Recommended Reference - The Synonym Finder

The Synonym Finder

I'm starting a new blogging series to focus on reference sources I find useful on a day-to-day basis as I'm writing, editing, and proofing. Think of it as a recommended reading list, though it may encompass other blogs that focus on the craft of writing or even web sites. Really anything of value to the mechanics, style, or general process of writing.

This, then, is Part 1, to focus on my 'go to' thesaurus of choice, The Synonym Finder, edited by J.I. Rodale. I've got a copy of Roget's International Thesaurus (Fifth Edition), but it became a secondary reference source not too long after I bought The Synonym Finder.

This begs the question: How is The Synonym Finder different from any other thesaurus? I'll use Roget's (Fifth Edition) since that's the other thesaurus I own as comparison.

The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms. To find a synonym, you simply flip open the book, find your keyword alphabetically, and you're presented with a listing of synonyms. Straightforward and simple.

Roget's, on the other hand, has an index at the back of the book. You start by looking up your keyword, which in turn either has a page number next to it or, alternatively, a short listing of words or phrases which might be synonyms or might simply be words you might be looking for. Each of those words or phrases has a page number next to it. Once you've decided on a word, you go that page number where you are presented with a listing of synonyms. If you're unsatisfied with the results or simply chose the wrong 'similar' word or phrase, then it's back to the index where you need to repeat the process.

To explain better, let's run through an example. This will also serve to demonstrate which reference book provides better results. This may be a wash, but let's give it a try.

I'll randomly flip open to the index of Roget's and select a word. I've got "noodle". Roget's quirky index shows:

noodle
n member 2.7
head 198.6
brain 918.6
v think over 930.13

Let's say I'm really looking for synonyms of the second entry. I'll go to 198.6 as it suggests. It shows:

198.6 head, headpiece, pate, poll, crown, scone, noggin, brow, ridge

Not bad. But I don't like that I had to flip to an index, figure out what word I really want, then I have to flip again to find the synonyms.

Let's see what The Synonym Finder has to say. I flip to "noodle" (it's easy since everything is alphabetical) and immediately see a block of entries--easily more than what Roget's has listed. We have:

head, skull, cranium, cerphalon, brainpan, poll, pate, sconce, mazard, costard, think tank, thinker, upstairs, upper story, belfry, noggin, dome, bean, nut, nob, crumpet, gourd, conk

The Synonym Finder comes up with 23 possible synonyms for "noodle". Roget's? 9. Seems as if, in this case anyway, The Synonym Finder wins by offering me more than twice the number of possible synonyms.

Granted, this was only one word, but there's a reason I keep The Synonym Finder nearby whenever I'm writing or editing. Nothing beats its ease-of-use and it gives me results fast.

No wonder The Synonym Finder is the first book I look to when I need a synonym.

Free Tor E-book: Touch of Evil by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp

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Tor is giving away Touch of Evil by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp this week. It's a "paranormal romance". Ugh. I don't like romances.

This one has vampires in it. Werewolves, too. Sounds like Underworld. But without Kate Beckinsale and her guns.

From the synopsis:

Eschewing recent trends, the vampires in this series are not sexy or funny, and this form of vampirism is spread by a parasite in saliva causing those bitten to become part of the herd, or "Thrall," a hive entity led by queens.

Now it's got me thinking of the Borg meets I Am Legend.

To be fair, I'll put aside my preconceived notions and completely misplaced dislike of romances since I've never actually read one and dig a little deeper.

Turns out 'vampires' here are not of the undead variety. Neither are werewolves. Vampires are actually host bodies taken over by a Thrall, a parasitic life-form that hatches within the host then latches onto the host's brain and takes control (think Goa'uld). That sounds kinda cool.

Alright, I'm intrigued and, given that the book is free, I have nothing to lose by reading the first fifty pages to see if I'll like it.

For a running list of all of Tor's free e-books, go here.

Robert Asprin has passed

Image result for thieves worldSeems like too many legends (or at least notable people) in the science fiction and fantasy genres have been passing into the next world all too often of late.

This time it's Robert Asprin whose greatest influence, for me, was the Thieves' World series. The only thing left to say is: Thank you, Mr. Asprin, for such a wonderful collection of stories. It held me enthralled many a night when I was a child.

In honor of Mr. Asprin, I'm re-posting my Thieve's World post taken from my old blog. Here you go:

Thieve's World

I read a lot when I was younger. Before college, before my first job back in California, before a move to Texas, a house & new job, marriage, dogs, another new job, realizing that I'm not getting any younger and if I really want to have a book published I better get on it... back when it seemed I had nothing but time (relative to how hectic life is now, anyway). I do still read, of course, just not as much. Where before it might have taken me a week or less to plow through a book, now it takes me 2-3 weeks if not longer.

Of those books I read when I was in my more formative years were such classics as Robert E. Howard's Conan series, Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Pyrdain, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Terry Brooks's Shannara books, and, last but not least, the series which will always have an honored place on my bookshelf, the 12-book anthology known as Thieves' World.

Let's go back a little. The original Thieves' World series began in 1979 with the debut book generically named Thieves' World. Later anthologies came out about once/year (or more) and ran until 1989 when the series went on hiatus, which basically means the authors/creators/editors all (or singly) decided it was time to take a break and devote time to other projects. Thieves' World was a "shared-world" anthology, meaning multiple authors had a hand in its creation, evolution, and in its cast of characters. As you can imagine, when you throw in such authors as Lynn Abbey, Robert Asprin, David Drake, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Poul Anderson, C.J. Cherryh, and others, you've got something special and, more importantly, a playing field fit for some real competition. You see, the authors were continuously trying to one-up the other, pitting the characters they created against those created by the other authors. Theft, extortion, kidnapping, blackmail, torture... all of these things were allowed. The one thing that was not allowed, the "golden rule" as it were, was that no author could kill another author's characters. Barring that, anything goes, and did.

Image result for thieves worldThieve's World was an inspiring series, both then and now. Lynn Abbey, you see, has started the series anew. The first book is Sanctuary, a novel length work that takes place many years after the heroes and villains of the original series are dead and gone or simply moved on. Most of them, anyway. As I read through Sanctuary, revisiting the city of the same name where much, if not all, of the storytelling takes place, I find myself longing to go back and re-read the first 12 books again. The Street of Red Lanterns, the Vulgar Unicorn, characters such as Shadowspawn, Tempus Thales, Molin Torchholder... by the gods, this is the stuff of legend! Imagine a boy first getting his glimpse of this wondrous place... a city where gods walked the streets, thieves and assassins plied their respective trades, priests, witches and hazard-mages met for a quiet drink or to do battle, the S'danzo read the future, and the walking dead ruled in a part of the city called The Shambles.

Now, the series continues with Sanctuary. Written by Lynn Abbey, who is one of the original editors and contributors of the series, Sanctuary is a novel that bridges the time-gap between those original 12 books and what appears to be a new shared-world series with multiple contributing authors. I won't say a whole lot about the novel Sanctuary right now other than that I like it. I'll save the rest for a future review.

Look at your own world in your fiction and see if you think you might invoke such nostalgia and wonder 10, 20, or even more years from now when some reader is reminded of your work. All too often fiction of all kinds comes and go's, forgotten as it falls out-of-print. Even the original Thieves' World books are out-of-print, though there is a movement to revive the series.

For now, though, if you don't own a previous run of those first 12 books and can't find them on eBay, you'll have to satisfy yourself with Sanctuary and the books that come after.

Tor Free E-Book: Starfish by Peter Watts

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This week's Tor Free E-Books Giveaway is "Starfish", by Peter Watts.

"Starfish" is the first book in the Rifters Trilogy. Amazon reviewers give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5. You can find out more about Peter Watts at Rifters or on his wikipedia page.

A synopsis (from Amazon):

Set in the early 21st century, Watts's debut describes a future when the search for energy leads to the tapping of geothermal sources deep in the ocean, as in the Pacific's Juan de Fuca Rift, near Canada's Northwest coast. The maintenance workers of the dangerous underwater power plants are selected for their psychotic tendencies, which enable them to forget their previous lives on dry land, and are then surgically altered to survive the intense pressure of the sea's abyssal depths.

Of course, it sounds as if things don't go so well for our maintenance workers, though I also didn't get a vibe that this was another Abyss. The use of technology is "superb", and the workers are as much a part of the salvation as they are the destruction of the people who live at the surface.

It sounds like a worthy read.

For a running list of all of Tor's free e-books, go here.

Dealing With Distraction

We live in a connected world. Once you've sat down in front of your computer, you've got access to it all.

connected-world

Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, blogs. They're all popping up notifications or beckoning you to check for new comments or to see what's new. Even blogging comes with its own set of distractions.

But what if you're at your computer with the intention of getting some real work done? "Real work" for purposes of this blog is writing, so let's focus on that.

Start by asking yourself a simple question: Am I a creator or a consumer?

Chances are, you're both. But spend too much time on one and other suffers.

Jennifer Murphy Romig, a legal writing and research instructor at Emory University School of Law, notes that interference with writing has always been present. A few years ago, it was computer solitaire, she said, and before that it was the old-fashioned crossword puzzle. But she describes today's distractions -- including texting, e-mail, BlackBerry messages and online news alerts -- as "more aggressive."

Agatha Christie once said, "I enjoy writing in the desert. There are no distractions such as telephones, theaters, opera houses and gardens."

Distraction. It is the bane of those who want to get "stuff" done.

I'm as guilty as the next person. Digsby pops up a new twitter. Or I see that there's some new blog entries to read through. What began as anticipation of a good solid hour of writing becomes an hour wasted.

So how do we keep from being distracted?

You can go old school: turn the computer and cell phone/blackberry off, and go find yourself some nice white paper and a pencil. But there are diminishing returns for such an approach, as in you're giving up your word processor. I don't know about you, but I can't write without my word processing software, not to mention all the outlines, notes, and other reference material I keep on my laptop. I'd be lost without it.

Instead, try something a little less radical:

  • Close your email application.
  • Shut down your IM client.
  • Turn off your cell phone or other device.
  • Stay away from your browser or RSS feed reader.
  • If you want to go a little more extreme, unplug your network connection.

All of this requires self-discipline, of course. Stay focused on what's important--getting your work done. The other stuff isn't going anywhere.