Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Touch Typing and Language

I learned to type the summer after I finished college so that I could get a job. Because it's a skill that goes into muscle memory, I hadn't thought much about it since, except to be very glad I'd learned. Writing a book is hard enough without having to use the hunt-and-peck method of getting your words into a computer.

Recently, however, I started playing with a site called Duolingo, which lets you learn a foreign language and translate selections from the Internet. I'm working on German, which I've never really properly learned (like Marion Zimmer Bradley, I learned what I do know from operas, so that I can scream for help because a dragon is chasing me much more easily than I can discuss current news).

I started noticing that I was having trouble typing, and it wasn't just special characters like umlauts. Even words that had the same letters I typed every day were giving me trouble. After about a week, I finally figured out why. When I was being taught to type, one of the things they had us work on was speed. Part of this involved learning to type common words, and common combinations of letters, quickly--to learn to see them as a single element, rather than as individual letters. This way they go in though your eyes and out through your fingers without your even thinking about it. The method does work; I can type about 55 words per minute--in English.

But when I change to another language, even German, from which English is derived, the phonemes change. For example, in English I often type "sch"--but I never type "schl" (it took me three tries just now to get that one right). I expect it will get easier as I keep studying. I only hope that it won't impair my ability to type in English.

And there's probably a story in there somewhere...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Crash! followed by new Blog software

Although Friday the 13th isn't until NEXT month, yesterday the latest WordPress updates crashed my blog and a chunk of my website.

I can't even log into WordPress, and I'm tired of a blog that requires an advanced computer programming degree. So I'm changing to Blogger. Unfortunately my WordPress export (I did make backups) won't import, so I spent yesterday afternoon/evening and this morning entering two years of blog entries one by one from the source code. I did lose some blog entries from the early part of 2012, but I'm more concerned with fixing my web site, which is the next project.

I'm really glad that I know to hand-code HTML, and it did give me a chance to make sure all the links are current, but, on the whole, I'd rather be writing fiction.

The good news is that Blogger is much easier to use. I can see why so many of my friends use it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

…with the greatest of ease

I admit it. I'm old enough to come from a family that gathered around the piano to sing in the evenings, which is actually more fun than watching TV. My mother had a big book of songs, and one of them was "The Flying Trapeze." This particular song was inspired by trapeze artist Jules Léotard, who also gave his name to the skin-tight garment I wore in ballet class. It was published in 1867, and obviously written by someone who had never tried trapeze work, if he thought it was easy. I've taken classes. It's not.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, when she was doing research for THE CATCH TRAP, went even further; she traveled with a carnival, working as the assistant/target for the knife thrower–and for the rest of her life she had the scar on her breast to prove it, acquired when someone took a flash photo just as Dino released the knife. She said it was the only time he ever missed. It's a good thing the knife hit fatty tissue and not anything vital. (The incident is even mentioned briefly in the novel, as overheard conversation.)

At the time I met Marion she was converting two boxes of typewritten manuscript into a coherent novel. I read the manuscript before this process was completed, but it was still a gripping read. The portrayal of circus life was so compelling that I felt as if I were part of the trapeze act. I learned a lot about flying from that book–the original title was THE FLYERS, and when I was preparing the new print edition and had the manuscript in my Gmail account I went back to that title, because the ads for pest control services were getting annoying. All of the eBook versions were done in 2010, but we didn't start doing reprints of MZB's backlist until this year.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a Google alert for "Marion Zimmer Bradley," and last week it produced a lovely YouTube video done by someone in Germany, with the book covers and a flying sequence with a nice clean triple. But there is another video there that shows just how hard a triple is, and proves the old adage that the third time is the charm.

THE CATCH TRAP is available from:
CreateSpace eStore

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Keeping Families in Touch

I have always loved Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character (possibly because my summer job the year I turned 18 was long-distance operator for the phone company–there was only one then). She did an album called This Is a Recording, and lately I've been remembering one of its tracks: "The Marriage Counselor." Ernestine listens in on a call a man is making to Korea, where he was stationed during the war, and tells his wife that he has a son there. "…Mrs. Norman, I am so sorry that you had to learn it this way, but we at the phone company do like to keep families in touch."

I don't know to what extent the various phone companies still perform this function, but has been doing quite a good job. I've discovered cousins in England and Sweden–and then there are the odd discoveries that nobody alive would talk about. And speaking of where Dad was stationed during the war, I discovered that one of my friends was not, as previously believed, the oldest child in the family.

I've just come back from Salt Lake City; I was there for CONduit, but the con hotel is two blocks from the Family History Library, so I got in a bit of research after the con. One of the things I did manage to find was immigration dates for two of my great-grandmothers. The method of calculation starts with "she got married on this date, so she arrived in New York before this." Then I take the date of birth of the first child (five months after one wedding and six months after the other), count back nine months, and then add a couple of months for the couple to meet and start their family. From that point I started going backwards through passenger lists, and found both of them within three years. Unfortunately I wasn't in Salt Lake City long enough to follow them back to France and Germany, but there's always next year.

I also found marriage dates for both of my brother-in-law's grandparents, entered them into the family tree, and promptly discovered that one couple married in December of the year that their first child was born in July.

I suspect, however, that it will be a long time before I find a story to top the one I got from my Swedish cousins about my 3rd-great-grandmother Sofia (1824-1866). Although she never married, over a 19-year period she bore six children to three different fathers. (My 3rd-great-grandfather died in jail after the third one was born.) While illegitimate children were fairly common in rural Sweden–if you're going to live on a farm, you'll need children to help with the work, so you want to be sure you can have them before you marry–Sofia is a rather extreme case. Certainly my grandmother never mentioned her to me, and I strongly suspect that Sofia's son never told his children about his mother. He may not even have told his wife–Sofia died four years before he married. I'm certain he never imagined that centuries of Swedish parish records would be digitized and put online so his descendants could find out the secrets he took to his grave.