What Has Two Thumbs and Just Got a Short Story Published?

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I had to read the email three times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, but yes indeed, one of my short stories is being published! My sci-fi flash fiction piece Tale of the Revolution is going to appear in the upcoming issue of Nebula Rift magazine, Volume 2  Number 4, put out by eFiction Publishing. It should be available by the end of the month—I will naturally pass along the exact release date once I have it.

So, this is what it feels like to finally get something published, huh?

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Taste vs. Talent

Do you guys listen to This American Life on NPR? It’s one of my favorite shows, running the gamut from serious to comedic, light-hearted to heart wrenching, sometimes in the same sixty minutes. Well, this post isn’t about This American Life, but it does have to do with Ira Glass, who serves as the show’s host, as well as being a TV and movie producer, writer, and all around cool-seeming guy.

There were other pictures on the internet of Mr. Glass, of course, but if this one doesn't exude cool, I don't know what does.

There were other pictures on the internet of Mr. Glass, but this one was too tempting to resist. If you really want to know what he looks like today you can google him. 🙂

When you struggle with writing, you tend to look for things to make you feel better, like it’s not a lost cause; like all the crap you’re going through is going to be worth it somehow, someday. And if you search enough, you’ll find the same tips, the same advice over and over, until it’s all a bit redundant and (in my opinion) not all that helpful. There is one quote I’ve come across a few times, though, that really made an impact, and it comes from the aforementioned Mr. Glass.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

That really hit home for me. It pinpoints what I’d been feeling for quite awhile but couldn’t put my finger on. I was fairly happy with the things I’d written, but I just knew something was off. And then, a couple of days ago while looking for something in my basement, I found this:

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It’s the second ‘extended’ story I ever wrote, back in 2000 when I had just started a new job. I worked split shifts, meaning four hours in the morning, then a few hours off, then four more hours to finish the work day. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I were sharing a car, so I was stuck there during the 3-4 hour break and I did what seemed like the only logical thing—I wrote.

I remembered writing the story—about a down-on-their-luck couple in love who concoct a plan to rob a bank—but I didn’t know I’d saved it. I thought it had been lost or trashed years ago. I sat down and  started reading it and realized a couple of things.

It sucks. Naturally, of course it does. But it doesn’t totally suck. The bones of a good story are there, it’s just not very good due to several factors: wooden characters, stiff dialogue, plot problems, etc. But the thing is, it highlights what Ira Glass said. I can see what the then 26 year old me was going for. If you want to get right down to it, my ideas for stories nowadays aren’t all that different (it seems I’m destined to primarily be a crime writer, as that’s what tends to come naturally). But the taste far outweighed the talent.

That story (titled Karmic Justice—it came to me as I’ve been typing) was the last thing I wrote until I started back up a couple of years ago, and I’ve been bridging that taste/talent gap ever since. Are they equal? No. Not quite. Not yet. But it’s getting there, and finding this little gem in the basement (and comparing it to what I’m working on now) has helped drive home just how far I’ve come.

So while it may not apply to everyone, if there’s something you do that you’re still trying to get better at—writing, photography, music, cooking, woodworking, whatever it is—go back and look at (or just think about) some of your early stuff for a reminder of how much progress you’ve made.

Because once your taste=talent, there’s no stopping you.

The BOJ Quarterly Book Report: Spring Edition

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more. I set a goal for myself of at least 12 books this year; I thought that was attainable without stretching myself too thin. So far I’m right on pace with my book-a-month goal—in fact, I seem to be picking up a little steam as time goes on, maybe building my reading muscle back up(?), so I might even exceed it. Time will tell.

I toyed with the notion of writing reviews for each book on GoodReads as I read them, but so far I’ve yet to pull the trigger on that (and BTW, if any of you are on GoodReads feel free to look me up and send a friend request—I don’t do much except rate books as I finish them, but lord knows you can’t have too many friends on social media, right?). Then I thought about a recap of all the books I’ve read at the end of the year, but then I thought I wouldn’t even want to write anything that long, why would anyone want to read it? So I came up with a new plan, to do a few at a time; quarterly seemed to make the most sense, at least for the time being. I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with this format, but for now I’m just going to go with it. The star ratings are what I gave them in GoodReads.

 

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NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)

I’d been wanting to read some of Hill’s work for a while, and when Amazon had a sale on the e-book I couldn’t resist.

Victoria “Vic” McQueen is a fairly normal little girl. Until, that is, she jumps on her trusty bicycle. With it, she has the ability to ride onto a rickety old bridge (that was actually demolished years earlier) and use it to transport her to different places, helping her “find” things—and people—that are lost.

Someone who shares a similar gift is Charlie Manx, a vampiric old man who gets powers from children. He abducts kids and takes them to “Christmasland,” a surreal land from which there is no escape for the now soulless children. Vic encounters Manx as a child and manages to escape his clutches, upon which he is locked away until he seemingly dies. But with a little help Manx is let loose upon the world with revenge on his mind, and his eyes set on Vic’s son.

Thoughts as a reader: A great, original idea that’s a little anti-climactic. Despite it’s length, there are leaps in time from Vic’s childhood to adulthood where a little more detail might have been nice. Still, a really good book.

Thoughts as a writer: I really liked Manx; he reminded me almost of a modern-day Freddy Krueger, in that he was terrifying but had a twisted sense of humor. He also had a very distinct way of speaking—I found it a little distracting at first, but it grew on me by the end. Most of the characters were well fleshed out, except for Vic’s son Wayne.

4 stars

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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (2012)

If you’re a writer, you most likely already know of Chuck Wendig. If you’re not, you’ll probably know about him soon enough. Author of god knows how many books and the Picasso of profanity, Wendig’s website, terribleminds.com, is a wealth of knowledge no writer should do without. It was high time I read something other than his blog, and Blackbirds, being the first in a series, seemed the obvious choice.

Miriam Black has the unique ability to be able to see how and when you’re going to die. All she needs is the briefest of contact—a handshake, the brush of an elbow in passing, anything—and she can see how and when you’ll meet your demise. She uses said gift to get by in a less than scrupulous manner, when she meets a man who knows her secret and blackmails her into going deeper, trying to get more and more, and a trucker who, through one of her visions, she can see will die in thirty days, calling her name. She is drawn into a world of criminal heathens who don’t care if she lives or dies, and must rely on her wit to make it out alive and try to save her new trucker friend.

Thoughts as a reader: A short, fast-paced, and original story. It was a lot of fun to read and I have the sequel ready to go for the near future.

Thoughts as a writer: Wendig isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but he clearly knows of which he speaks on his website. His writing crackles with energy and the story is tight. There were some cut-away chapters of Miriam being interviewed that seemed almost like filler to get the story to novel length, but other than that, no complaints.

3 stars

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Bag of Bones by Stephen King (1999)

I didn’t realize until after I finished this book just how well-liked it is. With someone who puts out as many books as King does, he has quite a variety of fans: there are the ones who still think of him as a horror author and don’t like anything else; those who don’t like the horror but enjoy the more literary works; and the sci-fi/fantasy crowd that love his Dark Tower books. As I read reviews on GoodReads, it seemed that this is considered one of his best “literary” books. And while not horror, it is spooky and does have some truly horrific goings on.

Mike Noonan is a successful writer who lives in Maine (hmm…sounds familiar) when his wife dies suddenly of a brain aneurism. It takes Mike a long time to start picking up the pieces and try to move on with his life—he does so by deciding to spend the summer at the lake house he and his wife had as a vacation home in a small town. Once there, a chance encounter introduces Mike to Mattie Devore, a young widower, and her daughter Kyra. Mattie is fighting for custody of Kyra against her father-in-law, a mega-rich old man who rules the town and can buy pretty much anyone/anything he wants, and is used to getting his way.

Thoughts as a reader: I thought it was really slow off the mark, taking a good 60-70 pages before anything happened (besides the death of Mike’s wife, which happens right off the bat). Once Mike gets to the lake house it does pick up and get more interesting, and there are some neat developments. It’s a good book, and I can see why some people (who don’t care for his horror novels) might hail it as one of his best. I wouldn’t quite go that far, as I’m not one of his “horror only” fans, but I do like a bit more in the scare department. Some of the scares here, especially toward the end, seemed a little hokey to me.

Thoughts as a writer: Is this book ever the lesson of Chekov’s Gun—the idea that something introduced in a story must come into play later on. If memory serves correctly, there is literally nothing in the story that doesn’t mean something and help resolve things toward the conclusion. I really enjoyed/appreciated that aspect of the book.

And while those first 60 pages or so seemed slow story-wise, as a writer they were very interesting, as he detailed what life was like as a famous author—the pressures put on him by his agent and publisher; the marketing strategy as to when they would release his books; how that can all get derailed by another famous author releasing a book out of their normal schedule (damn you, Mary Higgins Clark!); and, perhaps most interestingly, how when he was on a hot streak he wrote book after book and stashed them away, so that when he was crippled by writer’s block after the death of his wife he was still able to produce books on schedule for four more years. I assume most of that is pretty much true, which just goes to show once you “make it” you still have plenty of pressure on you to perform.

3 stars

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Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard (1988)

One of the coolest things about having a pretty good sized library of books is that you can go through them and find books you either forgot you had or don’t even remember acquiring. The latter was what happened with Bag of Bones—I still have no idea where that book came from—and the former is what happened here. A few years ago my wife bought me about 8 or 10 Leonard paperbacks (always the good wife, love you honey!) and I thought I’d read them all until I moved some books around and saw there were two or three I’d forgotten about. Despite the horrendous-looking cover seen above, I picked this one.

The story starts with a bang, literally, as we meet Detective Chris Mankowski, who as the story begins is leaving the Firearms and Explosives division  for a job in Sex Crimes. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Robin, a former radical/activist in the sixties, and Skip, her old flame and partner in crime who took his talent for making things go boom and got a job in Hollywood as a stuntman and explosives coordinator. Robin convinces Skip that the time they spent in jail in the sixties was thanks to two brothers: Mark and Woody Ricks, who since the hippy days have inherited a boatload of money and are now filthy rich. Robin has a plan to get some payback (and payment) from the Ricks brothers and needs Skip’s help to see it through. As with most Elmore Leonard stories, things don’t go according to plan.

Thoughts as a reader: Classic Elmore Leonard. Aside from Greta Wyatt, the woman Chris meets when she comes into the Sex Crimes unit to file a report on Woody, every major character has an angle and is looking to score. Robin and Skip’s plan changes almost right away before starting to unravel completely, but it never feels contrived or forced. For these (mostly dimwitted) characters, everything that happens seems perfectly plausible. King will always be my favorite writer, but Mr. Leonard’s books give me a certain satisfaction when I finish them that not all of King’s books do.

Thoughts as a writer: Good god, where to start? The dialogue. The characters talk in a natural way, which I’ve realized is hard to pull off. It’s really difficult to have a character talk like a normal human being without it sounding forced or corny. He really is the master. Also, his advice to writers about leaving out the parts that readers would skip? This is a good example of that. It’s a pretty short book, but the story is tight—there’s no need for any more. One final note, I really have to give the man credit—I don’t know how many other writers could pull off having a character named Juicy Mouth.

4 stars

As you can probably tell, I’ve been staying well within my comfort zone as far as author and subject matter go. I’d like to expand my horizons, so to speak, but I’m not really sure which way to turn. So, as corny as this sounds, have you read any good books lately?

Stephen King’s A Bit of a Tweeker

I was doing some what I heard once called AFTK (away-from-the-keyboard) writing the other day—some of you may just call it ‘spacing out’—and as I thought about a particular story idea, I realized I needed a certain type of minor supporting character. As luck would have it, I had already created such a character for a different story that would fill the role nicely; the two stories were set in the same town, so it was perfectly plausible. I thought that was neat, having a little thread connecting two stories. Then I started thinking, and realized that I’ve either already done that or had planned on doing it in almost all my longer stories.

I know they were conscious decisions on some level, but it was never anything I really put a lot of thought into. It’s not just a little easter egg to myself (or my eventual readers, someday), there’s some actual benefit to it. Once you create a character you like (and manage not to kill them off), it makes it a little easier to put them into a story because you already know them. Their backstory, their attitude, the way they talk. It provides a depth that new characters may not possess until they’ve been developed a lot further.

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I’ve been thinking about Elmore Leonard a lot lately. I just started reading his book Freaky Deaky, and for the story I’m working on right now I’m trying to shoot for a Leonardian (did I just make up a word?) vibe and wanted some inspiration. Mister Leonard has also happens to have quite a few intertwining characters throughout his world of cops, crooks and cretins. It adds an interesting layer of depth to his stories if you happen to know the characters from other books.

Then there’s Stephen King.

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I’d heard once that a lot of King’s characters wove their way through his stories, so I decided to check it out for myself. It’s enough to make your head spin. I honestly don’t know if there’s a single novel of his that doesn’t cross over with another in some way. Not even just characters themselves but relatives of characters. King has created entire family trees in his universe, even going so far as writing himself into his heralded Dark Tower series (a fact I didn’t know until I started doing the research for this post—I really have to read that series).

If you have the time are awake and alert enough to try and follow it, click here to see how his characters, locations, and more intertwine in this insanely detailed flow chart.

Do any of you find yourselves going back to characters like they’re old friends you’re going to visit for a spell? Are there books or authors that bring in characters from other works that especially tickles your fancy?

On Reading Bad Books To Become A Better Writer

I don’t know what happened to me.

I used to be able to devour books like a hungry, gasoline-fed fire. It wasn’t unheard of to finish a book in a matter of days, and never more than a month. But now, I can barely finish a book in a month if I’m lucky.

I know a lot of things keep me from reading as fast as I used to—TV is probably chief among them, as well as the fact that I seem to have a much shorter attention span than I did before, thanks in no small part to the Rise of the Devices, where I feel this idiotic need to constantly check my email and Facebook and Twitter. I used to be able to read for an hour or two straight with no problems. Now I read a few pages then start feeling distractions pulling at the corners of my brain. My ability to focus while reading has seemingly gone by the wayside.

As I’ve been working on strengthening my writing, I’ve put in a lot of work and I think that hard work is starting to pay off. Even though I still have a long way to go, I’m feeling a certain confidence in my writing that I didn’t have before and I think it shows. The thing is, for all the writing, editing, and studying I’ve done to improve, there’s one piece of advice I haven’t taken, and it’s always bothered me.

That advice is (paraphrasing): Read as much as you possibly can, even books you don’t like or that aren’t very good. You can learn just as much if not more from a bad book than you can from a good one.

Really?

I mean, it makes sense on a certain level. I suppose that carries over to other arenas as well, not just writing. But the thought of spending my valuable time reading a book I don’t like or isn’t very good seems, well…crazy.

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Now that’s not to say I won’t finish a book I don’t like by an author I do like. I’m about 50 pages into Bag of Bones by Stephen King, and even though I’m still waiting for something actually happen, I’ll be patient and I’m sure I’ll finish the book even if it doesn’t pick up. But reading a mediocre-to-bad book by an author I don’t even like?

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 Reading a book is something I try to enjoy. I say try because unless what I’m reading has me absolutely engrossed, I’m still a little distracted, looking at word choice or use of punctuation, and not enjoying the book like I feel I should. I’m reading more like a writer than a reader. If I was trying to read a bad book I’d probably never finish it because I couldn’t keep myself interested. It is worth noting, however, that of the very small amount I read of one of the Twilight books, Stephanie Meyer managed to make sure I never use any form of the word incredulous.

One thing I have been doing, though, is slowly dipping my toe into the pool of online critique groups. I mentioned my Reddit ‘No Sleep’ experiment before, and that was fun, but you don’t get any actual feedback there. I did some more exploring and found the subreddit Shut Up and Write, which is a point-based peer critique system. As you review and critique the work of others you earn points that you cash in when you submit your own work for review.

So I guess I’m still improving my writing by reading stuff that isn’t necessarily top of the line, it’s just that instead of going ‘Ugh, this sucks,’ and chucking a book in the trash I’m giving some hopefully useful and constructive feedback that helps the other writer. It feels much more productive than reading a poorly written book.

Hopefully then end result is pretty much the same, because I really don’t want to read bad books. I really, really don’t, but I will if it’s that valuable to my writing. But you tell me—do you finish every book you start, even the crappy ones? What do you take away from them?

5 Things I’ve Learned After a Year of Blogging

This is slightly premature, but let’s go with it: late February marks my one year anniversary here on the blog (blogiversary?). Yessiree, it’s been a whole 12 months since I started this thing…my, how things have changed. What have I learned in the past year? Let’s take a look back…The Books of Jobe, this is your life!

1. I was a naive, ignorant turd to think I was ready to try and publish a book.

That sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. I started the blog because I was finishing up a novella that I was considering either submitting to publishers or self publishing via Amazon. As I delved into the blogosphere I realized a couple of things: There were a lot of other aspiring writers out there with excellent blogs of their own, and I was nowhere near ready to publish anything (although I did submit my novella once before coming to my senses). Reading the blogs of fellow writers showed me how far I really had to go to become a writer of any real quality.

2. I had no idea how far-reaching my blog could be.

As I reviewed my stats, I was not entirely surprised to see people from Canada and the UK popping up. Then I saw India, Australia, and Denmark. Wow, this blogging thing is more popular than I thought. Then came countries like Pakistan, Tanzania, Israel, and Budapest. Really? I’m still floored by how many different countries are listed in my site stats. Granted, a lot of them are just 1 view, but still, I had no clue as to the global reach of WordPress.

3. People are freakin’ creepy.

I had read other bloggers’ stories. I knew the freaks were out there. For anyone reading not familiar with how WordPress works, it will show you how many people were referred to your blog from search engines and, in some cases, what specific search terms they entered. There are true horror stories out there about what types of perverted things people typed into Google to wind up where they did. My cringe-inducing winner? Someone found my blog by searching for the term “daddy watching jailbait daughter masturbate.” All together now—*shudder* As a side note, my site came up on that search because of the post I wrote about creepy song lyrics. NO OTHER REASON.

4. I could apparently have the most popular blog of all time if I devoted more posts to this bug.

Last April, I was at the beginning of the A to Z blogging challenge. I was on the letter B and decided to devote a post to the godforsaken bugs that feast on the seeds of the golden rain tree in our front yard. Aside from the post I wrote that WordPress promoted as Freshly Pressed, that post about bugs is far and away my most viewed post. I mean, seriously—by a mile. It’s not even funny. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have at least one view on that post or some combination of the words ‘golden rain tree bug’ in the search terms. If I was more ambitious I suppose I I could consider starting another blog devoted to the little bugger, but I’ve got more than enough on my plate as it is.

5. I needed this blog more than I thought.

I started the blog thinking it was basically some sort of publicity tool and nothing more. I didn’t know anyone who had a blog, and although I heard the word all over the place, I associated blogs more with things like Perez Hilton and Gossip Girl. I had no clue what awaited me once I went down the rabbit hole.

Although I haven’t met any of my WordPress friends in person, I wouldn’t hesitate to call a good number of you friends. I’ve friended or been friended by a few of you on Facebook (which, coincidentally, all of you are free to do—don’t worry, I don’t post much), connected on Twitter, even one LinkedIn connection that I still don’t know what to do with. The point is, a year ago none of those relationships existed. And while I assume some of these connections may help me sell some books whenever I’m ready to publish (be it traditional or indie), I see now that’s not the real point. The point is support and encouragement while I work to make my writing better and get myself published, because if any of you out there haven’t heard, writing is hard goddamn work. I honestly don’t know if I could’ve stuck with it if I was still doing it alone.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

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Minor Annoyances, A to Z—26 Words That Piss Me Off

I’ve been feeling kind of gripey lately. Maybe the cold is finally getting to me. As a native Californian, I think I’ve handled the adjustment to the frigid Midwestern winters pretty well—but we all have our breaking points. The last month or so has seen my inner grouch grow exponentially. This weekend we’re actually looking at semi-comfortable temperatures (the upper 50’s? Break out the shorts!), and my disposition may change, so I’m going to get this list of words that irritate and annoy me off my chest before I cheer up.

Some of the words are slang, some are proper words I just don’t like because they’re awkward and/or ugly to say. Some really don’t need any explanation at all. As always, this list is the sole opinion of The Books of Jobe editorial department (staff:1), and no offense is intended toward anyone reading who actually uses any of these words. Just stop it. And away we go:

Amazeballs

I’m okay with a lot of slang—I even like “trippin’ balls.” But I draw the line here.

Because

I’m talking about the “new” use of because, as in, “I like rock music because guitars.” No.

Chillax

No explanation needed.

Dealio

“What’s the dealio?” has not been funny or cool in 20 years, please stop.

Epic

Everything is not epic.

Fugly

I can appreciate what’s being attempted here by combining two words, but it’s an awkward word to me. There are so many more creative ways to insult someone’s appearance.

Ginormous

I don’t care if it did make its way into the dictionary, I refuse to recognize it as a word.

Hoity-toity

You really don’t hear this very often, but it sounds silly. Don’t like it.

Icky

What are you, twelve?

Jut

Curiously, I like the word gut. Not jut.

Knob

No explanation needed.

Looksee

Does anybody still use this word? When I hear “let’s take a looksee,” part of me dies inside.

Methinks

Since saying I think is so simple? Methinks is one of my trigger words: whenever I see/hear it, I instantly dislike the person using it.

Natch (short for naturally)

I only see this in writing, I assume because anyone who has actually spoken the word was immediately put to death.

Obfuscate

Possibly the ugliest word on the list.

Punt

Um, yeah. No.

Quixotic

This word sucks unless you’re playing Words with Friends. Or Scrabble, if you’re as old as I am.

Ridonkulous

This is up there with amazeballs. People can use it all they want, it still won’t legitimize it.

Super

This one’s just due to overuse. Surely there’s another word people can use.

Thusly

The word that keeps me from being able to completely embrace Alton Brown. If you ever hear someone use this word, don’t think—turn and run, as you’re obviously in the company of a pretentious ass.

Utilize

Say use. Period.

Vitriol

A word that seems to only come up when I read about politics, which is thankfully not too often. Still, an awkward word to say.

Wortle

Not gonna lie—I had already committed to making a list of words for every letter in the alphabet, and had to resort to looking up words that started with W. But say it out loud and tell me I’m wrong.

Xanthan

Don’t think I’ve ever seen this word not followed by the word gum. Luckily, a word no one has to say much unless they work in the food industry.

Yolo

I’m still holding on to a sliver of hope this word will die out and go back to obscurity, with words like tubular.

Zarf

Again, had to look up a word that started with Z. It means ornamental holder for a coffee cup. The more I look at it the more I almost like it, but I’m leaving it on here and moving on before I change my mind.

Well I don’t know about you guys, but I sure feel better. I know there are some word nerds out there (syntax slayers? vocabulary vultures?) who are probably chomping at the bit to add some words to the list, so let’s have it—what are the words that make you cringe like a rake being scraped across a chalkboard while Rebecca Black sings Friday?

Note: I don’t want to sound like a broken record regarding True Detective, but is anybody watching this show? My lord, that last episode was incredible. If you have HBO, you’ve got no excuse. Seriously, watch it!