Tag Archives: Sunday

New words to live by: “Scraggle”

Time, once again, for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by taking an adjective and creating a noun form of the word. Without further waiting, scraggle.

Scraggly, adj. 1. Irregular, uneven, jagged. 2. Unkempt, ragged.

Scraggle, n. 1. Something or someone ragged or unkempt, often in a small patch. 2. Something or someone jagged, irregular, or uneven.

Somewhere between the stickers and thorns, vines and broken branches, scraggles of grass and clay soil in front of me was the voice.

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Pulphouse Fiction Magazine Is Coming Back!

I will be mixing some of the stories from the old Pulphouse days along with brand new fiction. I figured most of those older stories have long been forgotten and they need a new life. For each story we will push the author information and be clear to the reader if the story is new or if a reprint, where the story was originally published.The magazine will have an attitude, as did the first run. No genre limitations, but high quality writing and strangeness.Each issue will have some fan favorite authors from the old runs and brand new authors.SubmissionsI am not taking submissions. Period. So please don’t ask.

Source: Pulphouse Fiction Magazine Is Coming Back!

Click on the link above for the full article.

That’s right, after twenty years, Pulphouse returns.

Kris and I are bringing it back.

I figured I had better talk a little about it here since I am the editor and I bought some really stunning and wonderful Pulphouse stories for the magazine this last week. But just to be clear, Kris is with me on this. Pulphouse was always the two of us and even though WMG Publishing Inc. is now the company behind Pulphouse, the magazine is still our vision.

First Some History

Kris and I started Pulphouse Publishing in 1987 and dissolved the corporation in 1996. We started off with Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine and expanded to numbers of imprints, including Axolotl Press, Author’s Choice Monthly Press, Short Story Paperbacks Press, and Writer’s Notebook Press, among others.

Along the way we ended the Hardback Magazine run that Kris had edited. She moved to editing F&SF and we started up Pulphouse: A Fiction Magazine that I edited. She remained as Pulphouse book editor.

We managed to get out nineteen issues and an Issue Zero before shutting down the business. But along the way the magazine was nominated three times for the Hugo Award among other awards.

The New Magazine Details

As you can see from the pictures, we are doing an Issue Zero again this time that will be limited and part of a Kickstarter later in the summer. First issue comes out in January 2018 and the magazine will be quarterly, with about 70,000 words of short fiction every issue. It will be the size and shape of Smith’s Monthly.

I will be mixing some of the stories from the old Pulphouse days along with brand new fiction. I figured most of those older stories have long been forgotten and they need a new life. For each story we will push the author information and be clear to the reader if the story is new or if a reprint, where the story was originally published.

The magazine will have an attitude, as did the first run. No genre limitations, but high quality writing and strangeness.

Each issue will have some fan favorite authors from the old runs and brand new authors.


I am not taking submissions. Period. So please don’t ask.

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The Three Lives of Sonata James | Tor.com

In a cyber-enhanced, futuristic Chicago, Sonata knows near-immortality is achievable through downloading her mind into a cyborg body after death. But this young artist wants to prove that living fo…

Source: The Three Lives of Sonata James | Tor.com

Click on the link to read the rest of the novella.

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Danielle Steel Loves the Weather and Elmore Leonard Hates Exclamation Points: Literature by the Numbers

Source: Danielle Steel Loves the Weather and Elmore Leonard Hates Exclamation Points: Literature by the Numbers

by Ben Blatt

The first literary mystery to be solved by numbers was a 150-year-old whodunit finally put to rest in 1963. Two statistics professors learned of the long-running debate over a dozen contested essays from The Federalist Papers, and they saw that they might succeed where historians had failed. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison claimed to have written the same 12 essays, but who was right?

The answer lay in how each writer used hundreds of small words like but and what, which altogether formed a kind of literary fingerprint. The statisticians painstakingly cut up each essay and counted the words by hand—a process during which “a deep breath created a storm of confetti and a permanent enemy.” And by comparing hundreds of word frequencies, they came up with a clear answer after so many years of speculation: the contested essays were distinctly the work of James Madison.

Since 1963, similar methods have continued to yield major findings. Take, for instance, last year’s revelation that Shakespeare collaborated with Christopher Marlowe. And in the meantime, the technology involved has leapt from scissors and paper to computer and code, giving rise to a whole new field of study—the digital humanities.

In my new book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, I use simple data to whiz through hundreds of classics, bestsellers, and fan fiction novels to explore anew our favorite authors and how they write. I uncover everything from literary fingerprints and favorite words and tics, to the changing reading level of NYT bestsellers and how men and women write characters differently.

If you have a body of literature, stats can now serve as an x-ray. Here are a few fascinating examples from Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:

Writing Advice

There is a lot of writing advice out there. But it’s hard to test, and it’s often best to judge someone not by what they say but what they do. Novelists may tell their adoring fans to do one thing, but do they actually follow their own advice? With data, we can find out—looking at everything from the overuse of adverbs to Strunk and White’s advice against qualifiers like “very” or “pretty.”

One of my favorite examples comes from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, where Leonard offers the following rule about exclamation points: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” A writing rule in the form of a ratio is a blessing for a statistician, so I ran with it. Does Leonard practice what he preaches?

From a strict numerical view, no. Leonard wrote over 40 novels which totaled 3.4 million words. If he were to follow his own advice he should have been allowed only 102 exclamation points his entire career. In practice, he used 1,651—which is 16 times as many as he recommends.

But looking deeper, we find that Leonard did follow the spirit of his own rule. Below are 50 novelists, representing a range of classic authors and bestselling authors. Elmore Leonard beats out everyone.

And the picture gets even more interesting when we look at how Leonard’s use changes over time. The chart below shows the number of exclamation points that Leonard used in each one of his novels from the start of the career. He loved the exclamation point as a novice, but he slowly weaned off of it over time.

Interestingly, after he delivered his exclamation point rule in 10 Rules for Writing, his use decreased even further (the one exception was Leonard’s sole children’s novel). He may have been a zealot: no one I looked at uses exclamation points at a rate lower than two or three per 100,000. But Leonard practiced what he preached: he got closer to his magic ratio than any other writer, especially in his final stretch of novels.

He was also on to something. I parsed through thousands of amateur fan-fiction stories online and found they were not only enthusiastic about their story universes, but for exclamation points as well. The average published author relies on about 1/4th as many exclamation points as the average amateur writer.

How Cliché

The book world loves a good list: bestsellers, award winners, “best of the year” lists. But what other superlative lists are there to uncover out there in the literary world? In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, I decided to ask: who uses the shortest sentences, the most adverbs, writes at the lowest grade level or relies on the most clichés?

I took all expressions mentioned in the 2013 book by Christine Ammer titled The Dictionary of Clichés. These are phrases like “fish out of water,” “dressed to kill,” and “not one’s cup of tea”—4,000 phrases in total. To my knowledge, Ammer’s book is the largest collection of English language clichés. I then scanned through the complete bibliographies of the same 50 authors mentioned above to see who used the most clichés.

The answer: James Patterson.

You’d expect some recency bias in the dictionary of clichés (Jane Austen’s characters, unfortunately, weren’t ever described as “dressed to kill”). So I also looked at every single book that ranked on Publishers Weekly’s bestselling books of the year since 2000. James Patterson can’t blame his time period alone. Even compared to his contemporaries in genre and time, Patterson comes in with five of the 10 most clichéd books. He’s clearly making it work, though. Of those PW lists, Patterson has 16 books, more titles than any other writer.

Start with a Bang

In response to a question on Twitter about her favorite first sentence in literature, novelist Margaret Atwood answered: Call me Ishmael. “Three words. Power-packed. Why Ishmael? It’s not his real name. Who’s he speaking to? Eh?”

Atwood emphasized the brevity of the Moby-Dick opener, and she is similarly concise in her own work. I compared the median length of her opening sentence to that of the 50 authors in the exclamation point chart above. Only one author, Toni Morrison, beats her out.

Opening sentences are far from an exact science, but keeping them short and powerful by rule of thumb is a smart place to start. Drawing from a range of sources, I assembled a list of the consensus top 20 opening sentences in literature. And of that list, 60% of the openers are short when compared to the book’s average sentence length.

But when you look a much wider sample of literature, most authors in practice opt for long openers. In 69% of all of the books I looked at, the opening sentence is longer than the average sentence throughout the rest of the book. It might be that authors like Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood are on to something as they keep their openers “power-packed.”

Beach Weather

In one last example, let’s return to Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. His first rule (#1!) is “Never open a book with weather.” Apparently Leonard had strong feelings about this trope, but anyone who’s ever heard too many plays on the old saw, “it was a dark and stormy night,” will know where he’s coming from.

Leonard again lives up to his own advice. But there’s one author who completely flouts it, and it’s an example I love.

Danielle Steel, known for selling hundreds of millions of books, should also be known for talking about the weather. She started her first book off “It was a gloriously sunny day and the call from Carson Advertising came at nine-fifteen.” She’s never looked back.

Nearly half her of introductions involve weather—mostly benign, positive weather (“perfect deliciously warm Saturday afternoons,” “perfect balmy May evening”, “absolutely perfect June day,” or simply: “The weather was magnificent.”). But like Patterson she has made her rule-breaking choice work. It’s a distinctive style that’s all her own—and it’s a quirk that at least this reader would never have been able to pin down without having been able to run the numbers first.



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Oxford Comma Decides Court Case in Maine Labor Dispute

Never underestimate the power of good grammar.

Source: Oxford Comma Decides Court Case in Maine Labor Dispute

By Kyle Scott Clauss

Vampire Weekend and the AP Stylebook be damned! The Oxford comma—or rather, the lack of one—helped decide a Maine court case over overtime pay for dairy workers earlier this week.

Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is used before a conjunction like “and” or “or” in a series of three or more items. (For example: “I’m going to buy some eggs, milk, and bread.”) Critics feel it’s clunky and superfluous, while diehard supporters believe it’s absolutely essential for clarity. (For what it’s worth, Boston magazine’s official style uses the Oxford comma.)

Delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy won their suit against the Portland milk and cream company, after a U.S. court of appeals found that the wording of Maine’s overtime rules were written ambiguously. Per state law, the following activities are not eligible for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Oakhurst argued that “distribution of” was separate from “packing for shipment,” which would allow the company to claim exemption from paying its delivery drivers over time. In trying to prove lawmakers’ intent, Oakhurst even pointed to Maine’s legislative style guide, which advises against using the Oxford comma.

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” U.S. appeals judge David J. Barron wrote.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the five delivery drivers Monday, citing the “remedial purpose” of the state’s overtime laws as reason to interpret them liberally. So rejoice, grammar nerds, and know that the law is on your side.



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Margaret Atwood on What It’s Like To Watch Her Own Dystopia Come True

It seems like everyone I know is reading—or re-reading—The Handmaid’s Tale nowadays. With good reason, of course—the land of Gilead has never felt closer (plus, there’s going to be a bi…

Source: Margaret Atwood on What It’s Like To Watch Her Own Dystopia Come True

by Emily Temple

It seems like everyone I know is reading—or re-reading—The Handmaid’s Tale nowadays. With good reason, of course—the land of Gilead has never felt closer (plus, there’s going to be a big Hulu adaptation, so, you know). To be quite fair, same goes for her eco-speculative trilogy, which begins with Oryx & Crake. For International Women’s Day, author, environmentalist, and (apparently) Canada’s premier seer Margaret Atwood gave an AMA at Reddit, in which she answered questions about feminism, guilty pleasures, and what our political priorities should be in this time of crisis. See some of the highlights from her answers below, and catch the whole thing on Reddit.

On the evolution of her feminism and her advice for women now:

I am so shrieking old that my formative years (the 40s and 50s) took place before 2nd wave late-60’s feminist/women’s movement. But since I grew up largely in the backwoods and had strong female relatives and parents who read a lot and never told me I couldn’t do such and such because of being a girl, I avoided the agit-prop of the 50s that said women should be in bungalows with washing machines to make room for men coming back from the war. So I was always just very puzzled by some of the stuff said and done by/around women. I was probably a danger to myself and others! (joke) My interest was in women of all kinds—and they are of all kinds. They are interesting in and of themselves, and they do not always behave well. But then I learned more about things like laws and other parts of the world, and history… try Marilyn French’s From Eve to Dawn, pretty massive. We are now in what is being called the 3rd wave—seeing a lot of pushback against women, and also a lot of women pushing back in their turn.

I’d say in general: be informed, be aware. The priorities in the US are roughly trying to prevent the roll-back that is taking place especially in the area of women’s health. Who knew that this would ever have to be defended? Childbirth care, pre-natal care, early childhood care—many people will not even be able to afford any of it. Dead bodies on the floor will result. It is frightful. Then there is the whole issue of sexual violence being used as control—it is such an old motif. For a theory of why now, see Eve’s Seed. It’s an unsettled time. If I were a younger woman I’d be taking a self-defense course. I did once take Judo, in the days of the Boston Strangler, but it was very lady-like then and I don’t think it would have availed. There’s something called Wen-Do. It’s good, I am told.

On her inspiration for The Handmaid’s Tale:
Ooo, three main things: 1) What some people said they would do re: women if they had the power (they have it now and they are); 2) 17th C Puritan New England, plus history through the ages—nothing in the book that didn’t happen, somewhere and 3) the dystopian spec fics of my youth, such as 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, etc. I wanted to see if I could write one of those, too.

On the books she returns to again and again:
This is going to sound corny but Shakespeare is my return read. He knew so much about human nature (+ and minus) and also was an amazing experimenter with language. But there are many other favourites. Wuthering Heights recently. In moments of crisis I go back to (don’t laugh) Lord of the Rings, b/c despite the EVIL EYE OF MORDOR it comes out all right in the end. Whew.

On her guilty pleasures:
Haha there are so many of them! Just saw Miss Congeniality again on a plane—very funny! Also The Producers and Young Frankenstein. Also Singing in the Rain when depressed. In the World O Vampires, I am a Christopher Lee fan; but also Let The Right One In, Swedish version. Night of the Living Dead, first one… a classy low budget horror film I could go on…

On getting questions about being a female writer and/or a Canadian writer:
I have got asked about both a great deal over time. But nobody ever asks me what it’s like to be a canoe-paddling writer, or a writer who gardens, or even a knitting writer. Neglected fields! (I’m going to wish I hadn’t said that.)

On where she gets her ideas:
Ideas… never a shortage! I think my brain just works that way. Not all of my ideas have been amazing. Some have not, NOT worked out! As they say (I think it was Beckett): try, fail. Try again, fail better. Or something like that. We have all had projects that have ended up as smashed eggs on the floor.

On advice for struggling writers:
Check out Chuck Wendig’s blogsite/website. He has SO MANY tips and encouragements! He saves me a lot of time b/c I would say much the same things myself. He’s a freelancer, like me. If you have a day job (as I did for I dunno 16 years or something) the advice just has to cover a more challenging time period (i.e. 12 midnite). No one said this would be easy!

On whether she’d rather fight one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses:
Are the ducks dead ducks, or are they alive? Are they Zombie Ducks? Is the horse a Pale Horse? Maybe not enough information here. I think I’d pick the hundred duck-sized horses. Easy to stampede, no? (“Scram, ducks!” Opens and closes an umbrella very fast. That’s worked for me in the past, against those weeny ducks.)

On what kids should be reading:
I think kids find books that call out to them if given half a chance. What IS vital is to have a school library + access to a librarian (marks go up by 20% on average) and a home with books in it, even public library books if possible. I don’t like to tell people what they Have to read because it is a very individual thing. I would have to have a [conversation] with a person. Then I might begin to be able to make a [recommendation].

On how it feels to know that America is on its way to becoming Gilead:
I cannot tell you how strange this feels. I wrote the book hoping to fend it off, and I believe it will be fended off: America is very diverse, a lot of people have been jolted out of political slumber and are paying attention, and the Constitution still stands. The upcoming Hulu TV series of which I’ve seen 3 episodes is even more up-to-date and chilling than the book, so let’s see how that may impact. Support your leaders who are standing against unconstitutional laws; keep informed, as best as possible. Everything is “as best as possible” right now.

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The Past, Present And Future Of Sci Fi With N.K. Jemisin | WBEZ

Hugo Award-winning author N.K. Jemisin tells us how she builds fantastical worlds and why science fiction is evolving for the better.

Source: The Past, Present And Future Of Sci Fi With N.K. Jemisin | WBEZ

N.K. Jemisin is the author of a number of books, including The Broken Earth trilogy, the first of which won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016. She spoke with Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen about being the first black person to win a Hugo, how she comes up with her book ideas, and why diversity is essential to the future of science fiction. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

Greta Johnsen: You say you write speculative fiction, not science fiction. For people who don’t know the difference, can you explain what that means?

N.K. Jemisin: Well, there’s a lot of different definitions of speculative fiction. I used it as a catchall for science fiction, fantasy, horror, interstitial and the occasional comic book. A lot of people use “speculative fiction” to specifically delineate that branch of the literary field that’s willing to toss in some unreal or secondary worldish elements in order to test characters in interesting ways. It’s not science fiction; it’s literative stuff that goes “what if?” It speculates.

Johnsen: So what you’re saying is, it’s not necessarily aliens, but things that could potentially, theoretically happen in a world like ours.

Jemisin: In my case, it simply means that I’m not just a fantasy writer. With other people, it can mean different things, too. It’s a term that everyone adapts in their own particular way.

Johnsen: Recently, friends have asked me for recommendations of things to read or watch. They’re like, “I’ll check out anything, except sci fi.” And that drives me crazy. Because to me, that’s like saying, “Oh, I like anything except imagination.” Can you help me make the sell to the haters? Because that’s ridiculous.

Jemisin: It is ridiculous. It’s because science fiction is terrible at marketing, I think. Science fiction has, for years, allowed a fairly vocal subset of its readership to declare that the only true science fiction is stuff that was written 50 or 60 years ago, that the pulps of the ’40s is what the genre is all about. The plain fact of the matter is that it’s an art form like any other. It has evolved. It has grown. It has expanded in ways that I think it hasn’t done the best job of revealing to the mainstream.

So I would test anybody who says they don’t read science fiction or fantasy. I’d say, “OK, what was the last science fiction or fantasy that you read? Where is this coming from? Did you just watch an episode of old school Star Trek and call it a day, or are you doing this with some real information here?”

And then, there’s multiple places that I would direct them. I would take them to the Nebula list and have them look at a few years’ worth of Nebula nominees and novels. I would show them some current science fiction on television, quite a bit of which is getting critical acclaim. I’m very excited that Stranger Things season two is coming. I just watched the first season of Westworld. I had some questions and thoughts, but it’s an example of something that you can shoot to people to say, “Hey, we’ve moved on a little from Star Trek.”

And even in something like Stranger Things, which is recursively looking at the science fiction of the ’80s, you will see some fascinating ways in which it’s playing with the idea of what science fiction has evolved from and is becoming. In the ’80s, you didn’t usually see a girl as the focus of a story about boys. If you did, she was a prize to be won. She wasn’t the protagonist and the person doing the most awesome things in it.

Johnsen: What makes sci fi so remarkable — and what I love about your books as well — is there’s the actual consumption of the thing, which is satisfying in and of itself, but then the conversation that arises around that, and the interaction with people who are also engaging with the same material, is just … it’s just so much more rewarding than, “Wasn’t that book fun?”

Jemisin: I mean, I’m not doing anything that science fiction and fantasy haven’t done in their own ways for decades. It’s simply that because I’m coming from a different perspective and different things interest me, I’m engaging with politics that are not easily camouflaged by the mainstream.

When you’ve got a slew of stories that are set in a version of medieval England that’s curiously devoid of people of color, and poor people, and queer people, and women, you’ve got this strange secondary world where it’s a bunch of white guys running around poking things at each other and having empowerment fantasies, that’s political. That’s communicating a political message. That’s just communicating a political message that’s fairly commonly seen in our society, and which we don’t necessarily think is weird.

There’s nothing wrong with it — the catch is that some of the rest of us like to get out there and have our empowerment fantasies too. We want to poke stuff with sticks. This is really the thing. When you change something as simple as who it is who pokes a stick at things, people get their backs up. I don’t know why, but they do.

Johnsen: I love that that in and of itself is subversive.

Jemisin: It shouldn’t be. And should our society ever become a place where everybody gets to poke a stick at stuff, then it’ll stop being so subversive. If enough people, and enough of a breadth of people, get to explore the speculative what-ifs, then the stuff that I do will stop being novel. At least in the sense of identity.

I sure hope the stories stand the test of time, but I guess we’ll see.

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