Vocabulary – Mind Your Qs

The letter Q!  An O with a tail!

My literary association with this letter comes from renowned children’s author Beverly Cleary‘s character, Ramona Quimby.   In Ramona the Brave, our intrepid heroine enters first grade, and daring to be different, writes her last initial as a little kitty drawing.

If you’ve never read these charming stories, please do.  They realistically depict family life through the eyes of a spunky little girl.  Author of the Henry Huggins series, The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Dear Mr. Henshaw, Cleary is one of the most beloved children’s writers ever.

And who could forget John de Lancie’s omnipotent, immortal character Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who annoyed Captain Picard on a regular basis?

This will be a short list, since Q doesn’t go with many other consonants and few vowels in English except U.  Onward!

Qat (kaht) – Catha edulis, a plant native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula that has narcotic leaves.  Qat—also khat or gat—can be chewed or made into tea.  It’s a controlled substance in the U.S., so don’t go looking for it.

Betcha legendary wild food dude Euell Gibbons never tried this.

Image:  Kaupatuka / Wikimedia Commons

Qiviute (kiv-ee-ute) – Inuit.  The wooly undercoat of the musk ox.  Yarn made from this substance is EXPENSIVE.  As I just learned to knit, this is relative to my interests, though not necessarily my pocketbook.

“What? Cold out here? Naaah.”

Image:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons

Quahog (KO-hog) – Native American, Narragansett tribe.  Everyone who watches Family Guy knows this one.  It’s the name of the city the Griffins live in, but it’s also a hard shell clam found around the eastern U.S. shores.

Quaver – to shake or quiver, or to speak in a trembling voice.

Quelch – to squash, squelch.

Buffy and Angel successfully quelched the demon uprising while managing to keep their hair perfect. 

Querulous – complaining, whiny.

The very definition of the word.

The very definition of the word.

Image:  escapepod.org

Quinsy – an old word for a swollen, pustular abscess in the throat, a complication of tonsillitis.  It’s thought to be George Washington’s last illness.  Tonsillitis doesn’t sound like much, but in the days when bloodletting was the typical treatment for sickness, any infection could (and typically was) fatal.  Although when you think about it, the bleeding probably did the job all by itself.

“Pass the cough drops, please, Martha.”

Image:  Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)  / Wikimedia Commons

Quiescent (kwee-ES-uh nt) – the state of being quiet, still, or at rest.

Kinda like this.

Image:  Alexx1979 / Wikimedia Commons

Quid pro quo – Latin.  This for that, an equal exchange.  A legal term, this expression was made famous by Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in the film version of Thomas Harris’ excellent book The Silence of the Lambs.

Notice I do not link to the movie; while it was outstanding, I prefer you read the book.  If you’re a writer, you can learn a lot from Harris’ prose.

Quokka – a short-tailed marsupial of extraordinary cuteness, found primarily in southwest Australia.   Click on its name to learn more about it.

I can not has medical research? Yes? Thx.

Image:  Loetifuss / Wikimedia Commons

Quorum – the minimum number of members of a group necessary to transact business legally.

“How are we supposed to decide this?  We need twelve people for a quorum and we don’t have them,” Velma said.

“Like, there are zombies on the loose—let’s just get out of here and talk about it later!” Shaggy quavered. “Right, Scoob, old pal?”

“Rike reah!” Scooby agreed, while simultaneously nicking several Scooby Snacks from Shaggy’s back pocket. 

That’s all the words for today, kids.  If you can use any of these in conversation today, I want to hear about it in comments!



Places in Your Writing


Yep, and it’s writing/editing related!  I’ll be proofing reports for a local company, along with various administrative duties.  I’m pretty excited about it.  It seems like a very cool place to work.

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  I had to rest my brain after NaNoWriMo.  The space between when I finish and when I can stand to even look at NewBook has been larger than it was for Rose’s Hostage.

Instead, I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Brian Keene, and absorbing lessons on characterization, chapter structure, and speculative / thriller elements.

There’s a lot to do, and I promised I would share that process with you.  I’ll start with these remarks about setting.

Whether your story takes place in a village, a city or on another planet, your setting has its own identity that may or may not be wrapped up in that of your protagonist.  The right name and some attention to its population, geography and infrastructure provide valuable backstory that will give your place depth and realism, even if you don’t use all the material.

The sounds of the words can tell you something about your setting.   Consider J.R.R. Tolkien‘s hobbits, who live in Hobbiton, the Shire.  Tolkien’s place names are representative of the folks living in them. Shire sounds pastoral, peaceful, like the hobbits themselves.

Looks like it, too.  No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Looks like it, too. No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Image:  filmhash.com

Gondor sounds mighty, as its warrior Boromir was before the Ring tragically unmasked his failings.  And Mordor—the name alone is enough to conjure writhing black spirits in one’s mind.

Batman’s stomping grounds are based on New York, a city that can be dark and looming, although Chris Nolan’s movies are filmed in Chicago.  Gotham, which was a nickname for the Big Apple long before Batman came to be, sounds metropolitan but also gothic in a broody way.  Considering Batman’s tragic origin, it fits.  Metropolis (hello, Captain Obvious) is the bustling city where Superman hangs out.

Sometimes writers use real places in their work, especially ones with which they are very familiar.  Tons of movies and books are set in New York City. .  In Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the borough itself is as much a character as the protagonist.

I prefer to make up settings.  Unless I know a place very, very well, I’m liable to get it wrong.  If one of my books happened in Los Angeles, I would have to either do a great deal of research (which sucks – I set something in Spain once and know NOTHING about it) or travel there to get it right (Ha! Not likely with my bank account!).

Rose’s Hostage is set in a fictional city in Illinois called Ralston.  Yes, like the cereal.  To me, it sounded Midwestern, solid, slightly industrial.  I picture a drive into it as close to entering St. Louis–not as factory-infested as Joliet, with rural satellite communities like my small city.   To make it interesting and keep my detective busy, I added:

  • A self-contained rough area downtown, like the Narrows in Gotham City, with lots and lots of bars and hookers.
  • Federal law enforcement and an entrenched Mafia presence.
  • Motorcycle gangs.  Both they and the Mafia are augmented by a reasonable proximity to Chicago, which I can mine for all sorts of criminal goodies.
  • Lots of public areas—parks, a museum, etc. where disaster-ish stuff could happen.

Thinking about where Ralston is, who lives there and what kind of activity they would engage in made a difference in all sorts of details.  The population is mostly descended from Western European immigrants, which affects what names I choose for people.  All this comes together in a flavor for the area.

Most of the places in NewBook are grounded in reality.  Some are speculative.  There are several places where the story happens:

  • Martinsburg (working title)—a nice, middle-sized city, nothing huge, smaller than Ralston, but not rural.  It’s home to a prestigious university that has spawned a pretty good scientific community, central to some elements of the story.
  • A couple of other dimensions.  No, really.
  • Heaven.  Yep, you heard me.
  • Brief visits to Los Angeles and New York.

WTF??  What is this story about, anyway?

You'll find out, youngling.  You'll find out.

You’ll find out, youngling. You’ll find out.

Image:  David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are larger social ramifications to the protagonist’s actions, but I simply could not expand the scope of my settings and still manage the story.   So I’m condensing the majority of it down to Martinsburg.  I’m not sharing just yet because so many things still need work that what I say now may be completely different in a month or two.

Keep an eye out for April’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge.  I’m planning yet again to participate, with more enticing tidbits about how my book is coming together.

NewBook’s settings are still mostly in my head.  It seems kind of back-assward to write them down now, but this book has not followed my usual process, so don’t take it as gospel on how to work.   For most of us, it’s worthwhile to take time and plot your setting before you put your characters there.