Slang-tastic

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about the origins of some of today’s popular slang.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

I don’t often read Stephen King (I’m more of a Dean Koontz fan) but his latest, Billy Summers, caught my attention for two reasons. First, the protagonist is ex-military. Second, he’s a hitman posing as a writer. He kills time while waiting to kill the target and decides to try actually writing. But what really caught my attention was the vast amount of slang Billy uses. Much of it is military slang.

As a “Navy Brat,” some slang was second nature to me growing up. We went to the “gedunk” for sodas and ice cream. The word comes from the sound a coin makes when you put it in a candy machine. My father came home with “scuttlebutt,” rumors heard around a scuttlebut, or water fountain. Dad went to sea on the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard, better known as the “Bonny Dick.”

When I enlisted in the early 70’s, slang came from the Vietnam War. “Beaucoup” meant a lot (or a shitload), “Back to the World” meant going home to America, “Boonies” meant the middle of nowhere and “Hootch” was a tent men lived in. As a female, I lived in the “WAVE Cage.” The ribbon everybody got for joining during a war was referred to as a “gedunk medal” because they were often lost and extras were at the end of the counter in the “ship’s store.”

   

Another great source of lingo is law enforcement. Convenience stores were “Stop-n-Robs,” criminals took “leg-bail” to avoid being arrested and a flasher was a “weenie-wagger.” I worked with a narcotics unit, call sign 2-Adam. Deputies berated us by calling us “2-Adam too good.” I wish I’d written down some of the colorful language while I worked there.

       

Some modern words go far back. “Spill” meaning to give information originated in the 14th century. “Cool” emerged in 1728 and meant you had lots of money. “Psyched” came from the late 1800’s interest in psychology. Shakespeare gave us “Puke.” We call a dollar a “buck” because traders used animal skins for currency.

I don’t think I’ll ever keep up. I understood “LOL,” but when “OG” showed up on my rusted radar, I asked a young woman the definition. She looked at me like I’d just crawled out of a hole. “It means Original Gangster. But nobody uses it anymore.” Later, in a sentence, she said, “Oh, that girl’s just click-bait.” I think I got the reference but I could hear my inner voice saying “Okay, Boomer, let it go.”

When You’re Smiling 😄😄@JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews happily announced the arrival of a new historical mystery, Devil by the Tail, released in July 2021.  Jeanne has a yen for travel and a passion for mythology, which she works into her novels whenever she can.  Originally from Georgia, Jeanne lives in Washington State with her husband, a law professor, and a Norwich terrier named Jack Reacher.  Information about her books, including the Dinah Pelerin international series, can be found on her website. http://www.jeannematthews.com 

When I was in my twenties, I dated a guy whose best friend was a dentist – Joel.  If you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail and if you’re a dentist, every wisdom tooth looks like trouble.  Joel convinced me I’d have problems unless I got those impacted molars out pronto.  He promised an easy fix and offered me the “family” discount.  I agreed and scheduled the appointment.  The day arrived and, after a few reassuring words, Joel administered the painkiller and set to work.  It was a long procedure.  Way longer than I’d expected.  My jaws felt stretched wider than a crocodile’s and my bottom felt bonded to the chair.  Time dragged on.  How deep did those roots go?  How worried should I be?  I was numb and drooling when Joel leaned over me and said, “Encountered a bit of difficulty with a nerve.”

 

“Ith it therious?”

“The thing is, Jeanne…you may not be able to smile again.”

Researchers estimate that there are as many as fifty different types of smiles, but only six convey happiness.  Other smiles can express pain, shock, embarrassment, disbelief, fear, horror, misery, and the pleasure of revenge.  Whatever my face said following Joel’s announcement, I’m guessing it communicated a mix of all of the above.

“A smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities,” said Herman Melville.  Writers have a thousand ways of describing the reactions and emotions of our characters, but the nuances of the smile are almost infinite.  The ideal smile, that lovely pas de deux between the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi is called the Duchenne smile.  In the 19th Century, Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne, the son of a French pirate, got interested in facial expressions, which he believed to be the gateway to the soul.  In his zeal to decode the meaning of various smiles, he inserted electric probes into his subjects’ faces to stimulate the muscles.  It hurt.  In fact, it was so excruciating that nobody volunteered to participate in his neurological studies.  He was forced to experiment on the freshly severed heads of executed prisoners until, as luck would have it, he chanced upon a mental health patient who had no feeling in his face.  Duchenne’s electric jolts yanked the man’s cheeks up, jerked his eyes down, and stretched and twisted his features like a rubber mask.  Duchenne photographed the results.  He identified thirteen primary emotions and the muscles and muscle groups that controlled them.  It seems that crow’s feet, those pesky wrinkles branching out from the corners of the eyes, are the sole proof of genuine, profound happiness.

Alas, we live in a post-truth age and, wouldn’t you just know it?  The “genuine” Duchenne smile can be faked.  All you have to do is turn up your mouth, hoist your cheeks, squinch your eyes, and voilà!  The selfie will show you beaming on top of whatever dangerous monument you happen to be posing.  Who’s to know that perfect smile hides a fervent wish to be elsewhere?  Neuroscientists now say that Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile was forced – the right side at odds with the left.  Leonardo, who hung out in the morgue peeling the skin off cadavers and studying the facial muscles and nerves, made a tiny anatomical error…or perhaps he kept his model motionless for too long and her mystery is tinged with annoyance.

Photography has had a significant effect on how we smile.  In the camera’s early days, slow exposure times required people to remain stone still, no twitching of the lips.  But there were other reasons for those stern faces in old photographs.  Wide smiles were considered uncouth, more indicative of madness or drunkenness than happiness.  To make their subjects’ mouths appear small and genteel, photographers instructed them to say “prunes.”  But then the dental profession started to improve, teeth became straighter, notions of propriety changed, and photographers told their subjects to say “cheese.”   The word produced a smile guaranteed to make you look pleasant regardless what you were thinking.

Interpreting the true meaning of a facial expression can be challenging in real-life, in art, and in law enforcement.  Analysts noticed a telltale tug of the zygomaticus major in certain individuals filmed pleading for the return of a missing family member.  Detectives investigated and found they had killed their relatives, themselves.  Anyone planning a murder would do well to practice flexing the orbicularis oculi – the sincere muscle.

When facial mobility is lost, through disease or nerve damage, it’s no laughing matter.  All the yellow smiley faces and emojis in the world can’t compensate for loss of the ability to smile.  Fortunately, in my case the problem was temporary, as evidenced by my author photo.  I don’t recall what the photographer said to elicit such a grin.  But one sure way to bring a Duchenne smile to any author’s face is to say, “I’ll read your book and I’ll write a review.”

 

Sterling and Me: Tail of a Mystery Author and Her Dog #7—and a Giveaway! @TheMysteryLadie

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist. 

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author:
Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram ~ Pinterest

Why Grammar Nazis Need to Get a Grip

Is your New Year’s resolution that you are going to finish that book you’ve always wanted to write and get it published? Read on!

A common topic of conversation among writers is editors, editing, and reviews criticizing our books’ editing. Recently, I had an energetic email exchange with a writer who received her first review in which the reader complained about the editing. I am glad to say that she went away saying that she felt better.

Since Shadow of Murder (my 29th mystery!) is currently with the proofreader who is scouring it for errors, I thought now would be a good time to freshen up this lengthy (and venting) guest post that I had written a few years ago on my thoughts about what I call Grammar Nazis.

Grab a glass of champagne and read on:

 

The Internet has made it much easier for anyone yearning to voice their opinion about anything and everything to do so. Among those striving to be heard are readers anxious to release their inner book critics to heap praise or criticism upon the authors of those books they love or hate. Nowadays, any reader with a kindle simply has to hit a button at the end of the book to leave their ratings.

Thus, Grammar Nazis can now easily warn perspective readers of any book that does not meet their lofty standards by posting reviews citing the read as poorly written and badly edited.

This is not necessarily a good thing because nasty reviews from Grammar Nazis can potentially deter unwitting readers from purchasing and reading books that are actually very well written and finely edited.

What is a Grammar Nazi?

According to the Internet, a Grammar Nazi is someone who believes it’s their duty to attempt to correct any grammar and/or spelling mistakes they observe—usually found hanging around book reading chat rooms,

⇒  or posting one-star reviews declaring books poorly edited (or not edited at all) on Amazon, Goodreads, and every other book website they can find,

⇒  or sending emails with multi-paged lists of spelling and grammatical errors to authors of said books and declaring their editors and proofreaders incompetent.

I am very familiar with Grammar Nazis. My late mother was one. Luckily for authors, she was unplugged and had more important things to do than compose detailed lists of what she considered to be grammatical mistakes in books—unless it was one of mine.

What type of books have fallen victim to one or more negative reviews from Grammar Nazis? Well, here’s a sampling of reviews that I have found on Amazon, the biggest book seller in the world.

One reader, who identifies him/herself as a literature teacher, begins a long-winded one-star review by stating that he/she only uses To Kill a Mockingbird in his/her class “when forced to” because it is so poorly written. This reader goes on to say, “The descriptive passages were rather crude, and at times the language became practically unintelligible.”

Not even Ernest Hemingway is immune from Nazi attacks. Another reader posted a one-star review for For Whom the Bell Tolls. This reader writes:

I will not presume to say that I am right & that millions who love this book are wrong, but I really do not understand why this book is considered a classic. The dialogue is so choppy & forced-formal that it seems like the characters are all talking past each other.

Another reader had trouble understanding how Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October became a best-seller:

Clancy could have edited 40% of the text out and had a much better story. This novel is bogged down with irrelevant character descriptions, military acronyms, tedious sub-plots, and background stories that have nothing to contribute to the novel’s overall focus. I found myself constantly frustrated with the monotonous length it took to cover simple plot points. Clancy obviously has a huge audience; however, he needs an effective editor. This novel is a very slow read.

As you can see, Grammar Nazis really don’t care who you are or how experienced your publisher or editor is. When they see a mistake, they’re going to let readers know. Like in this Nazi’s review for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, published by Little, Brown Books for YA:

…the editing—or lack thereof—is appalling …; the grammar and syntax are unforgivably bad; the plot is onion-skin thin; and the characters are uniformly dull and uninspiring.

The purpose of this post is not to rip apart Grammar Nazis. After all, I was closely related to one. My mother used to proofread my books before they were released to catch errors missed by my team of multiple editors and proofreaders. (More about that later.)

Nor is the purpose of this post to convince Grammar Nazis that they’re wrong. Believe me, there is no convincing a Grammar Nazi they are mistaken about errors they have noted. They are right. They got “A’s” in English in school. They have worked for a hundred years as an editor for a daily newspaper and never once during that whole century—publishing two editions seven days a week—not once was there so much as one typo in any of those newspapers—not a single one!

As an author and a publisher, I would like to put this issue into a proper perspective for both readers and those authors whose books will fall victim to a reader or two who has too much time on his or her hands. As a rule, I do not engage or argue with the rare Grammar Nazi who posts a nasty review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other sites about grammatical errors they may have found in my books. As a matter of fact, I give no credibility to Grammar Nazis at all and I will explain why in this post.

However, I do believe that the average reader who sees reviews posted by Grammar Nazis and new authors who will (not if) receive such reviews should be aware of a few things before they accept the Grammar Nazi’s claims of bad writing and poor editing as fact.

Poorly Edited According to Who (or is it Whom?)

A couple of years ago, an author friend of mine independently published a book. During the publication process, her book went through two rounds of editing (by two different editors) and was proofread by another editor, plus a friend of hers, who happened to be an English school teacher. Thus, her book was looked at by four different pairs of eyes before publication.

Nine months after the book was released and received several glowing reviews, she received one poor review declaring that it was poorly edited and had numerous grammatical errors. So, she hired yet another editor to proofread the book again for grammatical mistakes and misspellings. This editor, who used a different style manual than the other editors, ripped that book apart with changes on every page. So many in fact, that it took the formatter over a month to make every change in order to re-release the book.

Over a year later, a traditional publisher acquired this same book, signing my friend to a multi-book deal. As part of the re-release of this book under the new publisher, the book was edited yet again! It went through two separate editors—one of whom contacted my friend to tell her that it was very well written and was pretty clean to begin with. Not only that, but after the book was formatted, it was proofread by yet another editor.

First review my friend received from a reader stated:

This is the first novel I’ve read by this author, and while it was a good read, with a good plot, interesting primary and secondary characters, and was very suspenseful, the sheer number of grammatical errors, misused words, and spelling errors certainly detracted from my enjoyment of this book. While I’d like to read the next novels in this series, I can only hope that they are better edited and proofread than this one.

Excuse me! This book was looked at by—count them!—seven different editors plus an English teacher. Not all of them were ill-educated, poorly trained, or incompetent!

The answer to how this happens lies in this one simple question:

Grammatical errors, misused words, and spelling mistakes according to whose rules?

Over the years, I had assembled a team of editors and proofreaders to work on my own books based on each one’s strengths. It is a given, where one editor has strengths, he or she has weaknesses in another area.

Let me explain. A few years ago, I sent one of my books to a new editor to be proofread before its release. Because she was unproven to me, I sent the same book to yet another editor as a backup. Neither proofreader knew the book was being worked on by someone else. Therefore, they thought it was completely up to them to catch every mistake.

When the book came back from these two proofreaders, they had both identified completely different errors. Only in one instance did they both identify the same error! They concentrated completely on different areas in proofreading the book. One proofreader was more concerned with the punctuation while the other focused on the spelling.

Also, different editors/proofreaders work under a different set of rules.

One editor I worked with followed the new comma rules—whatever those are. From what I have seen, the comma is rarely used. I have read many books in recent years, whose editors seem to be following these rules. According to the new comma rules, the line from Gone with the Wind: “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” has no commas.

Another one of my editors loves the Oxford comma. Thus, the line would be written, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Based on what she learned when she was in school, my late mother swore it was, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Who is right? Under interrogation, each one could cite a source and reasoning to back up their argument of where the commas go and why.

Another area of disagreement is the ellipse. That is the “…”. One of my editors believes there should be no space before or after the ellipse. Another editor firmly believes there should be a space before and after the ellipse.

Even highly regarded style manuals used by editors disagree. Some argue that the ellipse should be treated like a word, which means it should have a space both before and after. Others (mostly journalistic style manuals) say it should be treated like an em-dash (—) so there should be no space. This is because the space before and after can create havoc with formatting.

Therefore, I quite literally split the difference. During formatting I use a half-space before and after the ellipse.

Supreme Court Decides on the Apostrophe “s”

To better illustrate this issue, I love to tell writers, new editors, and readers about a book I edited for another author several years ago.

This book contained a character whose name ended in an “s.” Well, throughout the book, there were many instances in which his name was used in possessive.

Now, every editor has a thing or two or three or dozen, in which they will not trust their knowledge. To be safe, they will look it up in their style manual every single time. For me, the question of a proper name ending in “s” and used in possessive was one of those things. At that time, the Chicago Style Manual called for this possessive to be “s’” not “s’s.”

Well, the author said I was wrong and that it is supposed to be “s’s.”

So, I looked it up again, not just in the Chicago Style Manual, but several sites on the Internet. Not only did I discover that the answer varies in the Chicago Style Manual depending on which edition you use, but I also found a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States had gotten involved in this very argument while writing a decision on a case. Even the justices disagreed! Clarence Thomas (who should know since his name ends in an “s”) declared that it is “s.’”

I let the author have the last word. He requested that I change all of the possessive references for this character to “s’s.”

Then, upon proofing the book, the author brought in his daughter, a technical writer who goes by a totally different style manual. She stated that it should be “s’” without the extra “s.”

So I had to change it back.

Grammar and Punctuation Is Not Carved in Stone

Many people who are not in the business of writing, editing, or publishing fiction fail to realize that many of the grammar and punctuation rules that we were taught as being carved in stone really are not—especially when it comes to fiction.

Most fiction authors’ literary style and narrative voice don’t follow all of the rules taught in simple fourth grade grammar. Keeping in tune with the casual manner in which people communicate today, writers focus more on creating a conversational tone and flow to the narrative than using the correct pronoun.

When I sent my third book to the editor, I could practically hear her laughing between the lines in her notes when she rewrote a sentence in my narrative. “When was the last time you heard someone use the word ‘whom?’” she asked.

While my sentence was grammatically correct, she noted that it had such a formal stilted sound to it that it broke the easy going pace of my writing. As a result, the reader would be pulled out of the story. Yes, the sentence, rewritten by the editor, was grammatically incorrect. However, the narrative flowed much more naturally.

Grammar Nazis, particularly those who have spent the bulk of their education or professional lives in the world of non-fiction writing and editing (working in journalism or teaching grade school English), fail to realize this when reading fiction. Being a Nazi, they are incapable of becoming immersed in the plot and the story because they have spent their lives searching for mistakes. When they encounter what they perceive to be an error, they are so offended that all enjoyment of the other 99.9% of the book becomes an impossibility—all they can see and think about is that imperfection.

Feeling righteous about what they know is right, they feel compelled to note said error and to warn readers via bad reviews and/or notify the writer of what a sloppy job his editor did and wonder how any author who considers herself a professional could allow such mistakes to reach their readers.

“Your readers deserve better!” I have been chastised by one Grammar Nazi (not my mother.)

Here’s how this can and does happen:

Prolific writers (those who write more than one book a year) make mistakes. A prolific writer cares more about writing a thrilling book with fully developed characters and an intriguing plot than determining if every single word (Is it lay or lie?) is right and ensuring that every punctuation mark is correct (To use the comma or not to use the comma?).

Such minute details have the power to tie a Grammar Nazi’s panties into a knot.

Several years ago, I received an email from a woman informing me that I was a shoddy writer and how dare I consider myself worthy of editing other authors’ books. (I don’t edit other authors books anymore because I am too busy writing my own books.) Her complaint: In The Murders at Astaire Castle, which was released in the top 10 of mysteries on Amazon in July 2013, contained this sentence:

“On the way into the police station, David stopped at the donut shop to buy a box of donuts.”

The Nazi wrote, “No, sh!t.” She used the actual word. My error was using “donut” twice. That is repetition, which is a no-no. This, she declared was sloppy and shoddy writing. She went on to post a one-star review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Since she told me in her email that she was a writer, and obviously much better than I am since she would never have written that sentence, I looked up her profile in the social media sites and found that she had never released a book. Based on her reaction to the news that David had stopped at a donut shop to buy donuts, I think she is probably too busy sweating over every page, paragraph, sentence, comma, period, and word to allow her book to be released to the public.

By virtue of being a Grammar Nazi, her book must be perfect. Anything less is unacceptable.

That’s pretty sad in my opinion.

Prolific Writers and Editors Are Human Beings

Prolific writers know that there comes a time in every book’s life where we need to just let it go and move on to the next book. We accept the fact that there could very well—No, we know and accept the fact that there will be one, two, three, or twenty grammatical errors in the book that our team has not caught.

However, from a professional stand-point, it is not good business to hold up the release of a book to invest in yet another editor to scour a whole book in search of those few errors that will cause hissy fits for one or two Grammar Nazis—even if they do use the power of the Internet to proclaim the book as poorly edited.

At what point can a book—not a five-hundred word article or a student’s ten-page research paper—but a 60,000 to 110,000 word book—be declared error free, especially if editors, proofreaders, and Grammar Nazis can’t agree on what the rules are?

Unfortunately, not only are my editors and proofreaders professionals—but also, every single one is a human being. Therefore, they suffer from the condition that every human suffers—Yes, even the Grammar Nazis suffer from this dreaded incurable condition.

Human beings aren’t perfect. As intolerable as it may be, we all make mistakes.

I have worked with numerous editors in the thirty plus years that I have been writing and I have yet to meet an editor who is perfect, which is why I use more than one on every project.

Think about it. The Murders at Astaire Castle has 66,000 words. This Nazi was having a hissy fit over one sentence, consisting of nineteen words, in the middle of a 286-page book. Frankly, I thought one bad sentence out of the thousands of sentences in that book was doing pretty good.

I wouldn’t call that sloppy, shoddy, incompetent, or poor. Would you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Giveaway

Win an ebook or audible download code for
IT’S MURDER, MY SON (winner’s choice).
Leave a comment to tell about the worst
editing/grammar error you read in a famous
novel. The winning name will be drawn on
the evening of Monday, January 3rd.

Mercury Rising

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about mercury and its perilous history.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

On April 18, 1906, San Francisco experienced an earthquake so intense that the city fell to its knees. A fire consumed what was left. A magnitude of 7.9, it was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles and all the way to Nevada. It destroyed 296 miles and 3,000 people were killed.

   

Recently I read two novels which involve the tragedy. The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner is about a mail-order Irish bride who comes to the city and marries a man who is not all he seems to be. The truth is uncovered just before everything around them crashes down. Sins are covered with debris. The rest is about the rebuilding of lives and a city.

   

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs is set in modern San Francisco. Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s bookshop and care of her grandfather whose health is in jeopardy. The story continues, yada-yada-yada, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Without spoiling the plot, I want to talk about mercury. Not only is it the silver stuff in thermometers, it was also used in radiators to warm up homes. It created warmth by heating up the water in the radiator. It also expelled a vapor of neurotoxins. Brain and nerve damage resulted. Popular in the 1900’s, these radiators were still being installed in homes built in the 40’s and 50’s. The practice went on until 1967.

Fast forward to 1972 when I enlisted in the Navy. Without much choice I was trained to be a dental tech. In dental school they taught us how to make amalgam, the stuff the dentist fills your teeth with. Amalgam consists of silver, tin, copper, zinc, and you guessed it—mercury.

Dental school neglected to tell us the stuff was poisonous. The strange, shiny drops were fun to play with. It was a liquid but rolled around in a ball. If separated, it pulled back together. We rolled it back and forth in our palms.

While stationed in Puerto Rico, I was sent to the island of Antigua along with a dentist and another tech. It was a secret base (I believed it was an underwater nuclear facility) and we were there to bring every sailor’s teeth up to par. A barber’s chair was used and negatives were processed in a blacked-out bathroom.

While unpacking supplies, the only bottle of mercury we brought fell and shattered. Scrambling on our hands and knees, we desperately tried to scoop up the quicksilver. It was tricky. Our next problem was finding more of the stuff to accomplish our mission. We wound up going into a rural town and bartering with the only dentist for a bottle. I’m sure he jacked up the price considering the U.S. military was paying for it.

    

I got out of the Navy and left dentistry behind in 1976. The base in Antigua closed in 1987. As far as I know we all survived mercury poisoning.

My Issue with Issues @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews happily announced the arrival of a new historical mystery, Devil by the Tail, released in July 2021.  Jeanne has a yen for travel and a passion for mythology, which she works into her novels whenever she can.  Originally from Georgia, Jeanne lives in Washington State with her husband, a law professor, and a Norwich terrier named Jack Reacher.  Information about her books, including the Dinah Pelerin international series, can be found on her website. http://www.jeannematthews.com 

Language curmudgeons like me are constantly finding new usages with which to be annoyed.  I know, times change.  Inevitably, meanings evolve.  It’s called semantic drift, although sometimes it feels like a lahar – one of those fast-moving mudflows that course down the slopes of a volcano.  It’s not easy for those of us stuck in the mud, clinging to our old dictionaries even as cyber slang and tech jargon and nonbinary pronouns swirl around us.  Every generation invents an array of new words to match the present moment.  Many are essential and make perfect sense.  They drop “trippingly off the tongue.”  Naturally many older words become obsolete or their meaning is altered through usage and – too often in my curmudgeonly opinion, mis-usage.

For a long time I’ve been irritated by the substitution of the word “issue” for “problem.”  In days gone by, people debated issues, they didn’t have them.  Having an issue sounds gentler and less embarrassing than having a problem.  Saying that somebody’s got a problem has acquired a sense of belligerence.  It can even be offensive.  The definition of the word “issue” expanded to mean “emotional and psychological difficulties” around fifty years ago.  I ought to have gotten over my objection by now.  Judging from the frequency of use, pretty much everybody has issues nowadays or thinks somebody else does.  But when I read in my local paper that flooding and landslides are causing travel issues, I picture the long line of cars stranded on a washed-out highway in British Columbia last week and get irritated all over again.  Maybe what distinguishes an issue from a problem depends on how close you are to the rising waters.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we recently suffered a “heat dome” with temperatures soaring to 115 degrees in Seattle and higher still in the Portland area where sixty-two people died from the heat.  “That number’s not palatable for us,” said the emergency-management director of Multnomah County.  Not palatable?  With over a million words in the English language to choose from, how vacuous is “not palatable”?  It’s downright inappropriate.

“Inappropriate” is a catch-all that covers a multitude of sins.  I can remember when it described social peccadillos like using the wrong fork at dinner or wearing white after Labor Day.  Now it’s applied to all manner of shameful behavior, including prosecutable crimes.  Without a fuller description, it’s not clear if the transgression is something as minor as giggling in church, or as serious as sexual harassment or financial corruption.  “Inappropriate” is a clucking, squeamish sort of word.  It allows the speaker to register disapproval without naming the objectionable behavior in specific terms.

Another weasel word that irks me is “problematic.”  Does adding two syllables double the danger?  “Houston, things up here are problematic.”  Or do those extra syllables just make the speaker sound smarter?  Lately it seems no one uses a simple Anglo-Saxon word when a multi-syllable abstraction can be found.  Pronouncing something “problematic” rings with profundity.  It’s the final verdict.  Mic drop.  Nothing more need be said.  And yet, it’s so vague as to be meaningless.

When during a recent interview I heard the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, characterize what happened to him as “unacceptable,” something in my head just snapped.  The man was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul where he was tortured, murdered, dismembered with a bone saw, and carried out in pieces stuffed inside a suitcase.  If ever there was an argument against mincing words, it’s there in that suitcase.  To describe that horror as “unacceptable” is so mild as to be laughable, although to be fair, English is not Ms. Cengiz’s first language.  She is in London learning how English speakers express ourselves.  But “unacceptable” takes the famous British knack for understatement to a whole new level.

It’s not Ms. Cengiz’ bravery I question.  She is heroic to continue to focus attention on Khashoggi’s murder at the risk of her own life.  What bugs me are all these watered-down, mealy-mouthed euphemisms that permeate the language.  Polite euphemisms are a necessary lubricant that keep friendships intact and civilization humming.  And heaven knows, we’re all better people for thinking before we speak, for exercising tact and trying to avoid unconscious cruelties and hurt feelings.  But this curmudgeon has an issue with issues and a deep and abiding prejudice against problematic adjectives.

Sterling and Me: Tail of a Mystery Author and Her Dog #6—and a Giveaway! @TheMysteryLadie

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist. 

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram ~ Pinterest

An Excerpt from Shadow of Murder
A Mac Faraday Mystery – Book Fourteen

Erica Hart’s stomach flipped and then flopped when her dark blue SUV crested the top of the hill overlooking Deep Creek Lake. She was torn between anticipation and anxiety. It was exciting to return to her childhood vacation home. At the same time, she was uneasy to face the horrid memories of that one summer that had changed her life forever.

“Wentworth, we’re here,” she said.

There was a grunt and groan from the seat behind her. She could hear the harlequin Great Dane pull himself up from where he had been napping and plop his head on the passenger headrest to peer downhill at the bridge crossing the blue waters of Deep Creek Lake. Boats and jet skis dotted the water on the warm May afternoon.

“Honey, I’m home!” Teddy, the white cock-a-too, hopped out of the back seat onto the center console. He landed in the front passenger seat. He had spent the ride dozing on top of Wentworth. With his beak, he pulled himself up onto the dashboard.

“Not quite, Teddy. Home is at the other end of the lake and three-fourths of the way up Spencer Mountain.” Erica turned left off the freeway to take the two-lane road along the lakeshore. She craned her neck to take in the homes of various shapes and size.

Memorial Day weekend marked the official launch of the summer season in the resort town. Homeowners were busy opening windows to air out their vacation homes and doing other household chores to prepare for the warm weather.

Wentworth continued to rest his head on the back of the passenger seat. He moved only his eyes to take in the unfamiliar sights and sounds. This was the three-year old Great Dane’s first trip to Spencer, Maryland.

For Teddy, it was a return home. Like Erica, he had many happy memories of love and family. Erica’s mother had presented the baby cock-a-too to her father as a Father’s Day gift. His first ten years were divided between their home in Richmond, Virginia, and their vacation home in Spencer.

After their deaths, the visitations became less frequent and shorter as Erica’s life got busy her own family. One summer turned into two and then three and so on until a decade had passed. Eventually, the house turned into a vacation rental.

No matter how far away you may roam, or how long you stay away, there’s no place like home.

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home,” Teddy said in a voice reminiscent of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz upon reaching the bridge crossing Deep Creek Lake at the base of Spencer Mountain. At forty-years old, the cock-a-too had an extensive vocabulary and impressive collection of movie quotes committed to his memory.

“Thank you, Judy Garland,” Erica said with a sigh as she turned the steering wheel to the left after crossing the bridge.

Gradually, the shades of green pines, oaks, maple trees and other wild plants transformed into a kaleidoscope of yellows, greens, reds, purples, and blues sprinkled among exotic plants corralled inside an eight-foot-tall steel fence. A half mile along the fence, Erica came upon a sign that read in silver gothic letters “Cooper Cove” erected on the fence next to a steel gate.

Erica slowed down and gazed through the slats of the fencing into the rich grounds of the luxurious home. If her memory served her correctly, it possessed a tragic history.

She looked beyond the tall exotic shrubs among the flowers to the windows of the dark brown home that rose above the gardens. Most would have described the estate nestled along the lakeshore as luxurious. No one could deny that it looked splendid.

Erica wondered why it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Was it here that some woman went mad and threw herself off the roof to her death?

She pressed her foot on the accelerator. She sped down the road to take the right at a fork to begin the climb up the mountain. The two-lane road was steep with only a guard rail to protect her from a perilous drop over rocky terrain.

Erica found it hard to believe that nothing had been done to broaden or straighten the road. While it was hard to believe nothing had been done, she knew why.

Most of the homeowners along the less developed portion of Spencer Mountain were wealthy summer residents who enjoyed a quiet, secluded life removed from the population that poured into Deep Creek Lake during the busy summer season. Wider, safer roads would entice more people to buy property and build houses. That would eliminate the very element that had drawn Erica’s parents and their neighbors to the more treacherous terrain known for boulders and steep drop offs.

Upon reaching the turn-off to the Hart home, the road swooped to the left, dipped, and looped around a boulder that leaned into the roadway. Just as Erica turned to the right, a huge black shadow darted out from behind the boulder and flew across the road.

It passed so close to the front of her vehicle she would later wonder how it was that she hadn’t hit it.

Erica thought it was a bear, but it moved too fast. She wondered if it was an enormous bird. Were those black wings?

Fearful of hitting the animal, Erica spun the steering wheel to the left and hit the brakes. The SUV headed straight toward the boulder.

Wentworth fell against the back seat. Teddy dropped into the foot compartment.

“That was dumb!” Erica hit the brakes and spun the steering wheel to head in the other direction—for the cliff.

“Not that way either!” She spun the wheel in the opposite direction and stomped on the brakes. The SUV fishtailed from one side of the road to the other until it smashed through the guardrail.

The airbags deployed to block Erica’s view.

The SUV came to a halt on the edge of a boulder jutting out over the mountainside.

“Lord have mercy!” Teddy pulled himself up onto the seat.

Wentworth groaned.

Erica sat still to regain her senses so that she could evaluate her circumstances. She saw treetops directly in front of her. As Wentworth righted himself, she felt the SUV lurch forward.

The vehicle teetered.

“Wentworth, stop!” She groped for the command. “Stay! Don’t move!”

His eyes wide, Wentworth lay still on the seat.

She reached for the button on the steering wheel to turn on the hands-free phone to call for help. The SUV lurched forward. “Damn!” She fell back against the seat.

Even reaching that far forward is enough to send us over.

She looked over at Teddy. He was a smart bird. Very smart. She wondered if he was smart enough to tell someone that they needed help. At the very least, she could save his life. There was no reason to force him to go over the cliff with her and Wentworth. Moving slowly, she pressed her finger on the button on her door to lower the windows.

“Teddy, go! Go get help!”

“Help!” Teddy called out in the voice of Erica’s late mother.

“That’s right. Get help,” Erica said.

“Help! Please!” Teddy climbed up the back of the passenger seat and hopped into the window. He turned to Erica and cocked his head. “I don’t want to die.”

“Neither do I,” Erica said. “Go! Fly for help.”

Teddy spread his wings and flew off through the treetops.

Unable to move, Erica watched the big white bird as best as she could. His white feathers stood out among the greenery of the forest.

She wondered if he would find someone. Even if he was smart enough to tell them that he needed help, would they understand that he was relaying a message? She doubted it.

While Teddy had an extremely extensive vocabulary and often conversed with people, he wasn’t communicating, he was simply mimicking what he had heard.

Erica looked in the rearview mirror and wondered how long it would be before Wentworth decided to stretch his muscles and send them both plummeting to their deaths.

“Oh, God, please help me.”

*****

Dusty O’Meara made a sharp right turn in his police cruiser to begin the steep climb up Spencer Mountain.

The new deputy chief of the resort town’s small police force was not yet familiar with the roads in and around Deep Creek Lake. His predecessor, Art Bogart aka Bogie had taken him on several trips around the area. Bogie and the police chief, David O’Callaghan, had the advantage of having been born and raised in the area. Dusty thought he just about had it down, except for the rural trails that snaked through the boulders and thick forest that lined the more remote area of the mountain.

As the road following the side of the mountain lurched to the left, Dusty stopped when he saw the sign marking the fork in the road. The road to the right was named Robin’s Way.

A large white cockatoo rested on top of the sign. His long tail feathers hung far beyond the bottom of the sign.

“Someone must have lost a bird.”

The cockatoo spread his wings and uttered a loud scream in a woman’s voice. “Help!”

“Definitely someone’s pet.” Dusty opened the door to his cruiser and slid out.

“I don’t want to die.”

Moving as slowly as possible to not scare the bird, Dusty asked in a smooth tone, “Now are you just making conversation or does your human need help?”

His eyes fixed on Dusty, Teddy spread his wings. He uttered another scream. “Help me please.”

This is crazy. But hey, I never claimed not to be crazy. “What do you want me to do? How can I help you?”

The bird flew off the sign and landed in the branch of the fork that weaved along the edge of the mountain. He turned around and cocked his head at Dusty.

“Okay, I’ll follow you. But if this turns into something weird, we’ll just keep it between the two of us.” Dusty climbed back into his cruiser, and slowly drove toward where the bird was waiting.

As he neared the bird, Teddy took off and flew down the road. Dusty sped up and followed.

As the woods became denser and the terrain rougher, Dusty slowed down. “I’ve lost my mind. Does anybody really live out here? I can’t believe they’d even be able to build a house onto the side of this mountain.”

“Help! Help me, please!” The large white bird swooped low and flew over the windshield of the cruiser. He then turned and headed back down the road.

“Okay, I’m coming.” Dusty pressed his foot on the accelerator.

As the road twisted and turned, the cockatoo maneuvered each turn in the road—remaining approximately six feet above the ground. Occasionally, he rose and slowed down—seemingly to check to see if Dusty was still following.

At a sudden dip in the road and twist around a boulder, Dusty saw the dark blue SUV wobbling on the edge of the cliff.

He hit the brakes. The cockatoo landed on the lights stretching across the top of his cruiser.

Forgetting the white bird, Dusty jumped out of his cruiser and pressed the button on his radio. “Dispatch, we have a vehicle in distress on Robin’s Way. We need emergency crews ASAP.” He saw the head of an enormous dog rise above the head rest and let out a deep bark.

Dusty rushed to the driver’s side door where a woman with long red hair pressed against the back rest to balance the vehicle tottering like the deadly version of a child’s game.

“Now is not a good time to ask for my driver’s license and registration.”

Despite the situation, Dusty laughed. “I guess that means you’re not hurt?”

“Not yet, but if I don’t get out of here soon, I will be.”

Wentworth scratched the door and whined a plea for Dusty to open it.

The vehicle rocked. Dusty pressed his weight against the rear section of the SUV in hopes of keeping it balanced on the boulder.

Erica tried not to whimper.

“Have you unbuckled your seatbelt?” Dusty couldn’t believe that he was telling someone to unbuckle their seatbelt. He saw that she had already unbuckled it and slipped out of it. “Are the doors unlocked?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m not leaving without Wentworth.”

Dusty flicked his eyes at the dog peering at him through the open window.  He could hear the sirens of the emergency vehicles making their way up the mountain. There wasn’t enough time. The huge dog was ready to bolt and when he did, the vehicle was going over the cliff with his human inside.

“No dog left behind.” He flashed her a broad toothy, reassuring grin. “I get it. Will he jump out when I open the door?”

“He’s not as stupid as he looks.”

Dusty placed a hand on both door handles. “Okay, on the count of three. I’m opening both doors. As soon as your door is open grab my arm.” He locked his eyes with her sapphire pools. “Ready.”

She nodded her head.

“One. Two. Three.”

In one movement, Dusty threw open both doors. “Wentworth! Come!” While he called for Wentworth to jump out, Dusty reached into the vehicle to grabbed Erica’s outstretched hands.

She felt herself lifted from the vehicle and yanked toward the roadway. He fell back. They hit the ground wrapped in each other’s arms.

The SUV slid over the edge of the boulder and dropped front end first to the rocky terrain below.

Dusty and Erica climbed to their feet to watch the SUV roll end over end down the mountainside. The sound of the vehicle crashing its way down the mountainside echoed throughout the forest. Doors burst open to eject whatever was not secured inside. Her suitcase flew like a frisbee out of the rear compartment. It popped open when it ricocheted off a tree to send her clothes flying across the terrain.

Nose first, the vehicle hit a rocky ledge that jutted out over the lake. Erica recalled many sunny afternoons when she and her friends would jump off that ledge to dive into the lake.

Not unlike Erica and her friends, the SUV bounced off the rock ledge to fly off and land with a giant splash into the water below.

They stared at the thick woods littered with debris and broken tree branches. They could only imagine the horror if Erica and Wentworth had been inside. Teddy flew from where he had perched on top of Dusty’s cruiser to land on Erica’s shoulder. Wentworth rested his body against her side. She stroked the dog’s head in comfort.

Dusty broke the silence. “Is now a good time to ask for your license and registration?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SHADOW OF MURDER
A Mac Faraday Mystery, Book 14
by Lauren Carr
International Best-Selling Mystery Author

True crime blogger, Erica Hart starts a new chapter in her life with a bang when a dark shadow darts into the mountain road to send her SUV off a cliff and to the bottom of Deep Creek Lake. Spencer’s newest addition to the police force, Dusty O’Meara assumes it was a bear. Erica is not so sure.

Soon afterwards, contractors discover Konnor Langston’s body at the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool at the new summer home of Mac Faraday’s son.

With Police Chief David O’Callaghan away on paternity leave, Deputy Chief Dusty O’Meara must lead the investigation in his first murder case since moving to Spencer. Not only does Dusty have to work under the shadow of the legendary Mac Faraday, but he also has to match wits with Erica, who is determined to find justice for Konnor, her childhood friend.

Mac isn’t so difficult. Even Gnarly, the town’s canine mayor, is manageable if his authority is well-respected and he is kept entertained.

Erica Hart, Dusty finds, is more of a challenge. It wouldn’t be so difficult if she wasn’t so irresistible.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Giveaway

To win a simply fabulous prize, subscribe to
Lauren’s newsletter at the bottom of her website
home page — https://mysterylady.net/.
Then leave a comment here suggesting a catch
phrase for Teddy. A winning subscriber will be
drawn on Friday evening, November 19th, and
that lucky person will win an audible download code for
ALL of the Mac Faraday Mysteries Books 1 to 13 😄

For the Love of Libraries

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about why libraries are so important to her.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Avid readers often like to read books set in libraries and bookstores. That is our hunting ground, our territory, our happy place. Especially libraries. The first time we see rows and rows of books to borrow, we want to read all of them.

Recently I’ve enjoyed several fiction books set in real libraries. Among these are The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles; The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murry; and The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis.

       

I discovered the school library when I was seven. However, I wanted to read books at the 12-year-old level and the librarian wouldn’t let me. So, every day I took the book off the shelf and read it at the table in front of her to prove a point.

It was the bookmobile that saved me. Every two weeks I would drag my friend so we could check out the maximum number of books, then share them. My mother thought chores were more important than reading. I had to find places to hide in order to devour books. Sometimes she took my books away as punishment. Can you imagine doing that to a kid?

Many children have been rescued by librarians. In 1905, women’s groups created bookmobiles.   During the Depression, librarians in Kentucky mounted horses to bring books to rural children in the Appalachians. Andrew Carnegie donated $55 million dollars to build 2,500 libraries across America. One of his libraries is in close-by Hanford, CA. In 1912 he gave $12,500 to build it. While it’s a historical site and museum, upkeep has been a recent problem.

   

I stopped going to the library when I was able to afford books. But when I moved to my small hometown, the closest bookstore was 40 miles away. Luckily, I fell in with the library crowd. I helped put on and participate in book events. When Reference Librarian Sherman Lee showed me how to request books via computer, my world opened up. I could get books from all over the San Joaquin Valley. I got a little crazy with it during Covid. One day I went to pick up my latest requests and there were 22 books waiting for me.

The Lemoore Library doesn’t have Marian the Librarian from The Music Man, but we do have Rosemary. She knows me well by now and simply walks to the shelf to retrieve the books when I walk through the door. Our faces light up like my reading addiction is a secret between us.

Reading The Midnight Library fed into a fantasy I have about the afterlife. Matt Haig creates a library in limbo. Somewhere between life and death, a woman makes a pit stop at a strange library filled endlessly with books of alternative life choices. She is transported to lives she might have lived and finds life is not idyllic in any of them.

   

My personal fantasy is that heaven will be a massive library where I can spend eternity reading. All my cats will be there as well. Cats and Books—the afterlife is good!