The Wordguise Alembic


Where the oxymoron meets the ham sandwich

Jumper on Writing

October 7th, 2014

If you neglect a writing project for too long the characters go feral on you. That voice you’d been following clams up. The path of the plot disappears into shadows and fog; the magic idea that twinkled and fluttered in your peripheral vision stiffens into a scrap of lifeless cardboard.

That happened to me this year with the sequel to Jumper and the Bones, a novel in the voice of a big hearted but uneducated narrator. My real life has been preoccupied with the deaths of family members and friends; injury and disease distracted me, my energy was consumed by flailing against huge corporate ogres with their blood lust for money and their mindless disregard for honesty or honor. That’s a story for a different day. Today I’m talking about Jumper.

The book is more than half finished. I still like it but I felt stuck. When this happened once before, I let Jumper write a few pages about rain. It had nothing to do with the book. The pages we wrote probably won’t make the final editorial cut, but it helped me reconnect with the narrator’s odd voice. Plus, I think it made him feel better.

Today I let Jumper write about writing. After all, he’s now a published author and I’d never asked him how he felt about that. Almost immediately, my pen started moving across the paper. Once he got that out of his system we resumed our conversation about the book itself and several words got written. If you feel stuck in the same way, you might consider trying this trick. Write something that probably won’t be in the final book.

Here’s what Jumper had to say about writing:

Nobody ain’t asked me for much writing advice or put me on their TV show. They probably got to take people in order, so it ain’t a big deal. About every day they got somebody on TV who wrote a book, and there can’t be that many of us, so my turn is probably coming up. Plus, I ain’t got a phone or a computer for email, so they’d pretty much have to come and knock on my door, which is a lot harder than just sending an email. Once they get done with all the other writers, I’ll probably get that knock on my door. Just in case, I been picking up my socks off the living room floor almost every day and thinking how I’d answer their questions.

I ain’t figured out any magic solutions about how to write. For me, what I do is two steps: I pay attention and then I write it down. Other writer guys on TV got fancier ideas and a lot more steps. I ain’t saying they’re wrong. Lots of them wear cool clothes and say the names of guys I ain’t even heard of, which proves they know what they’re talking about. If you want bonus points for writing, you should probably just do whatever they do, if you can figure it out. Obviously, you should get some cool clothes and say the names of lots of guys. I ain’t ready to get that serious. I just pay attention and then write it down.

Cicada Songs, Ebola Dreams

February 14th, 2014

I’ve read several popular books about diseases recently: Rabid, The Hot ZoneSmallpoxDisease, Spillover, and  Deadly Outbreaks. More books on a single topic than usual, but not with any project in mind. It just happened, the way it happens to folks who start to read books by Michael Connelly or Rex Stout. Several focussed on diseases that leap from animals to humans (“zoonotic” diseases). No curious person could resist daydreaming about some of the unsolved mysteries one encounters when reading about diseases like Ebola and Marburg. You play detective in your brain and then you almost certainly come up with your own crackpot theory, just like I did. Read the rest of this entry »

Excuses for Not Blogging

February 12th, 2014

I haven’t checked in here for a while, but I’ve got excuses.

First, obviously, I’m lazy. That’s the one trait I seem to share with many great writers. I’d write a blog post about it, but that seems like kind of a bother. Read the rest of this entry »

Political Plagiarism

November 6th, 2013

Rand Paul is upset that people caught him using lines from Wikipedia and elsewhere as if they were his own. He feels like a victim and wishes he could just duel someone to settle it all. Or spend a couple days in detention after school, but certainly not his whole career. His words, I hasten to admit. Personally, I think most of what he did was harmless and we should cut him some slack. Read the rest of this entry »

Goats and Pigs, Iodine and Thiamine: a Hypothesis

October 29th, 2013

It’s easy to decide that iodine deficiency plays some role in neurological diseases like ALS and Alzheimers. For over fifty years we’ve known that you’re much likelier to get one of these diseases if you spent your infancy in a region that’s deficient in iodine. Another example: exposure to the fungicide maneb dramatically increases the chances of getting a neurological disease from a toxin; maneb works by disrupting the use of iodine in animals. Our instincts shout that iodine must be involved; but we can’t say it out loud. Although iodine deficiency remains the number one cause of mental retardation in the world, we can’t prove it has a role in Alzheimer’s or ALS. No one has found a smoking gun. Read the rest of this entry »

A Warning Shot for Syria

September 1st, 2013

A criminal races down the city street clutching the purse he’s just snatched from an elderly woman. A policeman chases after him. The policeman yells, “Stop! I’m a policeman! Stop! Really! I mean it! You stop right this minute!”

Read the rest of this entry »

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

May 13th, 2013

I read Wodehouse when I was a kid, and he cracked me up. This collection of letters cracked me up too, and that’s the one element other reviewers assume you know and forget to mention– this guy was funny, and his letters are also funny. Read the rest of this entry »

April Sleet and Monkey Eyes

April 4th, 2013

April snow, bittersweet like wedding tears,
Catches me every time.
Winter, a grizzled gray monkey,
Is a pest in the bananas;
Everyone’s glad to see him killed off.
But an April snow is that last monkey
We finally discover after a long
Day of exterminating
Clinging to the highest branch,
Staring at the knife with wide eyes,
A question on his forehead,
And we hesitate.

The snow floats fat and wet, like popcorn,
Or little white kittens,
Chasing the juicy gray fish to the ground.
Each feather tries to win the sidewalk,
But is washed away by warm minnows of spring.
Each drop washes off a bit of the man,
Exposing the wide-open monkey eyes.

“April Sleet and Monkey Eyes” by Kenn Amdahl. All rights reserved.

Conservative Bus Driver

April 2nd, 2013

The conservative movement has a tough challenge. It says “Buses are the problem. Buses are evil. All buses should be driven off a cliff.” Then it turns around and says, “OK, folks, please elect me to be your bus driver.”

Same Sex Marriage Debate

March 27th, 2013

I had an interesting conversation on Facebook about single sex marriage. Because not everyone is my “friend,” I’ve edited it down and will paste it below. There were other comments, including some good ones, but I feel weird stealing other people’s writing (unless you need it to understand my response)  so this is mostly my own: Read the rest of this entry »