growing up. It’s full of hijinx and outrageous fun!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Wyoming is a beautiful state, and I got to visit the original Butch Cassidy hide outs and follow his outlaw trail. What fun! One interesting thing I learned is that Butch Cassidy is considered the Robin Hood of the West. His fight was against the big cattle barons and rail road companies that were squeezing the life out of local ranchers. He often supported the less fortunate and he was a man of his word. There is one story where he was in camp and a member of his Wild Bunch gang brought in a stolen horse. When Butch learned the horse was stolen from a young boy in town, Butch made his co-cowboy take the horse back and apologize. He then made him walk many miles back to their hideout on foot as a punishment. He wasn’t just an outlaw cowboy, he was a NICE outlaw cowboy with a cause!
What are some special challenges associated with writing SKIES LIKE THESE?
The challenge for this novel was to write about a historical figure in a modern-day setting….to blend the two worlds of long ago and today and make it feel fresh, fun and interesting.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are so many! Here are a few great discussion topics:
1. What makes us who we are? Is it our heritage – where we come from and who our family is? Or is it what we do with each day we are given?
2. Roy says a line in the book, “I know you’re hurting and you have a choice. You can cowboy up and climb this tree or you can just lay there and bleed.” What are determining moments in our lives? How can we overcome our hurts and fears and show courage?
3. Is it better to take a risk or avoid all risks? How do we determine which risks are okay and which are too much? Have you ever felt like Jade and thought the perfect summer would be stretching out on the couch and watching old TV re-runs all day?
Mae Asterix a Tintin wedi ennill eu plwy ar draws y byd fel ffefrynnau llyfrau straeon stribed, a'u hanturiaethau wedi eu trosi i dros gant o wahanol ieithoedd. Yn eu plith mae'r Gymraeg, Cernyweg, Gwyddeleg, Gaeleg a Sgoteg – gyda dwy antur newydd i Asterix yn Gymraeg yn cael eu cyhoeddi y Nadolig hwn!
Asterix and Tintin are firm comic book favourites all around the world. Both have taught themselves well over a hundred languages. Asterix has two brand new Welsh adventures out for Christmas, and Tintin joins him with appearances in Cornish, Irish, Gaelic and Scots!
Asterix a'r Cryman Aur ac Asterix a'r Snichyn yw anturiaethau diweddara'r Galiad bach peniog yn Gymraeg. Mae tipyn o greisis yn taro pentre'r Galiaid yn Asterix a'r Cryman Aur. Ar gyfer paratoi y ddiod hud ryfeddol sy'n cadw'r Rhufeiniaid draw, mae angen i'r derwydd Gwyddoniadix ddefnyddio cryman aur. Ond ar ôl torri llafn yr unig gryman sy ganddo, mae gofyn i Asterix deithio ymhell, a datrys dirgelwch, er mwyn cael gafael ar gryman newydd o safon.
Daw pentre'r Galiaid dan fygythiad cyfrwys y Rhufeiniaid yn Asterix a'r Snichyn... mae Iŵl Cesar yn ceisio tanseilio undod y llwyth drwy daenu enllib a drwgdeimlad ymysg y pentrefwyr – ac mae gan ei gynllun gyfle rhagorol i lwyddo, diolch i snichyn bach dan din o'r enw Bacterius Drwgynycaus. Tybed a fydd Asterix a'i gyfeillion yn ddigon hirben i wrthsefyll y bygythiad? Amser a ddengys!
The plucky Gaul has two new adventures in Welsh – Asterix a'r Cryman Aur (Asterix and the Golden Sickle) and Asterix a'r Snichyn (Asterix and the Roman Agent). There's a bit of a panic in Asterix a'r Cryman Aur... to prepare the magic potion which keeps the Romans at bay, druid Gwyddoniadix has to use his golden sickle – but when the druid breaks the one and only sickle he possesses, Asterix is given the task of buying a new one. This takes Asterix on a dangerous journey to distant Lutetia where a mystery awaits him before he can find a sickle that meets the druid's exacting standards.
In Asterix a'r Snichyn, the Gaulish village is under threat from a cunning Roman plan, as Julius Caesar tries to spread distrust and bad blood throught the Gaulish tribe. Caesar's plan is sure to succeed thanks to his agent provocateur, Bacterius Drwgynycaus. He's a nasty piece of work, and Asterix and his friends will find it hard to resist his wily ploys.
Y Bad Rachub yw antur ddiweddara Tintin yn Gymraeg, lle mae Tintin a'i gyfeillion mewn peryg enbyd ar ddyfroedd dyfnion y Môr Coch. Yn gymar i'r gyfres yn Gymraeg mae egin o'r gyfres mewn Cernyweg hefyd. An Ynys Dhu (oes rhaid cyfieithu'r teitl?!) yw stori gynta Tintin mewn Cernyweg, ac am y tro cynta erioed mae'r gohebydd pengoch hefyd wedi dysgu siarad Gwyddeleg gyda chyhoeddi Todóga na bhFarónna (Mwg Drwg y Pharo). Mae'r Gernyweg a'r Wyddeleg yn ychwanegu at ffurfafen Geltaidd Tintin, lle cyhoeddwyd Toit nam Phàro a The Merk o the Pharaoh (sef fersiynau o Mwg Drwg y Pharo) mewn Gaeleg a Sgoteg yn ddiweddar.
Tintin's latest undertaking in Welsh is Y Bad Rachub (Red Sea Sharks), where Tintin and his companions find themselves in mortal danger aboard a ship on the Red Sea. Joining the Welsh series are the first ever Tintin adventures in Cornish – An Ynys Dhu (The Black Island) – and Irish – Todóga na bhFarónna (Cigars of the Pharaoh). These join the growing series in Gaelic and Scots, with the recent publication of Cigars as Toit nam Phàro and The Merk o the Pharaoh – all available from Dalen!
Mae rhan ola cyfres arswyd Y Derwyddon wedi ei chyhoeddi – penllanw'r gyfres ragorol hon ar gyfer oedolion. Yn Cystudd y Cyfiawn, y chweched bennod o'r stori, mae tro annisgwyl yng nghynffon y dirgelwch sy wedi drysu'r derwydd Gwynlan yn ei ymchwil i ganfod y rheswm dros ladd y mynachod yr Eglwys Geltaidd.
The final part of the gothic murder-mystery Y Derwyddon is now available. In Cystudd y Cyfiawn, druid sleuth Gwynlan finds an unexpected twist to his long quest to reveal the truth behind a score of vicious ecclesiastical deaths.
One of the dialogues in Jonathan Swift’s work titled A complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738) runs as follows:
Neverout: Why, Miss, you are in a brown study, what’s the matter? Methinks you look like mumchance, that was hanged for saying nothing.
Miss: I’d have you know, I scorn your words.
Neverout: Well, but scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings.
Miss: My comfort is, your tongue is no slander. What! you would not have one be always on the high grin?
Neverout: Cry, Mapsticks, Madam; no Offence, I hope.
This is a delightfully polite conversation and a treasure house of idioms. To be in a brown study occupies a place of honor in my database of proverbial sayings (see a recent post on it). I am also familiar with scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings, but high grin made me think only of the high beam (and just for the record: mumchance is an old game of dice or “a dull silent person”). But what was Neverout trying to say at the end of the genteel exchange (see the italicized phrase)?
The first correspondent to Notes and Queries who wrote on the subject—and the problem was being thrashed out in the pages of Notes and Queries—suggested that it means “I ask pardon, I apologize for what I have said” (4 October 1856). Two weeks later, it was pointed out that mapsticks is a variant of mop-sticks, but no explanation followed this gloss. When fourteen years, rather than fourteen days, passed, someone sent another query to the same journal (8 May 1880), which ran as follows: “Like death on a mop-stick. How did this saying originate? I have heard it used by an old lady to describe her appearance on recovery from a long illness.” Joseph Wright did not miss the phrase and included it in his English Dialect Dictionary. His gloss was “to look very miserable.” Although the letter writer who used the pseudonym Mervarid and asked the question did not indicate where she lived, Wright located the saying in Warwickshire (the West Midlands). We will try to decipher the idiom and find out whether there is any connection between it and Swift’s mapsticks ~ mopsticks.
As could be expected, the OED has an entry on mopstick. The first citation is dated 1710 (from Swift!). In it the hyphenated mop-sticks means exactly what it should (a stick for a mop). The next one is from GenteelConversation. Swift’s use of the word in 1738 received this comment: “Prob[ably] a humorous alteration of ‘I cry your mercy’.” This repeats the 1856 suggestion. After the Second World War, a four-volume supplement to the OED was published. The updated version of the entry contains references to the dialectal use of mopstick, a synonym for “leap-frog,” and includes such words pertaining to the game as Jack upon themopstick and Johnny on the mopstick (the mopstick is evidently the player over whose back the other player is jumping), along with a single 1886 example of mopstick “idiot” (slang). The supplement did not discuss the derivation of the words included in the first edition. By contrast, the OED online pays great attention to etymology; yet mopstick has not been revised. I assume that no new information on its origin has come to light. In 1915 mopstick was used for “one who loafs around a cheap or barrel house and cleans the place for drinks” (US). This is a rather transparent metaphor. Mop would have been easier to understand than mopstick, but mopstick “idiot” makes it clear that despised people could always be called this. Johnny on the mopstick also refers to the inferior status of the player bending down. The numerous annotated editions of Swift’s works contain no new hypotheses; at most, they quote the OED.
I cannot explain the sentence in Genteel Conversation, but a few ideas occurred to me while I was reading the entries in the dictionaries. To begin with, I agree that Swift’s mapsticks is a variant of mopsticks, though it would be good to understand why Swift, who had acquired such a strong liking for mopsticks and first used the form with an o, chose a less obvious dialectal variant with an a. Second, I notice that the 1738 text has a comma between cry and mapsticks (Cry, Map-sticks, Madam…). Nearly all later editions probably take this comma for a misprint and therefore expunge it. Once the strange punctuation disappears, we begin to worry about the idiom crymopsticks. However, there is no certainty that it ever existed, the more so because the sentence in the text does not end with an exclamation mark. Third, mopstick, for which we have no written evidence before 1710, is current in children’s regional names of leapfrog, and this is a sure sign of its antiquity (games tend to preserve local and archaic words for centuries). A mopstick is not a particularly interesting object, yet in 1886 it turned up with the sense “idiot” in a dictionary of dialectal slang. Finally, to return to the question asked above, to look like death on a mopstick means “to look miserable,” and we have to decide whether it sheds light on Swift’s usage or whether Swift’s usage tells us something about the idiom.
I think Swift’s bizarre predilection for mopsticks goes back to the early years of the eighteenth century. In 1701 he wrote a parody called A Meditation upon a Broomstick (the manuscript was stolen, and an authorized edition could be brought out only in 1711). It seems that after Swift embarked on his “meditation” and the restitution of the manuscript broomsticks never stopped troubling him. At some time, he may have learned either the word mopstick “idiot” (perhaps in its dialectal form mapstick) and substituted mopstick ~ mapstick for broomstick; a broomstick became to him a symbol of human stupidity. To be sure, mopstick “idiot” surfaced only in 1886, but such words are often recorded late and more or less by chance, in glossaries and in “low literature.”
Swift hated contemporary slang. The last sentence in the quotation given above (Cry, mapsticks, Madam; no offence, I hope) seems to mean “I cry—d–n my foolishness!—Madam…”). The form mapsticks is reminiscent of fiddlesticks, another plural and also an exclamation. The dialectal (rustic) variant with a different vowel (map for mop) could have been meant as an additional insult. If I am right, the comma after cry remains, while the idiom crymapsticks, along with its reference to cry mercy, joins many other ingenious but unprovable conjectures.
The phrase to look like death on a mopstick has, I believe, nothing to do with Swift’s usage. In some areas, mopstick probably served as a synonym of broomstick, and broomsticks are indelibly connected in our mind with witches and all kinds of horrors. Here a passage from still another letter to Notes andQueries deserves our attention.
“Fifty years ago [that is, in 1830] I recollect an amusement of our boyish days was scooping out a turnip, cutting three holes for eyes and mouth, and putting a lighted candle-end inside from behind. A stake or old mop-stick was then pointed with a knife and stuck into the bottom of the turnip, and a death’s head [hear! hear!] with eyes of fire was complete. Sometimes a stick was tied across it, to make it ghostly and ghastly….”
Those who have observed decorations at Halloween will feel quite at home. The recovering lady looked like death on a mopstick, and we now understand exactly what she meant. In 1880 the letter writer (Mr. Gibbes Rigaud) resided in Oxford. Oxfordshire is next door to Warwickshire, and of course we do not know where our “heroes” spent their childhood.
We are so excited about the cover reveal for Jay Crownover's ASA! ASA is the sixth and final book in Jay's Marked Men Series, published by HarperCollins. Check out the hot cover and don't forget to pre-order your copy today!
Starting over in Denver with a whole new circle of friends and family, Asa Cross struggles with being the man he knows everyone wants him to be and the man he knows he really is. A leopard doesn’t it change its spots and Asa has always been a predator. He doesn’t want to hurt those who love and rely on him, especially one stunning arresting cop who suddenly seems to be interested in him for far more than his penchant for breaking the law. But letting go of old habits is hard, and it’s easy to hit bottom when it’s the place you know best.
Royal Hastings is quickly learning what the bottom looks like after a tragic situation at work threatens not only her career but her partner’s life. As a woman who has only ever had a few real friends she’s trying to muddle through her confusion and devastation all alone. Except she can’t stop thinking about the sexy southern bartender she locked up. Crushing on Asa is the last thing she needs but his allure is too strong to resist. His long criminal record can only hurt her already shaky career and chasing after a guy who has no respect for the law or himself can only end in heartbreak.
A longtime criminal and a cop together just seems so wrong . . . but for Asa and Royal, being wrong together is the only right choice to make.
And don’t miss the previous books in The Marked Men Series!
Jay Crownover is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Marked Men series. She also introduced the dark and sexy world of The Point that started with BETTER WHEN HE's BAD and is currently working on her newest series The Saint of Denver. Like her characters, she is a big fan of tattoos. She loves music and wishes she could be a rock star, but since she has no aptitude for singing or instrument playing, she'll settle for writing stories with interesting characters that make the reader feel something. She lives in Colorado with her three dogs.
Last week I chatted about living a life of gratitude and journal writing. I hope you have taken the time out to do such each and every day! The positive benefits on your life are immense!
Today, I'd like to touch a bit on what I'm grateful for...
My husband... Tom - we've been together 29 years and of course we have hit our bumps in the road, but we always manage to circle back around and be there for each other.
My daughters... Nicole and Hayley - my girls fill me with pride and awe every day of their lives. Whether it be their steadfast focus on their individual goals or overcoming adversity in their lives they inspire me daily!
My family... no matter what obstacles have been thrown my way, my family... immediate and extended are always my loudest cheerleaders.
My girlfriends.... My mantra to my daughters is to hold on tight to your girlfriends for they are the ones who will always be there at a drop of a hat in your good and bad times, no questions asked. A great big shout out to (in alpha order)... Cynthia, Dawn, Lynn, Mary, Maureen, Michelle, Theresa and last but not least... of course my twin sister, Debbie!
Crittin' Chicks Critique Group... I big shout out goes to Karin and Marilyn.... without their expert and thorough critiques of my works-in-progress I would not be where I am today! Ladies enjoy the holiday season festivities and see you January 2015 as we recommence our critique sessions!
Wishing you all a daily life of gratitude.
I'll be offline through the new year enjoying the magic of the season and being present in each and every moment.
Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Multi Award-winning Children's Author
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
In the film A Christmas Story, Ralphie desperately wants “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle.” His mom resists because she reckons it will damage his well-being. (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) In the end, though, Ralphie gets the air rifle and deems it “the greatest Christmas gift I ever received, or would ever receive.”
This Christmas, why not give your friends and family the gift of well-being? Even removing an air rifle and the possibility of eye injury from the mix, that’s easier said than done.
Well-being is tough to pin down. It takes many forms. A college student, a middle-aged parent, and a spritely octogenarian might all lead very different lives and still have well-being. What’s more, you can’t wrap up well-being and tuck it under the tree. All you can do is give gifts that promote it. But what kind of gift promotes well-being?
One that establishes or strengthens the positive grooves that make up a good life. You have well-being when you’re stuck in a “positive groove” of:
emotions (e.g., pleasure, contentment),
attitudes (e.g., optimism, openness to new experiences),
traits (e.g., extraversion, perseverance), and
success (e.g., strong relationships, professional accomplishment, fulfilling projects, good health).
Your life is going well for you when you’re entangled in a success-breeds-success cycle comprised of states you find (mostly) valuable and pleasant.
Some gifts do this by producing what psychologists call flow. They immerse you in an activity you find rewarding. Flow gifts are easy to spot. They’re the ones, like Ralphie’s air rifle, that occupy you all day.
A flow gift promotes well-being by snaring you into a pleasure-mastery-success loop. A flow gift turns you inward, toward a specific activity and away from the rest of the world. It involves an activity that’s fun, that you get better at with practice, and that rewards you with success, even if that “success” is winning a video game car race.
Flow is important to a good life. It feels good, and it fosters excellence. It’s the difference between the piano-playing wiz and the kid (like me) who fizzled out. But there’s more to well-being than flow and excellence.
A bonding gift turns you outward, toward other people. A bonding gift shows how someone thinks and feels about you. In O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi, a young couple, Jim and Della, sacrifice their “greatest treasures” to buy each other Christmas gifts. Della sells her luxurious long hair to buy a chain for Jim’s gold watch. And Jim sells his gold watch to buy the beautiful set of combs Della yearned for.
Bonding gifts change people’s relationships. The chain and the combs strengthen and deepen Jim and Della’s love, affection and commitment. This is why “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”
The bonds of love and friendship are not just emotional. They’re causal. We’re tangled up with the people we care about in self-sustaining cycles of positive feelings, attitudes, traits and accomplishments. Good relationships are shared, interpersonal positive grooves. This is why they make us better and happier people. Bonding gifts strengthen the positive groove you share with a person you care about.
You’re probably wondering whether you can find something that’s an effective bonding and flow gift. I must admit, I’ve never managed it. A tandem bike? Alas, no. Perhaps you can do better.
So this holiday season, why not give “groovy” gifts – gifts that “keep on giving” by ensnaring your loved ones in cascading cycles of pleasure and value.
Image credit: Stockphotography wrapping paper via Hubspot.
I'm an (aspiring) professional writer but an amateur illustrator. I draw characters and scenes from my book strictly for my own amusement and to help me develop my ideas. They are not intended to be part of the published book. Obviously, I don't mention my art in queries or anything like that, but I'm wondering what is and isn't wise to do with this art. For instance, can I post it on my blog and social media, where it isn't directed at agents, but they're likely to see it if they research me? Or should I keep it under wraps to avoid looking amateurish? (For the sake of argument, let's assume that I'm a fairly good artist.)
You haven't mentioned what kind of books you're writing. If you plan to write novels for adults, art work won't help much at all, since most of those book don't contain any illustrations.
If you're planning on writing for kids, illustrations are used in varying amounts depending on the kind of book: picture, early reader, middle grade etc.
Art is a very tricky topic. Some really awkward looking things can end up as phenomenal successes:
And some images are so wonderful they just grab your heart the second you see them and never let go:
And some aren't cute or funny, but they really make you want to read the book:
But in the end, this is your art, and your blog, and if you want to share your work, you should. You can't predict what anyone's response will be. I can't imagine an agent looking at your blog and saying no to a project that was otherwise a yes simply because s/he didn't like your art. (although, I do have very strong feelings about certain fonts....but that's another blog post)
I am not even believing what arrived in the mail Monday! An actual MEDAL - my Gold Moonbeam Children's Book Award MEDAL. It was forwarded to me along with a lovely free-trade bracelet, stickers to put on my books, and a note from fellow pickle, Audrey Litner – the one who came up with the great tag line for A BIRD ON WATER STREET: "When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing?" Never at a loss for words, she also included the lovely quote:
"La reconnaissance set la memoirs du coeur." by Jean Baptiste Massieu
I think it translates into "Recognition is the heart of memories" or some such. Does anybody have a clearer translation? Audrey? Answer! Marcy says it means "Gratitude is the memory of the heart! At any rate, as if I wasn't feeing special enough! Having never won a medal before, I had to wear it around the house. Let me tell you, that sucker is heavy and it kept hitting my tummy. ("Heavy medal" - Ha!) I don't know how the important people do it!! It certainly won't let you forget it's there. Wowsa - what a hoot! THANK YOU to my fellow pickles at Little Pickle Press!!!
When 2014 first opened up, there were shiny new ideas, bursts of energy, and an overall hopeful outlook of a clean slate. It was a chance to get things right, get things done, and end the year with a feeling of accomplishment.
There were the things we thought we would manage: distractions, obligations, responsibilities.
But then there were the things we never saw coming: illness, social injustices, death of loved ones.
The year may have worn us all down. It could have been small cuts. Or devastating blows. Or deep wounds that are still quite not healed.
Either way, you’re standing on the cusp of a new year and you may not feel that you’ve done what you wanted. Now at the end, you may be left with the feeling that another year has slipped by. One more chance has been wasted. The initial evaluation of the year looks like another wash-up. No real successes. Another failure.
Maybe it wasn’t at all bad. Let go of evaluating the disappointments, lost battles, and setbacks. Maybe instead concentrate on all the good things that happened to you in 2014. Focus instead on the intangible successes and give gratitude for your blessings — no matter how small. Make a list.
For me, here are some things from my list:
Being recognized and valued for my skills at my job
Selling my house and moving to the city
Developing a morning writing routine
Creating a total of 45K new words
Keeping the promise to travel for quarterly vacations
Making beautiful memories with my father
Listening to my heart and giving it a voice
I’m sure you can make your own list as well. Write it out. Glow in its truth and then get ready to face 2015 not as broken and bitter but as open and optimistic.
'Tis the season to eat cupcakes....fa la la la la la ... la la la la!!!
"Princess Cupcake Jones Won't Go To School".... Authored by Ylleya Fields and Illustrated by Michael LaDuca
Drum roll please ... The book is filled full of fabulous illustrations that are colourful, vibrant and full of action and expression. They make the text come alive and highly enrich and enhance the storyline.
Unwrapping the story... This fairy-tale, starring Princess Cupcake Jones, is sure to give you a platform you can use to ease your little one's fears of the dreaded "I don't want to go to school syndrome." Her beautiful Queen Mother, with grace and patience, lovingly encourages her little daughter that all will be well as the reality of going to school sinks into her daughter and produces a melt-down. The Princess resorts to playing sick and even hiding under her bed to avoid going. This spunky little gal has made up her mind that she will be no show at school no matter what. After gentle persuasion and brute determination on her mother's part, Princess Cupcake Jones finally relents and goes off into her unknown. Written in rhyme the storyline points out the feelings of a scared little girl who wants to stay home and play with her toys and be with her mom and not venture out of her comfort zone. When she finally is persuaded that she can do it, she dresses up in her best tutu, faces her fears head on, and discovers school isn't such a bad place after all. The book is interactive and hidden on each page, in each illustration, is a word to find. Please visit the website: www. PrincessCupcakeJones. com, where you will encounter activities, tips and valuable information. I highly recommend this book. This is the second book In the Princess Cupcake Series, the first being, "Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu." Who did the wrapping?
Ylleya Fields has three daughters and a son. While looking for books to read to her eldest daughter (when she was 2), Ylleya was struck by the limited number of titles featuring African American characters. Blending both of her daughter's images and personalities together, Cupcake Jones was created. Born in South America, Ylleya currently resides with her family in Cleveland, Ohio. She enjoys writing and is currently working on new Princess Cupcake Jones stories. Ylleya's first book "Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu" has won the Mom's Choice Award, the Gelett Burgess Award, a Family Choice Award and a IndieReader Discovery Award. Preorder her second book in the series, Princess Cupcake Jones Won't Go To School now!
Who decorated the wrapping paper?
My name Michael LaDuca, the creative director of Luminus Media, LLC. Since Graduating from Edinboro University in 2006 with a bachelor of Applied Media Arts, I have worked professionally in the design industry. Through a combination of expert knowledge in digital media and strong life time background in fine art, I will deliver you a design at the highest caliber that will noticeably stand out upon other design pieces. Whether you need print design, web design, or illustration, I would love to put my passion to work for you.