The Joy of Words and the Worlds Within Them

‘The last motive in the world for acquiring vocabulary should be to impress. Words should be acquired because we urgently need them — to convey, to reach, to express something within us, and to understand others.’    Vanna Bonta


 When I was a child, my father worked as a custodian at the grade school I attended. We lived only about a mile away. My mother worked also, so in the summer when school was out, my father would take me to work with him – to school, in other words.

He would unlock one or two of the classrooms, or the small library, and I would spend hours alone there, happily absorbed in the books. Meanwhile, my father would carry on with his summertime tasks of painting the walls, restriping the sports field, and so forth. We would have lunch together, and then part ways again.

It may sound lonely, but I was never lonely. How could I be, surrounded by friends as I was? I liked nothing better than to be surrounded by books. I have always been that reader who, when in a roomful of people, can hear nothing going on around me; I am in my own private bubble.

I have read all sorts of books during my lifetime, but I must admit that I always keep a place in my heart for the books of the past. Give me a Jane Austen novel, or the Complete Sherlock Holmes, and I am in heaven. It is primarily the language that I love, the old-fashioned words and phrases that no one ever uses any more. That is one of the reasons I have always loved reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of mysteries. The books in that series are set in the 1880s and forward, the characters are English, and the language is exactly right for the time and place, as well as for the temperament of the main character.

In fact, I am not sure that people actually talk in words and phrases anymore; rather, they converse in emojis and strange abbreviations. But that is another story.

I collect words that I particularly like, and I expect many writers do that as well. Here are a few words that have fallen out of favor these days, but that charm the socks off me:

Felicity                  Mortification                  Vexatious

Make haste           Perplexing                      Cogitate

Forbidding           Contemptuous                Exceedingly

Impertinent           Inveigle                          Countenance

I could go on, but I don’t wish to bore you.

I suppose it was only natural that when I embarked on writing a novel, it would be set in the past, giving me the happy task of using all my favorite old-fashioned words.  For example, this sentence from ‘Disfigured, a Gothic Romance’:

Somehow it was difficult to imagine a new bride experiencing domestic felicity in such a cold, dreary environment.

I found it both amusing and satisfying to create a language style that would fit the 1870s, the time my story takes place, and also make it feel that the story really takes place in France, which it does. It can be challenging to sustain a style like that for an entire novel, but eventually it became second nature to me. I began to think that way, and even speak that way some times. My friends probably thought I was getting weird. Weirder than usual I mean. The other challenge was not to go overboard – not to go full-on Jane Austen, that is to say. That could prove off-putting to a reader not familiar with the more elaborate writing styles of the past.

I have just completed the first draft of my second novel, which is a sequel to the first. I realized when I was working on it that because of the gap in time when I was busy preparing ‘Disfigured’ for publication and getting my website going, that I was no longer immersed in the words of the past. It took some time for me to recover my ‘voice’. I actually reread my first book in order to return to that style.

Mind you, I must have read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy twenty times if I’ve read it once, but I certainly do not want to write that way. There are some really fine words, though. I always thought of myself as a shire-ey sort of person. Well, I made that word up but you know of what I speak.

I hope that no matter what happens to the human race in the future, we do not give up reading books. Even if we only read them on our tablets or devices. What is your favorite genre?  Favorite author? Send me an e-mail or message me on Goodreads and tell me, and I’ll make a list and publish it on my blog.