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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
October 14, 2020

The first word . . .

“Nevertheless, language is as important an invention

as fire. Language―good language―is practically

a “fire that burns unseen.’ And certain lines of poetry

make us, at the same time ‘content and discontent,’

multiplying an ambiguity that exist in all that exist,

for nothing in this world is clear,

save for imbeciles, the world itself.

― Goncalo M. Tavares, “A Voyage to India”. Translated by Rhett McNeil.

And they gathered once more . . .

Ten, including Paul Wagner whom we haven’t seen for a while, gathered Tuesday evening to critique the works of seven of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Jack Freiburger (short and long synopses, A Walk upon the Water). . .

The one page should include a few lines from the longer version, but stay at one page as few prospective publishers will read more.  The two plus page seems to be the better document, but the issue is getting any one to read it.

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 13, Journey to Swaraj). . .

Kashmira submitted chapter 14th of her story Journey to Swaraj. One of the important points was where to put Veena’s thoughts about Mayur’s intention. The group also pointed out that there needed to be more emotions weaved with dialogues throughout the chapter and maybe replace speech tags with action. 

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 3, Outsleep). . .

 Huckle made a good observation about the negative way Rice describes other female characters. I will look at this. Jack suggested a way to develop the opening jokes more. Larry liked the surprise that it was not Fred’s funeral but his retirement. Thanks, all!

Huckle Rahr (chapter 26, Wolf Healer). . .

This week’s chapter was pivotal in that Jane saw her first where she was part of the killing. The general opinion was that there needs to be more mention of T.J. prior to this interaction so that his death has more meaning to the reader. The readers need to know him better. After the death, Jade needs to have more of a moment of soul searching. Once she joins her family Cindy’s reaction was too melodramatic, there should be a build up, and maybe add some ritualistic animal grieving practices. 

Amit Trivedi (chapters 1-2 rewrite, Keeper of the Keys). . .

Explain the significance of praying to Ganesh.

There are many side characters in the first chapter. Rewrite with the focus on the main ones.

Consider something with the word ‘Tree’ as the title of the book.

Mike Austin (short story, “Maiden Voyage”). . .

“Maiden Voyage” received many favorable comments from everyone. Most mentioned was that the narrator’s name and gender be presented soon in the story to avoid confusion. There needs to be a little more clarity in the descriptions at the accident scene in the beginning, Becky interacting with the victim, someone calling the ambulance. There needs to be more menace from the two kids in the park, and it might be too much of a coincidence that these same two people show up five days later in the wilderness, whether I like the idea or not. And if they do, the driving distance needs to be shortened. Also, there is confusion, understandably, between the two menacing kids and the kids who just came out from camping. I’m thinking I’ll just get rid of them and have a pair of park rangers show up instead. Thanks Everyone!

— John Schneller (chapter 27, Broken rewrite). . .

Most found the chapter to be an easy read…. especially those who like to find dragons and wyverns popping out of unexplored caves. Janie pointed out a few clarifications needed. Larry had a few spots he felt were overwritten. Huckle requested rewriting some of the sparring action.  Thanks to all.

Who’s up next . . . 

October 20

Kashmira Sheth (chapter, Journey to Swaraj)

Jack Freiburger (long poem)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Second Nature)

Larry Sommers (chapters, Dizzy)

John Schneller (chapter, Broken rewrite)

Jerry Peterson (chapters 10, For Want of a Hand)

Our editor . . .

Amit Trivedi runs Writer’s Mail this month. If you have something you’d like him to include in the next issue, please email it to him.

When a period can get you in trouble . . .

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday last month included a story headlined ARE YOUR TEXTS PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE?

It’s a story about punctuation. Here it is:

Katherine Rooks remembers when she first learned that a punctuation mark could wield a lot of power.

The Denver-based writer had sent her high school-aged son a text message about logistics—coming home from school.

“I could tell from his response that he was agitated all of a sudden in our thread. And when he came home, he walked in the door and he came over and he said, ‘What did you mean by this?’ ”

Rooks was confused. How could an innocuous text message send confusion?

“And so we looked at the text together and I said, ‘Well, I meant, see you later, or something. I don’t remember exactly what it said.’ And he said, ‘But you ended with a period! I thought you were really angry!’ ”

Rooks wasn’t angry, and she explained to her son that, well, periods are how you end a sentence.

But in text messaging—at least for younger adults—periods do more than just end a sentence: they also can set a tone.

Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging, the period has lost its original purpose because rather needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.

That doesn’t mean the period has lost all purpose in text messaging. Now it can be used to indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.

But caution is needed, said McCulloch, noting that problems can start to arise when you combine a period with a positive sentiment, such as “Sure” or “Sounds good.”

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” said McCulloch.

Binghamton University psychology professor Celia Klin says a period can inadvertently set a tone, because while text messaging may function like speech, it lacks many of the expressive features of face-to-face verbal communication, like “facial expressions, tone of voice, our ability to elongate words, to say some things louder, to pause.”

Our language has evolved, and “what we have done with our incredible linguistic genius is found ways to insert that kind of emotional, interpersonal information into texting using what we have,” said Klin. “And what we have is things like periods, emoticons, other kinds of punctuation. So people have repurposed the period to mean something else.”

And that something else is passive-aggression.

A 2015 study conducted by Klin confirmed as much. Researchers asked undergraduates to evaluate a text exchange that included an innocent question and the answer “Yup.” Some saw “Yup” with a period and some saw the word without.

“And we found consistently through many experiments that ‘Yup’ with a period resulted in responses that were more negative. So people thought ‘Yup’ with a period was less friendly, less sincere, and so on.”

“I actually really don’t like getting text messages that end in periods because it always feels so harsh and passive-aggressive,” said Juan Abenante Rincon, 24, a social media manager for Adidas. “Like, are you mad? What’s going on? Like, did I do something wrong?”

Emma Gometz, a biology student at Columbia University, said the phenomenon can feel especially harsh when the message is brief, like a lone word followed by a period.

“If it’s like ‘OK.’, that’s like, ‘I don’t want to talk to you anymore,’ ” said Gometz, 21.

Kalina Newman, 23, a communications coordinator for the AFL-CIO, said, “It’s in the same vein of somebody saying, ‘We need to talk,’ and then not saying what they want to talk about.”

In other words, enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine.

Not everyone shares that view. Isabelle Kravis, 18, a student at American University, says it depends on the context of the conversation.

“If we’re just talking about, like, our favorite movie or something, and someone uses a period at the end of a sentence, I’m not gonna take it, like, aggressively.”

While Kravis is relatively zen when it comes to the period, for others, the thought of texting without it can be enraging. Klin said that her texting study sparked outrage among many.

“They thought it was an insult to their first-grade teacher, and their grandmother, and, you know, America as we know it,” she said.

Klin said the entire debate demonstrates that language is constantly changing—and that’s OK.

“Language evolution’s always happened, it’s going to continue to happen, and isn’t it great that we are so linguistically flexible and creative.”

From Jamie…

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Look, I’m no acquisitions editor, but have you tried writing your query letter with your marketing hat on?

You may have heard that editors are looking for debut authors who already have a big network or social media following. These are no doubt helpful things, but barring that, if you can use facts to (briefly) illustrate how your book is almost guaranteed to find a big audience, this may make up for the fact that you have only eleven Twitter followers.

·      Can you name two comparable titles that (1) came out in the last few years (not including 2020 because of weird lockdown buying behavior), (2) have the same audience as your book, and (3) have sold really well—though not laughablywell (that is, don’t list Harry Potter)?

·      Can you think of three keyword phrases that are related to your book that get tons of search engine traffic, Amazon searches, or social media hashtags? (For example, how many people are googling “werewolf books” in any given month? And is it a trend or is that search behavior here to stay?)

·      If you know a potential blurber for your book, is that person a Facebook ad target? How many people follow them on social media? How many people follow them on Goodreads? In recent years, blurbs have become more important than ever. Network, network, network!

The last word . . .

“The thing is that if the connection between men were perfect it would never have been necessary to invent language.”― Goncalo M. Tavares, “A Voyage to India”. Translated by Rhett McNeil.

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