Wording and the Art of Interpretation

Check out our vibrating plows!

This is the sign I see one day while driving outside of a lawn and garden equipment rental business. Of course, I didn’t see the large business sign declaring, first, that this statement belonged to a lawn and garden equipment rental place. What I notice is the large, multi-colored lettering declaring this place has vibrating plows. Immediately my brain jumps into hyper-drive, all things, um, gutteral, shall we say. And I’m left wondering, as my eye catches on the business’s primary sign, if the person who designed this slogan for the day worded it thusly intentionally? Could their intent have been to conjure a naughty school-boy response to one of their products? I wonder. Or is it a simple matter of “speaking” without thinking.

Clearly, such a thing as vibrating plows exists. As indicated by the picture to the right here. And, again clearly, these people probably do rent this lawn and garden equipment. But was there a better way that could have been used to describe their inventory if a little more thought had been put into the wording ahead of time and people’s potential reactions to it?

B.C., you’re being silly. Not everyone would jump to this naughtiness like you did.

That’s probably very correct. But the sad thing is that enough people could and would misinterpret the words on this business’s sign. But, perhaps, one example is not enough. Try this one on for size.

While driving down the road on vacation a few years back, I pass a muffler and auto repair shop. The typical auto shop related items are out front – vehicles in all manner of disrepair, oil stains on the pavement, and a stack of tires set out inticingly to lure in buyers who are in no actual need of tires – but it’s the sign that really catches my attention.

No muff too tuff.

No joke. This sign is right out for the world to stop and gawk…while driving down the downtown business district in an extremely large, heavily-commuted city. And, of course, with this bold, declarative statement of vast interpretation, people do stop and stare. Or, at least, drive very very slowly trying to puzzle out if they’ve read this public sign correctly.

So what does this have to do with writing, B.C.?

Writing is the very essence of word interpretation. We take our thoughts and feelings, our emotions and experiences, and inscribe them for all to see in print, for all time. However, whether a writer is truly good at his/her craft, well, that depends how those words are interpreted by the reader.

I once heard someone say (and I can’t remember who or else I’d quote them directly and give them credit for such a brilliant statement) that ‘English teachers, often, put more thought into a book than the author/s did.’ This declaration made me laugh out loud. Then it made me stop and think. Because, often times, this statement is very true. How many of the classic Greats, do you think actually sat down with the intent of the story they were writing conveying a certain emotion? Probably not many. If the Greats are like most writers (and I’ve always pictured them thusly), the story they were trying to write (whether the Great was Hemingway or Bradbury or Palahniuk) was probably burning up their brains, demanding to be put on paper (or screen). There was plenty of emotion going into the project, no doubt, but it was most likely the need to get the words out of their heads as fast as their brains were supplying them.

The important thing was that the Greats were/are thusly named because they were/are masters of their craft. Without direct intent, they can convey emotions to the reader without having to consciously think on the matter. What makes them even better is that, later, whilst editing, they can then further hone those emotions by re-reading their work and selecting exactly the right words to make their emotion abundantly clear without leaving open-ended interpretation of their words.

The entire point of my rant today is that wording is very important. The right words can whip a crowd into a frenzy of emotion, whilst the wrong words can whip them into the opposite frenzy…you know, the one you totally didn’t intend but that the crowd interpreted from the words you decided to choose to make your statement or your novel. As writers it’s our job to pick the right words to make our points abundantly clear and to leave as little open to interpretation as possible.

B.C. Brown

Unraveling the Mystery – Interview with Author Jay Zimmer

Books are my all-consuming passion. Whether I’m choosing to touch pen to paper (or fingers to keys in my case most of the time), selling a much-loved novel at my and long time friend J. Travis Grundon’s bookstore The Mockingbird Book Emporium, or whether I’m selecting one to read for myself, books are my chamomile tea, my sweeping romance, or my mysterious puzzle. This being said, I read…well, EVERYTHING. My motto: If it’s been written, it deserves to be, and probably will be, read – by me. So when people ask me what I read, they are sometimes surprised when I tell them “everything.”

“Everything? Really?” they ask. It seems they have trouble understanding how a person can like science fiction AND romance, or like horror AND westerns, but I do. I’m not claiming that every book in every genre entices me to pick it up and read it, but I am always willing to at least consider a book no matter the genre.

So what are you getting at here, B.C.?

OK, the point, I understand. I like to ramble. 🙂 My point is that I love to read. But what I like most is finding a good book, or a good author, and passing them along to others. And that is my point today – to share both a good author and a good book.

Author Jay Zimmer (Evansville, Indiana) has been gracious enough to answer a few questions regarding his writing and his books with me. (And, to let you know, signed copies of both of his books are available at my new bookstore, The Mockingbird Book Emporium, in Vincennes, Indiana.) So, without further ado…here’s Jay!

Would you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing?

My name is Jay Zimmer. I’ve been writing since my teens and am pleased to be able to say I’ve finished every story I’ve started. I am the author of the Peter McDermott Adventure Series, a group of books with the same lead characters who experience many and diverse adventures from dealing with female terrorists, to a modern-day hunt for pirate treasure, to a familial generational murder mystery to a clandestine university sex club.

OK, now that the preliminaries are out of the way…Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing.

I am an avid boater. I own a 32-foot Marinette cabin cruiser I keep in the marina at Evansville, and I am winding up a three-year term as Commodore of Inland Yacht Club. I am also a college student. At 58 I started working toward a Business Management Degree at Harrison College and my grade point average is 3.97. I enjoy taking walks, many of them along the river, and I dabble in cooking from time to time. In addition I am a classically trained musician and sometimes play bass in pick-up bands and at one time wanted to play music full time. I did, for several years, but I sold out for a steady paycheck albeit a small one, and went into broadcast journalism where I stayed for 40 years. I am now retired and a full-time freelance writer.

Many writers talk about how much they like to read, what are your favorite genres or topics of interest?

I own many books about the U.S. presidents and our Founding Fathers — an interest I developed in partly growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, the only state capital to serve as the U.S. Capital. The presidency and how it came to be — and what the occupants of the office brought to it — is absolutely fascinating — and every Administration was something new and different. Otherwise, my favorite author is Clive Cussler. I particularly enjoy the Oregon Files and the Dirk Pitt adventures, and much of my writing is loosely modeled on Cussler’s style, although my heroes aren’t anywhere near the supermen his are. I also like biographies of my favorite music and show business people.

Do you write in the same genres you like to read?

As I say I am a huge Cussler fan, and he has inspired me, but you should not infer from that any intention to plagiarize his excellent work — I am my own writer and newspaperman Peter McDermott is his own man. Yes, I do write in the genres I like to read, I think every author does. they find something they like in another book and they say to themselves, “I can do that.” It’s amazing how many of them do — evidenced by how many first-time-author books come out every year. I haven’t attempted nonfiction yet. That may be the next thing that happens after McDermott runs his course, you just never know. I may also write an autobiography, the title of which will be the punch-line of my favorite joke. It could be called “And There I stood With My Piccolo.”

Do you often glean ideas or inspiration from other authors?

I think every author does this. One of the things that turns a weiter into an author is inspiration from otehrs whose work has affected the writer deeply. I’ve picked up things such as dialog style, narrative direction, word usage, and so on from people like Judith Krantz, Erica Jong, James Patterson, John Grisham, Herman Wouk, William Martin and of course CLive Cussler. Like other writers, I’ve taken all the things I’ve picked up, things in other people’s books that have caught my eye, and distilled each of these individual elements into a single style — my style. I don’t try to write “like” any one particular author, but use different elements of each to develop who I am as an author.

What other stories do you have cooking at the moment, or are you unwilling to give us a sneak peek?

In my currently in-progress novel, McDermott, Rod Pitcher and Charlie Hume run across a sex club at a university. It’s one that exploits the college co-eds and is protected by the chief of police and the sheriff of the county — and one where girls who blab about it find themselves in the Chesapeake Bay with a knife in their breasts. “The Color of Dark” will be out next year. In the one after that, McDermott and his colleagues take on a popular, charismatic preacher whose flock is being sheared and whose lives are being ruined — or taken. It will be called “Thou Shalt Not…” Next will come “Of Mind and Motive.” Ruinous items show up on the society page of a new Annapolis (MD) newspaper, which names names and leads to many divorces and business closings and even worse. When the columnist who writes the dirty items turns up dead there are just too many suspects to investigate. But because it was a journalist, however oily, who was killed, the crew of Baltimore’s North Bay Times traces the clues to a single common denominator — a psychic visited by many of the victims.

Jay’s books can be found online at www.jayzimmer.com, along with cool information regarding his newest and latest novels coming out. I want to extend a very special thank you to him for taking the time to talk with us! I can’t stress enough that, if you like good stories with quick pacing and witty dialogue and adventure, you must pick up one of Jay’s novels – Code of Theophilus or Dry Terror.

Cracker Jack Prizes

I don’t like popcorn. In any of its forms – caramel, cheesy, white chocolate, etc., to me, popcorn is more of an annoyance than a practical food source. And unless I’m starving or totally broke, popcorn is not on my list of food selections. So why is it that most of my childhood memories include walking down to the convenience store down the street from my grandparent’s house in order to buy Cracker Jack boxes by the arm full? Well, looking back on those memories, I’ve searched for the answer, looking to see if I actually ate this food source in such abundance as a child that, perhaps, I burned myself out on it as an adult. But what I always remember is happily carting home my bundle of boxes, anticipation bubbling in my tummy; sitting down Indian-style in my grandma’s back bedroom, also known as the grand kid’s playroom; ripping into the boxes, tearing all the tops open one at a time prior to looking at their contents; and, finally, handing them off to my cousin whose convenience store loot consisted of chocolate and fruit-flavored sugar. So what was the purpose of me buying the caramel popcorn if I was going to hand it off to a family member to devour? Simple. I didn’t buy the snack for its multitude of contents. I bought it for one specific content – the prize.

Of course many people have the same memories – although a few, I’m sure, actually ate the sweet popcorn on the inside – so why is my story valuable? Well, it’s because, in the end, most of us were waiting for, and looking for, the prize at the bottom of that red, white, blue and caramel-colored box.

All right, B.C., what does this have to do with writing?

I promise I am getting to the point. The reason for my little trip down memory lane ties very closely with my current standpoint in my professional life. The elusive search for the legitimate publisher.


And that, my friends, is where I am at in my professional life currently. Now that I am finally getting past my stumbling hurdle of e-publishing as an option thanks to professional and personal friends of mine (you know who you are!), I’m stuck with a multitude of publishers to add to the list of publishers I already had in my little notebook. The possibilities are overwhelming!

So where do you start?

A professional friend once gave me a formula for checking the legitimacy of a publisher. I’ve felt that its time to pass on this bit of information to others. And, I know, everything on the list seems like common sense but, trust me, when you are wading through the myriad of publishers and your eyes have crossed from the bright light of your lap top’s screen, common sense has long since decided to take a coffee break. Having a copy of these check-rules beside me when I begin the long hunt to finding a legitimate publisher helps me, and I want to pass on the good advice to others because, let’s face it, GOOD advice is few and far between a lot of the time.

1. Ask for Author references.
2. Ask for a local bank reference.
3. Look them up on Amazon.
4. Ask for samples of their printing / binding.
5. Look for an office you can go into.
6. Type their name into google followed by PROBLEMS.
7. Ask for samples of book cover designs.
8. Ask if they use template. If they do RUN AWAY.
9. Ask for store references where they have books at.

These are the basic rules I abide by when I start the hunt for a legitimate publisher. Since one of the most frequently asked questions I receive is “How Do I Find A Publisher?” I hope this list lets people know a little bit more about the process I have when researching for one. Also, one of the best tools I’ve come across for researching and finding a good publisher is to talk to people. Making contacts with people already in the writing industry is one of the sharpest tools a writer can have in their tool belt. So, remember, we’re good with the words flowing out of our mouths as well as the ones flowing from our fingertips.

As always, do any of my author friends who read and follow my blog have any recommendations or tips for aspiring authors searching for publication? Anything you think should be added to this list?

B.C. Brown

To Build A Mockingbird

J. Travis Grundon and long time friend B.C. Brown have decided that the one thing an author can bring to a community is books. The two have decided to bring books to Vincennes, Indiana, not just their own. Brown and Grundon have joined forces to create The Mockingbird Book Emporium.

The Mockingbird is designed to be a new and used bookstore with a focus on local and bestselling authors of all genres.

“We wanted to be a part of the downtown business district and really make Vincennes a cool place,” Brown told one source.

The grand opening of the store will be on September 11th at 10am, with St. Louis author Joe Schwartz signing and reading from his book Joe’s Black T-Shirt. The opening will also feature refreshments, door prizes and several local authors in attendance. One door prize mentioned for the event is a signed copy of Isabella Moon by Laura Benedict. Other prizes will include more books signed by local authors and a gift certificate. The amount of the certificate will be announced at the opening.

Vincennes Chamber of Commerce President Marc McNeece was thrilled to tell the local newspaper, “A bookstore has been one of those things that’s been missing for a while.”

Brown and Grundon have several events and fun already planned for the store from a 10/10/10 ten author signing to a Mark twain tribute, that will coincide with the release of Twain’s highly anticipated biography.

The Mockingbird will also be having local play actors reading to children, one Saturday a month.

“This is something I have wanted to do for a very long time and I’m ecstatic to have so much support from the city,” Grundon said.

The published co-owners of the store have been very hard at work getting ready and the buzz about the store in Indiana’s first city is already huge.

Upcoming Events:

Sept. 11th, 2010 – Grand Opening with Author Joe Schwartz

Sept. 25th, 2010 – Children’s Author/Vincennes Lincoln Alumni Dr. Ed Yosowitz Signing with profits going to the Ronald McDonald House.

Oct. 10th, 2010 – Ten Author Signing Event featuring: Co-Owners B.C. Brown and J. Travis Grundon, along with Thriller Author Jay Zimmer, Local Woman’s Fiction Author Molly Daniels, Non-Fiction Author David Boyer, Horror Author Brian Barnett, and several more!