Success – S-U-C-C-E-S-S – Success

Tonight is the National Spelling Bee finals. Each year, children in elementary and middle schools (at least in public schools that I know of) compete to qualify for the Regional Bee, hosted by either a community organization, a newspaper, or an E.W. Scripps (formerly Howard Scripps from my own short-lived Bee days) company. Once they win their local spelling bee, spellers qualify for the national bee semifinals before the big show, now aired on ESPN. Spelling is a sport, people!

Why I Love the Bee (despite placing 15th in my regional bee in 1996):

– In this day and age of SpellCheck, some children are actually learning how to spell words using the dictionary.

– Spelling reinforces many other academic skills. The practice booklet divvies up words into categories, including words found in classic Literature, science, social studies, and pop culture (had I studied the Oklahoma! page more, I would know opportune has two “o”s, not two “u”s). Exposure to these titles and concepts could spark interest in going beyond memorizing the words.

– Spelling reinforces memory and reasoning skills. Despite being archaic languages, the ancient Greek and Latin roots provide a system to follow if your memory fails you.

– Watching the Bee exposes the public to many new, fun words, like serrefine (2007).

– Words are generally awesome. Everyone has a favorite word: favorite for the way it rolls off their tongue, favorite for what it means; favorite for the connotations. My grandfather’s favorite word was pusillanimous. I have no idea why, for grandpa was the antithesis, with his leathered skin, smoker’s-lung-gruff voice, and rakish face.

Fun Facts about the Bee:

– The first winner: Frank Neuhauser, sponsored by the Louisville Courier-Journal, in 1925 for the word gladiolus.

– 1937’s winning word: promiscuous.

– The most recent winner: Kavya Shivashankar, from the Olathe News in Kansas. Her word: Laodicean. This year, her little sister, Vanya, is the youngest to compete. She’s 8 years old.

Three cheers for the spellers tonight!

Editorial Questions

Have you ever read a book and wondered where the editor was? (You bloated novels know who you are.) The obvious answer is most likely at their desk in a publishing office. Or on a couch. Anywhere with a stack of Post-its and a pen. Metaphysically, well, we writers and readers have to have a discerning eye to tell when and where the editor helped the author perfect the text, or to realize the editor never graced the manuscript with his/her presence and just sent it off to the copy editor and designer.

Is it appropriate for an editor to kowtow to an author’s ego and not make any suggestions or just send the manuscript to press, suggestions ignored [provided the bottom line won’t be adversely affected]? Or are we armchair and T pole critics ignorant of how much worse a text was before it got to its fatty state? One thing that both encourages and terrifies me about being a nascent writer is seeing authors hold up a stack of drafts with editorial notes. And that’s the hacked-apart copy after a contract has been signed and advance paid. I’d always heard you needed a perfect draft just to get a full read by an editor. But obviously not if there’s a potful of ink on the draft. Then again, that just reminds me how much more work I have to do to get the thing marketable!

Finally, can established writers be trusted to be their own editors? Or are we too close to the story? I remember hearing a bootleg copy of the Beatles tinkering with Strawberry Fields Forever in an apartment. I learned two things: 1) don’t ever listen to the same song for 50 times in a row; you will probably have psychosomatic reactions to it years later, and 2) the artists brought raw lyrics and notes to a great song without first submitting to the studio editor, who’d return it with a Post-it note comment on each line.I’d like to believe that if I can distance myself from the story, put on the editorial hat I earned through jobs and schooling, I can fix things myself.

What do you think?

Fill in the Blanks

Play the old-school game MASH for yourself or one of your characters. But don’t just stop once you learn you and Prince William will have 7.2 children, live in a shack in Amsterdam, and drive a purple Lamborghini. Fill in the blanks. How’d you and Will meet? Is it a really big shack? Was the Lamborghini a Spray-and-Wash giveaway and that’s why it’s purple?

Tell me the basic results in the comments!

On the Wings of Angels

I have not used this space to write about my own projects yet. My book-of-the-next-two-days has been prompting me to think back to a WIP collecting cyberdust in my Documents folder.

Currently I am reading Halo by Alexandra Adornetto [see the review on the Well Read link sometime this weekend]. It’s about an angel in human form who falls in love with a human boy. I have a project titled “Halos” with seemingly similar echoes of the conceit. Naturally, this discovery exposed the little insecurities we writers can have: “I had the idea first!” “Well, I think mine is better.” “Why would s/he write it that way?!?”And worst of all “Does this mean my book can never be published?”

I could give those insecurities some tough love: “Next time you have a great idea, be the first with an editor/agent.” “If yours is so much better, prove it. You may have to wait for the supernatural trend to come back in five years, but that gives you a chance to perfect it.” “S/he wrote it that way because that’s their story. Want it different? Write it different.” I have no idea as to the last insecurity.

Fellow writers and friends in the know, if a writer has a story in her heart (maybe with a different title) that retains mere whispers (not an outright echo) of an existing book, must she keep it to herself for years and years, change it outright, or hope someone sees space in the market for more than one trend book?