Making Merry on National Puzzle Day

Clue: What is a six-letter word for a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma?

"Candy Galore," a 1000 piece puzzle by Springbok.

They are often baffling, frequently infuriating, and mostly fun.

They are:
Perplexing
Unnerving
Zany
Zen-like (sometimes)
Acrostic (like this clue).

They come in forms as varied as crosswords, jigsaws, search-a-words, Tangrams, anagrams, cryptograms, Sudoku, spot the difference, and connect the dots.  They can be logical, lateral, mathematical, or mechanical.  They come in books, boxes, cubes, newspapers, on boards, online, or on paper.

Did you guess it yet?

In the spirit of “the holiday,” I’ll give the answer.  It’s a PUZZLE!  And the holiday is today, National Puzzle Day, a day to celebrate all things solvable.

Puzzles are popular around the world.  I don’t know what the attraction is for everyone else, but I love the challenge of figuring out a solution that’s not immediately obvious.  Sometimes it feels like my brain is being ratcheted up; the cogs and wheels that haven’t moved in a while creak and groan into action again.

Working out a puzzle brings me into a meditative mindset similar to the creative zen I experience when I’m engrossed in writing or painting.  It’s not always quite that peaceful, though.  I have thrown crossword puzzle books across the room, (Drama queen? Me? No!) but my obsessive nature rarely allows me to walk away from an unfinished puzzle.  There’s a benefit to that persistence, though.  The joy of finishing a tough puzzle, crossword, jigsaw, Sudoku, even the Hidden Pictures puzzles from Highlights magazine (which I just found out is now available free online!!) is wonderfully satisfying.

In honor of National Puzzle Day, here are two offerings in my favorite puzzle formats:

  1. A huge archive of Literary crossword puzzles from FunTrivia.com.
  2. A link to Springbok Puzzles, my favorite puzzle maker, which is offering a 15% coupon to celebrate the holiday.  There is also a Springbok puzzle giveaway at A Frugal Friend.

Now it’s time for me to make merry.  I’m heading over to Highlights.com.  Oh, Hidden Pictures, how you taunt me!

Resources: The American Jigsaw Puzzle Society, The Official UK Puzzle Club, Springbok, A Frugal Friend, The Daily Post.
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99 Y.O. Self-Published Poet’s Mega-Bestseller

Japan’s Toyo Shibata was 92 when she started writing poetry.  Her self-published anthology, “Kujikenaide,” (Don’t Lose Heart) has sold 1.5 million copies in Japan since its publication in 2009.  With sales like that, I’m sure American publishers will take note.  Now that her story has been published in Reuters and is being picked up by mainstream media around the world,  I’m hopeful that it’s only a matter of time before her book hits the shelves in the U.S.  I definitely plan to be in line to buy it.

For more information, here’s “A Little Encouragement” from the blog, From Tokyo to the World.

A Little Encouragement Few people can say they’ve lived as long as Toyo Shibata [柴田トヨ]. At 99, she has seen two world wars, four emperors and 81 prime ministers. Over the span of such a long life, one would hope to acquire valuable wisdom about the world and how to be happy. Ms. Shibata has. She is the author of a bestselling anthology of poetry published early last year with the title “くじけないで,” or “Don’t Be Frustrated” [though I would translate it as more like “Hang i … Read More

Resources: The Daily Post, The Book Bench, From Tokyo to the World

New Hope Comes in a Literary Package

There’s something very exciting about the debut of a literary journal.

All the tension and turmoil bubbling around the publishing world these days can leave those of us who are in love with words feeling sad, worried, and a little bit hopeless.  Enter a new lit mag and our hope is renewed … The word lives.  The word thrives.  Hooray for the word!

And three cheers for the debut of The Literarian, an online journal from The Center for Fiction.

We’re here to celebrate and support the extraordinary breadth of literary fiction in the U.S. and around the world,” writes editor Dawn Raffel in the welcome letter.

The first issue includes six short stories, interviews with Cynthia Ozick, Yiyun Li, a video of Sam Lipsyte reading from his novel “The Ask,” and an essay by Martha McPhee about her five favorite novels with women behaving badly.  Each issue takes a world view, too, by publishing highlights from international literary magazines.  This issue showcases Wet Ink from Australia and the St. Petersburg Review. Future issues promise a venue for emerging writers.

It’s not all storm and stress in the world of words.  At least I don’t think so, and neither does The Center for Fiction.  That’s good news for writers, readers, and everyone else in love with words.

PS:  I would be remiss in my devotion to Philip Roth if I missed this opportunity to mention his upcoming visit to The Center for Fiction on February 24 at 7 pm. Oh, to live in New York again!!

Resources: The Center for Fiction, The Daily Post

Depth and Focus Straighten Tangled Plots

At The Book Deal, publishing veteran Alan Rinzler offers an insider’s look at the new world of publishing.  With more than 40 years experience at some of the top houses, his insights and opinions are an incredible resource for writers trying to break into the business.

His latest post, Ask the editor:  How to untangle a plot, gives specific and directed advice on:

  • Pruning overcomplicated plots
  • Best practices for storytelling
  • DIY Plot Pruning
  • Developing your rhythm

Mr. Rinzler ends the post with an invitation to send questions.

After spending the better part of the morning (and probably most of the coming afternoon) clicking and reading through this blog, I knew I had to share it here.

Enjoy!

Resources: The Book Deal, The Daily Post

Robert Frost Does it Right at JFK’s Inauguration

John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost blowing in the wind at JFK's Inauguration. Photo by Life

Fifty years ago today, Robert Frost made literary history by being the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration.

John F. Kennedy asked Mr. Frost to read a piece of his work.  As the Inauguration Ceremony approached, the poet understood the importance of the moment and decided to recite “Dedication,” a poem he wrote specifically for the occasion.

A full-fledged blizzard the night before, left the city frozen in a blanket of white.  Although the sun was shining on Inauguration Day, sub-zero temperatures and whipping winds stayed on, causing delay after delay.

When it was finally time to recite his poems, Mr. Frost took the podium.  Bundled in a long wool coat and thick scarf,  the wind blew his hair in every direction.  He began reciting “Dedication” but stumbled and stopped.  The sun’s glare reflecting off the snow made it impossible to read his new poem.

Rather than falter through a botched recitation, Mr. Frost changed direction.  He put his plan and his poetry aside, and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.

Reading the words of “The Gift Outright,” I’m excited and astonished, again, at the inherent genius of art.  How appropos those words are for the occasion.  I’m also inspired by Mr. Frost’s action.  He knew what was most important. He put his ego and his poetry aside and did what should have been done for the occasion.

I’m sure I would have done the same on the spot.  It’s afterward that I wonder about.  Would I have pouted, whined? “Waaaa, I put a lot of work into that poem.  Stupid snow ruined everything.  My life suuuuuckkkkks!”

Past experience tells me I would be whining.  It’s a character flaw I need to work on.  A lot of artists and writers I know would whine; we’re a needy neurotic bunch. (Kanye West keeps coming to mind.)  Robert Frost didn’t whine though.  He took the road not taken and that made all the difference.

Resources: John F. Kennedy Inaugural Ceremony, Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Daily Post

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

“Words have no power to impress the mind
without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death
Image by ProfessorMortis via Flickr

Mention his name and goth girls swoon, black cats hiss, and the timid turn away.  Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809.  More than 200 years after his birth, cities still fight for ownership of the dead writer’s corpse, whose tortured life and mysterious death were as strange as the tales he told.  Tales like “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death” still have the power to shock and enthrall readers all these years later.

In pop culture, Mr. Poe is most often revered as the master of the macabre, but his pen and his influence reach far beyond that.  He and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited as the fathers of the American short story.  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first detective story and created the genre.  “The Balloon Hoax” was an early form of science fiction and was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”  His poem, “The Raven” is still one of the most famous poems ever written.

He was born in Boston, was orphaned at age three, and taken in by the Allen family of Richmond, Virginia.  His older brother Henry died young and his sister Rosalie went insane.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and mother-in-law, before moving with them to the Bronx, New York.  He was married only once, to his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died at age 24 of tuberculosis.  He was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was labeled paranoid and perverse.  The day before he died, he was found on a Baltimore street, delirious, incoherent and wearing clothes that weren’t his.

All five cities have landmarks or museums dedicated to him and the Poe Wars over who gets his corpse (Baltimore has it now) aren’t cold yet.

edgar-allan-poeIn honor of his birthday, I’m happy to share this fantastic party favor, a make-your-own Edgar Allan Poe doll, courtesy of the Toy-A-Day blog. (Caveat: Lots of pop-ups, but definitely worth it.) Mr. Poe might roll his eyes at the frivolity of the gesture, but I like to think it would make him crack a smile.

Resources: Post A Day, Edgar Allan Poe Museum/Richmond, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Sity/Philadelphia, Edgar Allen Poe Cottage/The Bronx, Edgar Allan Poe Society/Baltimore.

Time Machine Visits #FridayFlash Intro

Time machine to late September 2009 …

Spinning Optical IllusionIt’s a quiet Friday afternoon, and I’m trying to learn my way around Twitter.  A steady stream of tweets with the odd looking designation of “#FridayFlash” keeps catching my eye.  Easily distracted and always looking for an excuse to put off my writing, I’m drawn in.

“What could zees be?” I ask out loud.  (My alter ego always has a French accent.)

Curiosity gets the best of me.  I click one of the tweets and enter into a world I never knew existed.  It’s a world of horror and humor, intrigue and romance. Action, adventure, heartbreak and suspense.  I’ve entered the surrealistic wonder world of #FridayFlash.

What is this wonder world, you ask?  According to creator Jon Strother, #FridayFlash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer.   According to me and most of the writers who participate each week, it is so much more than that.

Since entering that world over a year ago, I’ve met some wonderfully supportive and encouraging people, I’ve read some remarkable stories, and my writing has come a long way.  Finding #FridayFlash was like falling through a trapdoor into a hidden fantasy land, and it’s a land open to all; writers and readers, alike.

Icy Sedgwick offers more insight in this Fuel Your Writing interview posted this week:  #FridayFlash — Interview with Jon Strother.

There’s so much more to say about #FridayFlash, but the important information is covered in the interview and in the links I’ve included.  Now I need to hurry and publish this post, because that time-machine-depicting optical illusion up there is freaking me out.  It really is not moving.  Is it?

Resources: Post A Day, Flash Fiction by Olivia Tejeda

Happy Sunshine in a Little Orange Package

This morning after breakfast I was still hungry.  It’s mid-January, I live in Arizona, and there are orange trees in the back yard so loaded with fruit the branches droop low enough for the rabbits to reach them.  The oranges have been tempting me for a while, but the last time I tried one, it was too early.  The flesh was dry and tough, and it was so bitter it took at least 15 minutes before my eye stopped twitching and I could pull my cheeks out of a hard core pucker.

Different story today.  When I got close to the tree, I could smell that they were ready.   I chose an orange near the bottom of the tree; those ripen first, and when I picked it, it nearly fell off the limb into my hand.

It’s orange season, all right.  I was a little hesitant with my first bite, but as soon as my teeth broke through the skin, “Hello, Larry!”  It was exquisitely, perfectly, sweetly ready.  The flavor was fresh and vibrant, and I wanted to stuff the whole orange in my mouth to fill it with the flavor of happy sunshine.  That’s what the orange tasted like … Happy Bright Perfect Sunshine.

There’s is a lot of ugliness going on around Arizona these days.  That orange, grown in Arizona soil, not only satisfied my hunger, it made me feel hopeful.

In honor of my morning orange, I’m happy to share one of my favorite poems:

Peeling an Orange
by Virginia Hamilton Adair

Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a navel orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently moving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.

Resource: The Daily Post, Virginia Hamilton Adair

Nouns Get Verbed and Language Evolves

About a year ago, a co-worker I hadn’t seen in more than a decade friended me on Facebook.  When she first messaged me, her note was a  bit sheepish.  Not because we hadn’t stayed in touch, but because we had worked together as newspaper copy editors, and she wasn’t completely comfortable reintroducing herself by using “friend” as a verb.

“I’m a little embarrassed to get back in touch by verbing you with a noun,” she wrote. “But C’est la Facebook.”

She’s so clever!

I hadn’t realized until reading her note how often I use friend and other nouns as verbs.   Verbing is not a new trend, but it seems more common than ever.  I sometimes find it irritating, but mostly when it’s used in business-speak.  For example, a former manager never said we would talk about something, he said we’d dialogue it. That’s a little irritating, no?

For some interesting insight on verbing, read  YOU’VE BEEN VERBED by Anthony Gardner from More Intelligent Life.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  Intelligent Life Magazine, Anthony Gardner, Facebook, The Daily Post.

“Suspicious” Quotation Marks: Funny? Mostly!

I’ve never really told anyone this, but I’m kind of a jerk when it comes to grammar and punctuation.  I usually don’t correct grammatical mistakes, I try not to be too critical of people who say “yous” instead of  “you,” and I don’t walk around with a Sharpie correcting improperly placed apostrophes (even though I want to).  Sometimes these mistakes bother me, and sometimes they just make me laugh.

Take suspicious quotation marks, I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.  Then I cringed a little bit, hoping the sign wasn’t posted in a “restaurant.” (<–Deliberate misuse.)

Excessive use of quotation marks AND sarcasm.

The first pair of suspicious quote marks  I remember was on an insurance company sign on the street where I grew up.  The sign read:

“Insurance That’s “Affordable”

Even as a kid I used to roll my eyes at that.

Bethany Keeley has built a mini media empire around the offending punctuation.  The “Blog” of Unnecessary Quotation Marks is a collection of pictures submitted by readers, accompanied by Keeley’s hilarious comments.

With a disclaimer like that, no wonder the jar's empty!

She compiled the best of the unnecessary into “The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks,” which publisher Chronicle Books calls, “a smarty-pants guide, “perfect” for desperate grammarians, habitual air quoters, and anyone who appreciates a good laugh.”

If you can’t wait to pick up the book, visit the Facebook group, Quotation Mark Hunters, which is where I found these pictures, and spent far too much time surfing and laughing.

I hope you’ll have a good laugh too, and maybe it will make you think twice before using quotation marks “willy-nilly.”

For clarification on the proper use and single vs. double quotation marks, and just about any other grammar question, visit Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  The Daily Post.