Romantic advice

I don't read romances and I don't write them, but it seems like the romance-writing scene has a lot of generous and friendly people. There's a lot of good advice out there. I don't know why this genre happens to be like that, but it certainly helps a lot of other types of writers.

I came across some encouraging advice from romance writer Gloria Dale Skinner at romantictimes.com, who says, "There are thousands of writers out there writing wonderful books that aren't getting published. Why? It finally comes down to how badly you want to be a published writer. How great is your desire? How well do you take criticism and change? If your desire is not eating away at you day and night with burning intensity so hot you feel like you're on fire, then you have less of a chance to be published than someone who is on fire."

She plugged away for years without any success. Then:

One day, a friend of mine told me that I should set a goal to sell a book within a year and if I didn't reach that goal, I should give it up and go on to do something else. Otherwise, she said, I'd continue to waste my time.

I thought about that for a long time. I'd written three complete books and two proposals. They were good books...special books. But the rejections were piling up. My friends and family members were always asking if I'd sold my book and when I had to tell them "no," I started doubting myself.

Maybe my best book wasn't good enough to be published. So I thought about other things I might like to do, since I had already been a housewife and mother for 15 years.

I had no desire to be a real estate agent, businesswoman, teacher, etc. And I didn't want to join a women's club and play bridge or tennis or golf. What I wanted to do was be a writer and I wanted to write romance. I discovered something else, too. My desire to be a published writer had no limits. I didn't care how long it took, I wasn't going to give up.

A few days later, I told this story to another published friend and she said, "Gloria, God doesn't give you the desire without the talent to back it up."

Now I had the inspiration. I already had the desire, the talent and the skills I'd learned at workshops. No matter how long it took me, no matter how many rejections I received or how many more workshops I had to attend, I was determined.

She sums it up by saying, "Is your desire great enough to withstand the rejections, self-doubts and the time it takes to get published? If so, sit back and relax. You're going to make it."



I have something to confess: today was the first day that I have written fiction in four months. The last time I wrote fiction was for Nanowrimo. I used to write fiction almost every day for nearly four years.

During those years I mostly worked alone, though I was briefly in a few writing groups and took a class for several months. Most of the time, however, I didn't know people who were really "going for it" like I was. Still, I was consistently disciplined. I "won" Nanowrimo in 2002 and 2004, and I did a draft of another novel. I even finished a novel: I did a few drafts, had people critique it, then I polished it, and it's already been rejected about 15 times.

Writing fiction used to be a big part of my life, but after Nanowrimo, I wondered what it was all for. Why was I trying at something so hard that probably wouldn't lead anywhere? I hadn't succeeded, hadn't made any important contacts, hadn't gotten any "breaks," so maybe I wasn't cut out for it. But then during those four fictionless months, I felt very agitated. I was assuming that it was Chicago's cold weather mixed with short days, or maybe it was the freelance projects I was working on that were piling up.

Ironically, all that "wasted" experience of writing fiction got me a gig helping someone with a non-fiction book that's going to be published in the fall. The people I was working with didn't care that I hadn't gotten the fiction published; they figured since I'd finished a book, I understood the process of putting a polished book together. And someone else has approached me about helping them out with their book, too.

So yesterday, as I was feeling sorry for myself once again, I thought that it could be cured with another stab at fiction. Maybe one millenium I will succeed. But will it matter if I don't?


Get your baskets

When I was in German class last week, our teacher (who's German Catholic) told us about people in her neighborhood (who are Polish Catholic) who get their baskets blessed on Easter. All of us asked her to repeat what she said, because we'd never heard of that before, even though Chicago's a Catholic town. Da Mayor certainly doesn't do it. Nobody I know has ever done it.

I didn't seek out an explanation, but I saw that Arthur Chrenkoff, who immigrated from Poland, talked about it in his blog, and linked to a Polish site that says:

The blessing of the Easter food, or the "Swieconka" is a tradition dear to the heart of every Pole. Being deeply religious, he is grateful to God for all His gifts of both nature and grace, and, as a token of this gratitude, has the food of his table sanctified with the hope that spring, the season of the Resurrection, will also be blessed by God's goodness and mercy.

The usual fare on the Easter table includes ham and kielbasa, cakes of all kinds - particularly babka; eggs - some shelled or some decorated. There is usually a Paschal Lamb or "Baranek" made of butter, some cheese, horseradish, salt, vinegar and oil.

The food is brought to the church and blessed by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. The food can also be blessed in the home. After the blessing, the food is usually set aside until Easter morning when the head of the house shares the blessed egg, symbol of life, with family and friends.

I guess I have to hang out around Milwaukee Avenue more often.


C.S.P. decoded

What the heck is "C.S.P."? I'd seen it a few times in Spanish, but couldn't find the definition. A search for C.S.P. in Google brought up almost 3.7 million results. There was no way I could wade through all that information.

So I asked some native Spanish speakers, but they didn't know. However, one of them asked a native speaker who's interpreted and translated for at least one former U.S. President, so if he didn't know, then no one would.

He was able to provide an explanation for C.S.P.: "cantidad suficiente para," which literally means "quantity sufficient for."

I ended up finding an example of it at a site from Spain:

"Según las mismas fuentes, Magistra Micof permite trabajar con 'todo tipo de unidades de medida' como peso, volumen, unidades, porcentaje y cantidad suficiente para (C.S.P.)..."

Basically, it's a way to measure, so a company might list ingredients, then say "C.S.P. 100%," which means that there are enough ingredients to equal 100%. So if you ever come across this, you won't have to remain perplexed.


Great ending

I recently read the novel A Clean Slate by Laura Caldwell and I must say that it has a great ending. I'm not going to give it away, of course, but if you're reading it (or are going to) and are wondering what's going on and are on the verge of annoyance, let me tell you that it's worth it, and the story has a point. I was so surprised and affected by the ending to the point of tears (I can be an emotional consumer of culture at times)--out of joy or sadness, I won't divulge.

Even though Lauren Caldwell lives in Chicago, I've never seen her around town. But it's not like we run in the same circles, anyway, or attend groovy book signings or conferences or swell parties. She doesn't know that I'm merely a language-addicted peon, yet she's answered my emails, even the emotional one I sent her about the great ending, replete with numerous exclamation points.

So I'm mentioning her book not just because it had a great ending, but also because she seems like a friendly person.


Kat with Rush

I was reading Kathryn Lively's blog about 10 things she's done that she thinks her readers haven't done, and noticed number six: "met two-thirds of Rush." Here's proof:

I wonder how many other pregnant women met them that day, or any day.


Helpful Diccionarios

I've been looking for a good Spanish dictionary, and Languagehat (aka Mr. Language) pointed me towards Real Academia Espanola.

I also found a good Spanish-English dictionary at Word Reference. They also have:


I haven't tried out the other languages yet, but so far, the Spanish-English one has been helpful.

Tragically, the German-English dictionary has bitten the dust at Word Reference. But they say, and I've heard from a native German speaker, that there's a good one at a Munich university.


Decode addresses

If you've ever tried to tackle romanizing Japanese addresses, you've probably been on the brink of insanity and anger and frustration and every other emotion that goes along with trying to even read the language. Well, I have finally found the place where you can find the CORRECT readings for Japanese addresses.

Actually, the best language teacher on the planet sent me a link because I was always getting the addresses wrong. Like using the "on" reading instead of the "kun" reading or visa-versa, or not mixing them correctly, whatever. It has really driven me nuts.

So here's the site: The Japan Post Office. What better place? Just choose the prefecture (if you know it--if not, you have to look it up as well, via a quick Internet search or in one of those monster kanji dictionaries), then type in the kanji of the address (including 区 or 町 because even those have different readings depending on the whim of the Japanese place-namers of yore). And voila! You'll see the city come up along with the breakdown of the previously un-decodable address.

Enjoy! Knock yourself out! Never be ignorant again!


All up

I've just finished posting all the translations I did for a Rush fan site. You can read the translations at Metrolingua (if you care).

I also translated parts of blogs and other tidbits for the fan site, but they were only to convey information, so they're more summaries than complete translations. If you're really dying to know what the info was, let me know, and I can post it here.

Unfortunately, some of the original Portuguese articles are no longer available online. So if you're reading one of them and are wondering if it's really a translation, it really is! I wouldn't waste my time making up stuff about Rush in Brazil--I've got better things to do, like sending queries to agents that will most likely be rejected.

Actually, I've done hundreds of other translations, but they were for a company, and besides, they're not as interesting. And they're not for public consumption. Non-disclosure agreement and all that.

And I swear, I did translate this into English, but it hasn't been posted yet! As soon as it is, I'll be sure to let the world know--it's thousands of words and took me a while.


Popjisyo rediscovered

I always have to look up Japanese words and kanji, and it's not always convenient to use a book-type dictionary. Also, I want to see more examples of usage and have a quick reference online. Popjisyo has really helped me. I've mentioned this site before, but wow, I didn't realize all it could do until recently, when I've been using it a lot more often.

What you do is paste in Japanese words in a text box to look up both the meaning and the correct reading of the word, plus the correct reading of the individual kanji. For instance, if you see a word that contains two or more kanji (such as 国連)but don't know the correct reading, just type in the kanji, press "Word Lookup" and it will provide the meaning of the word. Plus, when you move the cursor over each kanji, it will give you all the readings and meanings of each one (like a dictionary).

But that's not all--you can also create your own study list. All you do is double click on the word, and it will add it to your list, and every time you go back to the site, your list is sitting there, waiting for you. And, if that's not impressive enough, you can email your study list to yourself! I have at least 50 words on my list, which is also sitting in my email inbox.

By the way, it's hard to describe a "word" in Japanese; if you've studied Japanese or Chinese, you know that one character can be a word or a word can include more than one character. But that's what's cool about the site: you can find out the meaning of any length word plus all of the individual characters. Your study of Japanese (or Chinese) can deepen.

I use the site for Japanese to English, but it can also be used for:
Korean to English
Chinese to English
English to Korean
English to Japanese
English to Spanish (I wish it was the other way around!)
Japanese to German

Wait a sec--I should've been taking advantage of Japanese to German to kill two birds with one stone, but I haven't used that feature yet. Maybe I will soon. At least in time for my German class on Monday.

There's another site called Rikai, which seems similar to Popjisyo, but I haven't used it as much. You can paste text or a web address into the box, and move the cursor over the words for the readings and meanings.


Windy city

Today it was really windy. I had to hold on to my hat, and saw a guy lose his. I could barely fight the wind as I walked down the street. It made me think about the term "Windy City" which people attribute to Chicago's wind. That's what an idiom site thinks, and also includes a vague and borderline incorrect explanation of that term:

Everyone thinks that Chicago is referred to as the Windy City because of the howling northeast winds that can blow across the city off of our Lake Michigan, and yeah--those winds are something else, nasty as can be!! But hey, stick around for a few minutes and the weather just might change. The real meaning to the term is due to the big mouth politicians that reside in and control this city. Though the term was put into use at the turn of the 20th century, it is still so very true today.

The Chicago Historical Society explains it better. The term had to do with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which celebrated "the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's landing in America." The CHS also says:

New York City, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and Chicago had all vied for the honor of housing the exposition, and it was during this vigorous and often vocal competition that Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, dubbed Chicago "that windy city." Chicago's lobbyists finally won out and, on April 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the act that designated Chicago as the site of the exposition.

If you want to check out the origin of other English idioms, check out the idiom site. I just can't guarantee that all their information is correct.


Not a band

I didn't partake in any nerdiness today, but Kraftwerk was on my mind because of a 30-year old article that the Brazilian fans sent me.

The most popular Kraftwerk song is Autobahn (in my opinion). It still sounds fresh, even though it's 30 years old. I got the album (ie, vinyl) in the 80's when they re-released it. And now that I've been on the actual Autobahn in Germany, I can see what they were trying to capture. But even if you haven't been there, you can still feel the ride, with a German flavor.

The song starts out with:

"Wir fahr'n, fahr'n, fahr'n auf der Autobahn" ("We're driving, driving, driving on the autobahn.") You can see the original German lyrics and the translations in English, Portuguese, French, Slovak, Spanish, Italian, and Russian at the fan site.

The article includes Florian Schneider's description of their "non-band" self-perception: "Kraftwerk is not a band...It's a concept. We call it 'Die Menschmaschine,' which means 'the human machine.' We are not the band. I am me. Ralf is Ralf. And Kraftwerk is a vehicle for our ideas."

BTW: the Brazilian fans have their own electronic music site. I hope to meet them one day--they seem really nice (as most Brazilians are).


Nerdiness confirmed

I mentioned before some nerdiness I was involved in, and it's been confirmed. The guys at the Kraftwerk fan site have asked people throughout the world to confirm some concert dates and venues. They wanted to know about Chicago, so I helped them out.

"So what's so nerdy about that?" you ask.

This: I had to go to the library and look up the info on microfilm. I had no luck with the Sun-Times, and I didn't want to wade through The Tribune, because it seemed like Kraftwerk was too artsy for those types of newspapers. And then it dawned on me: The Chicago Reader. It's a funky paper that lists all types of concerts, so I tried it, and found what I was looking for. And it's been posted too.

It was a cool process, real investigative work. And the nerdiness has continued: today I went to the library to look for some articles about the band in music magazines, and while I didn't have time to find them on microfilm, at least I know the magazines are there. Who knows when this nerdiness will end.