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Archive for the ‘coinage’ Category

So I’m reading the PW Children’s Bookshelf and there’s Matthew Broaderick, still looking like Ferris Bueller, next to Kate DiCamillo in a publicity photo for the release of the movie The Tale of Despereaux.  I really have no desire to see the movie, and would have ignored the press release generally, were it not for the following words jumping out and slapping me in the face, demanding satisfaction.

…actor Matthew Broderick, who voiced the role of the titular mouse

Is this the only way to describe mice in children’s books?  Seriously, this phrase is so overused it practically ceases to have any meaning, it’s so lifeless even it’s bleached bones have turned to dust.  A quick Google search of the phrase shows that it has been used to describe the aforementioned Despereaux, Angelina Ballerina, Charlie’s friend Algernon, Cookie Mouse, the Tutter character from an episode of Bear in the Big Blue House, Stuart Little, Ricky Ricotta, and any number of other media featuring a mouse as a main character.

I get that the word titular indicates a reference to the title character, but I suspect it’s a phrase that sticks with people because it echos the phrase tit mouse (which is actually a bird), and that it’s entirely possible that people don’t know what the word means and think it’s a synonym for “cute and diminutive.”  It could also be one of those words that persists because of the puerile nature of those who first encounter it during puberty.  Consider a class of junior high school boys who, upon hearing the word and believing it has something to do with mammary glands, collect and propagate its misuse.  Dude, the latest issue of Maxim is totally titular!

Language.  Some words are like burrs in socks, designed to be carried by unwitting hosts to a new destination, inspiring the invention of Velcro.

But it’s done, it’s over, it’s beyond its expiration date. I officially declare the phrase “titular mouse” to be no longer of any value and that it shall be stricken from use for at least a decade.  You call yourself a writer, a journalist, a wordsmith?  Surely you can find another way to describe the title character of a book, especially if it is a mouse.

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A few weeks back on the school forum a lot of us were talking about the famous and infamous people we shared names with.  Generally, the less common your surname, the greater a chance you have of being unique.  Then again, there can be enough people with the same name that you could be classified by the distinction of your occupation.  Say, Jesse James the outlaw verses Jesse James the, uh, husband of Sandra Bullock.  And I once knew a guy named Dred Scott who was a white jazz musician.  Or there’s that guy Michael Bolten in that movie where…

Anyway.

I few years ago I discovered, with a minor amount of horror, that my efforts on an indie film I participated in when I was in college generated an entry in the Internet Movie Data Base.  The problem was compounded when a number of credits started popping up under my name for movies I had absolutely nothing to do with.  Turned out there was a person whose last name was very similar to mine and people had posted our credits interchangeably.  I even had an “aka” that linked to this other person.  Eventually that got cleared up and now my one lone credit hangs out on IMDB as some weird appendage to my life history.

Oh no, wait.  It says alternate name: Dave.

It’s odd, but I can pretty much sort people into two categories, the Dave and the David camps.  Skipping those people who knew me as Dave in junior high for a moment, those people who have met me since high school, those people I have introduced myself to, have always met David.  The nickname Dave never felt right to me and once I took ownership of my name I felt pretty strongly about it.  The problem is that people view them interchangeably.

If I introduce myself to someon as David and within moments they immediately go with the familiar, Dave, then I pretty much know how the rest of our relationships are going to go.  If someone introduces themselves as Margaret you don’t turn around and start calling them Maggie, or Marge, do you? That would be presumptuous and rude, would it not?  Yet people don’t seem to have the same hesitation about calling me Dave as though they had known me since junior high.

It’s a small thing, and I’ve gone beyond correcting people because I have learned that the vast majority of those I’ve corrected don’t see the problem.  It’s a paper cut of an insult, a gnat-sized bit of disrespect, but it tells me so much more about that person than they’ll ever realize, and I carry that information with me forever.

Now, that just sounds petty.  It isn’t.  Not much.  I don’t hold grudges.  I just have come to learn who I can trust at first meeting and who has to earn that trust the hard way.  Down the road some offenders have managed to discern my preference and correct themselves, but by then we’re on good enough terms that it almost doesn’t matter.  Almost.

But what’s realy eating at me isn’t the first name any more, it’s the whole name.  Google has created this odd environment where, periodically, anyone can basically Google themselves and find out what they — or others with their name — are doing in the world.  And suddenly having a preference on my first name doesn’t seem like such a big thing. My namesake is a Certified Massage Therapist in Colorado. There’s another me in Tennessee petitioning for habeas corpus relief.  A me that’s a police officer in Alaska, a me that’s a former Public Utilities Commissioner, and a me who is associated with M.A.D.D.

While it’s impossible for everyone to have a unique name in this world I’m lookin down the road and wondering how much I really want to go with my given name as my professional name.

I realize this is ridiculous.  If I were to turn out to be an award-worthy writer and my name were Barak Obama no one would confuse us. And since there isn’t someone with my name working in publishing, much less in the field of children’s books, it isn’t like there’s going to be much confusion.

But I’m still thining of changing my professional name.  I figure I have to do it now before I publish, otherwise I look like I’m trying to hide something.  But I’m not.  I just want something unique that pops out, something that (along with my stories and their titles) stands out among the fray. Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain had their reasons and didn’t seem to suffer for it.  Is it so wrong to want to literally make a name for myself?

I’ve tried anagrams and amalgams of odd influences in the past.  I’ve written letters to the editor under the name Roscoe Nickel (because I wanted to give more than my two cents worth), I’ve gone lower case, and with just initials.  Today I thought of one that’s a pip.  It’s lively, it’s unique, and best of all shows no hits on Google.

Avid Zey

I’m sure Suze is going to hate it.  maybe some of you might as well.  What say you?  Is it all folly?  Should I just worry about the writing and stet the name?

Can you tell the semester is over, and that I’m avoiding catching up on my reading?

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Huh, where did I go? Must have had a packet of writing due for school or something…

So, I like to think I’m pretty good with titles.  A lot of time, a story doesn’t click for me until I really feel I’ve got the title.  Since I have yet to have anything published, and there is always the chance that my titles secretly suck, it would be nice to have some concrete way to measure how good a title really was.  Would it be nice if somewhere out there on various tubes and wires of the Internet if someone could figure out a scientific way to measure how good a title really…

What? Such a place does exist?

Really?

Yes, Lulu’s Titlescorer will take your title and measure it against 50 years worth of bestsellers, analyize it, crunch some numbers, and in the blink of an eye lay out for you what percent of a chance your title has of becoming a bestseller.

And if a bestseller title is anything to guage by, then this is foolproof!

Actually, every title I enter scores under 20%, which I consider a good thing.  When I think of the titles that stick out in my mind it isn’t always bestsellers that pop up.  In fact, I was having a hard time coming up with anything that hadn’t been made into Major Motion Pictures.  Snow Falling on Cedars rated a 39.5% chance of success, Blindness came up 35.9%.  Ooo, wait!  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist garnered… 14.6%.  Say, that’s in the realm of one of my titles.  Let’s try An Abundance of Katherines: 26.3%.

Look!  You can have titles battle it out! Oh, no, wait, that feature doesn’t seem to work.  It would have been fun to pit a Harry Potter book against A Clockwork Orange to see what would happen.

I wonder what a low-scoring (like under 5%) title looks like.

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This is supposed to be my down time, my catch-up time. I’m supposed to finish with my semester busypaper work and get back to the middle grade novel. I need to get that sucker in line so that I can seriously start thinking about–

Scratch that. Gang way! New idea comin’ through!

Yup, the brain seriously hijacked me this afternoon and got to thinking about a whole new YA novel concerning a couple of doofuses who decide to… well, I never was too comfortable talking about things before they were written. I think it’s a really strong idea but I seriously need to finish one thing before pressing on with another. Seriously. Like I think my wife will go out and purchase a new Prius simply so she can use it to run me down if I don’t finish at least the middle grade novel I started this semester.

One thing I will talk about is titles. No matter how good an idea is, it’s never set to go until I have an appropriate title. If the title doesn’t work then I’ll never be able to focus on the the writing. Why? Because titles matter. They matter the same way a character’s name matters, the way smaller animals on the food chain need to know who the predators are matters.

Yes, it may be psychological, but titles serve as talismans to me. And so for this new YA novel I have it in my head that the title needs to be so absurd that it only has meaning within the context of the book, and yet echoes everything within. I’m thinking it needs to be a one-word title (just intuition, nothing more), either a piece of slang or the nickname of one of the characters. It’s about a couple of teen boys and I’m seriously thinking of having them swear like sailors, only to replace all their swear words with unexplained absurdities.

“Hey! Tinklewaxer!”
“Bite the lava, mon friar!”

And naturally, being boys, they would insult each other by making fun of each other’s names. Kids like to do that. In second grade we used to howl that there was a professional football player named Dick Butkus (we pronounced he last syllable as ‘kiss’). And our teacher’s name was Miss Bilkis. And if they got married she could be Mrs. Dick Bilkis-Butkis.

In a flash (not necessarily a brilliant one) I thought that one of these teen doofuses needed to have a last name that could be plundered, something like Fortinbras which would allow for many different bendings. But then there’s all the connotation with Hamlet, and I didn’t want to go there (see how my brain hijacks my ability to focus?), so then I thought Furtenbach.

Literally, from the German, fords the brook. Now maybe we’re getting somewhere.

So this doofus has a buddy and what does he call him? Fartinduck. Yeah, boy humor. Could that be the title of the book? Maybe if I made it less obvious, like Fartenduq? That’ll fool a lot of people.

So then later I’m describing all this to my eldest daughter and talking about how funny it would be for people to go into the store to ask for the book without realizing what the title means until the ask for it and say it out loud for the first time. “You got a copy of that book Fartin… oh.” Reminds me of when here was this indie movie out called Spanking the Monkey and just saying the title made people uncomfortable. Best of all, I think I must have called Moviefone a couple times a week to hear that guy say

Your selection… Spanking the Monkey… is now playing at…

because he really put some gusto into the way he said it. The memory of it cracks me up to this very day. What is that, 14 years now? Sheesh!

So, what got me started here? Oh, right, the meandering of my accursed brain. well, plenty of time to work on some more nicknames and insults while I’m finishing up that middle grader over there. Just, right over there.

Any day now.

Seriously.

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The weirdest things bother me. I suppose everyone has their pet peeves. Today, however, what chuffed me was landing on the following:

Xc%(*y$e(wy!!!!!!!!!!

That’s very interesting… but what does it mean? Were it not attached to a post discussing a common writing device as an obscenity, as a failure of ability — You know “Has X become a dirty word?” — I’m not sure I would recognize it as anything other than a keyboard scramble. The problem is, as a visual representation of an obscenity, the example above offends.

Yes, I do believe there is a correct way to represent profanity, and I learned it from reading comic books.

There are two elements necessary to create the appropriate substitute profanity, length and symbol. Length is merely how many letter characters are being replaced in the original word with symbols. So for example if you were replacing the work dren or zark you will require four symbols. Similarly, frinx or grife require five symbols, and so on. You can find the meanings of these words, and many others here or, if you prefer, the Classics of the English Language.

Now, as for symbols, the only proper ones available are “caps lock numbers,” those symbols you get when using the caps lock on the number keys. The exception is the exclamation point, a common feature above the 1 on modern computer keyboards that replaced the cent symbol. (Why we haven’t eliminated cents in our daily lives is beyond me, because a penny doesn’t buy anything but a pocketful of dead weight, but I digress.) Basically, anything between the 1 and 9 keys are what you want, non-letter and non-punctuation symbols that serve as your stand-ins for the letters you are replacing. So the available symbols for cursing are @ # $ % ^ & *.

There are two reasons to avoid punctuation. First, you want to reserve them to actually punctuate the profanity in question. Second, adding punctuation in the middle of a word only confuses the reader. Parentheses are considered punctuation as well, because our eyes have been trained to see them outside of words, as something that groups something else. As a result, when used in the middle of a substitute profanity the flow of reading is interrupted while we try to figure out why the word has suddenly been broken down into an algebraic formula. In conjunction with this last point, since we do use letters to represent numbers in mathematics they shouldn’t be pressed into service in representing profanity as well.

Unless, of course, the above example is really a cypher. Hmm. I hadn’t considered that. No, I can’t think of any 11 letter profanities. At least not any with a repeating letter represented by (.

The order and representation of symbols is totally up to the writer, though consistency is always best. For example, if in one place you were to write “Get the #^@* out of here!” it only makes sense later to have the character ask “What the #^@* is wrong with you?!” Unless, of course, what they are saying is “What the &*#@ is wrong with you?!” because that’s a totally different thing.

As a final note, comic books have a wider set of characters to choose from because they employ symbols not found on the keyboard. The inward spiral, for example, or sometimes a simple smudge. But even then, the same rules apply, and when they are broken those word balloons don’t look right. You get the idea, but it’s like when a kid uses a word wrong and doesn’t realize it; the intent is undone by the ignorance. Unless you happen to think that sort of thing is cute. I can’t help you there.

There. I got it out of my system. Now it’s off to farking work.

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Need a pseudonym? Need a pimp pseudonym?  Neither did I until I filled in the form and the generator popped out the name of my doctoral self.

Think I’ll just shorten it to Dr. Suede, when the need calls.

Get yours here.

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I’m up to my eyeballs in review books this past week and, well, there’s no way to soften this: I’m cramming. Actually, I put off a trio of books to the very end because I couldn’t dredge up any real interest without a looming deadline. That fact alone has nothing to do with the quality of the books, only my lack of interest.

Funny thing, though, when your mindset is already dreading a task at hand the brain seems anxious to verify your mood. For two of these books the only thing that keeps me from hating every word on the page is the constant reminder I am giving myself: It isn’t the book, David, it’s your attitude. The downside is that all that extraneous thinking tends to put me to sleep, which slows down my reading even further.

But one book did a funny thing to me. The more I tried to convince myself that the perceived flaws in the book were actually my own, the more the book grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shook me to rights. How old are these kids? I wondered as they tackled an entire city government with the ease and elan of a seasoned war reporter. How are these subplots going to tie together without appearing deus ex machina? I pondered as every new layer of story stretched credulity to the point snapping like a crazed sniper in a bell tower. And then right on cue, in case I was unable to nail the point that had been nagging at me from the start, the author has a main character come right out and say it:

“Are there any normal grown-ups?”

Often you hear people in charge of presenting content to mass audiences that they are merely giving the people what they want. So just exactly how and when did non-adult readers signal to the publishing world that the only adults allowed in a piece of fiction are either stereotypical exaggerations, hysterical power mongers, ineffectual obliviods, subversive allies or just plain all-around wallpaper? Where exactly are the normal grown-up characters who are as honest and confused as their child protagonists? Why are these books populated with adults whose villainy can only be seen and corrected by children, whose sole purpose is embarrassment, or whose wayward attempts at connecting with children sounds like Michael Jackson as a guidance counselor?

I get that kids like to feel empowered, that they like reading books about characters like themselves achieving great things that feel obtainable if only for a certain application of extra effort. I understand that it resonates with younger readers to have adult behavior seem at odds with their reality, and to have their explanation of that foreignness play off as humor to lighten the proceedings.

But does it have to be? Do we, as adults, believe that young readers don’t deserve solid adult characters to balance out a narrative? Do we believe the only adult they can accept in their fiction are the buffoons that make them feel better about themselves? Young readers look to books for many things, not the least of which is to better understand the world around them. If we are filling their heads with book after book of adults who are neither sympathetic nor realistic, do we expect that they’ll be able to make those adjustments in real life and not assume that all adults are abnormal?

I’ve got my eyes wide open now, a theory formulating in my head. My hypothesis comes down to a very simple question: Is the difference between a young adult or middle grade book (as a genre) and a book dealing with tween- and teen-age characters (as “serious” fiction or literature) simply a question of whether or not the author portrays adults as human beings?

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