You Sure Do Talk Funny

I find accents or linguistics very fascinating, even though I’ve been told I don’t have one myself. I attribute that to my upbringing as a military brat and the fact that I traveled all over the US during my formative speech years. I’m sure somebody from outside the US, South Africa or China for example, would beg to differ. Most people consider an accent a characteristic of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual’s location, or nation, but it can also be tied to the socio-economic status of its speakers, or their ethnicity. Although accents typically differ in quality of voice, pronunciation of vowels and consonants, stress, and prosody, the selection of grammar, semantics, vocabulary, and other language characteristics often vary concurrently with accent. The word 'accent' refers specifically to the differences in pronunciation, whereas the word 'dialect' encompasses the broader set of linguistic differences.

What I find interesting is how certain accents tend to inherently imbue positive or negative characteristics on its user. For example, in my case an English accent can make somebody sound extremely intelligent (even though they could actually be thick as a rock) and a deep southern accent have the opposite effect. I realize that’s simply me projecting my own interpretations (and subconscious bias) on the accent user, but it got me thinking. It gets even more intriguing when word choice is thrown in. When someone describes a soft drink as a “pop”, I immediately associate northern US sensibilities to the speaker because everybody in the south knows a soft drink is a “coke” (regardless of its actual manufacturer). So I started to wonder, does our writing voice have an accent? I know there isn’t pronunciation involved in writing, but there is a cadence and rhythm to the flow of our words that can be perceived as a type of accent.

Here’s another problem I see, we as writers sometimes cannot hear our own voice just as we can’t recognize our own accent. Although we each strive to be unique, we still utilize a pattern of word choice and sentence structures absorbed via years of common education and experience. We struggle to pinpoint the quality that differentiates the way we write and need to be reminded of just how distinctive our voice is. One could argue that content is the great separator, but I’ve read plenty of authors where it didn’t matter what story they were telling, I enjoyed the way they conveyed it.

As a way of illustrating the differences in writer’s voice, I’ve solicited the help of six of our own blogging buddies. We’ve read their blogs over and over again, getting to know their voice, so why don’t we put it to the test. I’ve asked them all to write a paragraph (250 words max) around a single writing prompt and their responses are listed below. Let’s see if you can pick out which one belongs to which. However, a writer’s blog voice can be dramatically different than their story voice, making it more challenging to match up the piece to its author. My goal is to demonstrate how the subtle nuances between styles really make them stand apart, highlighting the voice, and working with fiction expands the canvas on which that is based. Nobody said it would be easy.  :)

No, this isn't a contest...just some simple fun.  Post your guesses in the comment section and I’ll let everybody know the real answers next week.

This was their writing prompt: Your character just moved to a new city/town and decides to throw a get-to-know-you party, but something goes terribly wrong. Describe what happened.

#1) How was I supposed to know the mayor was sleeping with someone other than his wife? This was not the impression I wanted to make. The feud that erupted in my background was not the let’s get to know each other vibe I’d planned. I scanned the room, hoping for the tiniest of smirks, showing me this disaster could be remedied. What I was left with was a glare from the mayor’s wife. I still wasn’t sure how this had become my fault. I wasn’t the one sleeping around! I’d invited his mistress because she was the event planner in the next town over. How could I know she wasn’t aware he was married! This god forsaken place shouldn’t have been so damn small. I wouldn’t have had to go to the next town to make sure this event went off without a hitch. Now I was stuck with a screwed up marriage, and every home owner in town looking at me as if I was the home wrecker. Could I get out of this? If I walked out now, could I call the realtor, put the house on the market and get the hell out? I needed to escape; no way would I be invited to the next barbeque. I’d made the hit list.

#2) I ran up the pier towards the flashing red and blue lights. Our new neighbors were backing away or scurrying up the beach—fleeing from the drama.

“Why are you handcuffing my boyfriend?” I shouted.

The meathead officer ignored me as he finished reading Treygan his rights. Officer J.Lo wannabe held up a joint. “Possession.” She nodded at the unzipped band around Treygan’s arm which revealed half a dozen more joints. “And distribution.”

“Uncuff him right now!” I demanded. “You can’t arrest him for smoking Cweed! There is nothing illegal about that.”

“Seaweed?” The lady cop sniffed the joint in her hand then held it under Officer Meathead’s nose who smelled it and shrugged. “Why in the world would you smoke seaweed?”

“Why in the worlds wouldn’t you?” Treygan quipped. He winked at her then held up his handcuffs to be unlocked. “Don’t worry. I won’t press charges.”

After all the questions and formalities were finished Treygan wrapped his arm around me. “Nice meeting you officers, but we need to get back to our guests.”

Kicking up sand, we headed toward the house. Treygan placed a fresh joint between his lips while I flipped open my lighter.

From behind us Officer J.Lo said, “We’ll be keeping an eye on you two.”

Treygan blew a ring of silver smoke above our heads and smiled as he glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t blame you. We are extraordinary.”

#3) “Bear!”

The joyful atmosphere dissolved into panic. Guests stumbled over one another in an attempt to reach the safety of the house. Cups flew and lawn chairs tumbled out of the way.

Dan held the door for stragglers. The last guest bolted inside, still clutching his beer, and Dan slammed the door. His hands shook as he secured the lock. The cries of his neighbors, loud in the empty kitchen, beat on his eardrums.

“Where is it?” someone shrieked.

Pressing his forehead against the glass, Dan scanned the backyard. No one mentioned bears, he thought, his breath fogging the pane. I didn’t leave my high-rise apartment to be chased by bears!

“He’s out front!”

Dan spun away from the window. He shoved past the others, taking advantage of lack of obstacles. Of course, had his belongings arrived on time, the party would’ve been indoors, thus eliminating the bear threat.

“What’s he doing?” a woman demanded.

A car alarm sounded as Dan reached the picture window. Several cars resided in the driveway, but his attention shifted to the red convertible closest to the house. The red paint glistened in the moonlight and the chrome wheels reflected the porch lights. Its pristine condition and sleek body had turned many heads since its arrival.

Apparently, the leather seats and comfortable interior were too inviting. The bear had crawled inside, wedged himself behind the wheel, and was now happily chewing on the headrest. Dan heard a gasp in his ear.

“Dude, that’s your car…”

#4) Patricia at the office had warned me it was a bad idea but wouldn’t say why.

Sure, my new colleagues look normal from outside but I’ll bet if Patricia and I had had more time to talk over lunch break she would've totally told me about Sally McGreggor’s need to bring her two long-haired Chihuahuas everywhere she goes. Then I wouldn’t have been so surprised to see them eating from my fine china at the dinner table last night.

And I’m sure if good ole’ Patty could have caught me at the copier, she’d have warned me that Carl prefers to be called ‘Carlita’ during off hours. And would appear at my doorstep in high heels and a bustier with a muscled date named ‘Ruby’ who likes to be dragged around by a spiked dog collar and a leash.

Yes. If Patty had just had more time, she could have let me know that Britney, the young receptionist, isn’t just newly engaged, but also likes to pop ecstasy before her evenings out and will therefore spend an hour and a half going to second base with her boyfriend on my newly-refurnished couch.

Or that sweet old Mrs. Jenkins is a closet klepto who took off with three sets of silver knives.

As it turns out, I’m working with a bunch of freaking psychopaths.

I smile Patty’s way and hand her the coffee I’ve just mixed full of laxatives.

They have no idea who they’re dealing with.

#5) Two weeks after moving to the small town, her husband got the idea—a dinner for their neighbours. Jayne grew up in a city, where people didn’t know who lived beside them unless they were child molesters, but she went along. What a mistake that was. Jayne had invited four people and somehow eight were already in her living room.

‘Jayne, you look so young,’ Francis Morton, her neighbour across the street said. ‘Almost like a little girl. I sell Avon, you know, and have some products that will fit your skin tone nicely. You don’t use a lot of make-up, do you?’

‘No. I don’t like—‘

‘Well, we can change that,’ she replied and grabbed Jayne’s hand. ‘Look at your skin, it’s so dry. I have some moisturizer in my bag, Edgar fetch me my bag, we’ll have this problem cleared up immediately. Sit!’

Francis pushed Jayne down on sofa.

‘I’m fine, thank you.’

‘Ridiculous.’ Francis grabbed a bottle from husband’s hand. ‘I'll just get a large glob out. There we go. Can’t get too much moisture, can one? I bet you can feel the moisture rising up your veins as we speak.’

‘I feel something rising.’

‘See…oops, got some in your hair there. Edgar! Edgar! Get me a towel! Hurry man! Men, they never understand these things, do they? My dear, the colour of your face is all wrong—it’s red. Do you know what you need? A makeover!’

‘No, but thank you. I should see to—’

‘Ridiculous.’

#6) I’m not sure if it’s a mole or a giant never-go-away zit. But it’s ugly and a little furry. And when Cindy and her mole-zit are safely tucked into the bathroom stall, it monopolizes everyone’s attention, okay mostly Marjorie’s. Marjorie says the thing is gigantic and generates its own gravitational pull. Of course I don’t laugh—since mama’s dead, I’m hostess by virtue of being the oldest and responsible for the outcome of the party. But I don’t not laugh. That is to say, Would you like more punch? accompanied by the sweetest of lip biting grins and maybe a wink goes a long way towards maintaining the peace at these things. And, really, isn’t that the most important thing? It’s not as if Marjorie means any real harm anyway. She’s stupid, you know. Probably been dying to say that line since she heard it on Mean Girls.* It is rather priceless, if not original.

Mama never liked my friend Marjorie much, but then, she didn’t have a clue when it came to her own friends either. She always preferred the homely ones with mini vans and Keds, as if God had let us win the lottery so we could keep living like indigenous people. Or indigents. Indigest? Whatever. Mama had no taste. Poor Cindy is so much like our Mama, too, all make-up-less and fanny pack obsessed. She really doesn’t stand a chance. At least Mama was already married and could be a loser. But what’s Cindy got? She’s tucked away in the bathroom stall at her own Mama’s funeral, hiding a big mole-zit on her face. Sad, really.

*I have no idea if this line is actually on Mean Girls. Probably not.

And here is the talent behind each of the pieces (listed in alphabetical order). I want to thank each of them from the bottom of my heart for taking time out of their busy schedules to contribute a piece of themselves. Simply (or maybe not so simply) match the number with the appropriate letter.

A. Alex J. Cavanaugh
B. Jen Daiker at Unedited
C. Clarrisa Draper
D. Karen Amanda Hooper at Eternal Moonshine of a Daydreaming Mind
E. Carolina Valdez Miller
F. Katie Mills aka The Creepy Query Girl

Have fun! :)

F*CK IT!

As I sit here waiting for responses to the query letters I have in circulation, I find myself contemplating the possibilities of ever becoming published.  And as I do I’m reminded of all the cards stacked against me (or so I’m told).  No formal writing background. I haven’t written a million words yet.  I don’t read near enough.  My grammar sucks.  I can’t type.  I have a full-time job + with little time for revision schedules, much less promotional activities.   And I’m so introverted that I can tell my doctor what my x-rays say.

A literary agent’s wet dream, right?!

So, what the heck am I doing?  What hope do I possibly have? With all that I’m up against, why am I here?  I’ll tell you why.  Because…frankly… I said F*ck it!  I decided put aside my own reservations and listen to the people closest to me who tell me my book deserves to be published.  I chose to believe my critique partners who also praised it and urged me to push forward.  I opted to ignore common sense and think like a kid again, reverting back to a time when possibilities went untarnished by grown-up pessimism.  But what about those cards stacked against me?  Here’s what I have to say about those.

No formal writing background….F*ck it! That just means I never pursued it before now.  The drive and determination to secure my family’s financial & social stability was always my first priority and I never had the creative time to develop this secret passion, until recently.  It doesn’t mean that the talent isn’t there, and been there all along.

I haven’t written a million words yet…F*ck it!  Personally, I don’t buy into this belief and even if others do, I have written two novels, numerous short stories, and dozens of work related manuals.  At what point does quality versus quantity come into play?

I don’t read enough…F*ck it!  Do you really need to constantly have a book in your hand?  Read one book a week? A month?  What is enough?  Are we reading to become writers…or mimics?

My grammar sucks…F*ck it!  I’m learning more and more every day and besides, between my critique partners and a couple reasonably priced copy editors, they’ve helped me shore up my short comings.

I can’t type…F*ck it!  Truman Capote wrote his first versions in longhand.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I have a full-time + job…F*ck it! Well, not the job, but the fact that free-time is at a premium.  I get 4 weeks of vacation every year and weekends spent at my writing desk are common place.  Devoting free time on an uncertainty is one thing, spending it ensuring success is another.

I’m introverted…F*ck it!  Instruct me to go up to a complete stranger and ask for a stick of gum…ain’t happening, but if the same stranger comes up to me and wants to ask me a question about my writing, I’ll talk his ear off!  I may not be a conversationalist, and I loathe small talk, but given the right topic (namely a writers passion), it won’t be a problem.

There may be this mold that published authors typically fit into, but I can guarantee you it won’t fit me, and I could care less.  A more refined writer might have explained my position by saying I’m throwing caution to the wind, or that I’m revolting against a feeling of hopelessness and despair.  I can only say that I am who I am, and today I’m embracing the more youthful approach.

F*ck it! 

Anyway, it makes a catchy blog title! :)

Pecker





 How many words can you type?  Ever been tested?  Did you know that for measurement purposes a word is standardized to five characters or keystrokes.  But, we all know that typing speed doesn't necessarily translate into writing speed.  In one study of average computer users, the average rate for transcription was 33 words per minute, and only 19 words per minute for composition. In comparison, the average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute for memorized text and 22 words per minute while copying.  An average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm, while some positions can require 80 to 95 (usually the minimum required for dispatch positions and other time-sensitive typing jobs), and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120. (data provided via Wikipedia)

What's my speed?  I have no clue.  I'm what's called a "hunt and pecker", a two-finger typists.  Surprisingly, those in that category can commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorized text, and 27 wpm when copying text but in bursts may be able to reach up to 60 to 70 wpm.  Technically, I don't use just two fingers (more like six), but I'm also not formally trained.  Oh, I did take a half-semester typing class in high school, and if I knew then what I know now I would have paid closer attention instead of trying to shoot spitballs down Cindy Clarks cleavage.  Over the years I've developed my own system, born out of necessity, which allows me to compose unhindered.  Without looking at a keyboard I couldn't tell you where any of the letters reside, but instinctively I'm able to churn out the words at a good clip.

Why is that so important, especially for writers, streamlining the transition from thought to words on a screen? I'm willing to bet that most of you are like me, experiencing periods of creative inspiration where you're physically unable to type as fast as the words flowed from you.  I'll be composing/typing one paragraph but thinking about events coming into focus several paragraphs ahead.  I'll find myself cursing my unconfident fingers and seriously considering purchasing software like Dragon Dictation.  I cope with my limitations by keeping a notebook nearby so I can jot down these idea's before they slip away, only to reappear at inopportune times like when I'm standing in the checkout line at Walmart or rinsing the shampoo out of my hair in the shower.

As far as a writers skill set goes, how would you rank your typing?  Strong, weak, average?  Go ahead, your allowed to brag.  I consider my lack of formal training a handicap, one that I've learned to overcome.  If you're a strong typist, do you take it for granted, or do you struggle with your typing like I do?
 
This post is 493 words long and took me an hour an ten minutes to compose.  Where is Cindy Clark when I need her? 

Insecure Writers Group Post - September

Are there any SECURE writers?  Really?  I guess its all a matter of perspective...and degree.  But instead of discussing what brings me down and makes me question what I'm doing, I'm going to talk about a moment that perked me up. It wasn't a particularly encouraging query letter response, or a glowing review from a critique partner, but rather a simple comment left on this very blog that came via an innocuous route. 

Over the long weekend I was catching up on my blog reading, leaving comments here and there, when I received a comment of my own.  It was from a new follower who liked what I had to say in one of my comments and followed me back to my blog.  She informed me that after reading several of my old posts she really enjoyed the way I wrote and looked forward to the day my book was finally published so she could read it.

That simple comment made my day...my weekend...heck I still think about it.  Unsolicited praise, no matter how minor, goes a long way with us insecure writers.  We can crash into desparity at the drop of a hat, but we can soar above the clouds just as easy!

By the way, I'm being interviewed by Megan & Sarah at Sisters in Crime today.  Check it out if you have time.  They are a pair of aspiring graphic novelist worth checking out!
 

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