Tag Archives: Simon Winchester

The Marketability Monster

I have a problem people. See, the thing is I’m doing my best to build this whole “writer’s platform” thing so that I can grow my fanbase. I have to say that on the whole it’s a lot of fun interacting with all of you, and writing this blog every day has been a great experience.

There’s only one problem. I’m doing it wrong.

Well, not everything. Just the one thing mostly. But it’s something important. See, I’m supposed to be turning myself into a brand. I’m supposed to be building up the kind of persona online that will hopefully draw people to read my books.

It shouldn’t be that hard. When you think, Heinze you think catsup. When you think IBM you think computers. When you think Toyota you think dying in a horrible fireball of twisted metal that’s hurtling toward a group of unsuspecting preschoolers.

And when you think Albert Berg you think…well what exactly? This is the problem for me. I’m supposed to pick a genre and stick with it. And I know it’s good advice.

Stephen King writes horror. Michael Connelly writes mysteries. Simon Winchester writes non-fiction about smart people.

The problem is I do not want to be pinned down. Let me give you an example.

The story I’m working on currently is called The Mulch Pile. The Mulch Pile is a story about two brothers in a disfuntional family and what happens when the garden mulch pile comes to life and starts wreaking havoc in their already unbalanced lives. You could loosely classify it as Horror.

But the other day I was mulling some ideas over in my head, and I came up with a loose outline for a story about a goth dude who drives a Mary Kay pink Cadillac, a homeless woman, and an everyman sales clerk who all get in way over their heads when they face off with a group of drug-dealing grannies. I’m not sure where you classify that one, but I’m pretty sure its as far from Horror as you can get.

And I really want to write both of them. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s absolutely counterintuitive. I know people want to know what to expect when they pick up a book with my name on it.

But I can’t bring myself to commit. There are just so many wonderful stories out there to write, so many crazy things I want to try out. How am I supposed to narrow it down?

This is usually the part of the blog where I give you some kind of answer, some resolution to the problem presented. The problem is I don’t have one. Maybe I really should just buckle down and forget about my dreams of diversity.

Maybe you’ve got a better solution. Or maybe you’re facing the same problem. If you’ve got some advice for me, I’d love to hear it. If you’re in the same boat, I’d love to hear that too.

For now, all I can say is that I’m enjoying the ride. I may not be making much of a brand for myself, but I’m having a whole lot of fun along the way.

Please Pass the Brain Bleach: A Review of “The Professor and the Madman”

Last year I read  The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester which is a book about a man who removes his own genitalia with a pocket knife. That’s mostly what I remember about it anyway.  I got to that chapter I just kept screaming, “No, No, No, No, NO!  No.  No, No, NO, NO, No.  I….No!  Dear God in heaven No! No. NO!”

There was also something about a dictionary in there?”

In all seriousness though, if you haven’t read the book it’s about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the strange relationship that formed between the man heading the project and a man in a mental institution who assisted the creation of the dictionary through correspondence.

If you’re not familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary…well you should be.  Because the Oxford English Dictionary is recognized the world over as the final authority on the complete meaning and etymology of English words.  How complete is it? Let’s put it this way: Look over at the dictionary on your shelf.  Now multiply by twenty.  That’s how long the Oxford English Dictionary is.

And this gargantuan compendium of English etymology was created over a period of seventy years, from 1858 when the idea was first hatched, until 1928 when the final volume of the dictionary was released.  It would be an epic achievement for any time, but in the era before computers such a thing should have been nearly impossible.

The Professor and the Madman is in part Simon Winchester’s love letter to the Oxford English Dictionary, but more importantly than that it is a fascinating character study of the eponymous professor and madman, and Winchester could scarcely have picked two more interesting men from any era of history.  The “Professor” of the title is James Murray, an amazing self-taught etymologist, and completely brilliant man.  The “mad man” is W. C. Minor, a man who suffered from persecutory delusions, and had been imprisoned for killing a man he believed to be a spy.  I’ll let you guess which one of them ends up cutting off his own genitalia with a pocket knife. No. No, NO, NO.

Argh.  Focus.

Bottom line: I recommend the book.  It’s a fantastic tribute to two amazing men and one incredible dictionary, and it has my stamp of approval.

Also, I hear there’s a movie in the works soon, so if you want to be able to say, “Well, the movie was okay, but I read the book first,” then you need to get on the ball.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go bang my head against the wall, and scream to myself for a while.  Maybe then I can stop thinking about pocket knives and -No, No, NO, NOOO….