The 411

Simon Sez is the online version of my long running e-newsletter. The blog will focus on my life as an author, my trials and tribulations as a foreigner in America and the oddities I discover along the way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HUMP DAY: Accented

For my birthday, I saw a stage production of SLEUTH.  A few minutes into it, someone complained, “I don’t understand what they're saying.”  Well, that person was in for a long night.
As George Bernard Shaw said, 'England and America are two countries divided by a common language,' and despite the fact we watch each other’s TV shows on a regular basis, that truism is as true today as it was then. And it’s something I learned the hard way as a foreigner on these shores.

American-English and English-English are very different. It’s more than the US’s predilection to drop the letter U from words like colour and to ration double L’s. Slang is different. Sentence structure is different. Pronunciation is different for the same words. The English accent, despite everything, is still relatively unfamiliar to the American ear.  Watch this Geico ad.  Julie and I have had this exact argument—almost word for word:  

All these things made life difficult for me as an immigrant in the US..  I would ask for something in a store, and watch the person nod, but see they didn’t have a clue what I was saying.  I remember being asked to write down what I wanted in a Starbucks after saying “Coffee, coffee, coffee” in a number of different ways. After handing the note over, the barista said, “Oh, you mean, coffee.” It was quite a humiliating experience. For about six months, I used hand gestures instead of words to get what I wanted, which seemed to get me further with fewer incidents.

This was a pretty sorry state of affairs. It wasn’t like English was my second language, but it was proving that American was. In a state of frustration, I complained to my wife. “What is wrong with everybody? I’m not speaking a different language.”

“Well, you kind of are,” she said tactfully. “You do have an accent.”

“A what? An accent? I don’t have a bloody accent. You people have the accent.”

“Yes, I know, but you have to appreciate the differences.”

“What differences?”

“You are a low talker. All English people are. You speak on a low and level tone. We don’t.”

You mean Americans are loud, I thought unkindly, but I accepted the point. I looked at the way I spoke and listened to Americans in conversation. I changed my lexicon so at least the words I used were the same ones everyone else used. I also changed the way I spoke. I didn’t affect an American accent, but I did speak up a tad and develop a Hugh Granty kind of an accent which was a little more formal than the way I spoke, because Americans seemed to understand him.  One thing I had to let go of was the slang and I did say all my letters—no dropped H’s, etc.  Terrance Stamp from THE LIMEY illustrates the point here:

Sixteen years later, I speak fluent American, although I still speak it with an accent. My accent is now a little mellower on the American ear. I can laugh (most of the time) about my past problems, and I can even see where you lovely Americans are coming from and where my people go wrong when they visit the US. A little while ago I was having lunch with another ex-pat friend of mine, and we saw an English family having a hard time getting their order over to the waitress. My friend and I smiled.

“Fresh off the boat,” I remarked.

My friend nodded, and we offered our assistance.

This isn't the first time I’ve offered my translation services to English newbies. It’s almost like the scene from AIRPLANE where the old woman proclaims that she speaks Jive.

So now I’m very comfortable when speaking around Americans. Now I just wish they wouldn’t confuse me with an Australian nine times out of ten.


Monday, April 21, 2014

SHELF LIFE: The Uxbridge English Dictionary

I’m a huge fan of the long running, comedy radio show I’M SORRY I HAVEN’T A CLUE.  For those who’ve never heard of it, think WHOSE LINE IS ANYWAY, except I’M SORRY started twenty years before WHOSE LINE…but I digress.  My favorite round in the show is the UXBRIDGE ENGLISH DICTIONARY where contestants offer new definitions to preexisting words.  The ‘definitions’ are usually puns, plays on words or the literal phonetic misinterpretation of words.  I always find them gigglicious as it’s the perfect mix of silly and clever.  The English language is always open to interpretation or misinterpretation…
The printed version of the UXBRIDGE ENGLISH DICTIONARY is in its 18th edition and I have a few of my own definitions I’d hope to get accepted in the 19th edition.  Here they are and remember they work best when you say these words aloud.  Enjoy!

Dandelion – A foppish cat.

Optimist – A fog that makes you feel really positive about things.

Colony – Kind of like a colon.

Scatological – Somebody who has shit for brains.

Allegory – Kind of like Al Gore.

Metronome – A gnome about town.

Disorient – To disparage Asia.

Bigotry – A tree that stands taller than the ones around it.

Physicist – An effervescent boil.

Defibrillator – A lie detector.

Comatose – That feeling you get when your foot goes to sleep.

Extreme – A creek stripped of its classification.

Rheumatologist – An expert at spreading gossip.

Palpate – A friend’s head.

Buoyant – A male insect.

Aspen – A rectal writing implement.

Speculation – To ruminate as to whether one needs eye glasses or not.

Carpet – A dog in an automobile.

Carrot – A rusty automobile (think about this one).

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

As it was my birthday this week, I've turned to one of my favorite quotes, mainly because I'm still not ready to put away those childish things.

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
~1 Corinthians 13:11

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News, Reviews & Interviews

I’ve had a little glut of interviews of late, so here they are for your reading and listening pleasure:
Authors On The Air radio interview (60minutes)
Technology FM radio interview about the book industry (30minutes)
My “60 Seconds With…” interview with Reviewing The Evidence
IndieAuthorLand’s ROAD RASH interview
Horror After Dark’s THE SCRUBS review

Monday, April 14, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Pack Of Strays

It's my birthday so I'm taking a day off and handing SHELF LIFE over to my short story nemesis, Dana Cameron.  She's got a new book out tomorrow so here's a little bit about it.  Take it away, Dana.

**warning:  Contains spoilers if you haven't read Seven Kinds of Hell**

Pack of Strays is the second book in my Fangborn series of urban fantasy adventures.  A little background:  Seven Kinds of Hell introduces Zoe Miller, a young archaeologist with serious personal problems; one of them is that she fears she's going crazy when she feels flashes of uncontrollable violence.  She eventually learns that she is not only a werewolf, but Fangborn, one of a family of werewolves, vampires, and oracles devoted secretly to protecting humankind from evil.  Some of the Fangborn want to remain hidden from humanity but a large minority want to Identify themselves as supernatural creatures, possibly to rule humankind.  Zoe ends up on the run with werewolf PI Gerry Steuben and his psychiatrist sister (a vampire), Claudia Steuben (introduced in the short story, “The Night Things Changed”).  While she tries to come to terms with the realization that she is a werewolf—and get a handle on her abilities—she must track down certain mystical artifacts that are the ransom for her kidnapped cousin, Danny.  This leads to a showdown between many powerful factions, including a US senator, a Russian kidnapper, and her Fangborn Cousins.

While Seven Kinds of Hell was about Zoe learning that she is a werewolf, in Pack of Strays, she's using her archaeological skill to unravel the Fangborn past.  Zoe's discovering that not being raised within a Fangborn family actually gives her perspective on their most deeply-held beliefs, some of which are disastrously starting to unravel.  She's also on a mission to learn about her own past and because of the bracelet that Pandora's box embedded into her wrist, she's prey to visions that drive her to go after more and more powerful artifacts.  She's showing abilities no werewolf—no Fangborn—has, and that's making her the target of the Order of Nicomedia (first introduced in “The Serpent's Tale”), who are dedicated to eradicating the Fangborn altogether.  She learns that her friends, including her lover Will, believe that she's abandoned them and is being driven to evil by the bracelet.  Fangborn politics and the Order's tactics are combining in the worst way, bringing the Fangborn closer and closer to being revealed to humanity.

What I love about writing this series as well as the seven (so far!) short stories set in this 'verse is that I get to play with different periods of history and how the Fangborn might have behaved throughout time.  Whenever I visit museums and historical sites, I am always on the lookout for images of wolves, snakes (my vampires have a serpentine aspect), or ravens (symbolic of my oracles), playing with how the Fangborn might have fit into a particular culture.  Studying folklore and mythology from all over the world lets me find ways to suggest that the Fangborn attempts to cover their tracks failed, and being observed with their shape-shifting abilities, found themselves incorporated into local cultural traditions.  So far, I've tackled Boston during the Second World War, medieval England, and the ancient Olympic games. 

The other thing I adore is giving Zoe the chance to show what archaeological reasoning can do.  She may not be a very good archaeologist—in Strays, we see her stealing artifacts, partly to keep them out of the hands of the Order but mostly because the bracelet is driving her to accumulate more of them—but she makes the most of the skills she has.  Actually, Zoe makes the most of everything she has, and that's one of the reasons I keep challenging her—and she keeps challenging me.

Bio: Dana Cameron can't help mixing in a little history into her fiction. Drawing from her expertise in archaeology, Dana's work (including traditional mystery, noir, urban fantasy, thriller, and historical tales) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination. Her second Fangborn novel, PACK OF STRAYS will be published April 15, 2014 by 47North.  A Fangborn short story, "The God's Games" appears in Games Creatures Play and Dana's story, "The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars," featuring Pam Ravenscroft from Charlaine Harris's acclaimed Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, will appear in Dead But Not Forgotten: Stories from the World of Sookie Stackhouse in May. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

If you're going to do it, do it right!

“Never go to bed mad -- stay up and fight.”
~Phyllis Diller

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HUMP DAY: I'm Not Sure The Future Was Supposed To Look Like This

The future! It’s so full of potential—until it arrives. Then it seems to lose something when we catch up with a point in time that we've looked upon in wonder or trepidation (if you're a dystopian kind of a person). The reason for this “Future is Now!” jag is that I was watched Escape From LA the other week. Not a great movie, but the interesting point is that it’s set in 2013. In their 2013, LA is an island after an earthquake and the country and the world is falling apart, run by untrustworthy politicians. So way off the mark!!! The big one hasn’t hit LA…the rest, I won’t comment on. This inspired me to watch a bunch of my favorite sci-fi movies and I looked at their predictions and how close they’ve come in this 2013.

1. Robots
What we were promised
: Android butlers like C3PO and Data from Star Trek

What we got: The Roomba! I guess we got a robot in every home…kinda.

2. Ray Guns
What we were promised
: The phaser and blaster

What we got: The Taser

3. Sentient Psycho Computers
What we were promised
: Supercomputers like the HAL9000 and those made by Cyberdyne System’s would rise up against us to ruin our lives.

What we got: Window 8. Not especially equipped with super intelligence, but just as disruptive to our daily lives.

4. Lasers
What we were promised
: Death ray lasers emitting coherent light powerful to destroy cities.

What we got: Unfortunately making a death ray is harder than you think, so the nearest we've come to lasers in our daily lives are in CD players and checkout scanners. Not lethal but useful, so no complaints there.

5. Space Bases
What we were promised
: There'd be colonies in space just like Moon Base Alpha here.

What we got: Newt Gingrich saying that he’d build one and make it the 51st state of the USA. Pipe dreams have their place, I suppose.

The problem with our predictions for the future is that we inject them with our hope and dreams and fears and paranoia, instead of a healthy dose of pragmatism. That just shows that we humans are natural born dreamers. Aren't we, Newt. :-)

If you’ve got any predictions for the future, feel free to share, but I will check in on you when time catches up with them…