The Value of Sage Quotes

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Jon Westenberg (@Jonwestenberg) posted a cool piece on the importance of quotations. More specifically, he spent a year writing down 100 quotes a month – by hand! Mon Dieu! The brashness of using a writing instrument to better understand and remember some of the most “useful, inspiring or just plain interesting” things that men and women around the world have said over the years in myriad fields. (Shaking head) That’s just crazy.

Or is it?

As readers of this blog may know, I enjoy contributing a Quote of the Day once in a while. There was a time, many years ago (when “I was young and unafraid/And dreams were made and used and wasted/There was no ransom to be paid/No song unsung, no wine untasted”) that I would keep a notebook and pen with me whenever I read a book. If I stumbled upon a nugget of literary gold, I’d write it down, carefully, knowing that even if I could not write as well as that author, I had at least benefited from their wisdom.

Then I got older, a little lazier, and after buying my first laptop I stopped writing down the quotes altogether. I miss it, not the quotes of course, as I still type them out and read them online or in books, but the process of painstakingly writing out each letter, each word, each sentence. It’s therapeutic in some ways, a feeling not totally dissimilar for me to spending time in an empty cathedral or a rural temple.

In any event, I laud Mr. Westenberg’s efforts to do something as “archaic” as write and something as “pretentious” as to quote quotes. (See how I threw those quotes around words that aren’t even quoting anyone! That was fun!) But if you enjoy learning from the enlightened words of others, I encourage you to read the above piece, which is so aptly titled “I’ve copied out almost 100 quotes by hand every single month for the past year: It’s not a bad habit to get into,” because in it you will find a treasure trove of quotes from across the centuries.

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Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

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I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hates flowers, but at the same time I’ve never met anyone who adores them as much as my mother. Her unabashed, over-the-top, boundless love of plant blossoms has influenced me in many ways, not the least of which is my writing.

So, Mom, on this day dedicated just to you, I present one of your most favouritest and bestest flowers: a bouquet of ranunculuses.

Happy Mother’s Day.


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Word Origin


a person who is able to read but rarely chooses to do so:

Schools are worried about producing aliterates who prefer television to books.

of, relating to, or characteristic of aliterates.


Writing for The Walrus, Alex Good put together a piece called “The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy” that has incited a lot of banter among my book club members.

I’ll let Mr. Good carry the day here, but this is a must-read for everyone – even if you are aliterate and don’t give a damn.

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Wattpad’s New Literary Drug: Tap

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Well, there’s a new literary addiction in town, and it’s name is Tap. Or, technically speaking, Tap by Watttpad.

Shane Dingman over at The Globe and Mail wrote an article titled “Wattpad taps into a new genre” and I was intrigued right away. For those not in the know, Wattpad is a great site for young/emerging writers to post their stuff. Last year, the site’s overwhelmingly most popular story was Isabelle Ronin’s Chasing Red, which has over 126 million reads to date.

Unlike the short stories, full-length novels and poetry that Wattpad features, Tap’s an app that is essentially an extended text message. Sound strange? Kinda/Sorta. I was dubious at first, but after reading a couple of stories (you literally tap your screen to reveal the next message), I thought, Hey, this is interesting.

Now, why is this relevant? Sadly (or not), we’ve become a world of texters. According to the previously mentioned Globe article, we send 8 trillion texts a year by phone, and through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp alone, we send 60 billion messages a day.

The point, I think, is that we like to text and that Tap might provide a new means by which to tell stories.

You can download the Tap app from iTunes or Google Play and then start tap, tap, tapping away at your own speed.

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Quote of the Day

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“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Anton Chekhov, from personal letters

In honor of the great short story writer and my last post on Chekhov’s notion of what it meant to be a cultured person, I thought I’d dedicate this Quote of the Day to a man who wore many hats in his day.

Essentially the opposite concept of a red herring, Chekhov’s gun has become one of the most endearing and well-known dramatic principles for writers. In a Wikipedia-like nutshell, it says that “every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make “false promises” by never coming into play.”

The lesson here, folks: Don’t hang a gun up in your house on full display unless you plan on using it relatively soon.

However, I think the bigger point here is that everything has a purpose in life. You know,  art mirroring life, right? (Or to quote Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”). Thus, throwing names and objects into a story for gits and shiggles is not only a waste of time (for the reader) and space (on the page), but does not do justice to nature.

Put another way, Chekhov’s principle is like a smoking gun for proponents of destiny, karma and the like. Or, put another way from the previous “another way,” there are no chance events or encounters in life, nothing randomly out of place just ’cause. Everything and everyone is here for a purpose.

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How to Become a Cultured Person

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These days, it seems that everybody, whether Tony Robbins or Tony the Tiger, has advice to give you concerning just about everything under the sun, from getting RICH-SO-RICH-YOU’LL-BE-BLEEDING-$$$-OUT-YOUR-FREAKING-EYEBALLS to eating grrrrreat cereal.

Few people, however, actually have something truly informative to impart. Even fewer people have the resume behind them that Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) does.

Although most famous today for his short stories, Chekhov wrote many thought-provoking letters in his lifetime, and author Charles Chu explores their importance, especially those to his older brother, in a piece called “Anton Chekhov: How to Become a Cultured Person,”

Specifically, Mr. Chu examines one letter Chekhov, then 26 years old, wrote to his older brother, 28, about the need to be cultured and how to achieve this. Here are the highlights about Chekhov’s cultured person.

  1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
  2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see … They sit up at night in order to help P… to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
  3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.
  4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
  5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false …
  6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P. [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.], listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns … If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement … Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
  7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity … They are proud of their talent … Besides, they are fastidious.
  8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct … What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood … They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion … For they want mens sana in corpore sano (“a sound mind in a sound body”).

This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read The Pickwick Papers and learnt a monologue from Faust. … What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will … Every hour is precious for it …

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A Warning for Humanity from Easter Island

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I think the title of Stephanie Buck’s piece says it all: “The natives of Easter Island found paradise, and then destroyed it.”

I don’t know what it is, but Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island) has always fascinated me. Probably the only thing that the average person could tell you about the most isolated civilization on Earth is that it’s home to some huge, creepy-looking stone statues called moai. Apart from that, nada.

Yet as @StephMBuck points out in her post, there’s actually an extremely valuable lesson to be learned from the mistakes that the island’s original Polynesian inhabitants, also referred to as Rapa Nui,  made over the centuries. Lest we forget, it would seem, it won’t be long before the rest of the planet has been ravaged environmentally and we’re reduced to becoming cannibals.

Buddha forbid, after all, that the most insulting thing we could one day utter to each other be what the Rapa Nui of Rapa Nui say in Rapa Nui: “The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth.”


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Down with Trad-Pub Deals

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Elizabeth Craig wrote a positive-thinking, inspiring piece called “Why I’m Turning Trad-Pub Deals Down.” You can read the post through the previous link, but here are the highlights.

I make more money writing independently of a publisher.  This is by far the top reason. I even made more self-publishing a few books than I did with more traditionally published books on the shelves.

I exploit all my rights and publish my book in a variety of formats or internationally. I can expand my reach to find more readers.  Publishers frequently hold onto your international, audio book rights, etc.

I can make changes to my self-published books.  Sometimes I’ll hear from readers about formatting or typos in my trad-published books…and it’s very frustrating knowing there’s nothing I can do.

I can make changes to my online profiles at the retailers and distributors I deal directly with.  I had to deal with a lot of red tape to even get my photo up on Penguin Random House’s site last week. I was stunned to find it wasn’t up there. After all, I’ve written for the publisher since 2010 and my photo was available to them for the backs of the books.

The only reason I was able to jump through the hoops and get the picture uploaded was because an employee at Penguin for the Berkley imprint went above and beyond the call of duty as a conduit between me and the art department.  My Memphis books aren’t listed or linked to on the page…they’re stranded in some sort of Nowhere Land without an author bio or picture, but at this point I  don’t have the time to deal with it.  Plus, my Riley Adams profile there has no bio or picture.

I can run promotions on books with lagging sales. I can make a book free. I can give a book away to gain newsletter subscribers (and then inform them of new releases for later sales gains). I can run quick weekend sales to make my books more visible on retail sites.

I can devote all my time and best ideas to the series that will pay me best. If I wrote an additional series for a trade publisher, I wouldn’t have as much time to devote to my other series.  I felt at the end of my traditional publishing that I was saving my best ideas for my ‘own’ books.

I don’t feel the need to prove anything. Originally, it did feel good to be validated by a gatekeeper…I was a newer writer and I needed that. Now, I prefer reader validation. It’s ultimately more valuable.

I have price control. If I switched back to traditional publishing, my readers would experience higher prices for my new books and they’d be emailing me to ask me why.

I can choose my book covers. I got lucky with the covers I had from Penguin Random House.  But going from complete creative control over the covers back to no control (they did always ask me what I thought of a cover before they signed off on it, but if I hadn’t liked it, I’m not sure they’d have pulled it/reworked it) would be challenging.

I can release books when I want. There could be large gaps between books: more than a year.  Now I can release a couple of books in the same series in a year’s time, if I like.

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Punctuation Pays! (Now Crime Will, Too)

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Not since Lynne Truss published Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation have I laughed so hard at something so small: an ear-shaped part of punctuation.

Writing for The Guardian, Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) penned a fantastic piece entitled “Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay.” Who, the, what, the, where? The situation basically came down to this:

“In Maine, the much-disputed Oxford comma has helped a group of dairy drivers in a dispute with a company about overtime pay.

In a judgment that will delight Oxford comma enthusiasts everywhere, a US court of appeals sided with delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy because the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous.”

Why the big deal, then? Well, consider an example Ms. Truss uses right there in her title. What’s the definition of a panda?

Panda: Eats shoots and leaves.

Panda: Eats, shoots and leaves.

With the former, we’ve got a cuddly bear that consumes bamboo and some shrub leaves. In the case of the latter, we’ve got a gangsta’ bear gone rogue, gun in hand, as it fires away and takes its leave. Done and done yo! Sorry, Done and done, yo!

Another example offered as damning evidence of that damned comma rearing its head (or not) in The Guardian article comes from what appears to be a book’s Acknowledgements section, in which the author wants to thank four special people. Or is it, in fact, two?

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

According to the punctuation, it sure as Shirley looks like the author won the parent lottery and got a Russian-American author as a mother and the Supreme Being as a Father. Sweet!

Anyway, you can read the article for yourself, or not, and then ponder the role and importance of commas, or perhaps ignore the issue, before scratching your head and asking yourself, Does a comma really demand this much respect?

Best ask Oakhurst Dairy for the answer. They’re the ones now on the hook for overtime pay because of that wily pest that, it seems, just won’t, you know, go away, even if you beg it to just fall into a coma, or maybe…

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