Nostalgia Calling, However Briefly

Every once in a while, I run across something that makes me wish for a moment that I’d stayed in Academia.† Like this call for papers:

Inside Out: Dress and Identity in the Middle Ages, the 38th Annual Conference at Fordham University’s Center for Medieval Studies.

Not that I’d have anything to present — material culture was never my field — but my word, the papers should be fascinating.

Not often, though, or for very long. I got out at just about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.

Summertime, and the Living Is Sneezy….

We’re now well into the time of hot, oppressive days and high pollen counts.  The cats, instead of sitting like little furry meatloafs with tails and paws neatly tucked in, are stretched out into longcats, and can be reliably used to find the spots with the best cooling cross-drafts.

Which are no good to the rest of us, because the cats own them.

Summer is not the most enjoyable time for doing work, but work nevertheless must be done (this is where I point, in a discreet parenthesis, to the “Editorial and Critique Services” link up at the top of the page), so I’ll leave you with a handful of links to amuse or interest you during the days when you’re not on vacation at the beach, or in a mountaintop cabin, or in a hermetically sealed and thoroughly air-conditioned hotel room, if such is your pleasure:

First, a clip of Jim Macdonald, my co-author, in his other role as a magician (complete with top hat!)

Next, a good (and funny) explanation of the context rules for the use of bad language, and a report on the discovery of the earliest known use of the f-word in written English.

And finally, a video demonstrating how to put on a set of late 14th-century armor.

Stay cool, and enjoy.


Winter Storm Stella came through here yesterday and last night, and left a foot or so of snow behind, a lot of which is going to have to be removed from our driveway.  I give thanks for the presence in the household of our younger son, who shovels the driveway so we don’t have to – though what we’ll do when he departs onto the next stage of his Life Journey™, I don’t know.  Buy a snow blower, probably, if we can afford one.

At least we didn’t lose power – or haven’t lost it so far, let’s not get cocky, here – which means that writing and editorial work can go on unhindered.

Obligatory writing reference:  If you’re from one of the parts of the world where hard winters and deep snow aren’t a thing, do your research before writing about it.  And don’t trust film and television for a second, unless maybe you’re watching a Weather Channel documentary or the like; TV and the movies regularly have people running around in deep snow wearing outfits that would get them killed in the real world.  To be, however reluctantly, fair to the visual-media people, your actual effective cold-weather garments are about as far from photogenic as it’s possible to get, and nobody wants to turn their high-priced talent into a bunch of down-filled-parka-clad clones – but we toilers of the written word don’t have that problem, or that excuse.

If you don’t live in cold-weather country, and need to write about it, consider visiting some cold weather, if you can.  (If you’ve got a local friend, pay attention to what they tell you about what not to do.  If you’re a stranger to the area, double-check with the locals you do interact with – the tourist bureau, the waitperson at the diner, the clerk at the 7-11 – and if they say, “I wouldn’t go out there today,” believe them and stay home.)  Failing that, read some Jack London (“To Build a Fire” is a classic for a reason), or some Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Hard Winter), and take a moment to listen to the ballad of Frozen Charlotte.

My Co-Author is Having Fun Again

The current political circus (although if it’s a circus, it’s rapidly turning into an old-style Roman one) has inspired him to take up the partisan cudgels on behalf of . . . the Whigs.  No, not the Modern Whig party, and not the historical British Whig party, either. He’s cheering for the old-style American Whig party of the mid-nineteenth century, some of whose positions became more popular in retrospect than they were at the time, such as favoring Emancipation and opposing Indian Removal.

To that end, he has unearthed from the depths of the internet The National Clay Minstrel, and Frelinghuysen Melodist, for the Presidential Canvass of 1844. Being a collection of all the new popular Whig songs, and is amusing himself with providing annotations.

(Did you know that the symbolic animal for the Whigs was . . . the raccoon?  I didn’t, until just now.)

Presented for Your Amusement

A bit of seasonal humor, from the archives of The Toast:  The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Book Gifting.  As always, read the comments, too; The Toast is one of the few sites on the net where doing so adds value to the experience, rather than making the reader despair of humanity.

Also, a research source:  The New York Public Library has put up a collection of digitized theatrical ephemera.  That hyperlink goes to an article about the collection; the actual archive is here.  They’ve got all sorts of stuff: programs, posters, correspondence, photos.

The Internet is Full of Nifty Stuff

On the days when it starts to feel like the internet is nothing but insult and outrage from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, it helps to go look at some of the other things.

For example:  here’s an informative post from Tumblr, giving workshop instructions on how, exactly to gird your loins (if you’re wearing long skirts, or a robe of some sort.)  Note that the process not only gets the material out of the way, but also provides certain crucial areas with extra padding.

This isn’t the same thing, by the way, as simply kilting up one’s skirt, which is a simpler process, involving tucking the extra fabric into one’s belt to shorten the garment.

And here’s a report on the recent RWA (Romance Writers of America) convention, including some very cogent remarks on the need for representation in romance.  Short version:  Romance is the genre of happy endings, and readers who aren’t cisgendered currently-able-bodied straight white women need books that say they’re just as entitled to happy endings as anybody else.

Finally, a couple of links that are pure catnip for a word nut like me: a compendium of the blogger’s own favorite posts from three years of All Things Linguistic, and a page from which you can buy a copy of Balþos Gadedeis Aþalhaidais in Sildaleikalanda – which is to say, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, newly translated into Gothic by the scholar David Alexander Carlton.

As Katta (the Cat) says to Aþalhaids (Alice), “Weis sijum her woda in allamma” – “We’re all mad here.”

Three Nifty Links and a Brief Reminder

Commas are important tools in the ongoing struggle for (and sometimes between) clarity and euphony – so important that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, even more than most punctuation marks, commas are pretty much a local-option kind of deal.  The conventions for comma usage vary from one language to another, as I learned to my sorrow back in the days when I was learning Old English and working with a lot of OE texts that had been edited by German scholars and therefore punctuated with German punctuation.  (It’s a mark of where I learned a particular language and how I mostly used it that my rudiments of German are mostly stuff like “The following forms appear only in the dative plural,” while my fragmentary Spanish runs mostly along the lines of “Do you have Tylenol in drops for infants?”)  Comma use also varies from one century to another, and from one writer to another – some writers prefer to deploy their commas strictly according to grammatical rule, whereas others prefer to use them according to the rhythm and the phrasing of the sentence.

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that some people take their commas very seriously indeed.

Over in another corner of the internet (the internet has many corners), Slate columnist Derrick Johnson strikes a blow against e-mail address snobbery when he explains why he still uses his AOL e-mail account.  (Hint: because it still works just fine.)

Meanwhile, for the folklore and folk music enthusiasts among us, here’s the Vaughn Williams Memorial Library.

And finally, the reminder:  the Dr. Doyle’s Editorial Services Springtime Seasonal Special closes at midnight this coming Saturday, April 11.

The Iceberg Theory

It’s fairly common knowledge that most of an iceberg – seven-eighths is the usual number – is underwater, out of sight to all but the denizens of the deep.  What’s less common knowledge is that most of a piece of fiction is likewise out of sight to everyone but the author.

Case in point:  a short story Jim Macdonald and I finished not too long ago.  Before I could do my part of the work on it, I ended up researching everything from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to early-twentieth century spiritualists in Denver, Colorado and using the results to construct an entire past history for a particular character.

And then I didn’t put any of it into the actual story, because none of it was stuff that the readers needed to know.  It was stuff I needed to know, which is a different thing.

This is also one of the ways that a short story can differ from a novel.  If we’d been writing a novel using the same general theme and ideas, all of that character history might have become a major plot thread.  This is because a novel can do more than one thing at a time (which is why writing a novel sometimes feels like trying to juggle jellyfish) but a short story only has the room and the time to do one thing, and whatever isn’t directly relevant to that one thing needs to be uprooted without mercy.  If you can’t uproot it without destroying the entire structure in the process, you probably don’t have a short story at all.

(If it isn’t a short story, but you’re certain in your heart and in your bones that it isn’t a novel, then you’ve probably got a novella on your hands, and an entirely different set of writing problems.  But that’s a post for another time.)

Another Nifty Digital Archive

Because the past is another country, but sometimes you can visit it through pictures:

The CARLI Digital Collection, “established in 2006 as a repository for digital content created by member libraries of the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) or purchased by the consortium for use by its members.”

You can find all sorts of stuff in there, from a photo of the 1908 Pinckneyville Fire Department to a shot of the interior of the Voss Brothers Bicycle Shop in Peoria, Illinois, circa 1920.  They’ve also got Civil War era letter collections, an archive of material dealing with the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. a collection of plans and drawings for Pullman passenger cars, and lots and lots of campus newsletters and alumni magazines.

It’s the sort of place you can wander around in for hours.

Summer Daze

I haven’t been around here as much as I should have been this month, for which I blame late-summer lethargy.  By way of amends, here’s a nifty research site:  a page with links to digitized medieval manuscript collections on-line.  When I think about how much I would have loved a resource like this back in my grad student days . . . I envy the scholars of today, who have all this technology at their fingertips.

Also:  a web site dedicated to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, with photos and contemporary accounts and price lists for things like food and lodging and various attractions.  (A double room with bath was $10/day at the Palmer House Hotel; or you could make do with the YMCA for $1/day if you were doing the Fair on the cheap.)

And just for giggles:  The Periodic Table of Storytelling.