What did you do during the pandemic, Uncle Paul?

Well, I stayed at home which wasn’t so bad because we live out in the country. I read books, finished a few jigsaw puzzles with my wife, did some yard work, and I completed a volume of short stories: some already written, needing revision; some half-written, needing completion; and some unwritten, needing initiation.

So, the above is the cover of my newest published work, Clouds Float South, a slim volume of ten linked short stories that narrate incidents in the life of the protagonist, Alan Smith, from the mid fifties to the early seventies.

Each story is loosely based on an actual incident from my life, boosted with a healthy infusion of fiction for the sake of dramatic narrative. The literary term for this narrative effort is roman à clef. It may well be that you remember the phrase from your college sophomore Introduction to Literature class. (A quick aside. I had a college professor who remarked the course ought to be called “Farewell to Literature!” given that a hefty number of students hated the required class.) In the late nineteenth century, novels were published with “Keys” that provided actual names of fictional characters! I don’t provide a key, and to be bluntly honest, none of the characters in the volume are real, but are imagined figures based on a scant memory of a past time.

At any rate, the ten stories of Clouds Float South utilize the first person point of view, the “first person” being Alan Smith, the third born of four children. It’s not a work that reveals “terrifying and horrid” family secrets. No. The more interesting revelations are in terms of a rural southern family’s isolated world of the mid-twentieth century. What do I mean by “mildly isolated? For example, as a child growing up in the fifties, I had no idea who Joseph McCarthy was. I never heard the name Rosa Parks. Words such as homosexual, marijuana, and abortion did not exist in my vocabulary. And as a teen, I was aghast that Joan Baez had young men burn their IA draft cards at a concert held at Vanderbilt University. No one at school or at home talked about Vietnam. We watched newsreels, and we heard Walter Cronkite every night tell us how many men died that day in Vietnam, but we didn’t discuss it.

One might deduce that my family’s world was a boring one. Indeed it was not. Even now when I think back on the school bus incident which provides the material for story number 5: “The School Bus Part One,” I’m amazed at what the three of us bus-riding students (me, my older brother and older sister) had to endure and even more amazed at how my mother resolved the problem. (No spoilers here.) The facts regarding the bus driver’s actions, my mother’s reaction, and the consequential actions of the other student bus riders are true. The added fiction of a simple love story–I like to think–makes for a wonderful short story.

I published the book on Amazon, Kindle and Print versions. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get it for free! Otherwise the Kindle price is $1.99. Not so bad! The book thus far has received very nice reviews, and I’m thinking of getting it on audible… hopefully in the next few months. Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on my second novel with hopes that it will be completed before the year 2022 is done.

What if…

Asian kids
American kids

What if COVID-19 threatened the lives of the young rather than the elderly? What if it were children who bore the mortal brunt of this pandemic? What then would be our feelings toward wearing a simple cotton mask? Or social distancing? Or chucking our children back into closed-space classrooms? 

I have recently viewed pictures of university students massed together, drinking, laughing, dancing, having the time of their life in the midst of a pandemic. They know their chances of dying from Corona Virus are slim. While at the same time, adults in the 40, and 50 age range gather at a church to set up outdoor platforms for a Sunday service, and not of them is wearing a mask. Not one. I have seen this. Only a few days ago, I found myself waiting for a traffic light to turn green. While waiting, I turned to see a family of five, two adults herding three children into a restaurant–none of them wearing a mask. 

Who are those 200,000 American dead? They are, mostly, the elderly who had underlying conditions, or not. How did they contract COVID 19? Many contracted the disease when they refused, for whatever reason, to wear a mask in public. But then how many simply got the virus from another person, a close friend visiting, a family member coming home from work, a son or daughter home from school, public and/or university? 

I haven’t seen much on this idea of agism in America. We all know it exists, and we all know that, generally speaking, Americans don’t revere the elderly. We worship youth. Well, that’s my thought experiment. What if it were youth who became mortally ill as a result of COVID-19? I think it would be a vastly different picture than the one we see now. And NOT “rightly so.” 

I think we need to move away from MAGA and simply examine how the young and middle aged Americans really feel about the elderly. I doubt if that many people agree with Bill O’Reilly who in a radio interview with Sean Hannity in April 2020, rationalized that the death rates were low and many of the victims were “on their last legs anyway.” No, I don’t think so, but I wonder what is the prevailing attitude toward the 65+ group?

We know, without question, that if it were children dying, we would all wear masks. We would all social distance, and to the best of our ability keep our children out of harm’s way. But too many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, do not show the same reverence of life toward the elderly. I think this is an issue that will emerge out of this disaster. 

What are your thoughts? 

p.s. the pictures above are: 1. Children I met in Japan, two years ago. And 2. Children I bussed from school to an after-school program here in Decatur, one year ago.


Getting my first novel online was easier than I thought it might be, but there was one particular moment that gave me pause—choosing two categories for my novel. Amazon supplies the list from which one chooses only two categories from the Main genre type of the novel, in my case: Fiction. There are eight sub-genres beneath fiction, none of which applied to me, e.g., African American, Christian, Fantasy, Mystery Detective, Sci Fi, etc.

The first descriptive category I checked was Contemporary Women. That was easy enough, but the second category was more elusive. Some other choices were Gothic, Historic, Horror, Lesbian, Literary, Magical Realism, Religious, and Satire.

I wavered between Literary and Religious. Girls Who Don’t Believe is not a Christian novel. It definitely doesn’t push a Christian agenda. I paused. Maybe I should check Literary? I went back and forth and finally, as you see in the pic above, checked Religious. Maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know, but here’s why I did.

While my novel isn’t a “religious” novel, as in promoting Christianity, it does have much to do with the downside of faith-based belief, such as:

  • a resistance toward reading texts other than the Bible and Christian related works;
  • an objection toward imaginative literature: Sci Fi, fantasy, horror, etc.;
  • a sustained and promoted aversion toward the other;
  • a sustained and promoted disdain for the earth and its non-human life forms;
  • a fostered belief that mediation, cooperation and/or negotiation are suspect actions and can lead to moral depravity;
  • a sustained resistance to any historical fact reaching beyond the constraints of the belief;
  • a sustained resistance to any scientific achievement that challenges institutional precepts;
  • a persistent desire to control the image, the dress, and the function of the female body; and
  • a deep belief that posits the female mind as naturally secondary to the mind of the male.

To make all of this clearer, here’s a short scene from the novel that reflects some of the above issues.

Background: Protagonist, Nikki Lowe, a biology teacher and evolutionist becomes romantically involved with Cory Thomas, a Christian fundamentalist. She is unaware of the depth of his fundamentalism, and he is unaware that she is a non-believer. He asks her to serve as Nature Counselor for three weeks at a Girls’ Christian summer camp. He is the Director. She agrees because she envisions three weeks of sensual bliss with the man of her dreams.

Scene: Nikki, as Nature Counselor, takes a group of girls on a nature hike. One of the girls, Joy, has been moody, negative, and resistant the whole time. A thunderstorm comes up, and the girls run to an empty barn for shelter. Once in the barn, Joy separates herself from the group and retreats into a stall to pray. Noting that Joy is not with the other girls, Nikki leaves her assistant, Camille, at the front of the barn to check on Joy.


She found Joy in a stall midway down the breezeway, sitting on a crate in a bare corner. Thin lines of light slanted across the floor.


The girl lifted one hand to signal silence; then, she raised her head. “Oh, hey.”

“You’re all right?”

“Sometimes, I feel the need to pray. I have to get away from—everything.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“You want to pray?”

“I want to talk.” Nikki hunkered down to Joy’s level.

“Oh, well, sure, I guess.”

“Joy, I have no problem with your being in the Nature Group, but I can’t help but wonder why you signed on. You’ve made it obvious that you don’t care for hiking.”

“I’m actually not an outdoors person. I mean, I’m just not.”

“Well, that’s my point. Why did you choose this group? If you don’t…”

“Nobody wants to believe that God created the earth. I want to prove them wrong. Cory said he’d help me.” She sat slightly bent with her arms crossed. “Cory told me that if I joined this group, I could use the knowledge to show how God created everything that God put us here as carin—care—?” she looked up towards the ceiling.

“Caretakers?” Nikki suggested.

“Caretakers,” Joy said. “We were the last created. We take care of everything else, and God takes care of us. Cory told me that.”

“Okay.” Nikki wasn’t sure how to respond. She knew she didn’t want to talk about Cory with an intractable girl in a horse stall.

“Cory’s so awesome.” Joy lowered her voice. “You know he once met Donald Trump.”

“Whoa!” Nikki raised her hands in mock horror. “We won’t hold that against him.”

“You’re a Democrat?”

The question took Nikki by surprise, and even more surprising was the positive expression on Joy’s face. Was this Joy’s subversive side? “Well, let’s just say, I believe in moderation, toward all things.”

“You believe in abortion?” Joy stared at her through narrowed eyes.

“No, Joy, I do not believe in abortion.” Nikki paused. Joy’s expression was that of a fox when it catches the rabbit.

“Then what?”

“I believe that you and I, as women, should live in a world where a girl’s sexuality is not the sole measure of her worth. Instead of focusing on an after-effect, I consider a world where girls are smart enough, Joy, not to experience unwanted or unnecessary pregnancy in the first place. And by smart, I don’t mean that you make straight As in math. I mean that meaningful and positive activity fills your life, creating the person you can become. It goes the same for boys. If respect and compassion guide our lives and relationships, then things like rape, sexual ignorance, and abortion, which are all avoidable, would cease to be. We create our culture, and that, in turn, defines us. It’s circular.”

“Cory says we’re all born into sin and depravity.”

“And what do you say?”

“Me? I don’t say anything. That’s why we have preachers. Don’t you go to church?”

“I go when I can,” Nikki shot back. She didn’t want to get into an accusation war with Joy. “Let me say this: if you want…if your goal is to prove that God created the earth, then fine. Let that be your goal. But you must go about it with discipline and an absolute desire to learn everything you can from people who know.”

“Such as?”

“Such as scientists—biologists, botanists, chemists, geologists.”

“But not preachers, men of God?”

“They know theology.” Nikki was getting tired of Joy’s baiting game. “If you want to understand and study how the earth came into being…”

“I know that already. God created the earth in seven days. You don’t believe that?”

“I tell you what. Why don’t we make that our topic for our next discussion group? I want to hear more about what you have to say.” Nikki raised herself. Her legs ached. “Is that okay with you? Would you like that?”

“I’d love it. Thank you.” Joy beamed. She looked about the dark stall. “Maybe Jesus was born in something like this, hm?”

Nikki acquiesced with a nod. “Maybe so.” She pushed the half door open. “You want to join us, or would you rather have more time for yourself?”

“I’ll be out in a minute.”

“We’re right out here.” Nikki backed out into the breezeway.

Camille was still sitting in the doorway, her back to the girls. A thin rain was falling.


I hope you enjoyed that scene! Why this scene? Joy is twenty years old. She’s a non-college graduate who lives with her single-parent mother, Betsy, who is also a counselor at the same camp. Joy suspects, as it turns out, rightly so, that Nikki is not Christian. In the above scene, we see Joy’s attempt to trick Nikki into admitting that she isn’t a believer. Nikki manages to side-step each indirect accusation, but for Joy, the side-stepping is nothing more than proof of Nikki’s deception.

Eventually, Nikki will wrestle with her own human frailty and vow to correct it, that is to say, she’ll stop being deceptive regarding her stance as a secular humanist. Joy never wrestles with her Christian belief because she is convinced, uncompromisingly so, that she’s right.

So, did I do the right thing by choosing religious as a category? Did the “stall scene” make sense?

I’m interested in your thoughts.








In the Works


Cover Reveal

I’ve just published the ebook on KDP and the print on Amazon. OMG! They’re doing the review and all, so it’ll be another 48 hours before it shows up. I guess. It wasn’t as “easy” as THEY said it would be. The cover for the print copy was problematic. I had to go back to the designer to have him resize.

I decided to put the novel out there in one volume. What the hell. It was too much trouble to break it up into three parts–which meant three different covers and all that. I need more experience with this indie publishing before I do something like that. Plus, my nerves are shot to hell just getting this one book published.

The cover was chosen from a bunch of possibilities. I went with a company called 99designs. And while they were a bit pricey, it was worth it. The above was a top contender in my own polls with my nieces, nephews, friends, and my neighbor’s daughter down the street. Sadako and I both agreed that the cover design works on several levels. For instance, the novel targets 21 – 45-year-old women (Well, if you’re 67, that’s okay too.) And if you’re a guy, have at it. But back to the cover. The faceless females do not reflect any particular age, a fact that is appealing. And I really liked the racial diversity that’s reflected in the images. No other design had that.

I told my older sister that I had finished my novel and the title is Girls Who Don’t Believe. Her response, after a lengthy pause: “Don’t believe what?” I told her she’d have to read the book.

My next post will be more on how I approach the idea of “belief” in the novel.

First Sunrise of 2020


First 2020 sunrise over the Tennessee River as it runs past Decatur, Alabama.

Happy New Year Everyone. I figured if I’m going to resolve to be a better blogger then I ought to start the year with a post!

I’m hoping to start the New Year off with publishing my novel online. I’m in the process of getting my cover design. Once that’s done, I’ll be ready to roll! Thank you for all the great support throughout 2019.


Looking for Feedback!

fullsizeoutput_1428Tora, our cat

Last night as I was plowing through online discussions on ISBNs, and the necessity for copyright, and tons of advice on how to get my novel “out there.” I was suddenly struck, as writers often are, by the fact that I know absolutely zero about marketing.

It was unnerving, but not overwhelming. I can learn. And I’ve got my blogger friends who know about these things. Great! I stated in my last blog, At Last, that I’m going to self-publish which, I’ve slowly come to realize, means starting my own publishing venture—and that means marketing! Yikes!

Here’s my first marketing issue. I’ve just finished my first novel, Girls Who Don’t Believe. It is my intention to publish it online. The novel is 147K words in length, which when printed out, comes to 523 pages. I’ve gotten excellent comments from a marvelous Beta Reader, and I’ve killed tons of “darlings.” I’m done with revision. I’m done with rewriting.  So, at 147K, it will remain.

Now, having made that declaration, I’ve read that online readers can’t handle long novels. For instance, this passage from Gundi Gabrielle’s book, Kindle Publishing.

Short books do a LOT better on Kindle than full length 60-80K word books. Fiction writers find that their short novellas are often much more popular than big long novels though there certainly is a place for those as well.

12K-24K is a good range on Kindle. More feels overwhelming to many readers because the way we read on digital devices is different from holding a book in your hand.

It’s more effective to split a complex topic – or novel – into a series of smaller books, than overwhelming your readers with one, big chunk.

So, I’m looking at this as a marketing issue. My solution is to put my novel out in five separate volumes. I’ve found separation points for each section–turned out to be easier than I thought. But this is NOT five separate novels, but rather five separate sections. The Title and cover (I’m using Vellum) will be the same, but each volume will have a different subtitle.

Question #1. Is putting out five volumes sensible?

Question #2. Should I put the five volumes out at the same time or wait a few weeks or longer between each volume?

Question #3. Should I just forget about multi volumes and put the whole 147K out there at one time?

If you have any thoughts about the above, I’d be happy to hear from you!

At Last


The manuscript

At Last! I’ve finished my first novel. It’s been three years. I hope my next novel doesn’t take so long! While experiencing the usual ups and downs this sort of project entails, I can honestly say, I’ve enjoyed writing this book. It has gone through several drafts and tons of revisions and chapter rewrites, and yes, many “darlings” have been killed in the process. Above is the latest draft. My system is to write online then print out and then pencil edit. Here are the basics:

Title: Girls Who Don’t Believe

Word length: 142,752

Genre: Literary fiction

Summary: The protagonist of Girls Who Don’t Believe is Nikki Lowe, a non-Christian, staunch evolutionist biology teacher, who loves nature and books. At an end-of-the-school-year conference, she meets Cory Thomas, a well-spoken, intelligent, computer programmer, and devout Christian who quotes poetry. When he asks her to serve as  Nature Counselor at a Girls’ Christian Summer Camp, a.k.a., Silverbridge, she readily agrees. After all, how hard can it be to pose for a few weeks as a nature loving confused Christian? Her strategy is to use that time to bring her love interest, one Cory Thomas, around to her way of thinking, which is that a young man who is incredibly handsome, cultured, and drinks wine, can’t be all that devout. Edenic Silverbridge, where lush gardens rest in the quiet shade of old-growth trees, becomes the backdrop for Nikki’s crumbling relationship and existential ordeal. Her one simple, unremarkable act of deception ripples into tiny waves of overlapping complications that grow and swell until she and all the population of Silverbridge are caught up in an unexpected tsunami of horrendous violence.

For the past half-year, I’ve gone back and forth—should I travel the traditional publishing route: write a query letter, get an agent, get a publisher and get published and try to keep the book alive for at least three weeks OR go independent and and learn the basics of becoming my own agent, publicist, designer, and publisher? I’ve decided on the latter for a number of reasons. One, as Benjamin Franklin once said: Time is money. If I go the traditional route, if things go well, it will still be over a year before my novel gets on the shelf and then its shelf life is dependent on a number of tenuous factors. Two, the more I read, regarding the hows and wherefores of traditional publishing, the angrier I get. For instance, in one’s query letter to an agent, it is advised to list one’s age. Why? One answer is that agents and publishers shun the first novel of aging adults. Why? The old geezer might not last another year, hence he or she is a poor investment. Three, hooking your wagon onto a monster publishing institution train means losing all control of your book. They change the title. They decide on the cover. They decide on the length. Ultimately, they may or may not even publish the work. You aren’t going to get much payback if they do. And finally, if the book doesn’t sell, the publishers aren’t going to “try again” next year. Your life as an author is pretty much done.

So, I’m going independent. I’ve gotten several books on how to do it because I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to learn, and I’m excited about it all. So, I will do my best to keep everyone informed as to how things are progressing with my publishing effort. It won’t officially begin for at least another month…sorry. I’ve got a small revision to get done. Plus, I need to read through just one more time. Any advice is welcome!





Agent Orange


Orange can be beautiful

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now…at least two years! And that’s the give-a-way isn’t it? Two years. At this point in time, anyone who mentions the past two years is most assuredly referencing the presidency of Donald J. Trump—which is exactly what I’m doing.

The question that interests me is how can we writers use the current political situation in our novels, stories, poems? There is a sizable non-fiction library already out there. Beginning with Fire and Fury, (I loved it.) and most recently The Commander in Cheat, a book I highly recommend. In between the two, you have, among many others, e.g., Bob Woodward’s excellent work: Fear. So the thought struck home, what about fiction?

What indeed? I’m going to list some topics that I believe may work as plots for whole novels or subplots within novels or short stories or indeed, poems that tackle such themes as power, dominance, authority, control, truth, deception, the list goes on and on.

In regard to the criticism that all of these topics have already been written about—well of course they have. Everything has been written about! It’s how you dress these ideas that will make them your own.

Plots for writers of Dystopian novels:

Three fascist dictators (think Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong-un) publicly conspire to wage war against each other but in fact bomb key cities the world over, setting in motion their ruthless plan to rule the earth. Each dictator secretly intends to kill the other two.

An American journalist, by way of a digital anomaly, receives a highly secretive document that reveals a plot hatched among the President and select congressmen to destroy American Democracy. The document reveals a violent take-over of liberal media (enemy of the people) networks.

A novel centered around a liberal-activist family who, while hosting a neighborhood barbecue for their like-minded friends, hear that several cable newscasters (think Anderson Cooper, Ari Melber, Van Jones, and Rachel Maddow) have all been arrested for “high crimes and treason” and their whereabouts unknown. And in the next twenty-four hours MSNBC and CNN become pro-Republican networks?

Any of the above could be plotted as a Sci Fi or even Fantasy novels. Power is power, right?

Plots for YA novels:

A freshman college student sends pics to her mother, an analyst who works for the CIA, that show FBI agents pushing several liberal professors into unmarked black vans on her college campus. And then the student’s phone goes blank.

A young teen couple who ride out to their favorite “spot” to be alone and witness a group of fundamentalists marching out of a church carrying torches and guns.

A junior high school girl realizes her boyfriend has no problem lying about his past as he desperately campaigns for president of the senior class.

A young man believes his pastor, who preaches that global warming is fake news, until he finds out that the preacher is secretly using church funds to build an expensive retainer wall around an exclusive park area that he owns. The wall will effectively hold back rising tides due to global warming, while allowing total flooding of contiguous working-class properties.

Plots for Literary novels:

The Trump presidency offers up tons of themes around which any number of novels could be penned. Here are a few suggestions.

Political rhetoric vs reality

Hatred as a motivating force

Dehumanizing the “other” engenders or reveals the dehumanization of the aggressor

Domination is weakness.

Capitalism’s miracle commodity: ignorance.

The fundamentalist notion that Evil is acceptable when it works toward an imagined good.

So what do you think? As you watch the news, do you find yourself mulling over things to write? Has the Trump presidency already made an appearance in your current work in progress? I look forward to hearing from you.

Sad Note:

Last night as I was finishing this post, I saw the online news of the latest school shooting. The young man, Kendrick Castillo, of Hispanic descent, threw himself at the shooter, saving his classmates and died as a result.

At a Florida rally, a supporter responded to Trump’s railing against Hispanic migrants with the following remark:

“Shoot them.”

Trump laughed

What’s your Brand? I don’t know, what’s yours?


Lately, I’ve been thinking about the issue of “Building my Author Brand.” I’ve read several articles on this sort of thing, but I’ve yet to do it—i.e., construct the Brand that will identify me as a writer. At any rate, I thought about it this morning, and of course like all writers, my mind began to wonder a bit and hence this dialogue. I hope you enjoy it.

 CRUEL AGENT: What’s your Platform? (He looks at you the same way he looked at the homeless person outside the building—the one with the upside down MAGA hat on the sidewalk.)

YOU: Uhm, well, I have a blog.

CRUEL AGENT: Is that a fact?

YOU: Yes sir. (You always used sir as a sign of respect—being a country person and all.)

CRUEL AGENT: (Bored) How many followers?

YOU: Oh, let’s see maybe a couple hundred. Well, (looking up and to the right. Something you’d told yourself not to do because it means you’re lying…which is exactly what you’re doing.) could be more than that, because a lot of them are, you know, car dealers and insurance companies, and stuff. Yeah, more like a thousand.

CRUEL AGENT (Leaning back in his chair.) What’s your brand?

(If it wasn’t a smoke-free building, he’d probably light up. It’s a cigarette pose. You want to remember that for your next novel.)

YOU: (Deer in the headlights.) Brand?

CRUEL AGENT: You do have a Brand don’t you? (Stares at you with open mouth—totally derisive. The same way your ex looked at you upon realizing you’re broke.)

YOU: Sure, of course. (Wracking your brain for a brand.) Well, I’m not a sci fi, or mystery writer. I think my brand will have something to do with uhm…I want to write literature, so something literary?

CRUEL AGENT: You need a Brand. Something that LABELS you. IDENTIFIES you.

YOU: Yes, of course. No, I realize that. I mean…sure.

CRUEL AGENT: We can do that for you, right here and now. You want a Brand?”

YOU: (Brightening.) Sure. (You look down at the manuscript in the leather portfolio in your lap. When you look up, your agent is lighting a cigarette off a brand of red-hot steel. You hear a sizzling.) Oh?

CRUEL AGENT: Bare the hip. It won’t hurt—much.

HOMELESS MAN: (Watching you run down the sidewalk screaming.) That’s number seventeen for the week—a record. (Shouts.) Could-a left me some coins!


As you can see, I’m having a lot of fun mulling over this branding business, but I suppose at some point I have to get serious and do it.

Have you constructed your Brand? Have you thought about it? What sort of problems have you faced when you pondered the notion of “how people will identify your creative output?” Look forward to hearing from you.

The OED and Me


Some time ago, I purchase a 1972 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: all thirteen volumes. I even built a special stand for them. (Shown above. My dear wife, Sadako, did the felt cover on the top shelf–so they can rest comfortably.)

I love these books. Not so much though that I intend to read the whole work, as did Ammon Shea, in one year, and then wrote a book about it: Reading the OED. I did read his account of reading the OED. So, let’s move on.

The British poet, W. H. Auden, was asked what one book he’d wish to have if stranded on a remote and uninhabited island. He responded without hesitation, “the OED.” I believe I understand this fascination with the world’s greatest dictionary of the English language. Here’s why.

A few months back, I was working on my novel—I’m currently slaving away on the second draft. Early on in the narrative, my female protagonist begins a relationship with a young man. For her, one of the most fascinating aspects of his character is that he quotes poetry. The first instance of this occurs when he delivers the whole of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem: There is no Frigate Like a Book.

Now, while I am familiar with the poem, I can’t recall each and every line from memory, so I did the next best thing—I Googled it. I pasted the poem into the scene and immediately became interested in lines 5-6:

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

I got up and pulled the T-U volume. One downside of this multi-volume dictionary is that one can’t easily pile all twelve volumes next to the keyboard. That’s why I built the stand, but I still have to lug the heavy book to the desk. It’s a small price to pay.

I looked up traverse. I knew it meant to move through a place, but what I didn’t know, and the OED pointed in a bracketed note, was another meaning:

“Traverse, a toll paid for passing through the limits of a town or lordship.” And from the 1852 Hull Shipping Dues Act 2209, we learn that “Certain tolls are…Toll Traverse.”

Dickinson’s poem There is no Frigate Like a Book was written in 1853.

I had not known beforehand the relationship between the words Traverse and Toll. The OED gives us these remarkable and often illuminating examples from known, as well as obscure, sources, that add depth to our understanding of words and their historical usage.

The dated, usage samples listed in the OED are priceless, and I often find myself studying those more than the definitions. Admittedly this knowledge didn’t help me one whit with my novel, but it made me feel better, stronger somehow.

Oh, and I recently came across this word: canorous. It means Singing, melodious, musical; resonant, ringing. One of the stated examples is from Thomas DeQuincey’s famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: A long, loud, and canorous peal of laughter.

Hmm, maybe I can find a place for canorous in my novel…we’ll see.

A quick note: I don’t always use the OED. I more often than not work with the smaller and more manageable Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

Do you find yourself on occasion thumbing through the pages of your good, old dictionary and finding some nice surprises?