Photo finish Friday: “Clean through”

"Since you didn't hear me the first time, let me clean your ear out and say it again: It's National Dog Day!"

“Since you didn’t hear me the first time, let me clean your ear out and say it again: It’s National Dog Day!”

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Filed under 2016, photo by David E. Booker, Photo Finish Friday

Haiku to you Thursday: “Bruised”

Bruised, you come to me: /

flowers darkened into night, /

love purpled by regret.

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Filed under 2016, Haiku to You Thursday, poetry by author

Writing tip Wednesday: “Idioms, you idiot”

7 idioms almost everyone gets wrong

by Matt Wilson

The English language is old. Like, really old.

Getting to the heart of the matter.

Getting to the heart of the matter.

It’s old enough that its speakers use a good many idiomatic sayings that were thought up decades or even centuries ago, and that use words people don’t really say much anymore.

That can turn into a problem when those out-of-date words sound like other, much more common words. Especially if the sound-alike word makes a certain sort of sense in the context. Here’s the thing, though: It’s still wrong, even if it seems right.

Take a look at these eight examples of often-misused idioms and be sure to use the right word in your own writing.

Wrong: “She hung in there like a trooper.”

Right: “She hung in there like a trouper.”

Groups of actors and dancers still travel around in troupes today, but not nearly as much as they once did. Far more commonly discussed nowadays are military troops or police troopers. It makes some degree of sense to think that a saying that describes fortitude would refer to a tough cop or soldier, but it’s actually about the “show must go on” mentality of an actor.

Wrong: “Let’s give him free reign.”

Right: “Let’s give him free rein.”

We’re talking about offering someone full independence to make a decision, so it’s understandable that someone might think this saying would be about royal authority. It’s really about horses, though. When someone is riding, “free rein” means they’re allowing the horse to move about as it wishes. This is simply applying that horse lingo to a person.

Wrong: “We’ll tow the line.”

Right: “We’ll toe the line.”

Folks are used to talking about boats or trucks towing other vehicles using a rope or a chain. It’s easy to make the connection to this saying. The correct word is toe. The origin of this phrase is cause for some debate. We might be talking about the digits of a foot. Some say it’s about kids lining up for the roll call at school, others say it’s about barefoot sailors lining up to stand at attention. Still others say “toe” means to draw, as in a boundary line.

Wrong: “She was chomping at the bit.”

Right: “She was champing at the bit.”

Once again, we can thank horses for this idiom. It’s got a pretty cut-and-dried meaning, in that it’s about figuratively chewing away on a metal mouthpiece, which would be showing impatience or eagerness. In fact, “chomp” is a sort of variant of the older “champ.” They both mean noisily chewing on something, but “champ” is the term that has long been associated with this idiom.

Wrong: “Wrack your brain about it.”

Right: “Rack your brain about it.”

To “wrack” something is to wreck or destroy it. Sometimes, when you’re pounding your head against a wall to come up with an idea, it can definitely feel like you’re doing some damage to the old noodle. But the correct term here is “rack,” which isn’t related to the noun form of the word. The verb form literally means “to strain.”

Wrong: “He’ll get his just desserts.”

Right: “He’ll get his just deserts.”

Sayings such as, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” have created a sort of connection between food and someone’s getting their comeuppance. A lot of people think this saying extends that connection, but it doesn’t. The problem is that “desert,” which is a wholly separate word from the one that describes big, dry, sandy places, is a homophone for “desserts.” Here, “deserts” means “what one deserves.” That meaning has almost entirely fallen out of use, except in this phrase.

Wrong: “I’m waiting with baited breath.”

Right: “I’m waiting with bated breath.”

Let’s get past the very confusing notion of how someone would bait his or her breath to begin with and simply say that “bated” here is actually a contraction, despite the lack of an apostrophe. The full word would be “abated.” The person is holding his or her breath, not attracting something with it.

What are some other idiomatic phrases you see people often getting wrong in their writing?

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Filed under 2016, writing tip, Writing Tip Wednesday


P,S, Bring the donuts,,,

P,S, Bring the donuts,,,

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Filed under 2016, cartoon by author, CarToonsday

Monday morning writing joke: “Ship shape”

Redford Lane decided the only way he was going to become a better writer was to face his fears, starting with his fear of water. If nothing else, it would give him new material to write about.

He first tried to learn to swim, but failed. He then tried to learn to paddle a canoe, but failed there, too. Finally, he decided a bigger boat would be the answer, so he bought a barge, not realizing it did not have an engine or a sail. Still, he named the boat “O’ Courage” to both challenge and help him, and he could at least walk up and down on it while it was docked. He even took to living on it, at least some of the time.

One day, the barge slipped free of its mooring and started drifting down the river. Red grabbed a pole and tried to navigate the barge toward shore, pushing against the current with all his might. He almost had the barge stopped when the pole broke. He fell overboard and drowned.

The boat continued drifting down the river, passing by a couple of his friends who were fishing on the river. One of whom looked over and said, “Isn’t that Red’s barge, O’ Courage?”

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Filed under 2016, joke by author, Monday morning writing joke

Turned the page?

Bookstore Sales Up 6.1% In First Half of 2016

by Jim Milliot


For the first half of the year, bookstore sales were 6.1% ahead of the comparable period in 2015. According to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, bookstores totaled $5.44 billion in the January-June 2016 span, up from $5.13 billion a year ago.

Bookstore sales in 2016 rose every month compared to 2015, including in June when sales increased 5.0% to $770 million.

The bookstore sector performed better than the entire retail segment. Sales for all of retail rose 3.3% in June over the comparable month in 2015 and were up 3.1% for the first half of 2016.

The solid bookstore performance in the first six months of 2016 follows a 2.5% increase for all of 2015, the first time bookstore sales posted an annual gain since 2007.

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Filed under 2016, bookstore

PhD to Hollywood sleaze

PhD thriller writer who loves true crime and sleazy Hollywood books

by Amy Sutherland


Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s new thriller “You Will Know Me,” gives an alternate, and far darker, view of the world of gymnastics than what you could catch on TV during the Summer Olympics. This is Abbott’s eighth novel. She lives in New York City.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

ABBOTT: I just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s Patty Hearst book, “American Heiress,” which was really compelling. I had read her memoir years ago, which I loved. Joan Didion also has a famous essay on her, which I read in college, when I read everything Didion wrote.

BOOKS: Any other famous people you are drawn to in your reading?

ABBOTT: Anything with outlaws. There was a great biography of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn, “Go Down Together.” He did one on Charles Manson recently, which was terrifying but really good. I also read a lot of entertainment biographies. I just read the third volume in Simon Callow’s biography of Orson Welles, which covered the ’50s and ’60s.

BOOKS: What other kinds of books do you read?

ABBOTT: I read a lot of crime fiction except when I’m in the latter stages of writing a book. Then I’ll read general fiction or literary fiction. I also read history, but it has to be character driven. I won’t read a Civil War book, but I maybe would read one about Ulysses S. Grant. I also like sleazy books about Hollywood. I love Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon.” I don’t care whether it’s true or not.

BOOKS: What were you reading while you were writing your new book?

ABBOTT: I think I was reading Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins.” She’s a big inspiration to me. I was also reading novels about prodigies and remember reading Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

BOOKS: What is your favorite kind of true crime?

ABBOTT: In recent years there has been really great reported crime, such as “Lost Girls” by Robert Kolker. I read it twice, which I almost never do with true crime. “People Who Eat Darkness” by Richard Lloyd Parry is a very scary book. Those books also speak to larger issues in society. But I also like ripped-from-the-headlines true crime.

BOOKS: When did you start reading crime fiction?

ABBOTT: I wrote my dissertation on it. Before that I read some mysteries and James Ellroy. During graduate school I read the usual 20th-century authors, but when it came to my dissertation I wanted something that wasn’t a common subject. I started to read 1930s and 1940s crime fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Now there’s no escaping.

BOOKS: Do you have pet peeves about crime writing?

‘Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that.’

ABBOTT: I don’t like it when there are too many twists in the end. I also don’t generally like it when people from literary fiction write a crime novel and clearly have never read one. Martin Amis has a great one, “Night Train.” You could tell he loves the genre.

BOOKS: How would you characterize the crime fiction you like best?

ABBOTT: Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that with Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train,’’ these books about violence in the home, in the family. I also love procedurals because I can’t do them, like Ace Atkins’s books.

BOOKS: What film adaptations of crime novels do you think have worked?

ABBOTT: I really liked “Gone Girl.” A lot of the Patricia Highsmith adaptations have been excellent, and the Elmore Leonard ones are wonderful. A bad example, though I love the book and the director, would be Brian De Palma’s film of “The Black Dahlia,” which has the wrong mix of energy.

BOOKS: What was the hardest book for you in grad school?

ABBOTT: I didn’t enjoy reading “Middlemarch,” which everyone says is the greatest book. I didn’t finish it, which was shameful. I did read Eliot’s shorter one, “The Mill on the Floss,’’ which I liked. I also finished “Moby-Dick” but I had a crush on the professor. That definitely helped.

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Filed under 2016, author