Today’s Mail

DecoPunk CoverIn addition to the usual unsolicited credit card  offers at rates that make “usurious” sound like a good deal, the postalperson today brought us our authors’ copies of the anthology Decopunk: The Spirit of the Age, which contains our short story, “Silver Passing in Sunlight.”

I really like that cover, by the way . . . if they made a poster out of it, I’d  put it on my wall.

Questions That Nobody Asked Me, Take One

Q.  I really loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and Atticus Finch was my hero.  Do I have to change all that in view of the publication of Go Set a Watchman?

A.  Only if you want to.

If you don’t want to, there are several good reasons why you shouldn’t have to.

Reason One:  Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird just because it takes place in a later decade.  It was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but wasn’t published until just now.  If either version of Atticus Finch is to be regarded as the “real” one, the title should go to To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus (“Atticus Prime”, as the Star Trek fans would put it) rather than Go Set a Watchman Atticus (or “Reboot!Atticus”, to continue the Trek analogy), by right of prior publication.

Reason Two: Given that To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, by virtue of their peculiar  history, do not actually stand in a text-and-sequel, or even a text-and-prequel, relationship, but are separate books, then Atticus Prime and Reboot!Atticus can safely be regarded as distinct and separate characters who just happen to share a name and place of residence.  (Again, science fiction readers already have a model to hand for dealing with things like this: two separate universes, parallel but different in some key respects.  Not quite Spock-with-a-Beard territory, but similar.)

Reason Three:  Go Set a Watchman, until recently, was never meant to be published at all.  It was what is sometimes referred to as a “trunk novel” — that is, an early work that the writer, usually for good and sufficient reasons, has put away in a trunk (or a desk drawer, or a computer file in an increasingly-obsolete format), never to see the light of day.

Sometimes, however, a trunk novel does eventually get published.  A writer may achieve sufficient popularity that it becomes a good bet that readers will buy even his or her old grocery lists, at which point somebody — maybe the author, but often the author’s literary heirs or executors — will decide to haul that manuscript out of obscurity and turn it loose on an unsuspecting public.

The reason for this, not surprisingly, is usually money.*  Either the author needs it, or the heirs-or-executors want it, or both. If the author is dead, and the heirs-or-executors are nowhere in evidence, then the coin involved is likely to be scholarly reputation.

So, no.  You don’t have to throw out your copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and consign Atticus Finch to the dustheap of abandoned role models unless you, personally, want to do that thing.  Which is your decision to make, not mine, and if I have any position at all on this, it’s that every person has a right to their own reaction to a work of art.

*Because writers have this annoying tendency to starve if they can’t buy groceries.  Go figure.


Peeve of the Day

Today’s peeve:  breech and breach are two different words. 

Breech refers to the rear end of something, as in a breech-loading rifle, which is one where you don’t have to shove the powder and ball down the muzzle with a ramrod.  Likewise, a breech birth is one where the arriving infant shows up rear-end first.

Breach, the noun, refers to a gap or a broken place, as in breach of contract, where some part of the contract has been broken, or a breach in the defenses, where some part of the literal or metaphorical wall has been taken down. A breaching charge is an explosive charge designed to take down a door or make a gap in a wall.

Breach, the verb, means to make a gap or a hole in something, usually by force.  Don’t use breech when you mean this one, either.  (There is a verb, to breech, but it means to promote a male child into trousers and out of toddler-wear – which used to be petticoats for both boys and girls. Like the petticoats, the verb itself isn’t all that common these days.)

So there you have it. Breach and breech – don’t use one when you mean the other.  It makes the baby lexicographers cry.

Link of the Day

When it comes to the most frustrating aspect of the freelance life – to wit, actually getting paid for the work – this piece in The Toast nails it.  (The comment section is full of additional spot-on commentary.)

The single most reliable and prompt payer I have ever personally dealt with was a comic-book company; they paid their freelancers every other Friday on the dot.  They also got swallowed up in the Great Doom that befell the American comics industry in the mid-nineties, so go figure.

The worst? Universities, hands down.

(These are the honest companies and institutions we’re talking about here.  Of the dishonest ones, we shall not speak, mostly because to do so would require the use of very bad words.)

Link of the Day

xkcd on the use of made-up words in fiction.

He’s basically right, too.  Unless you’re J. R. R Tolkien, and marinated so thoroughly in philology, literature, and Indo-European linguistics that you might as well be writing your novel in Elvish or Anglo-Saxon and translating it into standard English as you go along . . . think twice before adding neologisms to your story’s vocabulary.

But if you have to do it —

Make certain that your invented words can be read and pronounced by an English speaker (if you’re writing in English for an English-speaking audience) with no more than a typical grade-school acquaintance with phonics.  If you’re unsure about any of your words, get somebody else to tackle them cold and listen for what works and what doesn’t.

Compounding your new terms from Greek and Latin roots can provide your story with an erudite or technical flavor.  If you don’t want overtones of the lab or the library hanging about your epic tale, consider making your new words by compounding English terms instead. And needless to say, if you’re bound and determined to use Greek and Latin elements, take the time to get them right.

And in this age of easy internet searches, it wouldn’t hurt to put each of your invented terms through Google Translate and a couple of search engines, just to make certain that you haven’t independently recreated a thundering obscenity in some language you’ve never even heard of (but which will, if you let it stand, turn out to be the native tongue of your most keen-eyed reader.)

Weekend Comma Upcoming

We’ll be at the Burlington, MA, Marriott for Readercon, which we’ll be doing on a relaxacon basis again this year (also on an extremely attenuated shoestring, thanks to the necessity of paying off this past winter’s even-higher-than-usual electric bill.)

One of the things we usually do at Readercon is finish up on Sunday with a summer movie.  I’ve heard some good word-of-mouth about Spy, of the “Don’t let the posters mislead you” variety.  And there’s always Jurassic World, or the latest Terminator outing, either of which would at least provide the requisite summer-move quota of violence and explosions.

In any case, if you’re in or around Burlington this coming weekend, Readercon is a nice place to be.

Thought for the Day

A piece of fiction is a carefully-crafted series of lies told to the reader, which the reader agrees to believe for the duration of the story.  Anything that threatens the fragile nature of this agreement is bad.

This is, for example, why it’s necessary to do your research – if you get something wrong that your reader is in a position to notice, the reader’s ability and desire to continue playing along with you is going to be compromised. The same goes for poorly-motivated characters and plotting by incredible coincidence.

It’s just one of the many oddities of the writer’s craft.  We are, or at any rate ought to be, scrupulously honest and careful about the small stuff, all in service of a bald-faced falsehood:

Listen. I’m about to tell you a true story….

Ah, Summer!

I’d like to say I’ve been on vacation, but alas, the latter half of June wasn’t that entertaining.  Mostly it was spent dealing with assorted mundane but distracting issues like household repairs (ongoing and expensive . . . most of the time, when you live in a big old house, things fail one at a time, but this was the year when everything – including the dishwasher and the hot water heater – decided to go on strike at once), and oppressive weather  (after a prolonged winter, we’re now in the middle of a cool and clammy summer, with all the associated mosquitoes and mildew), and workshop work (reading all the submitted applications, and helping to finalize the roster of admitted students), and writing work (a set of revisions that I’ve been chasing for this long while now like Achilles trying to catch the tortoise.)

But now I’m back, and just to amuse you, a couple of peeves, or at least one peeve and an interesting word pair.

First, the peeve: People, you don’t beckon someone, you beckon to them.

Jill beckoned to Jane.  “Come look at this.”

I see this one even in published material, and can only conclude that either a lot of copy editors are falling down on the job, or a lot of authors are stetting more stuff than they should.

Now, the word pair.

Consider, then, immigrant and emigrant.  These two words can often be used of the same group of people – individuals who, singly or in groups, happen to be relocating from one country to another.  The difference is a matter of point of view.  If you’re standing on the pier and waving farewell as you watch their ship pull away, they are emigrants, people who are traveling from their country of origin to make their home elsewhere.  The clue is in the e- prefix, which comes from the Latin preposition ex, meaning (among a bunch of associated concepts) “from” or “out of.”

If, however, you’re on the other side of the ocean and watching their ship pull up to the pier, the same people are going to be immigrants, people who are coming into a country from somewhere else.  Once again, the  prefix is the key; this time, it’s im-, from the Latin preposition in, meaning “in” or “into.”

(If the same group of people are traveling from one place to another and either don’t intend or are unable to stay in one place, they are simply migrants. As for why the term emigrants should have more positive connotations than immigrants, which in turn has more positive connotations than migrants . . . all I can say is that language is sometimes weird, and people are sometimes jerks.)