·         Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System

· * August 2010

·         Editor: Howard Denson

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In This Issue:

NFW Will Critique on Aug. 14, Hear Private Eye in September

Are You Describing a Street Scene from a Century Ago?

"Flagging Program" -- Useful Tool or Just a Parlor Game? -- Howard Denson

The Wrong Stuff

Stuff from Hither and Yon

Quote from a Writer's Quill – Orson Welles

Writers Born This Month

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hear private EYE
in september

The Aug. 14 meeting of the North Florida Writers will focus only on critiques. The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Webb Wesconnett Branch Library (corner of 103rd Street and Harlow Boulevard).

But the Sept. 11 meeting will feature a talk by Steven Brown, a First Coast private investigator and author of The Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating.

The critique process has people other than the author of respective works read aloud the submissions (up to 10 double-spaced pages of prose, and reasonable amounts of poetry or lyrics). Authors may not defend their work, but they should listen to the words and rhythms of their creations.

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If you are describing a street scene from a century ago, whether for fiction or nonfiction, how many cars would be present? How many traffic lights or traffic cops at intersections?

A video from four days before the devastating earthquake in San Francisco may be helpful. A 35mm camera was mounted on a Market Street cable street car, and it recorded pedestrian traffic, plus the interaction among wagons, other street cars, and automobiles.

This film was "lost" for many years. It was the first 35mm film ever.

The clock tower at the end of Market Street at the Embarcadero wharf is still there, on the Ferry Building. Check out the scene at

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My latest discovery may rank up there with the delight we experience when someone first put mint in our iced tea. You'd probably smile politely and say, yes, quite nice, but you had found out about that ages ago.

Anyway, sip on this: I have discovered a website called "I Write Like" ( When you go there, you type in your own words or paste them, and you hit an analyze button, and it tells you whom you write like.

Obviously, "I Write Like" is a flagging program, similar to the grammar-checkers. Flagging programs don't think; they have no idea about the meaning or context of what they are analyzing. They can be useful at times but would mislead you terribly at other times. For example, if they spot items in a series, they automatically prompt the writer to put in an "and" if that's missing before the last item. I had a sentence in which I didn't want the "and" and instead used the lazy writer's "etc." (which means "and others"). My sentence read something like "We must watch our verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc." The grammar-flagging program promptly recommended that it should be "and etc.," which only a doofus would write. If a smart and active student comes across this problem, he may hop up and bring the text to a composition instructor and complain, "That's totally wrong, dude, right?" The more common passive student incorrectly inserts the "and" and turns in a paper that probably also has "I defiantly will go to town" (because the spell-checker suggested "defiantly" when the student was trying to spell "definitely"). (Is it "difently," "deffinently," "definitely," or what? Ah, the PC says "defiantly.")

With some skepticism, I tried "I Write Like" on a few different pieces. First, I pasted in the opening to "Quandary of Fibbles," an adult fairy tale in the spirits of James Thurber, Stan Freberg, and Jay Ward and Alex Anderson's "Fractured Fairy Tales," with reinforcement from Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. So I pressed "analyze" . . . and discovered I supposedly write like . . . James Joyce? Egads. Joyce is to humor as Zoysia grass is to a symphony.

Next, I tried the opening pages of "Mowbray and the Sharks," a fantasy-mystery set in the 1930s and inspired by Thorne Smith, H. Allen Smith, P.G. Wodehouse, and other light comedy writers. Result? Stephen King. Hmm, not really. A third experiment involved a Southern comic narrative in the spirit of Andy Griffith, Mac "No Time for Sergeants" Hyman, or Erskine Caldwell. Result? Stephen King again. Finally, I tried a prose vignette from a collection of short stories. Result? Mark Twain. Okay, my writing DNA certainly features many strands of Twain (plus Thurber, Benchley, Will Cuppy, et al.).

Out of curiosity, I typed up the opening to James Thurber's "Tea at Mrs. Armsby's"), and Thurber's writing was said to be like . . . Raymond Chandler's. Fair enough, he certainly parodied Chandler, James Cain, and Dashiell Hammett.

I located a couple of articles about the "I Write Like" website and discovered it was created by 27-year-old Dmitry Chestnykh of Montenegro. It apparently relies on vocabulary more than anything else. Unless it has been updated, it had some major omissions (e.g., Herman Melville) and quirks (e.g., Margaret Atwood discovered she writes like Stephen King).

"I Write Like," therefore, is a "flagging program" and not a thinking program. Its judgments are to be taken with a grain of salt. A grammar-checking program, for example, probably will flag the cliché, "a grain of salt." That can be useful to the writer. But feed into it the text of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and it will decide that these sentences are too long. Over and over, it will flag words as too negative, unaware, of course, that a eulogy at a battlefield just might not work with upbeat Hallmark card prose.

Should you use "I Write Like" on your own writing? Sure, go for it. It may delay your revision of that troublesome chapter . . . or it may distract you from going out and stealing your neighbor's hubcaps. Either way, it won't hurt you.

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Rosita Janbakhsh, "The Climate of Free Inquiry," paper for Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies:

“Give me liberty or give me death!” These words were once spoken by Nathaniel Hawthorne to help convince the Continental Congress to fight for their freedom from Britain. Yet these words have remained the backbone of what American freedom has come to be.

W.S. SAYS: Heavenly days! Google would tell you in 20 seconds that Patrick Henry is credited with those immortal lines. The quote apparently was first spoken in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the mid-1770s. Hawthorne wasn't even born until 1804.


Solar 7.83 Design Studio for environmentalism:

In the Pacific Northwest, there has been great controversy since the creation
of the round blade and man’s ability to fell forests at lightening speed with montrous capacity.

W.S. SAYS: If it's a bolt from Zeus or Thor, it's spelled "lightning." Oh, and an "S" goes in "monstrous." Also, what kind of expression is "with monstrous capacity"? Omit it or rewrite it.


Brian Calle, "No city manager's worth $800K" (The Orange County Register):

Now the city council is planning to seek the resignation of Rizzo, his deputy and the police of chief, the [Los Angeles] Time's reports, but that will only help Rizzo and his colleagues cash out with more money. All three are under contract with the city and are prevented from dismissal without cause. If the city council wants them gone, they will likely have to buy out their contracts or offer up even more retirement benefits. The Time's also learned that the council plans to cut back their salaries, too.

W.S. SAYS: What's with the apostrophe in Times? It's just a plain old proper noun. Besides, even if it had been possessive, the apostrophe would have gone at the end.


"News Buzz: Signing Off" (Folio Weekly):

The liberal political advocacy group plans to ask each member of Congress to sign a pledge to "Fight Washington Corruption" by reigning in lobbyists and limiting corporate donations to political campaigns.

W.S. SAYS: When it rains in Spain, the king reigns over his horses and pulls the reins to guide them to the castle.


Stan Lehman, Associated Press, "Brazilian men swapped at birth work, live together":

"There was something different," he told The Associated Press by phone. "I had blonde hair and blue eyes and my sisters had dark hair and eyes. I had the typical features of a descendent of German immigrants, while my sisters and parents were of Italian stock. Something did not add up."

W.S. SAYS: Frequent misspelling, so stick an "a" in the last syllable of "descendant" (and in "defendant").

Alex Spillius, "BP's evaporating oil slick leaves America without a villain" (Sunday Telegraph):
Doubts remain about the long-term underwater affects of the oil on the ecosystem, but the greatest tragedy remains the 11 lives lost when BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, causing the well to rupture.

W.S. SAYS: About 95 percent of the time, if you have to choose between "affect" and "effect" as a noun, it's "effect." In the social sciences, you may find frequent usages of "affect" as a noun (referring generally to "emotions" ("he had no affect as he described his tragedy").

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What happened
to the page-turner?

Too much modern fiction is dreary, slow-moving and downright boring, argues Harry Mount in The Daily Telegraph as he responds to the-novel-is-dead piece by Lee Siegel in The New York Observer. For more, go to

Old Ways
Old Words

In The Daily Mountain Eagle, retired educator Ruth Baker explores the old country sayings, such as "Git outta bed ‘fore thuh sun comes up ‘n build a faar in thuh stove." Have you heard of someone falling out of an ugly tree and hitting every limb on the way down? If not, check out these and other sayings at

and More Interviews

The Goodreads website contains interviews with famous writers, the still generally unknown, and the recently deceased (Robert Parker). Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) says: "I think it is important to remember that, in spite of [HIV], countries in sub-Saharan Africa keep going as best they can, and therefore we should not concentrate exclusively on writing about the bad things in Africa. There is plenty of good news, and there are many very good things happening there, so why should we not celebrate these?"

Individuals' language
may influence
how they think
about other people

The language a person speaks may influence his or her thoughts, according to a new study on Israeli Arabs who speak both Arabic and Hebrew fluently. The study found that Israeli Arabs' positive associations with their own people are weaker when they are tested in Hebrew than when they are tested in Arabic. To read more, go to

Similarly, in a Wall Street Journal piece, "Lost in Translation," Lera Boroditsky says that recent cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world; there's a different sense of blame in Japanese and Spanish. On the other hand, she says, "Of course, just because people talk differently doesn't necessarily mean they think differently." Follow her article at

The Master
of Debunk

Jack Shafer in reviews W. Joseph Campbell's Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism. Campbell "flattens established myths that you were brought up to believe were true: that Orson Welles sparked a national panic with his 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast; that the New York Times suppressed news of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba at the request of the White House; that Edward R. Murrow destroyed Sen. Joseph McCarthy; that publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst told an illustrator, 'You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war,' before the Spanish-American war started; and more." He destroys these myths at

How Facts
Are Killing

Max Fisher on The Atlantic Wire addresses an issue raised in The Boston Globe: Are facts killing politics and public discourse? Says he, "It would stand to reason that, in a democracy, a more educated populace will vote more responsibly, elect better leaders, and thus live in a better-run society. But it turns out that educating voters is hard and that, in many cases, showing them facts actually makes them less responsible in their political preferences and voting behavior." An old adage is "perception is reality," so explore the issue at

Bedside Table,
Words, Words,

Robert Lane Greene, an international correspondent for The Economist, currently covers American politics and foreign policy online. His book on the politics of language around the world, You Are What You Speak, will be published by Bantam (Random House) in the spring of 2011. Shaw's Professor Henry Higgins might agree with many of his points:

Janet Fitch's
10 Rules
for Writers

Janet Fitch, the author of White Oleander and Paint it Black, teaches writing at the University of Southern California. Carolyn Kellogg says Ms. Fitch regularly introduces one or two or more of her students whom she has encouraged to come along, people whose work she praises. She has ten rules for writers, some of which overlap the rules of Elmore Leonard and others:

Infographic: 120 fake
sci-fi events
on a real-world timeline (of the SyFy channel) tracked down 120 important dates from sci-fi movies and TV—everything from that long time ago in a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars to the end of the universe in Doctor Who, plus plenty in between—and charted them out chronologically on a real-world timeline. Check out the infographic at

Why I went
to Australia
with 14 Trollopes

Summer holiday reading means catching up on the works one always meant to get round to, says Simon Heffer in London's Telegraph. It didn't even occur to him to try to pack one e-reader. Read more at

Would Groucho have said, "Well, I went to Australia with 14 trollops and came home flat broke and exhausted"?

The art
of slow

Has endlessly skimming short texts on the internet made us stupider? Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian writes that an increasing number of experts think so. These experts say it's time to slow down. Read how "our era's technological diarrhoea is bringing more and more slow readers to the fore" at

The eBook
may not have
the last word

Electronic page-turners are all the rage, but Robert Colvile asks if they really mean anything. The change leaves him a little sad, he says at

A novel idea
that loses the plot
for the over-reader
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In The Scotsman, columnist Lee Randall says she is always looking for spots to stow books, but she'd never think of joining a 12-Step program to fight her addiction. Her ailment is at

Why the riveting
Sherlock Holmes
stories have endured

The timeless appeal of Sherlock Holmes is due to Conan Doyle's powers of observation, says Harry Mount, in his Daily Telegraph review of the modernized Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the great detective and Martin Freeman as a wounded veteran of the current Afghanistan conflict. Check it out at

Holmes has been modernized before. In World War II motion pictures, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce drove about in motorcars as they tracked down Nazis.

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If you want a happy ending,
that depends, of course,
on where you stop your story.

-- Orson Welles

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1--Herman Melville (1819) and Jim Carroll (1951); 2--Irving Babbitt (1865), James Baldwin (1924), and Isabel Allende (1942); 3--Rupert Brooke (1887), P. D. James (1920), Leon Uris (1924), and Diane Wakoski (1937); 4--Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), Knut Hamsun (1859), and Robert Hayden (1913);

5--Michael Banim (1796) and Conrad Aiken (1889); 6--Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809), Paul Claudel (1868), and Diane di Prima (1934); 7--Garrison Keillor (1942); 8--Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896) and Nina Berberova (1901); 9--Philip Larkin (1922);

11--Judah P. Benjamin (1811), Hugh MacDiarmid (C. M. Grieve) (1892), Louise Bogan (1897), Alex Haley (1921), and André Dubus (1936); 12--Katherine Lee Bates (1859), Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (1866), Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876), and Radclyffe Hall (1880); 14--Sir Walter Besant (1836), Danielle Steele (1947), and Gary Larson (1950);

15--Sir Walter Scott (1771), E. Nesbit (1858), Sri Aurobindo (1872), and Edna Ferber (1887); 16--William Maxwell (1908) and Charles Bukowski (1920); 17--Fredrika Bremer (1801), Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840), Evan Connell (1924), John Hawkes (1925), V. S. Naipaul (1932); 18--Robert Williams Buchanan (1841), Ahad Haam (1856), and Alaine Robbe-Grillet (1922); 19--Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780), Maurice BarrPs (1862), Ogden Nash (1902), and James Gould Cozzens (1903);

20--Shaul Chernikhovski (1875), H. P. Lovecraft (1890) and Jacqueline Susanne (1921); 21--Robert Stone (1937); 22--John Hill Burton (1809), Dorothy Parker (1893), Ray Bradbury (1920), E. Annie Proulx (1935); 23--Edgar Lee Masters (1868) and J. V. Cunningham (1911); 24--Sir Max Beerbohm (1872), Jean Rhys (1890), Malcolm Cowley (1898), Jorge Luis Borges (1899), and A.S. Byatt (1936);

25--Baron Bunsen (1791), Henrik Hertz (1797/98), Brett Harte (1836), Frederick Forsyth (1938), and Martin Amis (1949); 26--Guillaume Apollinaire (1880), Christopher Isherwood (1904), Julio Cortázar (1914); 27--Theodore Dreiser (1871), Norah Lofts (1904), Desmond O'Grady (1935), Lary Crews (1946), and Jeanette Winterson (1959); 28--John Betjeman (1906), Roger Tory Peterson (1908), Robertson Davies (1913), Janet Frame (1924), and Rita Dove (1952); 29--Giambattista Casti (1724), Edward Carpenter (1844), and Thom Gunn (1929);

30--Mary Shelley (1797); 31--DuBose Heyward (1885), William Shawn (1907), and William Saroyan (1908).

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BARD SOCIETY: Every Wednesday: 7 p.m.; Frank Green 234-8383; Email<>

FIRST COAST CHRISTIAN WRITERS GROUP: Every Thursday, 6:45 p.m. at Christ's Church, 6045 Greenland Rd., Room 204, near I-95 & 9A; Email:<>

FIRST COAST ROMANCE WRITERS: Second Saturday of each month; start time varies based on program; see website Chaffee Road Library; 1425 Chaffee Road South, Jacksonville. Info:<>

MANDARIN WRITERS WORKSHOP: Second and fourth Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at S. Mandarin Library (corner of San Jose and Orange Picker Rd.). Larry Barnes at<>.

NORTH FLORIDA WRITERS: Second Saturday: 2 p.m. at Webb Wesconnett Library;<>

THE NORTHEAST FLORIDA CHAPTER OF FLORIDA WRITERS ASSN.: fourth Saturday of the month at 10:30 a.m. at the Ponte Vedra Library (between Jacksonville and St. Augustine). Vic DiGenti, FWA regional director. For more information, check<> or<>.

SISTERS IN CRIME: First Saturday of each month: 10:30 a.m. at Southeast Regional Library, 10599 Deerwood Park Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32256; Sherry Czerniejewski, president Email<>




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President: Margie Sauls (<>)

Vice President: Richard Levine (<>)

Secretary: Kathy Marsh (<>)

Treasurer: Howard Denson (<>)

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Membership is $15 for students, $25 for individuals, and $40 for a family. (Make out checks to WRITERS.) Mail your check to WRITERS, c/o Howard Denson, 1511 Pershing Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.

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