On Writing

Lawyer takes ‘adult timeout,’ writes novel

A lot of people would like to be able to do what debut novelist Kenneth Zak, a San Diego attorney, did:

Q: You started working on this book during what you’ve called “an adult timeout.” Tell me about that.

A: I had a private practice in law and I had a big house and a pretty good bank account, but I needed more time. So I sold the house and took off for three years. I spent some time on the island of Crete, I went to Bali, I went back to Greece. I spent the three years primarily traveling, surfing, writing and getting back in touch with what it means to live my life. I had a need to dive into a more meaningful existence.

John Wilkens, the interviewer in this piece, describes Zak’s novel, The Poet’s Secret, as a mix of romance and mystery.

What I found most interesting in this interview is Zak’s discussion of how he found the story’s structure. Even though I don’t write fiction, I’ve always thought that the first question a novelist has to answer is “Whose story is this?” When I read a novel, I’m always primarily aware of who is constructing the narrative and how the narrator or point-of-view character shapes the story. Think of Nick Carroway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, or the different sections of narrative in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Zak says that when he began his novel, he had two “images” in mind: One was a poet about to commit suicide, and the other was a young woman seeking love. Zak didn’t know how these two story lines would fit together. He also didn’t know, at the beginning, how the book was going to end:

About two-thirds of the way through the book, I had an idea of what the last line would be. That’s when I realized whose story it was going to be. I swapped chapters one and two and everything crystallized.

20 Common Words You Could Be Using Incorrectly

OK, I admit that the former English teacher in me is a fool for this kind of article. Here Jeff Haden discusses 20 words often used incorrectly. Since the article occurs on a business-oriented site, many of the terms he talks about occur most frequently in that context (e.g., arbitrate, collusion, libel). But there are also several words that all of us could use some help with, such as literally, total (or totally), and, one of my own personal pet peeves, irregardless, which is NOT a real word.

Added bonus: This is a follow-up to an earlier article. By clicking the link at the beginning of the article, you get two tutorials for the price of one.

Study: Superlative use by media overhypes medical research

Snappy headlines with flashy words work well to gain interest with readers.

In the case of health reporting, however, the overuse of superlative terms such as “breakthrough,” “game changer,” and “cure” was found in a new study to be widespread and may create unrealistic hype about unproven drugs, researchers said.

UPI reports on an analysis of how news sources describe cancer research. Dr. Vinay Prasad, assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Medicine, warns that journalists may not have the expertise to assign commonly used superlatives. “Because patients and their families turn to media for research and information, we need to raise awareness on this issue,” Prasad said.