Saturday, November 26, 2016

There Was a Young Boy Called Wart

Well, that was his nickname, at least. His real name was Arthur. As in King Arthur. Yep, that's the one.

Tales of the knights of old have held a certain fascination for me for quite some time, as they do for many other people, as well. Look at how popular the Star Wars films have been. Jedi Knights, anyone? Yes, they revived and held true to the old concepts of chivalry. Of course, there was also betrayal, too, but you have that in the stories of the old knights.

Anyway, back to where I started. Arthur. I had picked up "The Sword in the Stone" by T. H. White several years and tried reading it, but I just wasn't ready for it at that time. You know how it is. Sometimes a book grabs you immediately, other times you have to wait a while before you're ready for it, and then there are times when certain books just never do take hold of you.

It's an interesting style of telling the Arthurian legend that Mr. White uses. Sort of conversational. He breaks the fourth wall often, talking to us, the readers, slipping forward in time, looking back, going to a time before Arthur. He weaves historical facts in with the beauty of the legend, so that many times I'll write down some of the phrases and words to look up later. And naturally, being a student of words, I love digging into their origins.

Oh, almost forgot. He also makes references to other Arthurian researchers and storytellers, including and especially Thomas Malory, who wrote "Le Morte d'Arthur", published in 1485. If I maintain my current inertia and fascination with Arthur, once I finish the "Once and Future King" and "The Book of Merlyn", I'll track that one down next.

One of the expressions I like from the book is "up-so-down", an earlier version of our "upside down". Makes me wonder if there was a transitional phrase between these two.

Another expression used by Merlyn when he's teaching Arthur about morality is "Nunc dimittis", also known as "Song of Simeon" from the New Testament. It was a song of praise sung by Simeon when he realized baby Jesus was the Saviour. When Arthur asks Merlyn if his thinking is correct about a certain subject, "Nunc dimittis" was Merlyn's response. Perfectly cryptic for Merlyn.

There are plenty of other examples of terms for places, weapons, and foods, so if you're as much of a word fanatic as I am, I recommend T. H. White's Arthurian novels.

Happy reading, and keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thou Shalt Not...

I know I heard "The Rules" plenty of times, and I'm sure you, my fellow writers, did too.
You know the drill. Rules like "Thou shalt not begin a sentence with 'and' or 'but'". And what's the problem with that? But they never gave me a good reason not to.

Or, "Thou shalt not use fragment sentences". What? Never? C'mon.

But when you (meaning me or us or pretty much anyone infected by a grade school, junior high, or high school English class, unless you happened to have one of the cool teachers) don't even know all the rules and all you want to do is tell your story but you're too busy keeping up with all the rules such as don't use run-on sentences, in a Dave Barry-style rant, then all those words that want to come out and play just stop.



And, there are plenty of rules, aren't there? One thing they tell us, though (and I still don't know who 'they' are), is that you have to know the rules before you can break them.

I didn't care a blue fig for writing until I had a college professor who walked in to our composition class wearing faded jeans, long hair, and packing a well-worn copy of "Sirens of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut. I still remember his words: "You've had twelve years of spelling, diagramming sentences, and grammar. I'm not here to teach you that. I'm here to teach you to write." So, he put on a Beatles album (can't remember now which one) and pretty much just said, "Okay, start writing."

That's when my eyes and my mind opened to the possibility of words and what they could do.

And the rules? Yeah, I've been smashing them ever since.

See, here's what I've learned along this writing road I'm traveling. Our job is to deliver a message to our readers, whoever they are. And sometimes we're speaking as ourselves, sometimes as our characters; and if, to speak to our readers, we need to misspell certain words, begin sentences with '-ing' words, end with prepositions, or Frankenstein the words to fit our nefarious writerly purposes, then that's what we need to do.

But there is one rule that I've broken many times, only to pay the price of my words forming clots in my brain to the point that I can't even get the words out. And that rule is a simple one. Here it is:

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Dancin' at the Reptile Zoo...

Say cheese...
Continued from my previous posts...

Well, we wandered around a bit, looked at all the usual suspects in the cages--you know, the garter snakes, chicken snakes, corn snakes, even a small rattler.

"Wen, did I tell you about the time my Grandad built a snake cage for me to keep my garter snakes in?"

"I think so. How many did you have at any one time?"

"Uh, three, I think. I really didn't know what I was doing, though. I'd put worms, flies, even a small frog in there for them to eat, but I'm fairly certain that's not what they really needed. Living in Morganfield, just didn't have access to good snake supplies."

Pretty soon a fairly good-sized fellow stepped out of the main building, wiping his hands off on his jeans. Smiling as he approached us, I could see he had kind eyes. He stuck out his hand and shook hands with Wendy and I.

"Hi, folks, I'm Jim. Big Jim, they call me, of Big Jim's Reptile Emporium. At least, that's what I'll be changing the name to before too long. You folks been here before?"

"I have, or at least I think I have, many years ago, when I was a kid. We got a little turned around on the highway and saw your place, so thought we'd stop in."

"Glad you did." His smile was as large as he was and just as genuine. "Well, come on in and I'll show you around. We've had a few folks been getting turned around lately and stopping in, which has been good for business. Been something weird with the weather lately, I think. You like snakes?"

"Absolutely," I said. "Wanted to be a herpetologist when I was little, then I wanted to be an astronaut. You know how it goes."

He laughed, then said, "Sure do. I was going to be an accountant, and when the previous owners passed away, I just had to have this place. Love my beasties. Well, let me show you some of the crew. I even have a spitting cobra."

Keep writing, friends.