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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Well, I told you that I’d be keeping everyone updated as I found out more. As promised, I have a couple of important announcements about my upcoming release, “Specimen 25.”

First, the cover:

Cover_Specimen25

What do you think?

My first cover! I’m thrilled with the way it turned out, and I want to take a quick moment to thank Angela and the Bookies over at HBB for all the great work they’ve put into this. I wrote the story, but they’re putting all the pieces together and getting it ready so that you, and everyone else out there, can go get your hands on a copy when it comes out. Speaking of that…

“Specimen 25” will be released this August! I don’t have an exact date yet, but once I do I’ll be back on here to yell it into cyberspace and get the word out.

Once again, thank you to everyone who made this possible–especially Catherine, without whom this story would never have been sent out for consideration in the first place!

And remember, you never know what might end up here on the blog one night.

Say What: Obliterate

Alright. This is another post in my ongoing look at the origins of words in the English language. If you missed the first one, you can read it here.

Today’s word is obliterate.

Obliterate, as the OED so sagely informs us, comes from the Latin obliterare. The word meant, literally, “to erase” and, figuratively, “to cause to be forgotten.”

In English, the verb ‘obliterate’ has several definitions, three of which I want to draw your attention to:

  1. “To wipe out (a mental impression, memory, feeling, etc.); to do away with, destroy (a quality, characteristic, etc.).”
  2. “To blot out (anything written, drawn, imprinted, etc.) so as to leave no distinct traces; to erase, delete, efface,” and, “To cause to disappear; to efface (something visible or perceived by the senses).”
  3. “To destroy completely; to devastate, demolish, or lay waste; to eradicate, annihilate.”

(Note that #3 on that list is actually listed as #4 in the OED’s entry.)

Now, take a moment and think of any time that you can remember where you used the word ‘obliterate’ or read it in a sentence. My guess is that most people will think of an example which falls under definition #3, above.

Personally, I have rarely encountered the word as defined by the first part of #2—the meaning which most closely adheres to its origins.

So, here, I raise a question: Why is it that this last, and most extreme, version of ‘obliterate’ is the one we’re used to seeing?

It came into usage well after the other two definitions I’ve listed had become part of the lexicon. The example given by the OED is a sentence in which the word is used to describe the potential effect of smoking on the brain, and it is dated 1798. Note that in this context ‘obliterate’ refers to something very neutral—the deterioration of a human organ, more specifically as pertaining to humans in general.

Further examples from later time periods begin to take on increasingly more negative tones. The most recent, from 1991, uses ‘obliterate’ to describe the destruction of an entire people by an epidemic of smallpox. Among the other examples are the obliteration of buildings and streets which have fallen victim to arson, along with the description of thousands of graves obliterated. Used in this way, the word becomes a descriptor for destruction on a larger scale or with greater force. In some cases it is the fullest realization of both original definitions, an act that erases all memory and substance, rendering the object nullified.

This is a darker and more ominous form of obliteration, in my opinion.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t even begun to answer the question I brought up before. A much deeper look into the evolution of this word’s etymology and how it’s been used over time would be required to come to a reasonable conclusion. I’m sure this sort of research would eventually uncover a logical path to this definition’s current predominance, perhaps by showing a more detailed timeline of when and where it’s been used. That information would prove useful for pinning down the factual history of this particular shade of the word.

I suggest looking at the question through another lens, using the true source of the word as inspiration for inquiry: the people and cultures from which the language was born. Language is more than a form of communication, being also a reflection of the collective minds that have created its laws and structures. This means that our words are formed by human, and thus emotional as well as rational, minds and are influenced by the many subjective qualities inherent in the diversity of humanity.

Words have layers, to put it another way.

What does this suggest about our modern form of the word ‘obliterate’ and its gradual transformation into a signifier of total annihilation?

I have my own ideas about what it might mean, but I’m going to stop short of telling you what they are—after all, your own ideas could be more profound or startling by comparison. And it wouldn’t be much fun if I did all of the thinking for you, right?

I am writer. But what does that mean?

Depending on who you ask, the answer to that question will vary enormously from person to person.

For a lot of people, particularly people that don’t write for pleasure or passion or just to pay the bills, writing is often distilled into another question: What do you write? And based on the answer they get, those people start to form a picture in their mind about who and what the writer in question is–and, really, there’s nothing wrong with that. We’d do the same thing for any other profession, too. That’s a perfectly logical approach to finding a way to place someone, to figure out where they fit in the world.

Anyone who writes, and takes their craft seriously, will tell you that there’s so much more to writing than what gets put onto the page. There’s work to be done, at every stage, and it requires more than just an imagination and some time alone with a laptop or a pen and notebook. The process of writing begins as an inner journey for the individual putting together the words, but good writers know that this is only the start of that long adventure. Ahead lies a series of challenges that must be met head-on in order to push through to the next phase, whether it’s finding someone to read that story you wrote or going back to a draft and tackling that most tedious part of a writer’s existence: revisions.

Even beyond this, though, there are a whole host of other considerations. When you tell someone that you’re a writer, they’ll be inclined to believe you, but will you believe it, too?

I spent a long time telling other people that I was a writer, but for some reason it always felt hollow when I said it aloud. I had plenty of reasons that I thought explained this feeling of mine, but now I’m beginning to see the real reason. Before, it was easy to say, “Well, I’m not published and I know I’m not spending nearly enough time writing,” and similar things like that, because, technically, those things were true. I now see that those weren’t the real reasons that I felt like a fraud when I talked about being a writer.

The truth was much less about the writing I was, or wasn’t, doing, but instead it was about the lack of connection that I lived with for so long. Writing starts with me, up in my messed up brain, and for years that’s pretty much where it stopped.

Fast forward to the present, and I no longer feel that same hollow feeling inside when I tell someone that I’m a writer. What’s the biggest difference? The difference is that I’ve cast aside my fears, of being laughed at or being told my ideas suck, and made a whole-hearted effort to become part of my tribe. Writing is not something that should be done alone, except maybe in that first draft stage where it’s just you and that awesome idea you’ve had tumbling around in your head. It takes a lot to put yourself out there, and, most importantly, to ask for help. The truth is that every writer needs this help, and only the foolish or ignorant ones choose to think otherwise. I’ve found that the more I put myself out there–and I mean me, not just my fiction–the more I receive in return.

Last year, I joined an online writing workshop (for anyone who’s curious, check it out: Critters), because I wanted to get feedback on my writing. That was a big part of the process I’d been avoiding for some time, mostly because I was afraid. I pushed past all my doubts, because on some level I knew I had to do it. What I got turned out to be way more than just critiques of my words: I’ve grown as a writer, yes, but so too have I grown as a person, as part of a community whose value is not merely expressed by the stuff that it’s made up of but also by the people who share that common endeavor. I’ve made acquaintances, learned some really interesting things about my own and other people’s writing, and I’ve even found that some of the skills I need to be part of that community can be adapted for use in other arenas of my life. The best part of it? I get to help other writers, help them make their stories the best possible version they can be, and I can use my skills in a way that doesn’t only benefit me.

A couple of months ago I submitted one of my stories to a contest, which is something I never do. I won the contest. What really stands out for me in this case isn’t the fact that I won, though that was cool in its own right, but that I put myself out there again–and once again I got back way more than I ever could have imagined. I made a vital connection, and also a great new friend. I now have allies to help me on my quest to tell stories and inspire others.

All of the success I’ve been seeing in my writing life has come from more than one source, it’s important to note. I owe many thanks to the people in my life that have encouraged me to pursue my goals and believe in my abilities. Without their support I would have quit a long time ago. Not to mention my teachers and professors, many of whom helped shape my views of the world and gave me the tools I needed to get the work done. And, you know, all those amazing authors whose work made me believe in the power of words. The point I’m getting at in this blog is, even with all of their help, I was never going to succeed if I didn’t take risks and become part of the larger world of writers.

I’ve slowly dipped my toes into the water, inching a little further into the sea of wordsmiths, and now I don’t feel like a fish out of water.

I can’t do this on my own. Now that I can admit that, I know I’m closer than ever to becoming the writer I want to be. Of course, there’s always more work to be done, always room to improve.

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For anyone who’s still reading along, or at least skimming so they can pretend they are, here’s a little preview of what I’ve got in the works for the blog…

“Specimen 25” is getting closer to publication, and as promised I will have some interesting stuff to go along with it that you’ll only be able to find here, on my site.

I still need to do some serious research before I can start in on the actual writing, but I am planning a series of posts about fictional world building–who’s writing about it, how people are actively engaged with it, and what resources are available to writers that want to delve into the subject. There’s lots to talk about, and I’m excited for what I’ll be presenting to you when the time comes.

I’ve also got a couple of interviews coming to the blog sometime in the near future, which I’m really looking forward to, with authors and other professionals in the world of publishing. There are so many voices out there in the world, and I’m going to do my part to introduce you to some of them.

And, naturally, I’ll be working on more stuff about etymology and language to put up on here, because I’m always striving to learn more and now I have a way to start sharing this knowledge with the rest of you.

Stay tuned, folks.