Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saint Anthony

Along the riverwalk rests a statue of St. Antonio, a gift from Portugal -- at least according to our riverboat guide.
I couldn't resist.

So, in honor of Anthony Pacheco, Hack Writer, I give you Saint Anthony:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writing with Sentence Variety

Note: This post goes over some of the points covered in our presentation at the National Conference of Teachers of English this past Saturday.

Sentence fluency has traditionally been a difficult quality to define and to teach. If you know some basics, however, it's actually rather easy to apply to your own writing -- and honestly, good writers (and readers) do much of this automatically.

Sentence Fluency:
1. Use a variety of sentence lengths: short ones for building tension, longer ones for explanations. Combining the two types creates a rhythm and flow to your writing, invaluable for keeping the attention of your readers.
2. Use a variety of sentence types: there are several different ways to achieve this, but my current favorite resource is Harry R. Noden's book Image Grammar.

Harry Noden's Five Basic Brush Strokes:
1. The participle/participial phrase: Lounging lazily, the cat watched the mouse.
2. The absolute: Tail switching, the cat watched the mouse.
3. The appositive: The cat, an insipid lounger, watched the mouse.
4. Adjectives shifted out of order: The cat, indolent and sleek, watched the mouse.
5. Action verbs: Surveying his domain, the cat examined each food offering.

These are but five of many variations, but simply being aware of alternative formats to that most basic sentence structure -- Subject + Verb -- can make all the difference in your writing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Where in the World is Alex Moore?

Temperate climes, eons of history.

Botonical garden, Japanese tea garden, art and history museums, a zoo,

a peaceful riverwalk.

The Magestic Theater, in all of its refurbished glory,

where BB King played Thursday night.

Brand new hotel and conference center, spacious and perfectly techie...

held their conferences this year.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alex Explores Sophie's World

After a lamentable decade or so on my shelf (apologies to Mohamad since he gifted it to me so long ago), I finally pulled out Sophie's World and began reading. I can't say, really, what prompted me. I know there were sparks of curiosity and, no doubt, guilt. After all, it's a bestseller -- and everyone and his dog in forty-one countries has read it. But there are plenty of books awaiting my studious perusal that spark both curiosity and residual levels of guilt for having not yet been read that sit lonely upon my many shelves.

So it wasn't only curiosity. And it wasn't only guilt. In retrospect, I wonder if it wasn't a final admission to feeling very much at loss with the world at large and America in particular. In reading a history of philosophy, perhaps I hoped to find not necessarily answers, but rather questions that would help me settle into my own.

Sophie's World is not a book for answers. Or at least easy answers. Of course, Reagan said that there were no easy answers, just simple ones. And we must have the courage to do what we know to be morally right. Those are reassuring words, indeed. Truth be known, however, there were Greek philosophers who would have agreed whole-heartedly with him.

As I finished the last words on the last page tonight, I found myself already plotting my second reading of the book, replete with a much larger copy and a journal for keeping notes. I've contemplated taking the book apart at the binding, punching it for a 3-ring binder, much like Sophie & Hilde had, and going on from there. Certainly highlighters and post-it notes are a must.

On the other hand, I've been meaning to read We the Living for some time now. And, in a way, as it is but a continuation of the history of philosophy via a fictional journey, I'll have remained true to the ideal of searching for answers.

Divine-Feline Photo Essay: Never Before Seen Photographs Reveal the Cat Behind the Name

Just as J. W. Waterhouse used the same model as the inspiration for many of his paintings, so the resident divine-feline inspired Maryn, the guardian of Ceilyn. Maryn is a central figure in Ceilyn's Calling, appears briefly in Ceilyn's Curse, and then reappears for an intriguing role in Ceilyn's Crown. I often wonder if Garth Nix has a white cat that he fashioned Mogget after.

After Anthony & Kiersten commented on the delights of Maryn, I couldn't help but post the following photo essay in honor of the little darling. These photos are intended to provide an intimate look at the various faces of His Majesty in all of his reigning glory. Oh, all right: They're actually just aimed at pleasing the divine-feline since he loves staring at his own precious mug and since he insists upon lounging on my lap whenever I type.

The Secret Garden is one of his favorite places to hang out. Surrounded by barberry, the tiny space has a section of lush grass and a brick patio, replete with tiny table and chairs, perfect for royal relaxation. Sunlight filters through the leaves of the lone cherry tree planted in the center of the postage-sized expanse of grass -- and which also doubles as the perfect scratching post.

Intensely self-indulgent, he shows great interest in words penned about him. He is particularly insistent upon sharing lap time with the laptop, indignant that anything should receive more attention than paid to him.

Here lies the Royal Rug, where his majesty spends an inordinate amount of time. Whenever the words "outside" are muttered, he races to his rug, sprawls upon it, and pretends that he is in the middle of a thorough washing. Here he is studiously ignoring the tiny pink and white mouse lying beside him in case excessive movement earns him banishment to the outdoors.

Yes, he is darling. Yes, he is the tyrant of my heart. Yes, I pet him excessively.

Although there is a "cat couch" (the futon you see in the background of the laptop picture), His Majesty insists upon relaxing upon the other resident male's armchair. Nope. He ain't spoiled at all. He's simply made for indulging.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Writing Rebellion

He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth. -- Goethe

Three Not-Quite-Non Sequiturs:

I remember my high school English teacher telling us that in order to break form you need to understand and be capable of the original form. In specific, she was speaking of the sonnet. Shakespeare was perfectly capable of penning a perfect sonnet. He did so. Therefore, when he deviated from the format, using a spondee instead of a iamb, he did it with full intention and purpose.

This taught me to look at the concept of rebellion in a new light: In order to truly rebel, one must first understand and be fully capable of performing, thinking, doing, etc, whatever it is one is rebelling against. (After all, it's only lashing out against your infirmities otherwise or fighting against someone else's beliefs, neither of which are truly rebellious in nature.) And secondly, rebellion without a purpose is stupidity personified.

When applied to writing, then, it seems that in order to pen something new and fresh and thought-provoking one needs to become a student of the masters. Without an understanding of the accepted form(s), how can one make playful references to the past or purposeful breaks from essential truths?

All this is to say that I'm contemplating the purchase of the Harvard Classics, originally known as Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf. Of course, owning said books and actually reading them are two different things, I acknowledge, but Dr. Eliot promises that in just "fifteen minutes a day" I can obtain all the elements of a liberal education.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. --George Orwell

Monday, November 10, 2008

Congrats to Kiersten

Jet over to Kiersten's and say "Congrats!" She's just picked up an agent for her YA novel Flash and deserves our excited well wishes. You go, girl!

Delacorte Press Contest for First Young Adult Novel

The deadline for the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel is coming up uber fast. (I have never quite figured out why they post it under Kids@Random House, since it's open to any writer who has not previously published a young adult novel, but...) So dust off your manuscripts, polish them up, and send them in. December 31, 2008 looms.

  • Contemporary setting suitable for readers ages 12 to 18;
  • Manuscripts should be 100 to 224 typed, double-spaced pages;
  • Include a cover page with title, author, address, and phone number;
  • Submit in padded envelope; Include SASE for notification only.
  • No simultaneous submissions;
  • Authors may submit up to two manuscripts to the competition.

Send Manuscripts to:
Delacorte Press Contest
Random House, Inc.
1745 Broadway, 9th Floor
New York, New York 10019

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reading for Survival: Beyond the Frippery

I happened across an essay by John D. MacDonald this summer entitled, "Reading for Survival" written only months before his death in December of 1986. I've been mulling the concepts over, filtering them through my own experiences, readings, and understandings, working to enlarge my focus of so many things touched upon within these pages. MacDonald's essay is not the epitome of philosophic contemplation -- in fact, his own description of the essay reads, "the mountain has labored and brought forth a small, mangy, bad-tempered mouse of 7200 words." But buried within the sometimes tedious examples and pontification glitter gems of inescapable brilliance.

Although MacDonald struggled long over this essay, he ended up (upon the advice of Jean Trebbi) crafting a Socratic dialogue between Travis McGee and Meyer, fictional characters of his detective series, in order to communicate his philosophic beliefs. It's a short read, and I recommend it to anyone who considers herself a "reader" or "educated" or "passionate" in the best, liberal arts sense of the word.

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." Mark Twain

In my combating elitism post, I indicated that certain self-entitled "educated elites" are tedious and self-important. Stu rebutted with the observation that there are those who disdain all educated individuals as lacking common sense. I think both statements contain truth. However, MacDonald's essay reveals that education lies not within a degree but within reading.

Meyer, who serves as a sort of educated moral compass for Travis throughout the mystery series, states, "I would not demand that a man read ponderous tomes, or try to read everything -- any more than I would expect our ancestor to examine every single leaf on a plant he remembers as being poisonous. I would expect that in his reading -- which should be wide ranging, fiction, history, poetry, political science -- he would acquire the equivalent of a liberal arts education and acquire also what I think of as the educated climate of mind, a climate characterized by skepticism, irony, doubt, hope, and a passion to learn more and remember more" (25).

Meyer goes on to note that "common sense is uncommon, dear boy. And in more cases than you could imagine, it comes from reading widely, and from remembering" (31).

While Socrates writes, "The life unexamined is not worth living," Meyer observes that "the life unexamined is the life unlived" (26). It is only through examining and drawing relationships between and contemplating and discussing and mulling over ideas that we truly come to life. "Complex ideas and complex relationships are not transmitted by body language, by brainstorming sessions, by the boob tube or the boom box. You cannot turn back the pages of a television show and review a part you did not quite understand. You cannot carry conversations around in your coat pocket" (25). While technological advances of the last decade have changed the literal truth of MacDonald's claim, the philosophical truth is inescapable. As a stereotypical whole, we tend to eschew the complex and embrace the simple.

This is glaringly evident in MacDonald's final warning to the nonreaders of our nation. Although I have not verified the figure, Meyer quotes an article in Psychology Today, saying that, "sixty million Americans, one out of three adults...cannot read well enough to understand a help-wanted ad" (25). Epidemic illiteracy is devastating not only because of what it means to our economy or our status in the world or the future of our children, but especially because of the multiplying impact it has upon every aspect of our lives, from the minutiae to the enormous. "The nonreader in our culture, Travis, wants to believe. He is the one born every minute. The world is so vastly confusing and baffling to him that he feels there has to be some simple answer to everything that troubles him" (32).

I do not agree with every statement or hypothesis or theory espoused by MacDonald within Reading for Survival. I believe MacDonald would be disappointed if I did. His intention was to enter the dialogue, offer a messy collection of suppositions, thoughts, and claims, provide pieces of evidence, and invite the rest of us to respond, refute, endorse, embrace, argue over, contemplate, and...most importantly...enter into the dialogue ourselves.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Musings

Sunday morning. Grey sky, wet streets, stillness freezing the view outside my window. Only the slight tremble of a nearby branch reminds me it's real, not some painting I've hung on the wall. Of course, my inclination was to be more descriptive: overcast skies with the peculiar white brightness painting a uniform sheen, reflected in the sleek dampness of the pavement...but grey and wet seemed more direct, somehow.

My memory of Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning" holds little of the actual poem. Nursing a mug of cross-bred coffee (one half Kirkland brand with Starbucks -- extra bold African blend), smug and chocolaty and rounded, temperature perfect, mug ancient and cracked and full of memories, all hopeful and sunlit, I remember only what I want of the poem: a lazy Sunday morning in pajamas with streams of sunshine and a green cockatoo. A Sunday paper graces the floor and all is well with the world...

A steady drizzle mars the silver perfection of street puddles and the prickles add movement to an otherwise motionless scene. The very mundane nature of it enfolds me, gives joy, comfort, a sense of rightness in the world. I feel a connection to Stevens' poem.

I slip back to the computer, do a google search for "Sunday Morning." I'm better served by my memories, my flashes of dark hardwood floors, careless silks, slices of orange, feathers of green. Unbidden, a smile steals across my face and I click close the site. I return to my chair by the window, listening to "It feels just like it should" instead of Mozart, the rain increasing in tempo and intensity, a few birds finding their flitting way into the fine whip-like branches of the snowball tree that serves as wall and guard and art form and nurturer.

My husband sits nearby, his silence a blanket I hold close, his attention within the depths of some article. All is right in my world, this world unconnected to any other, common and unaffected and everyday, but certainly the best I've ever known.

Contagious Diseases: Combating Elitism

I tend to be a rather laid-back sort of individual -- closely related to the kind of live-and-let-live folk that dot the countryside and truly believe in self-reliance, self-governance, and that whole Locke-ian philosophy of life, liberty, and property.

Because of who I am, I find myself downright irked by high-faluting, self-indulgent, I-am-the-center-of-the-universe, hoity-toity elitists.

You find them everywhere, it seems.

1. I'm consciously avoiding politics, but does it ever occur to anyone that our elected officials (on both sides of the aisle) run roughshod over us? They exempt themselves but demand our last drop of blood, our last half-penny.

The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. --Ayn Rand

2. The anti-NaNoWriMo crowd has been none-too-gentle with their derision and contempt of those of us who choose to Nano it up this November. Of course, I'm with Voltaire: they certainly have the right to their own opinion, but gracious! the hatred, the vitriolic sputtering... the moral superiority! On the other hand, it could be part of a diabolic plan to spike their blog ratings! (Whyever didn't I think of that?!)

3. Certain individuals within the education realm who consider a "degree" the final word on intelligence seem to forget that much of what life teaches lies outside of the ivory tower. And many educators have even forgotten the purpose of a liberal education within American culture: "Traditional liberal education constituted both a rich body of knowledge and a deep habit of mind, a set of disciplines and a set of practices, one leavening the other, to the creation of intellectual culture and the ennobling of Western culture at large." --David M. Whalen

4. Will the press never be held accountable for their shameless mis-education of the American people? "Hastiness and superficiality -- these are the psychic disease of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to is nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas." --Alexander Solzhenitsyn

5. In tolerating the intolerant, I try to practice what I preach: I may actively disagree with many an opinion, but I believe every individual is entitled to that opinion. It saddens me when groups of people believe that they are above their own law of tolerance. I think what they really believe is that everyone needs to be tolerant of their ideologies, but they -- in their cozy superiority -- have no need to tolerate anyone else's view.