Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Idiom Exchange

I wrote a review last month for the Portal, and one of the stories had slang that really bothered me.  It wasn't because the language was foul.  It bothered me because the author had an American Southerner calling a television a "telly."  Much of the slang and nicknames he used just didn't ring true, and it almost ruined the story for me.

Most of my stories are through the eyes of a Montana rancher, and all of the slang I use is derived from my family.  I really like dialogue to sound authentic.  Below, I've written examples of idioms and slang that my family uses, especially the older members.  In the comments below, please offer up slang, accents, and idioms from the places you've been, but be sure to tell where you've heard them.

Grandma's Idioms

"I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet."  (People always gave me funny looks when I said this at college, for some reason.)

"I burnt the hair right off my tongue."  (Coffee was usually the culprit.)

"Bless her pea-pickin' little heart."  (I usually heard this when I was in trouble, usually for pounding nails into Mom's coffee table.)

"It's slicker 'n snot on a doorknob."  

Mom's Idioms

"Jeez, you woulda thought I said, 'Let's get naked and get out the Crisco.'"  (She said this in church, mind you.)

Dad's Idioms

"I gotta go see a man about a horse."  (I didn't realize until it was too late that it meant he had to pee and that I shouldn't follow him.)

"They'll be all over you like ugly on an ape."

"Funnier 'n a rubber crutch."


Pop-soda pop.

Creek-pronounce it "crick."

Roof-pronounce it like it rhymes with "slough."

Hoof-same as roof.

Polish Accents

The tiny town I grew up in has tons of people of German and Polish descent.  The older folks tend to end sentences with "there," but it's pronounced "der."  "The" is "da."  "Thinking" is "tinking."

Example:  Boat choo goin' wid jer Gramma, der?

Translation:  Both you going with your Gramma, there?

I should mention that this accent is starting to die out.  I can only think of one man who still sounds like this, and he's in his 80's.  You can still here hints of it, but it's not as thick.

Do you have slang, accents, or idioms common to your area?

Lutherans of the Pagan Synod

This is a local sign that has always made me smile.  Both of my husband's parents are Lutheran Pastors in the ELCA Synod.


I think this church may be from the Pagan Synod.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writers and Small Town Cliches

I grew up in a town so small that traffic lights were, and still are, completely unnecessary.  There were seven bars, but to balance things out, there were also seven churches.  Main street was only a couple of blocks long.  There were only about 80 kids grade 7-12 when I was in school, and that number has since dropped to around forty or so.  I started shooting a rifle when I was four, just like all of the other country kids, and I started driving about the same time.  (No lie.)

According to the latest census, seventy-nine percent of the U.S. population lives in urban/suburban areas.  I don't know if seventy-nine percent of U.S. authors live in urban areas, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of America's authors do. 

To me, the disparity shows.  If a small town is used in a setting in a story, it's nearly inevitable that one of the following negative stereotypes will be included.
  1. Nosy gossips.
  2. Ignorant yokels.
  3. Inbred, ignorant yokels.
  4. Homophobic, inbred, and ignorant yokels.
  5. Someone screeching about how "the gubberment" is trying to __________ (fill in the blank.)
  6. Gun-waving paranoid guys that live in trailer houses.
  7. Fundamentalists.
  8. Drunken, bored teenagers.
  9. Bigots.
  10. All of the above or any mixture thereof.
Can these things be part of being in a small town?  Sure, but intelligent, rational, well-read people are often left out of the story because they are not part of the stereotype.  I asked another Montana blogger, Kari Lynn Dell, if she had had experienced any stereotypes. She said, "There are actually two very divergent stereotypes that I see of small town folks, the one you've mentioned, and the one where we're all one big happy family and everybody looks out for everybody else and it's all sunshine and roses, which is true up to a point but not exclusively. People in small towns are just as self-involved as people everywhere. It's just harder to ignore each other."  I have to agree with her.  For more of Kari's perspectives on small town life, check out her post on what it's like to be related to everyone else.  

I think authors as a whole tend to focus on stereotypes rather than find the myriad of interesting small-town characters.  Consider this.  My dad gave my twin and I each a pistol and a concealed carry permit as a high school graduation present.  (Keep in mind that we'd both practiced and trained with firearms most of our lives.)  Shortly afterward, we ran into a friend of his, Buck, at the Tastee Hut.  Dad told him what he'd gotten us.  Buck, who is an old-school cowboy, began chatting with Dad about what to do if either of us girls needed to defend our honor.  

Dad said, "Now, if somebody's comin' atcha, don't pull the gun unless you're willing to use it.  Hold it up and tell them to stop."

Buck replied quietly, "And don't tell 'em twice."

When I tell that story to people who aren't from around here, they automatically place Buck into the gun-waving whacko category.  If one scratched beyond Buck's crusty surface, one would find quiet eloquence, a devoted history scholar, and a tender heart despite the fact that he also happens to be the toughest man I've ever seen.  He was shot multiple times in Korea, and survived, alone and wounded, for three days in the Korean winter, all the while dragging himself from place to place and harrying the enemy with grenades as he waited for rescue.

Folks who meet my dad do the same.  One would never know by looking at him that he, a rancher, has a degree in chemistry, has revolutionized range management, and studies Chaos theory, just for fun.  He has multiple EMT certifications and has been studying orthopedic injuries.  He was raised on the ranch by his stepfather, who read and wrote seven languages and spoke a few more.  His stepfather, whom I never knew, would make my father argue both sides of every issue just to keep him in practice.

Another friend, who passed away last week, was a rancher named Leroy.  Leroy appeared to be a completely unremarkable rancher, at least until he opened his mouth.  One didn't have to talk to Leroy very long before one could see that his was brilliant.  He had a Ph.D. in math, worked Los Alamos, and created a new theory in physics called Unitivity Theory, or the theory of everything.  He wrote two books on the subject.  If his kids came to him with a problem, he'd smile and say, "Use your physics."

There is so much more to a small town than small-minded people.  If you are an author that wants to use a small town setting, I beg you, please scratch below the surface, and find the depth hidden below the cliches.

UPDATE:  Shortly after I wrote this post, I found a story in the local newspaper that I realize does not help my argument.  I guess the only way to experience a rural area is to live there.  No wonder everyone thinks we're nuts.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's On Like Donkey Kong

I've been kicking around titles for my work in progress for ages.  It's working title is The Rider of Nealra, but every one I've considered has problems.  After reading this great post at Books & Such, I've been putting more thought into the matter.

These titles fight so voraciously in my head that sometimes I think I need to call a referee.  Or, a shrink.  You'll find the description of the novel to your left.  Which do you think is best overall?  If you don't like any of them, give ideas, suggestions, or revisions in the comments below.

Quizzes by

Monday, March 14, 2011

No One Wants to Read a Diatribe

I realize that the stories authors tell about all of the times they almost quit are usually coming from the I got published and now it's all worth it perspective.  My nearly-quit story is not.  I am unpublished.  I'm plowing through my edits like crazy.  I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm not going to proclaim that I'm gonna be the next big thing because I fully realize it may never happen for me.

I came to writing in a weird, roundabout way, mostly due to high levels of physical pain and social isolation.  I've always been a little odd to talk to, a little strange to look at, and looked at the world in a weird way.  Just ask my high school classmates, who could probably regale you with tales of apocalyptical theological discussions in the girls' locker room.  In my defense, I was going through a phase.

I started writing as an adult while recovering from a surgery that wouldn't heal.  I nearly quit after realizing the first draft of my first novel sucked monkey balls.  I didn't write for a year or two, and I felt the need building up like a frat boy's need to pee several hours after a keg stand.  I brushed it off, thinking I was being stupid and impractical.  Then I went to grade school for the Fine Arts.  I had to take two creative writing classes that fostered my talent for writing foul similes and metaphors.  Finally, I couldn't stand holding the need back anymore, so I decided to write for my final project.

Said grad school threw you together with the same people all day, every day for six weeks in the summertime.  Not once, but for two summers.  Getting along with the others was imperative for one's own survival, or theirs, depending on whether one was on the giving or receiving side of homicidal rage.  Keep in mind that up until the day of my defense, all forms and purposes of social niceties completely evaded me, and not for the lack of trying.  I have always been deeply socially anxious.  I still have never been able to watch "Bridget Jones' Diary," mostly because that's how I feel I appear to others.  All of the time.  If you've never struggled with anxiety, you may not understand how it makes you do phenomenally stupid things, like shave a shower curtain.  Don't ask.  I still don't have any idea why that was a good idea at the time.  

I had noticed that most of my peers in the grad school program sort of looked at me sideways, but I couldn't figure out why for the life of me.  Because I was a naive idiot, I figured that I must have been imagining things and that EVERYONE liked me as much as I liked them.  This isn't as creepy as it sounds, but I even drew stick figure pictures for each of them doing something really cool and handed them out at the end of the term.  Really.  It wasn't creepy.  I think.

Fast forward to the my defense, where I had to sit and endure three professors tear my work apart.  I was pregnant, emotional, and cried the whole time.  I passed and graduated, but one professor told me two things that changed my life for the better, though it took years to see it that way.

First, he made a comment that informed me of what my peers actually thought about me, but would never say to my face.  That was a blow, as I had foolishly and wholeheartedly believed they were my friends and cared for me as much as I did them.  (I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me.  That's how stupid I was.)  Then, he informed me that my character flaws would damage my unborn child.  These comments came from a man that I idolized.  They were a slap in the face, mostly because I was naive, and they were so mind-bending that it took me years to even process them.

At the end of the defense, he told me to keep writing.  He wanted to see me do more.  I remember thinking, WTF?  You just told me I was going to damage my son's psyche, but you want me to keep writing?  I'm not gonna write another word.  That'll show you.  I later realized that I was not a kindergartener, and that not writing would hurt no one but me.  He was killed in a boating accident shortly after, and I never had the courage to call him and talk to him.  Though the comments were not made with my best interests in mind, I don't think he realized he sort of shattered my world.

I'm thankful he said them.  First, it really isn't reasonable to expect that everyone else will actually talk to me if they have problems with me.  I saw gossip as cowardly and useless.  I still do, and I take care that I avoid doing it to others.  I used to foam at the mouth and shoot figurative laser beams from my eyeballs when I heard about people bitching behind my back.  Now, I just make a sour expression and go on with my life.  Mostly.  I got burned badly in the non-romantic relationship department, and learned a great deal from it.  People are actually taught not to talk openly about their feelings about others.  I sorta knew that before.  Now I KNOW it.

Most importantly, it taught me how to communicate with a world I really didn't understand.  Until that day, I lived in the ideal.  My protagonist was faultless because that's how I wanted to be.  My politics revolved around what should be instead of what would actually work.  My writing was preachy, and I focused exclusively on the mechanics of writing.  Except the finer points of grammar.  The grammar synapses have a lot of hiccups at times.

Being torn that low to the ground showed me that only mastering the mechanics of writing is completely useless.  Writing has to communicate.  It has to say things people want to read or are willing to hear, not diatribes about how the country's going to hell or the who is causing it to go to hell.  Now I try to craft characters and conflicts that matter to the audience.  Plus, I discovered that when one writes fantasy, one can make the world EXACTLY the way one wants it.  That's great for a control freak like me.

I have also learned that there is a place in which diatribes flourish.  Oh, yes.  Diatribes are for the comment section of the Billings Gazette.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Author's Guide to Psychopaths-Are They Born or Made?

Note:  If you haven't read the introduction to "The Author's Guide to Psychopaths," you may want to take a few minutes and look it over.

Most of us probably view psychopaths as the epitome of evil.  They very well may be, but despite the intense distillation of evil that seems to envelope the psychopath's personality, they don't have the corner market on evil.  I've always believed that all of us carry the potential to do evil.

I'm not talking about telling white lies, fudging your taxes, or slacking off at work.  Under the right circumstances, the most ordinary, law-abiding person can make decisions that would result in pain or death for another.  I wouldn't be surprised if many of the upper level Nazis were psychopathic, but the horror that was Nazi Germany couldn't have happened without the active participation or tolerance of hundreds of thousands of non-psychopaths.  (If you need convincing, check out the Milgram Experiment.)

I realize that many, perhaps most people, believe that there is an innate goodness in everyone, and I think this spurs many common misconceptions about what creates a psychopath.  I think many people believe that psychopaths are created through horrendous abuse or some sort of brain defect because they just can't fathom a person completely devoid of the ability to do anything we deem as good.

Nature Vs. Nurture

An individual's personality is inborn and next to impossible to change.  The sad fact is that psychopaths are born the way they are because their dysfunction originates in their personalities.  Psychopathy is an extreme personality disorder, and all personality disorders are notoriously difficult to treat.

Because psychopaths are that way from birth, but diagnosing them as such requires a lengthy history of aberrant behavior, many are misdiagnosed as children as having ADHD or other problems.  Relax.  If your child has ADHD, it is exceedingly unlikely that he or she is psychopathic.  Psychopaths only make up about 1% of the general population, so the disorder is very rare.

Nurture does play a role in psychopathic behavior.  Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are violent.  We tend to think that psychopaths are all serial killers.  It is true that many serial killers are indeed psychopathic, though not all.

A large portion of psychopaths engage in white collar crime instead of violent crime.  If someone is born a psychopath, he or she is more or less destined to be a criminal.  The psychopath's family atmosphere tends to influence what kind of crime he or she engages in.  Psychopaths raised in stable homes tend to engage in white-collar crime.  Psychopaths raised in violent homes tend to engage in violent crimes.

Their Brains Just Work Differently

The video below is somewhat dry and academic, but it gives you a visual representation of the inner workings of a psychopath's brain.  Dr. Robert "Bob" Hare, one of the world's leading experts on psychopathy, played a part in this research, and I think he's the guy in the glasses that interprets the FMRI's.  He has studied them nearly all of his career as a psychologist.

(If the subject interests you, check out his website.  The other source I am using is Without Conscience, also by Dr. Hare.  It's an interesting read, even for non-psychologists.)

Long story short, the functional MRI's show, though not conclusively, that psychopaths have no emotional reaction to words that cause anxiety or fear in normal people.  This is central to creating a psychopathic character.  They feel few emotions, so if you see them looking emotional, chances are they are faking it.  Emotions they do feel, other than pleasure or rage, tend to be short-lived and shallow.

Are They Responsible for Their Actions?

This is a tricky one.  Can they really help they were born without any attachment to any other person?  No.  Are they responsible for the consequences.  Yes, I think so.  They can grasp that their actions hurt others.  They just don't care to a degree that leaves their victims stunned with disbelief, if indeed their victims are still alive.

Psychopathic Behavior

So, now we know the problem originates in the personality.  Next time, we'll be looking at the most important part of writing a realistic psychopath:  how their utter lack of concern for anyone else manifests as observable behaviors.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Psychopaths-To Be Continued

I'm working on the next post regarding psychopaths in fiction.  I hit a few roadblocks, so I'm going to restructure my thoughts this weekend while I'm in Great Falls with my hubby's rock band.


See you when we get back.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alt Hist, Issue 1

My new review of Alt Hist, Issue 1 is up at The Portal.  Take a peek!

I have to say it was exceedingly difficult to write.  I tried very hard to give feedback as I would work with a vocalist.  I hope it worked.