Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Photo Story Prompt: Man with a Spirit Face

Write whatever comes to you—short or long, fiction or truth.

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

"Man with a spirit face" by William Hope
Collection of the National Media Museum

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

To celebrate Beverly Cleary's birthday on April 12, the Hollywood Library is hosting a variety of events, including:

-making Ramona-inspired costumes
-making noisemakers from recycled instruments
-walking Ramona and Beverly's neighborhood with Portland author Laura Foster
-and having a birthday party with cupcakes, balloons, and—that's right—nightcrawlers!

Coincidentally, April 12 is also D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) day, so you can easily prepare by checking out Beverly Cleary's memoir A Girl from Yamhill or Ramona Quimby, Age 8 for some further inspiration. To learn more about these upcoming events, visit the MCL Web site.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Wordiness (Part II)

Continuing last week's discussion of wordiness, let's consider a few more examples of verbiage. Although some of these phrases can add a bit of flavor to one's writing, they often appear as overused expressions. Communicating an idea or feeling is at the heart of writing—strive to be direct and to avoid useless phrases with the aim of better communication. Here are a few more examples to reconsider when you find them in your work:

inasmuch as. Although this phrase is grammatically correct, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb... or a cliché. Both since and because are more manageable alternatives.

in connection with. Our Chicago pulls no punches when calling this example a "vague, fuzzy phrase." The manual provides of, related to, associated with, about, and for as possible variations to use.

in the affirmative. While this phrase has the connotation of being more formal, it is usually easier to simply state that the answer is yes. The CMS reminds us that the correct way to punctuate the proper phrase is he said yes—using no quotation marks or capitalization.

in the near future. Why waste words when you can use one? Try using soon or shortly.

question as to whether. This phrase seems to be particularly needless for William Strunk, Jr. In the Elements of Style, he lists this phrase as the primary offender of using unnecessary words. The word whether or the phrase question whether will usually do a better job of presenting the information concisely.

As we strive to best convey our messages, remember that we are not trying to strip the life out of every sentence. We don't want to reduce our writing to the most rudimentary sketches. Instead we should take away the needless words so that our words continuously convey ideas and feelings. As Strunk wrote:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spotlighted Literary Events

Mar. 28th, 7:30 pm: This Sunday marks the final qualifying showdown of this season's Portland Poetry Slam. Greg Bee, a Seattle slam-er and published poet, will be coming into town for this match. City finals are right around the corner, so expect the poets to bring only their best to the table. The slam has a suggested donation of $5 and is hosted at Backspace (115 NW 5th, Portland).

Mar. 31st, 7:30 pm: Peter Nathaniel Malae will be sharing his rendition of the Me Generation by reading from his debut novel What We Are. After publishing essays, poetry, and short fiction, it will be a pleasure to see this literary voice grow. Malae will be reading at Powell's City of Books on Burnside (1005 W Burnside, Portland)

Through Apr. 2nd: American diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray witnessed the early years of the Chinese republic after the fall Qing dynasty. Watching China change from an imperial power to a modern state, MacMurray documented the steps of this struggle. More than one thousand photographs, artifacts, and letters from MacMurray's time in China are currently on exhibit in the Collins Gallery of the Multnomah County Central Library (801 SW 10th, Portland).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Photo Story Prompt: The Crash

Write whatever comes to you—short or long, fiction or truth.

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

"An Army 'Jenny' crashed in a tree"
State Library and Archives of Florida [rc12767]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Wordiness (Part I)

In which our Editorial Assistant begins to address the fact that many writers should examine their proclivity for using many words when fewer words would better serve their purposes.

"Be Clear" and "Omit Needless Words"

William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White offer this resolute advice to readers of Elements of Style. Although contemporary linguists have taken issue with a few grammar rules in this ubiquitous book, Elements continues to offer positive criticism for writers of all stages of development. Statements like “Be Clear” and “Omit Needless Words” may seem vague and needless, but there is sound advice in trying to avoid wordiness.

Here are a few examples to examine when found in your writing:

as far as. This phrase is often used where as for would work better. Also consider concerning and regarding as concise alternatives.

as of yet. This clumsy phrase can easily be shortened. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends yet, still, and so far as possible variants.

as per. Although the phrase may sound fitting in business correspondence, it should not stray from that domain. To sound less like a character from the Dilbert comic strip, consider revising the sentence to use as or according to.

at the present time. This dry phrase is best avoided for simpler (and clearer) choices. Writers should choose now or one of its synonyms: anymore, currently, nowadays, presently, right now, or today.

by means of. Writers can often shorten this phrase to by. The CMS suggests with as another logical substitute.

due to the fact that. Our big orange style guide provides the succinct because as a replacement. Strunk took greater issue with the phrase, noting in his original version of Elements of Style: “the expression the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.” Thankfully (and characteristically), he provides a list of more concise expressions.

These are only a few examples of verbose phrases, but they serve as gentle warnings. Careful writers will keep keep these in mind when considering the instruction of Strunk and White: "Be Clear." Tune in next week for more signposts toward clarity, more troubling examples of wordiness.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spotlighted Literary Events

Mar. 20th, 3:00 pm: Jon Raymond, author of the novel The Half-Life and short-story collection Livability (winner of the 2009 Oregon Book Award in Fiction), will reading and discussing his work as a part of the Nye Beach Writers' Series. Raymond has also been working on two recent films adapted from his collection of short stories. Audience members are also encouraged to bring their own work (under five minutes in length) to read during the open mic section of the evening. General admission is $5 and will be hosted at the Newport Visual Arts Center (777 NW Nye Beach Drive, Nye Beach).

Mar. 21st, 7:30 pm: Following the lives of British sailors searching for the Northwest Passage at the beginning of the 19th century, Anthony Brendt's The Man Who Ate His Boots promises to be a thrilling account. Arctic exploration seemed to hold the key for faster trade routes, but the venture to discover a safe passage took the lives of many men. Come see Brendt discuss this rich history at Powell's City of Books on Burnside (1005 W Burnside Street, Portland).

Mar. 25th, 7:30 pm: The upcoming Live Wire! radio variety show is sure to be a blast. This program features memoirist Kevin Sampsell, author Robin Romm, and journalist/author Arianne Cohen, among other guests, sketch comedy routines, and live music. Tickets are $20 for general admission, and this event will broadcast from the Mission Theater (1624 NW Glisan Street, Portland).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Photo Story Prompt: A Boy and a Bird

Write whatever comes to you—short or long, fiction or truth.

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

"Boy with pigeons at [Circular] Quay, Sydney, 22/6/1935" by Sam Hood
State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away [12446]

Monday, March 15, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: You keep using [decimate]—I do not think it means what you think it means.

This week’s tip can be summed up in one sentence:

Although the word decimate has recently become accepted as meaning to cause great harm or damage, the word has a dark history, reaching back to the Roman practice of punishing a group of soldiers by having them kill every tenth man in their ranks by drawing lots to determine their fate.

But let us never pass an opportunity to learn. Let us blow the dust off a few ancient tomes as we delve deeper into definition of decimation.

The word decimate comes from the Latin decimatus, meaning “the removal of a tenth.” The first recorded use of this practice appears in Livy’s History of Rome. After being unsuccessful in war with the Volsci in 471 BC, Claudius decimates his troops for not following his orders:

The soldiers being at length collected from their scattered rout, the consul, after he had in vain followed his men for the purpose of rallying them, pitched his camp in a peaceful part of the country; and an assembly being convened, after inveighing not without good reason against the army, as traitors to military discipline, deserters of their posts, frequently asking them, one by one, where were their standards, where their arms; he first beat with rods and then beheaded those soldiers who had thrown down their arms, the standard-bearers who had lost their standards, and moreover the centurions, and those with the double allowance, who had left their ranks. With respect to the rest of the multitude, every tenth man was drawn by lot for punishment. [My emphasis]

While we have added definitions to the word, instances of this horrific practice of decimation can be found as recently as World War I and the Finnish Civil War. Douglas Harper traces the origins of the common definition to the 17th century, noting that decimates "has been used (incorrectly, to the irritation of pedants) since 1660s for destroy a large portion of."

Perhaps this week’s title was a bit hyperbolic, as inconceivable as that may seem. However, decimate has become a darling word of bloggers trying to ink an interesting headline, and it always helps to know the different definitions of a particular word. Remember our salmon style guide when you question the proper use of decimate. The Chicago Manual of Style states, "Avoid decimate (1) when you are referring to complete destruction or (2) when a percentage is specified." Annihilate will suffice as an alternative of the first type, while destroy generally fits the discussion of percentages lost.

Take the time to discover the history of the words you use. Wield your pen with precision.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spotlighted Literary Events

Mar. 13th, 3:00 pm: Join Alan Dubinsky and the growing team of Indigo Editing & Publications for the first Mini-Sledgehammer Writing Contest of 2010. After a reading by Dubinsky—the winner of the last year's Sledgehammer Writing Contest—the audience will receive prompts and have 36 minutes to write their own short stories. All entries will be judged on the spot and winners will take home prizes. The Mini-Sledgehammer is free and open to the public. This event is hosted at Sweetpea Baking Company (1205 SE Stark, Portland).

Mar. 15th, 5:00 pm: Powell's Books presents the third annual Smallpressapalooza, a five-hour reading marathon featuring both zine authors and writers working with independent publishers. With over a dozen speakers, this year's line-up includes poets, artists, novelists, publishers, and zinesters. The Portland Mercury provides a peak at a few of the selected speakers. The writers will gather at Powell's City of Books on Burnside (1005 W Burnside, Portland).

Mar. 18th, 7:00 pm: Oregon author Martha Gies and Jules Boykoff, Associate Professor of Political Science at Pacific University, present "'We're going to defend ourselves': The Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party & local media response." Special guests Kent Ford and Percy Hampton, original members of the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party, will also help lead the discussion of Portland's political past. Sponsored by the Northwest History Network, this lecture will be at the Architectural Heritage Center (701 SE Grand, Portland).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Photo Story Prompt: Under the Whites

Write whatever comes to you–short or long, fiction or truth.

We'd love to see what you come up with! Post your story in a comment below, or e-mail it to

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

"Was aan de lijn in Volendam" by Willem van de Poll
Nationaal Archief [254-3836]

Monday, March 08, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Words and Phrases to Avoid (Part II)

Building upon last week’s selection of words and phrases to avoid, this week’s editorial tip features five more troublesome expressions.

in regards to. The Grammar Girl recently wrote in regard to this phrase. The s can simple be dropped to correct the phrase, but often a single word can better fit the sentence. Try using concerning, regarding, or about when you have the urge to pen a suitable preposition.

irregardless. Although this word appears often in dialog, it is not yet an excepted phrase. Meriam-Webster OnLine traces the etymology of the phrase to a probable “blend of irrespective and regardless.” It would benefit writers to choose one of the unmixed words.

pled. The correct past-tense and past-participial forms of the verb to plead is pleaded. The incorrect form has proliferated in the legal community, but journalists and writers should stick to the traditional spelling. But be warned: the argument over the correct form is a sensitive subject.

utilize. This word seems to be the darling of both advertising campaigns and writers hoping to sound a bit more grandiose. However, this word should often be replaced by use to convey the same meaning without the tinge of pretentiousness.

esquivalience. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines this word as “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities.” You will not find esquivalience in any other dictionary; the word was a fictitious entry used to protect copyright. Sometimes it is hard to know what to trust in the strange world of language.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Spotlighted Literary Events

Mar. 8th, 7:30 pm: Mary Gaitskill will read from her latest collection of short stories, Don't Cry. A writer not scared of discussing the taboo, this collection is sure to offer dark but beautiful gems. Gaitskill will be reading at Powell's City of Books on Burnside (1005 W Burnside, Portland).

Mar. 9th, 4:30 pm: Douglas Mao--professor of English at Johns Hopkins University and specialist in modernist prose and poetry--will examine one of the central themes of modernist work in his lecture "Utopia: Three Questions." Mao will be speaking at Reed College in Psychology 105 (3203 SE Woodstock, Portland).

Mar. 10th, 6:00 pm: The Multnomah County Library, in partnership with Pacific University's Master of Fine Arts in Writing program, provides a chance to learn from author Claire Davis as a part of the Writers Talking series. Davis's first novel, Winter Range, was the first book to win both the PNBA and MPBA awards for best fiction. She has since developed her style through a second novel and a collection of short stories. Davis will be speaking in the Collins Gallery of the Multnomah Central Library (801 SW 10th, Portland).

Mar. 10th, 7:00 pm: Poet and teacher Sage Cohen will be reading selections of her work as a part of the Milwaukie Poetry Series. A winner of the Ghost Road Press Contest and a teacher for over 15 years, Cohen brings a sense of truth and beauty to the art of poetry. She will be reading in the Pond House adjacent to the Ledding Library (2215 SE Harrison, Milwaukie).

Image credit: Powell's Books

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Photo Story Prompt: In the Pantry

Write whatever comes to you–short or long, fiction or truth.

We'd love to see what you come up with! Post your story in a comment below, or e-mail it to

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

Picture: "Display of Home-Canned Food," between 1941 and 1945
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USW36-949]

Monday, March 01, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Words and Phrases to Avoid (Part I)

Nonsensical phrases and butchered words continue to plague our language, working their way into the pages of even the most meticulous writers. These phrases have become commonplace; they pass as correct in most word processing software. However, we should take up the pen in the interest of clarity. We can make steps toward becoming better authors by striking these words and phrases from our vocabularies. Here are five words and phrases to avoid, with another installment coming next week.

alright. Avoid the single word use of this expression. The Miriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary notes, "The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence." Although the word continues to be used, writers should stick to the proper two-word phrase.

cohabitate. This word seems to have found its niche in online relationship forums and celebrity gossip magazines. But, our salmon style guide reminds us that cohabitate is “a back-formation of cohabitation.” We already have a perfectly useful verb that has the same meaning as this latecomer: cohabit. Writers would be wise use the traditional verb.

could care less. This phrase is nonsensical in its typical application. Writers should use couldn’t care less when expressing disinterest... unless they are writing dialogue for contemporary characters.

enthused. A back-formation of enthusiasm, this word has a continual presence on blogs and with those seeking a word rhyming with use. Although the word has been present since the early nineteenth-century, Miriam-Webster states, "It has been disapproved since about 1870." Writers enthusiastic about proper grammar should seek a suitable alternative to this avoidable word.

hone in. This phrase has been become prevalent in reporting and may eventually become the correct way to express moving toward a target. Writers should home in on the correct phrase to use in troublesome situation. The word hone means the sharpening of a blade, but the simple slip of a consonant may soon provide the word with another accepted meaning.

[Tune in next week for five more words and phrases to avoid.]