Thursday, October 27, 2011



We writers deal with rejection all the time. I’m with Louise Brown, who wrote, “I could write an entertaining novel about rejection slips, but I fear it would be overly long.”

Indeed. Back when many magazines still published short stories, I was quite a collector of rejection slips. I didn’t realize it at the time, but some of my rejections were giving me a glimpse of the future. In August of ’99, June of ’00 and August of ’05 I received rejections that also notified me the magazines I had submitted to were shutting their doors (Story, Whispering Willows Limited and Pangolin Papers, respectively). In November of ’08 I felt personally responsible when I received a message scrawled on a form rejection, stating, “We regret to inform you that the magazine has closed. The editor died.” Ouch.

Delivering rejections might be as damaging to the health as receiving them.

The word Rejection came to English from Latin, through French. Unsurprisingly, Reject means “to throw back.” Reject’s other meanings include:

-to refuse to recognize
-to set aside or throw away as useless or worthless

There’s a rare meaning, “to be disobedient,” which I suppose may relate to many writers’ responses to rejection.

There are also some meanings that appeal to the fifth grade boy within:
-to expel from the mouth or stomach

As little as I like receiving rejection, I must admit to a sick fascination for truly good, cutting rejection. Dorothy Parker, author, literary critic and wielder of one of the sharpest tongues ever, once reviewed a book by writing, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." Oooh. That’s good.

What great rejection tales can you add to this Steaming Heap of Rejection Stories?

Thanks to this week’s sources, Jon Winokur’s The Portable Curmudgeon,, the OED, &

Thursday, October 20, 2011



Ah, the Muse. We writers depend upon her visits.

Etymologically, she started out as a verb, which somehow seems appropriate. Once the Greeks got hold of her, it’s tough to figure out the family tree, but all the various etymological limbs are pretty intriguing.

Many sources connect muse to some unknown language which contributed to the Gallo-Romance word musa, meaning snout, suggesting a connection to a dog snooting around in the underbrush. Though the OED seriously doubts this connection, it appeals to me in terms of an author’s work.

Muse’s OED-approved multi-century voyage to English began as an Indo-Germanic root meaning, “to think, to remember.” It passed through Greek, Latin and French, with its English form first making it to paper in the hands of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The OED offers five full entries on muse, each packed full with shades of meaning, some of them downright quirky. Among the many worth a gander are:

“to look or wait expectantly”
“waste of time”
“to grumble or complain”
“to murmur discontentedly”
“to excogitate”
“to marvel”
“a deception” 
“profound meditation or abstraction”
“to stare about, to idle, to loiter”
“one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne”

Milton referred to his muse as an idealized version of one of these daughters, Urania, his “true, celestial source of inspiration.”

Given my lack of success when it comes to novel publication, I’m thinking I should try bowing to a new muse, a completely unrelated muse, one which came from the Arabic term, mauz, “fruit of the plantain or banana.”

What do you think? Do you share Milton’s “true, celestial source of inspiration?” Does your muse feel more like a verb or a noun? Does it involve deception, marveling, excogitation? Or, like me, might your inspiration involve peeling the rubbery skin off the Great Banana Muse?

Thanks to this week’s sources:, the OED, &

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weird ideas and the word idea

Weird Ideas & the Word Idea

We fiction writers are regularly harangued with the question,

“Where do you get all those weird ideas?”

Instead, I’d like to counter with the question,

“Where do we get that word, idea?” 

One of idea’s oldest non-living relatives was the proto-Indo-European term wid-es-ya which comes from weid-, “to see.”  Over centuries, this oozed into the Greek word, idein, which continued to mean “to see.” About 400 BC, Plato introduced the ontological meaning of an “externally existing idea from which individual things derive their existence but are only imperfect copies.” By the late 1300s idea had made its way into English, and developed the lofty, somewhat metaphysical meaning, “an archetype of a thing in the mind of God.” Whoa.

When it comes to writing, all these shades of meaning seem to apply.

-Doesn’t a well-told tale help us see the world in a new light? -Does any draft ever reach a point above imperfection?
-Aren’t stories all about the true essence of things, more than what might have actually happened?
-And as for “…the mind of God,” many might argue that the writer plays a somewhat godlike role in his/her characters’ lives, while others might argue that the only true ideas come from the mind of God. 

So, where do you get all your weird ideas? Or for that matter, what are your thoughts on the word, idea?

Thanks to this week’s sources:, the OED, &

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Self-Flagellant, or Happy Camper?

Bad Boys
Self Flagellant, or Happy Camper?
I’m one of those annoying happy-camper types who writes because I actually like to write. It stokes my fire, yanks my crank, makes me smile. Sure, parts of the editing process are a real pain, but the pain for me is entirely figurative. Still, I’m intrigued by those who – in order to write – have to open up a vein and bleed all over the keyboard, and then after doing so, they go back and do it again.
Erica Jong wrote, “Writers are doubters, compulsives, self-flagellants. The torture only stops for brief moments.” (1974) Her writing reality was not my writing reality, but it causes me to wonder about that simple five-letter word, write.
Etymologically speaking, there isn’t much support for the pain and suffering Ms. Jong and her ilk experience, though at first glance it appears there might be. Both writanan, write’s proto-Germanic grandmother and writtan, it’s Old Saxon grandmother, originally meant “to tear or scratch.” In fact, most the Indo-European languages’ precursors to write referred to carving, scratching, cutting, or vigorously rubbing.
These violent-sounding word histories simply reflect on a world without keyboards, legal pads, fountain pens, ballpoints and yellow pencils – a world which required writers to scratch their brilliance into bark or chisel it into stone before it could make its mark on the waiting reader.
George Sand, a self-confessed bleed-all-over-the parchment writer, offers this. “The profession of writing is nothing else but a violent, indestructible passion. When it has once entered people’s heads it never leaves them.”  (1831)
I’m all for the idea that once the passion enters, it never leaves, but the pain and agony simply aren’t a part of the game for me.
So, my meager yet stalwart followers, is writing more akin to cutting, scratching and carving, or is it simply a joy?
Thanks to these sources: the OED, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women (1996), &