May 24, 2011

Julian Smith

We of the spy clan are fans - ardent fans - of Julian Smith. Doubtless many of you have already discovered this guy on Youtube; he has a large and (in our opinion) vastly entertaining collection of short videos, many of which we know by heart and quote often. And (double brownie points for Julian) he's homeschooled!

With the arrival of summer, the retreat of schoolwork, and the sudden abundance of free time for reading, this one is most particularly fitting. I'm sure many of you can relate to it. It is entitled "I'm Reading a Book."


If you need a laugh and you have the time (be careful; his videos sucked me in for literally hours) check out some of his other videos. I would in particular recommend "Hot Kool Aid", "Pre-Blessed Food", and "UMove" (it's all I can do to stop myself from piling on more recommendations. I'm getting off now. Quickly. Truly. Now.)


May 16, 2011

Summer Flames

She said we could! She said we could!

Mom said yes, so we rush to the fire pit.

Get some sticks! Get the paper! Find a match! Start the blaze!

We dash through feathery young-summer air.

Crumpled newsprint bleeds onto our hands

Three tiny matches gown the wads with fire

We cage them in with bark-crusted branches.

A fuzz of smoke curls from our umpteenth fire.

Get the books! Get the books!

We run inside and run back out,

Holding tight the math textbooks.

Squashed between their pages are:

twenty cups' worth of spilled tea,

a slabs' worth of smeared graphite,

and untold gallons of despairing tears.

We gather, panting, round the fire.

Holding Math 5, Algebra 1/2, Geometry, PreCalculus.

Staring at the flames that we have made.

We look at the books, we look at each other.

We picture the million problems inside our Books.

We've cried over, sulked upon, sobbed about, raced through, double-checked and re-corrected

each one.

We want to be rid of them.

Then we think of the ink on those pages

Fattening the hot feather smoke.

We picture each page curling black.

And every lesson crumpling dark.

And every problem eaten and lost forever.


Forever is a long time.

We look at the books, we look at the flames.

And we are sad.

And we don't know why.

We kick out the fire. We cool ash with water. The smoke is eaten by summer.

Carrying our books with benevolence,

We take them inside and put them away.

Because we are not book burners,

not even for PreCalculus.

And because summer feels too good for burning.

May 3, 2011

Mark Twain's Rules of Writing

The following are the 18 rules of writing that Mark Twain scathingly accused Fenimore Cooper's novel The Deerslayer of violating. According to Twain, fiction requires:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. That the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale and shall help to develop it.

3. That the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. That the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. That when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. That when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify the said description.

7. That when a person talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. That crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. That the personages in the tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. That the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate, and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. That the characters in the tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

12. The author shall say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near to it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

- - -

Such sound wisdom from the esteemed Twain. 3 is hilarious. 14 is beautiful. 11 is golden.

Do you agree with his rules? (I do.)

Does your novel violate any of these principles? (mine does.)

Have you read The Deerslayer? (I haven't.)

Is "surplusage" even a word? ( says it is.)

Do you like carrot cake? (I do.)