Thursday, February 28, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 170:


an arrangement of five things in a square in a square or rectangle, one at each corner and one in the middle.  I always think of five pillars when this word comes up: four pillars holding up a structure at each of the distinct corners, the fifth secretly holding up the middle. 

FOUR208 - The quincunx
A series of quincunx from an ancient puzzle.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 169:


This adjective indicates "only one meaning", unambiguous, and quite clear.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 168:


the symbol representing infinity, or (to be more mathematical) a figure-eight shaped curve whose polar coordinates are p²=a² .  This is from the Latin word lemniscata, meaning "hanging ribbons."


Monday, February 25, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 167:


This verb means to goad with or as if with the pointed disk at the end of a spur, or more generally to vex or trouble.  This is from the Anglo-Saxon word roele, meaning "small wheel", indicating the spurs on a knight's (or a cowboy's) boots.

Christopher Nixon

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Apologies for this late posting.  I am blogging from an oblique position, as I've been enduring a mild stomach bug this afternoon and evening.  No Oscars party for me.  

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 166:


a full period of night and day, from the Greek - literally, night (nykt) + day (hemera).  (Merriam Webster)

 184/365- ‘NIGHT & DAY’

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Confessions of an Anxious Writer: Episode II

Episode II:  Playing Chess

By Old One Eye on flickr

I've found recently that novel writing is like playing a continuous, unhurried game of chess with oneself.  When it comes to anxiety, this has been good - not as a mere distraction - but a problem-solving exercise. 

I have to admit, I'm not very good at the actual game, but my own sort of chess tends to challenge me in similar feats of strategy.  Instead of trying to defeat an opponent and losing pieces, I try to execute a scene with the best combination of plot, character nuance, and word choice, as possible.  Particularly in the early drafts of a novel, when the story is just beginning to emerge and could become anything under the sun (or beyond the sun), what grabs my attention is the great puzzle of Making It Work.  

Each draft is a testing ground, with the squares clearly marked and the pieces in place - each character, each event that I have mapped out (more or less solidly), every possible "move" visible.  I learn by testing the waters.  If I put my main character in situation A, I can see how a secondary character might react or retaliate, resulting in situation B.  Instead of checks, I can move backwards, retracing my steps and write them again, taking a different path to achieve my goal and seize a particular square on the board.  Writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting) teach me particular patience, especially with myself: "Okay, that doesn't work.  What can I move around to make it work?  Ah, have A come into the room instead of C, and have B listen in from the other room..."

This is a kinder game than chess actually is, but it is no less strenuous.  In chess, the queen, knights, bishops, rooks and pawns move to protect the king.  If the king is check mated, the game is over. In writing, each piece is an element (characters and events), maintaining the forward momentum and central focus of a story.  If the king falls, I know what can be fixed, and made better.  I have an arsenal of queens at my disposal.

When it comes to my chronic anxiety, this game of chess is not an escape but a calming technique.  Everyday life is invariably out of our immediate control, and anxiety sufferers feel this deeply.  While there is no way to remedy that, the plot tangles and twists I create provide a puzzle that can almost always be solved.  Most of the time this has a particular organizing and calming affect.  Other wise, being in the midst of the story is an excellent gauge of my anxiety: if I am suddenly worried about a plot line or not being able to make something work, I know it is probably time for a rest... to put the pieces away for a day or two and come back to the scenario when the brain has cooled down.  The best way to cool down?  Using a different part of my brain.  I often resort to Latin exercises when I'm stressed, which requires more logic. 

I will always be prone to seasons of self-doubt.  That is unavoidable for us all. The bottom line is that the challenge of writing, my most natural way of interacting with the world, has not only shown me where my limits are, but where my strengths lie.  And the wonderful thing is that having the courage to complete the game will make me stronger and more patient with myself. 

How has writing helped you through your challenges?


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 165:


A late Middle English term (Oxford Dictionaries) referring to a stray person or animal, especially a homeless child, found without an owner and quite by chance. Waif can also refer to an unclaimed piece of property found (as if washed up by the sea) or stolen goods abandoned by an absconding thief.  I am currently reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a beautiful novel about a such mysterious waif who enters the lives of a husband and wife on the Alaskan frontier ca. 1920.

 Stray cat

Friday, February 22, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 164:


A film (usually green) that forms naturally on copper and bronze due to long-term exposure (or artificial acid treatments), valued for its color.  I love this word - it is the surface mark of something that has grown beautiful with age and use.  It also describes ones appearance or aura derived from association, habit or established character.  More generally: a superficial exterior.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 163:


an adjective which means "yielding or producing honey."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 162:


Pronounced du-'en-dey, this is the power to attract through one's personal magnetism and charm.  Duede comes from the Spanish word for ghost or goblin, and is used to describe to the magnetic power or force that draws an audience to the performance of a flamenco dancer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 161:

germane (adj)

being immediately appropriate and relevant, fitting.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 160:


A quantity that has magnitude and direction, generally represented by a directed line segment, the length of which represents the magnitude while its orientation indicates direction.  More simply, vector is a course or compass direction.  I like to use to the word vector as an alternative to "plot", because more often than not, I find that my novels and stories tend in certain directions of their own volition, and that the only way to know where they're headed is to travel with them, using an outline as a compass only to keep my bearings.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 159:


Simply, a keyway is the groove or channel for a key, especially in a lock requiring a flat metal key.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 158:


This noun has a few interesting facets:

1.) a section of wood or stone that lies under a doorway;

2.) a means or place of entry, or a place at the beginning of something;

3.) the point or level at which a physical or mental effect begins to be produced, as in "pain threshold": at which level do you begin to feel it?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, threshold is an Old English word - thresh being related to tread in a Germanic sense, and hold (perhaps) emphasizing "place to tread." This leads me to believe that the naming of Thresh in The Hunger Games was not entirely coincidental.  In fact, it probably wasn't.

Friday, February 15, 2013

To Osculate

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 157:

osculate (v)

To kiss (mathematically).  This is a geometry term used when a pair of curves or surfaces touch on a common tangent.  Using the word as "kiss" has a humorous context, but I'd imagine it would be perfect to describe two science scholars in love.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 156:


This is an adjective meaning "wild and frenzied". This term is from the mid-17th century - corybantic being derived from Corybantes, which is the Latinized name of the Phrygian goddess of nature who was known for her wild dances.  Phrygia was an ancient region of Asia Minor, which saw the peak of its influence from the 6th the to 8th century B.C.  I am almost positive the first place I saw this word was in John Crowley's first book of the Aegypt cycle, The Solitudes

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 155:


Broken down, the word means "beside the moon." This is a bright spot formed in the sky like a parahelion, a sun dog, only a paraselene is formed by moonlight.  This is also known as a mock moon or, yes, a moon dog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Abyss & Two Adjectives

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 154


An abyss (n) is a very deep or bottomless hole, sometimes used in reference to outer space. (In every Star Wars movie, there always seems to be a great, bottomless shaft over which characters much swing and into which villains must fall.) From it come two adjectives, one emotional, the other more general.  Abysmal indicates an immeasurably deep, bottomless place or absolutely wretched.  Abyssal on the other hand refers to an unspecific depth, and, frankly, sounds nicer.  What is it about the m in abysmal that produces a wretched connotation?  I like to think of it (perhaps inaccurately) as abyss + mal = depth, bad. 

Monday, February 11, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 153:

mystical (adj)

Mystical refers to mystics or religious mysticism - in other words, spiritually allegorical or symbolic, transcendent of human understanding.  More generally, something mystical inspires a sense of spiritual mystery, awe and fascination as concerned with the soul or the spirit, as opposed to material things.  This word is also used to refer to ancient religious mysteries or other rites that have occult or esoteric (hidden) origins.

I remember early on in my writing (probably in the early high school phase) using this word repeatedly without really knowing what it meant.  One thing that is clear to me now is that mystical comes from mystery, and sounds like "mist-ical." Although it's an inaccurate way of looking at the word, "mist" audibly points me to the idea that complete understanding of the universe is misted over, and as writers, we have the gift to walk into that mist and write of what lies on the other side. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Confessions of an Anxious Writer: Episode I

A Story

In the future, I hope to share my experiences living with anxiety as a writer.  The best way to begin our first episode is with a story.   

In the fall of 2005, I was taking the second exam in my favorite class, England from 1066 to 1688. I'd been studying hard, but it hadn't felt like studying because the stories of medieval England, as told by my engaging professor, had sparked my imagination.  It should have been an easy, fun exam (if there is such a thing): a few paragraphs describing Joan of Arc, the War of the Roses, the dramatic death of Richard III and the reign of Elizabeth I.

But something happened that I had not expected: a melt down.  (I mean, why on Earth hadn't it happened in that awful statistics class?)  I remember sitting there in the classroom, quiet but for the sounds of other students' pens and shuffling papers, and suddenly feeling all the knowledge I had packed into my brain evaporate, leaving my head empty... making plenty of room for panic.  I found myself completely unable to write - paralyzed and ashamed and terribly confused. 

What a blessing it was that Professor Carole caught sight of me turning a bright shade of crimson, biting down on my hand to stifle any sounds as the tears streamed down my face. She gently coaxed me out of my chair and into the hallway.  "Go home and rest," she said. "You can take the exam when you're feeling better.  There's nothing to be ashamed of."

This was just one of many stories I can tell you from my life that fell into place when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in college.  I knew I'd been an excessively worried and weepy little girl and teenager, but no one had ever been able to tell me why.  These days I can tell you plainly: my brain produces too much serotonin.  I am not overly sensitive or twitty.  It's the way I was made.

Writing and Anxiety

As a writer, this self-knowledge has been extremely helpful, especially as the writer's path is by nature precarious.  Having set out to publish a novel and knowing that it might take years for this dream to be achieved, I know it is not for the faint of heart.  Though early in the process, I have been beset by anxious thoughts, an internal Sturm und Drang of doubts and fears mixing with the desperate desire to get my story out there.  As you know, the direct way for an unpublished writer to begin that journey is to appeal to literary agents via (hundreds of) query letters - a subjective process that can either make or break you.  Arguments for practicality and "common sense" would ask, understandably, why on Earth I'd choose this path when it is 1.) uncertain and an indirect path to "success", and 2.) likely to expose me to more anxiety-causing situations.  In other words, isn't writing the stupidest thing you could do?

Far from it.  Throughout my life, but especially now in my late twenties, I have realized how much writing has been a natural survival mechanism.  My days are better and calmer when I stick to a self-prescribed regimen of at least 2,000 words per day - 2,000 words most likely spent world-building in my novels.  Somehow said activity balances the chemicals in my brain.  I equate this to having a C-drive cleaner on your PC; writing gets rid of the chemical junk and allows my brain to function better.  Writing is the one thing I know I can rely on for solace and steady ground.  It is not simply a fun little hobby I picked up in childhood and was never quite able to grow out of like a child and a beloved stuffed animal.

Writing is not only an enjoyable activity, but a lifestyle.  It is something that I love, something that brings order to my otherwise chaotic world.  The more I learn about craft, the more I learn about myself, and the more I want to bring my stories to the world to share with other people.  For these reasons, the uncertain road to publication becomes less daunting and more of a necessary learning experience.  That does not mean my anxiety will ever fully go away.  It does mean that facing anxiety-provoking situations is a necessary risk (or self-challenge) for the sake of art. 

Again, I think of what Stephen King said: art is a support system for life, not the other way around.  He was talking about a desk, but this can be applied more broadly.  Art is medicine, the antidote for situations out of our control.  Let's face it: much of the human experience is out of our control.  Finding out how to make that art work beautifully is our most important quest.  No one else can take that journey for you.  

Plain Facts About Anxiety

  • Anxiety is characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, though there might be nothing specific to provoke it.  A person with Generalized Anxiety constantly anticipates disaster, or a combination of any number of snowballing crises such as health, money, family or job-related stresses.
  • Anxiety is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals) in the brain.
  • Anxiety disorders are chronic.  They are not the result of someone simply "not dealing" with their problems.  An anxiety disorder is about how someone was made, not about their choices.  Seeking (or not seeking) treatment in counseling and in medication is a choice.
  • Telling an anxiety sufferer to "get over it" is unhelpful, and might make his or her anxiety worse.
  • Anxiety is hereditary.
  • Anxiety is often closely connected to depression.  
  • Twice as many women as men suffer from anxiety.
  • In brief, methods of treatment can include: 1.) Medication to balance out the chemicals, 2.) counseling, which will give you the tools to change how you approach your anxiety, your triggers and your mechanisms of coping, 3.) exercise, 4.) eating right and staying hydrated, 5.) get plenty of sleep, 6.) reducing the time spent on social networking sites.


Sturm und Drang

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 152:

Sturm und Drang

directly translates from the German as "storm and stress."  In other words, turmoil on an epic scale... describing massive snowstorms (that some apparently want to call "Nemo") and hurricanes, war or social strife, or even anguish on a deeply personal level.  This word is a classic example of how English is a sponge for words from other languages to convey concepts in ineffable but no less understandable ways.  When you hear "sturm und drang" aren't you just a little freaked out?

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 151:

elflocks (n)

a tangled mass of hair.  This is the style of Peter Pan, Puck, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and various children of the woods, fairy stories and daydreams.  Think unkempt mop.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 150:

insipid (adj)

Lacking taste or particular savor.  Dull.  Weak.  Think cream of wheat without brown sugar or watery coffee.  (Bleh!)  Applied to character, this is quite the potent word.

I once thought this was another synonym interchangeable with stupid or ridiculous, but I learned it pays to actually look up words I want to use!  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cipher (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 149:

cipher (n)

One my favorite words because it has so many facets.  This is what I call (& how I describe) the villains in my novel.

A cipher is:

1.) A secret or disguised way of writing, a code or a thing written in a cipher, or a key to such a cipher.

2.) A zero, or the figure 0.

3.) A person or thing of little or no importance, especially one who does the bidding of others and tends not to have a will (or identity) of their own.

4.) A monogram.

5.) The continuous note of a malfunctioning organ pipe.

I've also seen it spelled "cypher" but I believe this is atypical. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Luciferin (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 148:

luciferin (n)

Luciferin is the natural substance present in certain organisms that produce heatless light upon oxidation - like fireflies.  This is from the Latin word "lucifer" meaning "light-bearing," and, yes, is also the name of the Devil.  Ironic, no?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unctuous (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 147:

unctuous (adj)

Greasy, oily, smug.  Falsely earnest.  The cigarette-smoking man (The X-Files).  Thomas Barrow (Downton Abbey). The Master (Doctor Who). 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Repose (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 146:

repose (n)

Repose is sleep, often used to mean eternal or heavenly rest.  It also means calm or peace in an absence of activity or movement.  Composure.  Poise.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Juggernaut (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 145:

juggernaut (n)

A juggernaut is an irresistible, crushing force, or (more militarily) an overwhelming force that crushes everything in its path (i. e. the Death Star).  In Britain, a juggernaut is a name for a large, heavy truck or lorry, what we call a semi.  Yes, I definitely concur with the last one after having seen footage of semis spinning on the ice and crashing into things.  Eek!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Homunculus (j)

Adventures in Logophilia - Day 144:


Homunculus was the post-modern (17th century) term for a microscopic but fully formed being which would develop into a fetus.  Sort of a baby-seed.  The word more generally indicates a very small human or humanoid creature. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Something New (j)

I begin February with a question - obvious, yet compelling - that has been hanging over me for a while now.  What exactly is a novel?  

This is the 143rd word of my logophiliac adventures:

A novel is a fictional prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.  The word comes from the Italian term novella storia , for "new story." (Novella being the feminine of novello and the Latin word novellus for "new".) The word was also utilized from Middle English to the eighteenth century in the sense of "a novelty, a piece of news, from the Old French word novelle.  This gives way to the adjective use of novel which means interestingly new or unusual.

But what should this "newness" look like?  The novel has become an incredibly versatile literary vehicle since Daniel Defoe, Charlotte Smith and Jane Austen gave it a solid form at the end of the eighteenth century.  When I first set out to create my own novels, I thought of the form as a long, extended story of someone's journey... like a good Dickensian bildungsroman (a coming of age novel like David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby).  Since then I've realized that the newness is not just a matter of introducing and following new characters and exploring a new setting, but in the way we tell our stories: non-linear, in braided narratives, from an unusual character's point of view, in the present tense, in the second person, in an otherwise impossible situation, etc.  Novels are experiments for testing new angles in story telling, and even if the story itself might be similar to something that's been read before, the telling makes it new.

Personal example. I finished a novel last year and have embarked on a sequel.  Granted, there is a certain amount of uncertainty that comes with such a decision - after all, I'm waiting to hear back from agents, and there is no guarantee that any one will want to represent it, or to publish it.  Whether or not it was the wise decision to go ahead with the sequel, I've found some pretty good reasons to do it.  

1.) Novel #1 (let's call it W1), isn't actually finished in the sense that it has not gone through the publishing process - has not encountered agents or editors.  When it is, somewhere down the line, accepted by a publishing company, there will be more changes to be made.  It is simply the way the process works.

2.) At this point, not knowing what those changes will be a year, two, five or ten years from now, I know there is room for improvement.  Writing the sequel (W2) will open up new doors and help me address questions that I couldn't answer (or even think to ask) about my characters in the first novel - a challenge in many ways.  How? 

3.) I've always wanted W2 to be it's own novel, with its own set of eccentricities, patterns and nuances - not just an expansion of W1.  I decided that W2 would be from a different character's point of view.  The narrative main character in W1 is a young woman (let's call her S) trying to decide whether or not to take vows in a quasi-monastic order.  The narrative main character in W2 is her romantic interest, a man who at 126 years old doesn't age and has a caustic, jaded personality (let's call him D).  D is going to be a challenge because his perspective is at a completely different angle from what I'm used to.  In this way, learning about the inner workings of D in W2 will help me to see S in a new light (from his eyes) and apply that newness to the revisions for W1.

4.)   I have ideas for a W3 and a possible W4 as well, although nothing is set in stone.  If they do emerge, they will be their own novels, as well; W3 being made of journal entries from both D and S, and W4 from the point of view of a character who has not yet been born.  Whether or not these ideas will ever come about, they're already bearing fruit in my daily experiments, and that fruit is in W1 and W2. 

5.)  There is no way to lose with this model (disorganized-jumble-of-ideas is more like it).  Yes, my dreams and prayers right now are bent on getting W1 published. And though there's a chance (as with every creative endeavor) that it won't catch the attention of an agent or a publisher, the story is still mine and it is worth writing.  

Worst case scenario: W1 and W2 aren't published, and I embark on a completely different project (oh yes, I have one), which is eventually published.  Once established in the business, I can go back to W1 and W2, improve them and try again.  It might take ten or fifteen years, but even this brood of brain children are worth that wait.  It may feel like a defeat at first, but with the right amount of audacity and devotion, this can be turned into an opportunity.  Look at Stephen King and the years it took to flesh out The Dark Tower and to re-release The Stand in its truest edition.  (Many.)  Time is not an adequate excuse to stop the experiment.  If we can't be "novel" or versatile with the strange ebbs and flows of the publishing industry in addition to our own creative challenges, we might not make it.  That is my theory, anyway, but a hopeful one.

Today, Sarah Callender wrote for Writer Unboxed in a similar vein "The Writer as an Inventor," which I found to be helpful and encouraging.  She emphasizes adopting the habits and mind-sets of inventors to better craft our stories through passionate curiosity, obsessive focus, loyalty to our project, to embrace a healthy balance of fear and foolishness, among other things. 

As inventor-creators, we strive to answer pressing questions about ourselves... even if we don't know how to ask those questions, they're still worth striving for, reinventing and examining in new angles, through different lenses (telescope, microscope - whatever is required) until we know.  It's by no means an exact science, but writing is novel... and it's our job to make sure it always will be.  I think we're up for that challenge.


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