November 08, 2009

DO YOU HAVE MY NOUNS? by Guest Blogger Mary Jane Maffini So, do you have my nouns? Some days there isn't a single one to be heard in our house. In chat between my husband and me, nada. It's not like the dogs can eat them. They've just disappeared. Take today's morning conversation: He, looking frazzled. "Where's my um …?" Me, taking one eye off fascinating newspaper article featuring severed body parts. "What um?" "You know, the …" Voice trails off again. Cute silver head is scratched. He is wondering what is wrong with his wife that she can't tear herself from the blood and gore story to answer the simplest question. "Things, the things. I need them to start the um." "Oh right. I think I saw them on the whatzit, next to your … Did you check there?" "What whatzit?" He is starting to get annoyed, but doesn't want to show it, at least not until he finds the things. "What things?" I counter. He's not the only one who can get annoyed. "I had them when I got back yesterday because I used them to open the …" "Did you look on the whatzit?" I point upwards toward the bedroom, which has several whatzits, one of them with things on it. Grumbling starts. "Now I'm going to be late meeting what's-his-name at--." Snapping fingers follows grumbles, trying to get a handle on what's-his-name. A noun is after all person, place or thing. The persons and places can vanish too. Snapping fingers will not bring them back, as we've learned the hard way. Of course, it doesn't pay for me to get too uppity. It's merely a matter of time before I find myself saying "Have you seen that pile of stuff that was here yesterday? There's a lot of important er … " "What pile of stuff?" "You know, the, um. It was this high, over there by the you know." "Your voice trailed off. What stuff again?" Of course, he has no choice but to cooperate. After all, didn't I help him find those things on the whatzit just this morning? "Are you certain you didn't move it somewhere?" "I don't think so." "Sure you did.. It's right over by the gizmo near the the uh. Oops, watch out for the queerthing on the -- . Are you all right? Did you hurt your …?" Okay, all this, including missing noun injuries, might be expected if we didn't own six thousand books, including at least eighteen dictionaries. Or if we hadn't both read obsessively as children. I took care of fiction, he was in charge of non-fiction. Even if I wasn't as a friend once described me 'a known talker'. So it's not like we didn't ever have a supply of fancy upscale and occasionally obscure nouns to sprinkle in our sentences, insert into conversations or meaningful questions. Of course, what good are dictionaries when you have to check everything under S for stuff or T for thing? I put my lapses down to the brain-frying activity writing two books this year. They each contained mountains of nouns, many of them scary if not dangerous. That must be what's edging them out. But seriously, what's his excuse? Oh well, it's not so bad, really. As long as our verbs don't start to, you know … um. ------------------------------------------------------------- Mary Jane Maffini is the author of the Charlotte Adams mysteries and two Canadian series: the Ottawa-based Camilla MacPhee books and the Fiona Silk novels set in West Quebec. Her latest book, Law & Disorder, the sixth in the Camilla MacPhee series, is absolutely crawling with nouns. Verbs, too.
DO BLONDES HAVE MORE FUN? Posted by Sheila Connolly At Boucheron recently I was hanging out with a terrific group of women who all write in the same genre, traditional mysteries. (You know who you are!) In fact, many of us write for the same publisher. All are talented, interesting people. And I realized that most of them are blonde. When you know people primarily on-line, through their blogs or through writers lists, you don't think much about appearance. We do share a lot of personal information: I could probably tell you which ones are married, which have children, which are still working at day jobs. I could even tell you how many pets they have and what kind(s), or their favorite foods. But until you meet them at a conference, you have no idea what they look like. Well, this batch was blonde. Guess what: I'm not blonde. I felt like a goose in a swan convention. A "herd" of swans? (Hey, it sounds wrong, but I looked it up.) There are probably pictures to prove it. Why did I notice this? A few million years ago, when I was an art history major in college, I wrote a senior thesis about Victorian Genre Painting. In case you're unfamiliar with that (believe me, most people are), it was a style of painting that became popular when the middle classes in the later nineteenth century found they had some disposable income and started buying art, mainly as wall decoration. Quite a few of these pictures included the very people who were buying them: the English bourgeoisie. (Gee, kinda like cozies, eh?) The characters depicted were affluent members of the class, often seen in comfortable home environments. At the same time there was a "story-telling" element, and quite often a moral message. My particular focus in the thesis was how Victorian painters depicted women in that era (I wrote this during the height of the feminist wave). The overall theme was "home=good". Women were represented as the keepers of the hearth, helpmeets, and mothers. And to emphasize this, there was the antithesis of this image: the fallen woman. The picture that best sums this up was painted by one Arthur D. Lemon, titled "Pure Innocence/Pure in No Sense." It was a dual picture. On one side was a charming child at play; on the other, a prostitute. And both were blonde. (I'd love to show it to you, but it's so obscure that it doesn't appear anywhere on-line.) Blonde or fair hair is often associated with childhood. In addition, it is (if I recall my college biology classes correctly) also the result of recessive genes, so a "true" blonde is a relatively rare phenomenon, unless you happen to find yourself in Scandinavia. So if a woman chooses to lighten her hair color, she is doing it (a) to invoke in others pleasant associations with early childhood, or (b) to stand out in a crowd (think Marilyn Monroe). According to my in-depth research (i.e., I googled it), commercial hair bleach first emerged in a major way in the 1880s-90s, which corresponds to the period of Lemon's picture. I would guess his lady of the evening wanted to be noticed. Of course, hair color today runs the gamut from natural shades to neon, so a blonde hue is pretty mainstream. And then there's the age factor: many of us are "of a certain age," as the French would say. (TheFreeDictionary tells me that means a woman who "is no longer young but is not yet old." Unfortunately, with ageing comes grey hair. We live in a youth-oriented culture, and nobody wants to be branded as "old," even if they're only forty. Take a poll among any group of women: how many are sporting their own natural hair color? Not many, I'd bet. I plead guilty, and my grandmother went to her grave at 94 with dyed hair. My mother dyed her hair; my sister dyes hers. I resisted for as long as I could and finally gave in when I felt like I was fading into the wallpaper. But I didn't go blonde, because it would look entirely fake on me. Instead I opted for a tribute to my Irish forbears and chose a warm brown with reddish highlights (let's ignore the fact that the only Irish family members I knew had dark or sandy hair–not a redhead in the batch). At least I don't look blah and washed-out. So to come back to my original question: why are so many cozy writers blonde? We want to look younger than our chronological age? I don't think that applies. For one thing, many of us think that we're better writers now than we would have been twenty years ago, so we don't need to go back. Besides, our readers don't look at author photos when they buy our books. Is it because we want to stand out from the crowd? I'm happier with that idea. Maybe the blondes are saying, look at me! I'm smart, I'm articulate, and I like what I'm doing. It's a great group to hang out with–even if you're not blonde.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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