Friday, May 31, 2013

Biblioholic Test

     It's Test Time, dear readers. Are you a biblioholic? Are you an addict? Will you feel, as you read these test questions, that someone has been watching you?
     We're going to get personal here, so the only stipulation is that you must be honest. Cheat on tests like these, and you only cheat on yourself. You might want to have at your side a fine glass (or two or three) of Merlot to fight guilt or the temptation to not answer the way you should. Be as honest as your stomach allows. The grading scale is at the end of each section. Go for it!


  1. When you go to a bookstore with a friend, are you usually carrying more books when you leave than your friend is?
  2. Do you wake up the morning after, unable to remember how many books you bought or how much you spent on them?
  3. Do you ever lie about how many books you've bought?
  4. Do you have at least six books next to your bed?
  5. When a bookstore clerk has been unable to locate a certain book, have you ever been able to find that book on your own?
  6. Are you unable to walk through a mall without stopping at a bookstore?
  7. When at a garage sale, is the first thing you do is look at the books?
  8. When a stranger walks into your house/apartment, are his/her first words usually about your books?
  9. Do you "watch" TV sports with the sound off?
  10. When you watch TV, do you have a book in your lap for slow parts or commercials?
Yes to more than four questions = you are looking down into the deep and woeful pit of bibliophilism.
Yes to more than eight questions = you are hanging by your fingernails on the edge, your legs kicking in the emptiness and your eyes imploringly turned heavenward for rescue.
Yes to all questions = you are in full space now, a full-throated scream careening off the canyon walls, and it's only a matter of time until you splat onto the canyon floor.

Each question here offers three possible answers. Please select only one. Again, honesty is of the utmost. Is it time to refresh the Merlot?

  1. It is bedtime for you and your spouse. You are in bed and the reading light is on above your heads. Your spouse closes his/her book, clicks off the light, and amorously snuggles to your side, promising to bestow upon you ardent connubial favors upon the disposal of your own volume. What do you do?
    1. Lay your book aside and accede to the rigors of your spouse's amatory program.
    2. Agree to your spouse's demands this time, but insist on getting separate reading lights for the future.
    3. Drive him/her away with an NBA-style rebounding elbow, flip the light back on, and return to your tome.
  2. Your book buying has been halted by the barrier that eventually stops all book buying: lack of storage space. How do you react to this problem?
    1. You sell some of the books, or give the away.
    2. You jettison existing space-takers, like furniture and large appliances.
    3. You acquire more space––that is, you buy/rent houses, build annexes, rent storage space.
  3. You have just run out of gas or had car trouble. Following your initial feelings of anger and disappointment, you realize that you may be there for some time. However, you also realize that you failed to bring any books with you. What do you do?
    1. Sit and stew and wait for help.
    2. Read the manuals and insurance policies in the glove compartment.
    3. This would never happen to you as you always have books with you.
  4. When you give a book to a friend as a gift, what do you expect that person to do upon receipt of the volume?
    1. Thank you, put the book aside, and move on to other matters.
    2. Fall to his/her knees in profuse thanks and begin seriously reading the tome immediately, callously disregarding everything and everyone else present.
    3. Listen rapturously while you explain the fine points of the volume––which may include the reading of excerpts––and how they relate to the recipient, before digging into the reading of the tome right there.
  5. What do you do when your friends wish to see your personal library?
    1. Tell them to "go for it" and leave them to their own devices.
    2. You get squeamish when you witness them handling your books, bending them and possibly creasing the bindings, and even setting their drinking vessels on them, but you allow them to continue unremonstrated.
    3. Allow no one to enter your library unless clothed in airtight suits similar to those worn on Gemini space missions, lest they track in any damaging foreign organisms, and you alone handle the volumes.

For every answer (1) give yourself five points; for every (2) selected, ten points; and for every (3) fifteen points. Tally up your score and match it with the following evaluation guideline:

        extracted from  
Biblioholism:The Literary Addiction
25-40 Accept our apologies. You are no biblioholic.
41-65 You don't have a problem now. It's only a matter of time.
66 >   You're gone, sorry. Solicit intervention pronto.

I hope you've enjoyed this whimsical testing of your biblioholism. Let me know, because otherwise I won't know to pass along other whimsy tests. Smile and have a great day.

Friday, May 24, 2013


     Recently, I adjusted the stance of my hardbound reference books––Roget's Thesaurus, Rodale's The Synonym Finder, Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, and The Chicago Manual of Style––which listed precariously close to the shelf's edge, despite a weighted bookend. Straightened in their place of honor, they are again easy to reach from my desk chair when I write.
     The dictionary and thesaurus are the most frequently retrieved of the above group, and they show the grasped use with chiseled edges, re-glued alpha tabs, and spines working loose. I thought about the role of these two volumes as I made order on that shelf. I wondered if one had become more important than the other, and if so for what reason? To find out, I made a list of what each book contributed to my writing endeavors. I share my findings with you.

  • provides an alphabetical list of words with definitions, parts of speech, phonetic pronunciations, and etymologies;
  • you start with a word and look for its meaning
  • its purpose is to define and pronounce words
  • precise words provide articulation to your written voice


  • a book of words grouped by ideas
    • you start with an idea and find the words to express it
    • look up the idea word in the index, and find beneath it the closest synonym
    • turn to the numbered section you choose from the index to find synonyms, suitable antonyms, phrases, and expressions
  • provides parts of speech
* the plural of thesaurus is "thesauri" or "thesauruses;" its adjective is "thesaural"

     About the time I was pondering the merits of each of these two volumes, another of John McPhee's articles in his Writing Life series (Draft No. 4) appeared in the April 29, 2013, issue of The New Yorker. I provide a portion of it below, but please note underlines are mine.
You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity. While the word inside the box may be perfectly O.K., there likely to be an even better word for this situation, a word right smack on the button, and why don't you try to find such a word? If none occurs, don't linger; keep reading and drawing boxes, and later revisit them one by one. If there's a box around "sensitive," because it seems pretentious in the context, try "susceptible." Why "susceptible"? Because you looked up "sensitive" in the dictionary and it said "highly susceptible." With dictionaries, I spend a great deal more time looking up words I know than words I have never heard of––at least ninety-nine to one. The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus. If you use the dictionary after the thesaurus, the thesaurus will not hurt you.

I summarize my list, and feel somewhat blessed by Mr. McPhee's remarks:
  • I reach for the dictionary first to be sure the word I've chosen fulfills the definition of my intent. This is the book that presents (for me) the best choice of words.
  • After that, the thesaurus comes to desktop for 1) finding a more nuanced word, and 2) to avoid the repetitive use of a particular word. But even then, I will go back to the dictionary to verify that the new word is suitable.
  • I use the two books hand-in-hand to be sure I convey the right word for the right context and prevent confusion. 
  • In the revision process, the thesaurus works overtime, allowing my writing to have more variety or wordplay, but only when I'm careful.
Do you prefer one word reference book over another? Is it easily at hand? 
I'm curious to know how other writers perceive their dictionaries and thesauri, and why?

Friday, May 17, 2013


     Today's opts, I mean pots, rather spot. No, it was supposed to be stop. Or did I mean tops?

     Okay, I'll start over, but first I'll tell you that today's Post pertains to anagrams. You saw how I was able to flip the four letters of "post" to create five legitimate words (six, if you count the word "post").

     What brought me to this type of word play was an early draft of a new short fiction. I toyed with the title of the piece as an anagram, and later incorporating it into my story. I reconsidered that when it came time to name my characters, and wondered about that effect. The jury is still out on the latter, but I find it intriguing. I'll keep you posted (also read as depots, despot).

     In any event, I explored the nature and history of anagrams, and became more fascinated. Today, I'll share some of what I found with you.

The verb form is anagrammatize.
A person who creates anagrams is an anagrammatist.
     An anagram is a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase exactly once. For example,  pages becomes gapes; 
orchestra becomes carthorse; parliament may become partial men. A name like Donna becomes and no or and on; Clint Eastwood becomes old west action, or how about this one, Elvis = lives. The phrase new door becomes one word, and the four points of the compass are thorn, shout, seat, and stew.

     The goal of serious or skilled anagrammatists it to produce anagrams that in some way reflect or comment on the subject. Such an anagram may be a synonym or antonym of its subject, a parody, a criticism, or praise––for example, William Shakespeare = I am a weakish speller.

More by-the-bys:
-- the word "anagrams" is an anagram of "ars magna," Latin for "great art."
-- Wordsmith notes that the right to lampoon royalty and politicians, using anagrams, was enshrined in English law, when King John signed the Magna Carta (Anagram Act) in 1215.

     One of the writing resource books in my Library is The Wordsworth Dictionary of Anagrams, a book of 20,000 words arranged alphabetically, including proper names, compiled by Michael Card. A few anagram sites are: Everyday Vocabulary Anagrams or One Across. Check out one or the other, or all of them. In the meantime, I leave you with this piece of whimsy:

I hope you found this interesting, and that you'll consider using anagrams in your next writing piece whether it's fiction or poetry. At the least, have a go at it to find out what fun is found in creating anagrams, and let me know if you, too, decide to use anagrams in your writing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Mothers' Day

What I Learned From My Mother
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

A warm wish from one writing mother to other writing mothers on Mothers' Day. May it be a good one.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Writing Ideas Stored

     Most of us own a file cabinet to house important papers––tax returns, auto/home/health insurance papers, instructions and warranties, and more. What we file is an individual thing, but we know that a centralized point to contain these matters is an avenue to sanity.
     As a writer, I needed another cabinet. I own two, two-drawer verticals, turquoise in color, set one atop the other in a corner of my writing room. I've had them for y e a r s. Each drawer represents a category of writing and writing interests. One drawer, for example, houses folders of writing devices for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Clippings, conference handouts, and copies downloaded from internet sources on Backstory, Dialogue, Plot; Essay, Memoir; Forms, Meter, Rhythm; and others are here for when I need to buttress an area on which I'm working.
     Another contains the rudiments of blogging, query letters, pitching, editing, and synopsis.
     Another drawer, with alphabetized dividers, houses writing ideas culled from magazines, newspapers, and websites. Here filed, and waiting for their moment in my writing sun, are articles on art conservation, birth order, caving, cemeteries (you never know!), fishing, gargoyles, twins, stained glass windows, kayaks, various hobbies people have, and even umbrellas.
     The cabinet keeps the papers off the floor (most times, and when I take the time to file them), and is ready for when I need to find something interesting to flesh out a character, a scene, or give validity to an area in my writing.

     I also keep notebooks of various sizes and for various purposes. Composition books of classroom flavor work great for collecting my own ideas, and copying words from other sources––even worded license plates. I use the note feature on my iPhone for my daily travels, and when I overhear or see something of interest I "jot"it down. When I arrive home, I transfer it/them to one of these journals. They are each a collection of oddities, and such nice oddities they are! Periodically I flip through these books to remind me of their contents, and also to enjoy what has struck my fancy over time. When I use something from inside one of them for a story or poem, I notate that snippet with the what, where, and when that I've used it.
     Spiral notebooks are for early writing drafts, and they include scratch outs or marginal comments in red pen or pencil. When I'm satisfied with a particular rough draft, I move it onto my computer. I don't intend to hold onto these books, so I'm very casual about how I use them. Spirals allow for ripping out sheets, and after a point there is nothing left. That's good, too.

     Covered journals are my favorite, and as a result I use journals on a daily basis. I flag pages of importance, paper-clip others, and elastic band the book before I set it aside. Some of my journals have graduated toward specific uses: early-morning poems, gratitudes, diary. Others contain a hodgepodge of writing ideas like the composition books above. Pages on all of them reflect loving use––smudges from my fountain pens, annotations, fraying. Some have begun to separate from their  spines, and all the more important are those elastic bands to contain their precious innards. Journals will stay with me forever.

     This is the newbie in my arsenal of stored writing ideas, and it's electronic. As soon as I set up my Pinterest account a few years back, I began to create Boards that reflected my writing interests: favorite authors, poets, book collecting, personal libraries, and many other things related to reading and writing. I pin images, personalities, quotes, faces, and sources to follow up on later. Here, too, are Boards that reflect my interests, all of which can be fodder for my writing. I also upload personal photographs, and have brought them back for use on this Blog. Pinterest has taught me that not all things must be written down. It is the Wunderkind of storing writing ideas!

I would enjoy knowing how do you store writing ideas? In what do you keep these inspirations? And have you found Pinterest  boards to be a useful tool for idea collections? Please share them in the Comments box below.