Monthly Archives: November 2008

Hemingway in the fall

When I was asked to be the only instructor for the First Annual Fall Hemingway Writer’s Retreat, I will confess that I was a little nervous. Writers can be an…uhm…unusual lot—trust me, I’ve dealt with my share of over-inflated egos—and there was no pressure when I was the wingman this past summer. But flying solo carried a much heavier weight.

Writer Retreats aren’t unusual at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Education Center, in fact, this past summer celebrated 6 years of Retreats to the small town of Piggott, Arkansas, where Ernest Hemingway lived for a brief period of time and penned portions of A Farewell to Arms.

The fall version just finished, was the first to occur outside the summer dates. The retreat began Thursday, November 13 and ran through Saturday, November 15. Each day was a full day, beginning at 9 a.m. and closing at 5 p.m. The writers were there to write—and write they did!

And, I worried for nothing.

An incredibly talented bunch, the produced a wide range of stories and poetry. Needless to say, it kept me very busy. Editing is not something I ever really “wanted” to do, but it was something I discovered—over time—that I’m pretty good at. Even in college, all I really wanted to do was write…but I kept being drawn to circumstances and situations that put me in an “editing” mode. Even moving to Piggott back in ’06 was to take an editing job. Though, truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have taken it had I not been able to write as much as I did as well.

But editing can be a tough job. Often, you’ve got to tell a writer—who we’ve already established is just a little bit different—that something isn’t working or something needs revising. The writer in me knows that I don’t always like to hear that sort of thing either. I know I need to hear it, but don’t necessarily want to hear it. As an editor, I think my strength lies in “big picture;” plot, story, etc. I’m not one who spends a lot of time on line edits. I guess I’ve always thought the individual writer should focus on that part.

But again, the worry was for nothing. These writers were like sponges. They soaked up everything I said. Let me tell any of you reading here what I said to each of them: Mine is but one opinion—an experienced one, sure—but just one. Ultimately, the opinion that matters is that of the writer…and the person/editor/publisher that’s going to give them money for their work!

And, it must have gone over well with most of them, too. I wasn’t home two days when I’d gotten an invitation to return next November to lead the Second Annual Fall Hemingway Writer’s Retreat, this time for a full week! The date is November 16-20 and space will be limited. Contact Deanna Dismukes, Education Coordinator (who, by the way, takes incredibly good care of all participants—each writer, and instructor!, is treated as if they were Hemingway themselves!) for more information.  

The participants were (left-right): John Murphree, Monica Moore, Bob Jones; Kathy Helmer, Linda Wyss, me; Sandra Harrison, Phyllis Rhodes; Wanda “Faye Williams” Jones, Christine Henderson; Glynda Bates, Ethan Baker, Mary Lester. Not pictured: Freeda Nichols, Marilyn Stroud and Barbara Longstreth-Mulkey.

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The Use of “pre”

I enjoy learning the way meanings and uses of words have changed over time. I knew it happened, but it wasn’t something I often thought about. The most obvious one that every American knows is “gay.” If you ever read old American (or even British works, I guess) works, you’ll see that gay means happy. I’m not totally sure how that word ever came to mean what it does now…and it’s even becoming an insult word now.

So while changes to words wasn’t something I was completely unaware of, I really became aware of the differences when teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at UNA. Most international students come with a completely different understanding of how language should be used.

Anyway, the use of “pre” these days is really what got me thinking about all this.

Webster’s gives us several definitions of “pre,” but they all generally mean “before” or “prior” or something similar. This is the definition with which we’re all familiar and are comfortable. Pre-history means before recorded history; pre-game means before the game; preview means to view before you view?

But now it seems like advertisers and big marketers are trying to skew the term pre-fix.

Take for instance, the term pre-owned cars. Now, we all know that what the cars salesmen really mean are used cars. But used sounds…well, so used, and has negative connotations so they want to change that perception. But, pre-owned should mean “before owned” right? So…really, the term they’re tossing at us has a different meaning. “Before owned” should suggest that it hasn’t been owned before, right? Because before something is “owned,” it is not-owned. And that is the opposite of used.

But what they’ve done is take the “pre” and twisted it. Their “pre” is shortened for “previously.” Previously owned carries a far different meaning than pre-owned. Ah-ha! See, they’re trying to trick us with a play on words!

I also read something recently in one of the writing forums I’m on: “pre-published author.” Now, if you’re like me and are completely unfamiliar with the term, it could possibly have two completely opposite meanings! It’s not like the two meanings are similar and any guess would be close. A pre—meaning before—published author would be one that’s never been published before, while a pre—meaning previously—published author means one who’s had work published before. Two completely different meanings. How are we supposed to tell which is which?

There are many other examples of the discombobulation of the “pre” term, but that’s enough for you to see what I’m talking about. For me, it’s kinda like politicians: I wish they’d just say what they mean to say and stop trying to make it sound “nice.” Used is used. Unpublished is unpublished. We can all understand that!

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