RSS Feed

Category Archives: Voices in My Head – Writing

The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

Readers of this blog may have caught a post I wrote around a year ago about the worst video game controller buttons ever made. I fully intended to follow that up with a post about the greatest video game controller buttons ever, but my ever-frequent sidetracks came along and kept me from doing so. But since it was a great idea, I knew I would have to get around to writing on the subject eventually, and so here it is: The long-awaited follow-up. Every gamer knows that some gaming console controllers are better than others, but there a lot of individual controller buttons which are better than others. Some are excellent for their quality and ease of use, others for their innovations, and still others are good for the way they commonly function. But which ones are the best of the best of the best? Well, keep right on reading, because I’ve come up with an inarguable, bulletproof list of the best video game controller buttons of all time. I wrote it up on my napkin during break!

Yes, you can blame Kotaku for inspiring the original idea. But Kotaku doesn’t do descriptions or explanations, and I do, so there!


10 – A Button

Gamecube Controller

Better known as The Big Green Button, the one thing the Gamecube controller managed to get right was the ginormous A Button. Standing out among a formation of oddly spaced and oddly shaped controller buttons, Nintendo’s signaling of the phrase “PRESS ME!!!” was placed front and center, larger than any of the other buttons on the damned thing, bright green and basically impossible to miss. It might as well have been a giant neon sign. Just sitting there, the A Button knew it was the lord and master of everything it surveyed. Whatever game you happened to be playing on the Gamecube, you knew that whatever function The Big Green Button performed was going to end up being hella important, and so you started plotting your gaming style and strategy accordingly. In a way, that made the Gamecube controller’s A Button an evolutionary step up from one of the legendary video game controller buttons…


9 – Button

Atari 2600 Controller

Yes, this is a posterity pick, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think it deserves a spot on this list. See, you have to remember that video games are like any other entertainment medium – they evolve, and a lot of things that were once innovations either become better versions of themselves or get junked. Back in the days of gaming yore, no one thought that video games were ever going to need more than one button, so yes, this sucker ended up running its course. But what a course it was! Sitting there alongside a joystick, you always knew where it was and what it did because it was the only action button the 2600 used. It’s the only dash of any real color on the controller. It made Pitfall Harry jump, it made the thing in Space Invaders fire, it… Well, it performed countless different functions in just as many video games. And unlike the finicky joystick standing there next to it, it never particularly cared about the position it was in in relation to the gamer, because it always performed the same way whether it was upside-down or not!


8 – Start

Genesis Controller

This is a weird selection, mainly because the Genesis controller’s version of the Start button eventually turned into such a wild card. As most people who know anything about video games are aware, the Genesis controller did something unprecedented: It wiped out the common stock button known as Select and replaced it with a third action button. At first, this looked like overkill. Then it looked like foresight. It eventually started to look backwards after Nintendo placed four action buttons and two shoulder buttons on the Super NES controller. That last one started to cripple the Genesis when Sega decided that it wasn’t going to start including six-button controllers in its packaging. Not everyone bought the six-button, and those who decided not to but loved fighting games were treated to a myriad of weird control substitutions which often utilized the Start button. In one game, it could be the turbo button. In another, it could be block. And in others, it switched between punches and kicks. The caveat was that there was no way to pause a game, but a button as useful and quirky as the Genesis Start button wasn’t something we saw everyday.


7 – D-pad Right

Most 16-bit Video Game Controllers

Well, what other direction would you go in?


6 – Z Trigger

Nintendo 64 Controller

For all the bad-mouthing we do about it, the Nintendo 64 controller was a stroke of genius in a handful of different ways. The Z Trigger is one of the coolest little innovations I’ve ever seen on a controller. Used in tandem with the analog stick, it brought a bit of ease to first-person shooter players because it was now possible to aim and fire using the same hand. Yes, the usual griping came out of PC gamers, but the Z Trigger introduced a natural ease to shooters which hadn’t been felt since the point-and-press days of Space Invaders. If you weren’t much for first-person shooters, well, you got stuck using the Z Trigger anyway. As I wrote in my piece about the worst controller buttons ever, the Nintendo 64 controller was bogged down by the fact that no one ever programmed anything into the d-pad or L button. The entire left side of the controller was useless. So when a function needed to get placed into a shoulder button, it was the Z Trigger that got the outsourced function on the Nintendo 64 version. What we have here is a novelty trigger with more versatility than a trigger is usually allowed.


5 – Analog Stick

Nintendo 64 Controller

And hey, speaking of the Nintendo 64’s analog stick, does anybody remember how much everybody HATED the thing when it first came out? The only reason we had trouble adjusting to it was because we never HAD to adjust to something so radical before. Even the Sony Playstation, which was launched around the same time and led by a prevalence of 3D games, used the basic d-pad. But the analog stick turned out to be an instance where’s Nintendo’s attempt to force gaming to evolve was right on point. Yes, everyone is still so in love with the original d-pad that all the major console makers are forcing them onto their controllers to this very day. But as a form of basic movement, the d-pad is a two-dimensional way of moving for a two-dimensional time in video gaming. When games jumped to 3D, Nintendo saw that gamers would need a form of uninhibited movement in 360 degrees. It saw that we were going to need our games to read more minute movements which would have to be read in more efficient ways than light, gentle taps on the d-pad. Now here we are over 20 years after the fact, and no hardware maker is crazy enough to try to launch a new console without this standard form of movement.


4 – L2 and R2

Playstation 2 Controller

Yes, I know everyone remains in love with the pill known as the Super NES controller. And yes, it WAS important – it included more action buttons than any controller ever seen at that point and introduced the first two shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the thing was small and uncomfortable, and I hated the thing so much that I passed on the Super NES for a Genesis. When Sony introduced the first Playstation, the pistol grip put my deformed arm at ease, so it rescued my ability to game. But it wasn’t until the Dual Shock 2 came out that Sony saw it fit to extend and taper the bottom two shoulder buttons, making them easier to grasp and get our fingers around in way that was more natural than anything we had seen before. Although L2 and R2 were originally done as novelties that only made it easier to fit more functions into a single controller, the Playstation 2 is where they started to take on a new life of their own. The use of shoulder buttons as basic action buttons started with the Dual Shock 2, and a console generation later, Sony started spring-loading the buttons to allow their greater involvement in video games.


3 – L Trigger and R Trigger

Dreamcast Controller

Concluding the trigger portion of this list is the breakthrough enhancement that enabled designers to see the potential of triggers on controllers. Yes, the Nintendo 64 was the original, but the Dreamcast spring-loaded the things and placed them properly underneath the controller, transforming the difficult shoulder buttons into practical devices we could use without having to remind ourselves that they were there. Microsoft liked them so much that they nicked them straight for the original Xbox controller, creating the iconic versions of the L and R Triggers gamers have all come to know and love.


2 – X and Y Buttons

Super NES Controller

After Sega added a third action button to the Genesis controller, Nintendo realized it would have to go big. So it created a controller for its new flagship console with four action buttons and two shoulder buttons. Not only did that force Sega to create more evolved controllers to add to the Genesis, but how many more controllers had a button C? Even the Dreamcast used the X and Y axis layout.


1 – B Button

NES Controller

Okay, you can make a powerful argument that the A button belongs in this spot, and I’ll understand. A made Mario jump and Link swing his sword, after all. B was slightly more innocuous in Nintendo’s primary mascot series because Mario mostly ran with it. But when you make that argument, you’re denying Mario his ability to throw fireballs, Link the ability to shoot his bow and arrow, Samus the ability to shoot anything, and Kirby the ability to suck up his enemies. My qualm with A here is that so much of its function revolved around jumping. It was B that continued what Atari started with the 2600 controller, but it pulled off the trick of doing that while being an additional button which let gamers play with accessories and power-ups. B was the sort of button that shined bright whenever its time came, but which knew that it had to take a backseat at other times. It was B that eventually caused video game controllers to expand the way they did, inviting the other action buttons to show up at the party and bring along unique personalities of their own. B was the button that was at ease playing either the leader or the sidekick. Its position on many of today’s hand-engulfing controllers still enables it to play both of those roles with ease. And all of it started when Nintendo promoted it to its first big boy console.


The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

You may have noticed that a lot of cities get contemporary songs written about them. Buffalo, sadly, has been lacking, which is funny for a city which spent the first half of the 20th Century being so prominent. So I decided to write the lyrics for a song about Buffalo’s old guard. This is my first attempt at songwriting ever. Now, I tend to write a lot of dark stuff, and this song is set from the point of view of an older resident of Buffalo who believes that trying to make everything the way it was before the march of progress destroyed the city will restore it to greatness.

No one’s bothered by the cold                                                                                                   We’re a guard that’s fighty and old                                                                                      Shoving heads into frozen white sand                                                                                Though we were once a promised land                                                                                    Kids file out with degrees underarm                                                                                    They’re not as real as us

Everyone is wrong                                                                                                                            We know what we are                                                                                                                We’re the tough ones                                                                                                                       We know our past was right

Corporate steel killed our jobs                                                                                                       Made us into mindless pack mobs                                                                                              Back in the day, everything was right                                                                                            In our past, the city basked in light                                                                                    Progress must be pretty bad because                                                                                   Breaks don’t come for us

We know we’re strong                                                                                                                That’s just how we are                                                                                                                    We’re the hard ones                                                                                                                        The future can’t be bright

Now our home can’t clean its slate                                                                                              Our football team lost four straight                                                                                              Hot bird wings helped bring us fame                                                                                     Other places just think we’re lame

Being tough is all we’ve got                                                                                                         With our once-big city left to rot                                                                                             Being modern won’t cross our mind                                                                                        Being great means we must be blind                                                                                               It’s a price we pay                                                                                                                             For being real

We’re the old guard                                                                                                                         The old ways were best                                                                                                              We’re the real ones                                                                                                                          We don’t care for the rest

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

Dear Mr. Grim Reaper,

It’s time you and I had a little chat. We need to settle something: Among the famed and influential people you’ve taken from the world this year are David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, and now Muhammad Ali. Ali is the only one among them whose time had been seen coming for awhile. He was 74 – early old age, and a longtime sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease. But Bowie and Rickman – whom you killed within a week of each other – were both in their 60’s. Prince didn’t even get that far. None of them deserved to head off into the Grey Havens early. In fact, they were all champions of good causes who showed the world that it was okay to be different and stand out.

How the hell are you coming up with the names on your list this year, Mr. Reaper? You can’t be pulling them out of a hat – the odds of all four of those names being pulled from a hat that large are astronomical. They have to be in the billions. You need to start picking off some worse people to balance this out. Here is a list of names I’m practically leading the cheers to see go down:

Gwyneth Paltrow
Okay, I can admit that it’s not her fault that she’s the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and movie producer Bruce Paltrow. But damn if she doesn’t know how to ride the Daddy’s rich little girl routine to its most extreme end. She earned my sympathy at one point by performing an experiment to see if she could eat healthy for a week with the kind of money that poor people make. Turned out the answer was no – no shit, tell us something we don’t know – but her behavior both before and after that makes me wonder if she wasn’t trying to whip up some exotic French three-course meal during that experiment. For god’s sake, she just made news for recommending a solid gold dildo which cost more than most peoples’ cars – and if they live in certain parts of the Rust Belt, possibly even their houses. She puts out a list of Christmas gifts every year which are beyond expensive. If you’re trying to live like her, you’re going to be torn every month between buying her favored jumper or keeping your roof over your head. I’m halfway convinced Paltrow is a distant relative of the Solomon family from Third Rock from the Sun.

Tom Brady
You know, I thought there was progress being made in the eternal war against the image of the All-American Golden Boy. We were beginning to realize that good looks come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We were starting to appreciate the incredible athleticism that goes with other sports, including more cult ones like lacrosse. We were finally realizing that being a good person who does the right thing can have nuanced circumstances. But then here came Tom Cruise Sports Edition, pretty much embodying everything Grandmas want their granddaughters to marry. Tom Brady was cast in the same mold that also created all those evil movie jocks from the 1980’s that we hate so much. That would be bad enough, but there are a couple more details which make Brady the most insufferable version of the trope: The first is that we’ll never get to see him receive his satisfying comeuppance. Even with Rex Ryan having coached two of his divisional rivals, he always seems to survive an onslaught which should have killed other quarterbacks. The other is that he has given credence to Boston sports fans, who are the worst people on Earth.

Kanye West
Kanye West gets all the credit in the world as a creative genius. Of course, that’s only because he IS a creative genius. Just ask him – he’ll be the first to tell you so. Yeah, Kanye West plays the role of one of the world’s biggest divas. He’s one of those kinds of people who gets pouty is everything doesn’t go exactly right. Furthermore, can you think of any other celebrity who would try to peddle an undershirt for $120? That’s not even getting into his well-known award show rants, where he waltzes up to the stage, takes the microphone from an award winner like he owns it, and spends ten minutes rambling on about who the real winner should have been. As you can guess, most of the time, it should have been Kanye West.

Jenny McCarthy
So, given the choice between having your kid autistic or dead, what do you do? According to the anti-vaxxers, you let them die. Jenny McCarthy was apparently once a very smart student, but I think it’s probably time she asked the University of Google for a refund. McCarthy is the face of the anti-vaxxer movement, a farce started with bad research by a doctor who was disbarred 20 years ago, has no evidence to back it up, and is arguably a belief that goes with privilege. But McCarthy’s brand of lunacy predates her involvement with the anti-vaxxers: Before latching onto that, she was an outspoken proponent of the Indigo Child movement, even running a blog that served as a meeting site for Indigo people and even more special Crystal people. In other words, she’s a person who might be better off joining Scientology.

Mel Gibson
Oh Mel, what happened? He was one of the greatest and highest-paid action heroes in the world, but I can count on my deformed hand the number of other stars who fell so hard so quickly and ruined themselves. First of all, you can’t decline to call out your Holocaust denier pop. You also have to keep your id in check by at least trying to say when if you decide to drink. Bitching about the Jews is not only going to alienate a significant chunk of your audience, it’s probably going to piss off a lot of executives in Hollywood; after all, there ARE a good number of Jews in those positions. And being a devout Catholic while cheating on your wife makes you a hypocrite. Even when trying to pull himself out of his downward spiral, Gibson just couldn’t stop his foot from leaping into his mouth. This is really more of a mercy killing plea – Mel Gibson used to be one of my favorite movie stars before all this happened. Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Braveheart, the man made some quality pictures. It’s one thing to screw up, but Gibson has made it impossible to take his side.

Those aren’t even the only ones I can think of. They’re only the ones I feel like listing off the top of my head. We know about ubiquitous reality stars, people who are famous for being famous, and loudmouthed pundits and bigoted politicians. They’re legion, and they all deserve to be escorted from this planet too. I don’t even have to mention any of their names. See, Mr. Reaper, the planet sucks to live on enough as it is. The people you’re knocking off this year are some of the types of people who make living here more bearable.

What’s stunning is that there are so many more of the worse people – and the indifferent ones – than the good ones. Some are stupid, some are evil, right wingers are usually both. Hell, there are famous right wing pundits in the United States right now who are openly championing slavery. (Who was it that defended it by saying it was “a full-employment system?” Yeah, please go kill HIM.) Isn’t Charles Manson still alive?

I know you’re just trying to get your own job done, but your hit list this year makes you look like you’ve been taking bribes from the Angel Mafia. And I don’t want to believe you’ve been doing that. You’ve had a sterling track record over the past few years. Yes, you’ve taken the good. We all miss Nelson Mandela, but Mandela was well into his 90’s and had led a long, full, and very productive life. But you also knocked off Osama bin Laden, Fred Phelps, and Kim Jong Il.

We need to see the bad people die too. I know you’re smart enough to understand balance. If we’re not getting enough balance, certain types of people will start to see your hit list as evidence that the bad people are the ones who are right.

See you around,

For Abuse of the English Language: The 2014 Acid Martini Awards

For Abuse of the English Language: The 2014 Acid Martini Awards

As you may be able to deduce from the fact that I spend so much time writing, I love language. (You little Sherlock Holmes, you!) I love my native language of English, and appreciate the little ticks and quirks that go with being able to use it well. English is considered a difficult language to learn, and there’s no better example of that than the fact that so many of the people who want to officialize English as our country’s national language have the linguistic capabilities of a seven-year-old. Maybe it’s an empowerment thing for immigrants; you know, trying to motivate them to learn to speak English better than they do? In any case, though, every now and then, little new words, suffixes, and slang terms pop up that lack the subtle sophistication of good English and come out sounding like Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit is trying to say them with a severe case of the mumps? Yeah, a lot of the more communal terms used in English drive me crazy, because it’s communal slang which slowly works its way into the common lexicon and changes the language. While I’m not against linguistic evolution, there are just some terms which should never, ever be used, for any reason. To honor the worst of the English language, I’ve created the First Annual Acid Martini Awards, named in honor of the drink I would like to offer anyone I catch using the following terms.

Apparently, this became a shorthand way of saying “totally” sometime while I wasn’t looking. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s inefficient, doing away with the finality of the S at the end of the adjective. Therefore, it can trip people up, and so it comes off as less shorthand and more of a way to blow out your windpipe at an early age if trying to use it in rapid succession. And that’s not even getting into the larger problem that exists with this term: A tote is a freaking bag!

Cray Cray
Here’s another adjective which can easily be mistaken for a noun. It can also be mistaken for a cutesy, precocious children’s nickname. Oh, look, here comes Cray Cray! A shorthand for the word “crazy,” cray cray is a failure because the most dominant letter in crazy doesn’t appear in cray cray: You don’t get that Z sound, and that makes for a term which hold less impact than the original version. So what tries to be a shorthand term for a mental condition just ends up perpetuating a bunch of negative stereotypes about people whose craziness isn’t obvious from the outside, and people will continue to mistake real crazy people for loud frat douchebros.

Speaking of loud frat douchebros, here’s a term which we’ve started using in our craze for short, convenient acronyms which go well in cell phone texts. It’s the acronym for “you only live once,” that eternal excuse for frat douchebros to do supremely stupid things with complete disregard for the safety of themselves or those around them.

This is a concept as old as time itself, and it’s not something I’m objecting to. My objection here is strictly with the way the millennials apparently felt the need to create a word which basically hijacked the concept and made it seem like something new and original which they thought up all by themselves. Maybe they felt the need to make the concept feel fresh and exciting, perhaps? I don’t know. What I do know, however, it that the whole idea of spending your week off from work sitting on your ass at home worked just fine when it was actually called spending your week off from work sitting on your ass at home.

This is a case where I’m not objecting to the word in itself so much as I am what the word morphed into. Literally has turned into a qualifier which is used to emphasize a greater point. This demeans the original meaning of the word, which is supposed to mean something that has to be taken as it was said. For example, if you stood in a line that was 30 miles long, you only stood in a line that was figuratively 30 miles long. If you literally stood in a line that was 30 miles long, it would have meant you physically stood in a line that physically stretched the entire length of Western Avenue. I hope whatever was at the end of that line was worth that kind of wait. I want to say I’ll literally lose my mind if people keep misusing literally like this, but I’ll only figuratively lose my mind.

Om Nom Nom
This is what Pac-Man kept saying as he gulped dots, isn’t it? It still only makes sense as the sound he makes when he eats.

Now that I thought of this, strictly adding “totes” up there was shortening that list by quite a bit, although I do remain adamant that “totes” is by far the most vile offender. I guess I overlooked the other upscale truncations, like “amaze,” “obvi,” “whatevs,” and all the others.

I can at least feel like this one is justified. People taking pictures of themselves on their cell phones is a relatively new phenomenon, and I abide by the belief that there’s a legitimate difference between selfies and real photographs. But that doesn’t make the word any more pleasant, and I’m hoping a better term eventually comes along that replaces it. I’m not holding my breath, though, especially not after that essay James Franco wrote about selfies.

I hope these words eventually end up going the way of other offenses of the English language like “jiggy” and that ridiculous “-izzle” suffix. Remember, language is very important. Little words can have a huge impact on people and events. We want language to be something that gets taken seriously, and the words on the list above are actively dumbing it down. So I think it’s time to start fending off these terms with a (figurative) pointy stick before the Germans start taking pity on us.

Happy Thoughts

Happy Thoughts

We live in a very sorry world which bombards us with bad news coming out of all orifices. So there are times when it helps to make a small list of the things in the world to be grateful for.

1 – Paris Hilton hasn’t been in the news lately.

2 – No movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches have been made in years.

3 – The Stanley Cup Playoffs are going in full swing.

4 – New Star Wars movies are in the works.

5 – The Polar Vortex is over, or at least the worst part of it is.

6 – Original basic cable television programs are better than ever, and truly worth watching.

7 – Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson.

8 – Keeping a food diary is the easiest way to control your weight, and it’s cheap.

9 – Masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.

10 – A lot of creative and thoughtful podcasts are free.

Me and Dutch

Me and Dutch

Consider James Joyce’s classic book Finnegan’s Wake for a second. There’s a book that continues to get every form of accolade, kudos, and dosh by an elitist literati for…. Let’s see, shall we, according to our favorite all-encompassing Wiki: Linguistic experiments, literary allusions, free dream associations, and abandonment of the constrains of character and plot constructions. It’s considered one of the greatest books ever written. I myself consider it one of the prime examples of the fact that the literati is a snobbish group which decides classics based on how much they hate books. After all, would you want to read a book for months only to end up believing it was a waste of your time? Yeah, they hate Finnegan’s Wake, therefore it must be a classic because they didn’t want to admit they spent ten years hacking through something this meaningless.

Now, I’ve tried to read Finnegan’s Wake in the past. My experimental shot at Finnegan’s Wake was even shorter than my go at a Jane Austen novel and the pretentious wealthy Victorian-era characters and threads in it, and that’s saying something. Finnegan’s Wake has to be read like one of those Magic Eye pictures that became hot in the 90’s. I constantly found myself moving the book closer and further from my eyes, rotating it in every direction to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. After finally throwing the book into the wall, something about it hit me: Finnegan’s Wake is the kind of thing that might come out of a third-grader’s imagination. If a third-grader had written it and turned it in as a class assignment, Teach would have slammed it with an F, with a skull and crossbones in place of the smiley face, saying it didn’t make any goddamn sense. I have half a mind to believe Joyce wrote it as a Fuck You to a teacher who failed him.

I also never understood the idea of trash books, and I always bristled whenever I heard someone refer to a book or genre I’m fond of as trash. First of all, that makes me wonder just how many of the books we consider classics now were considered trash when they were first written. Frankenstein, yeah, I know that for sure. Frankenstein, however, started out on the literary disability list by virtue of the fact that it was written by a, you know, woman, and therefore it has to be trash because women are too fair to be writers, doncha know. (It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the literati began giving Frankenstein its props.) What makes people the defining guardians of what’s trash and what’s good? My philosophy toward reading has always been the story over writing kind. Prose is nice, but if it comes at the expense of the story (Mr. Joyce and Ms. Austen, I’m still looking at the two of you), the book automatically sucks.

I was a high school student when I was introduced to Dutch books. I’m sure the literati reading this are now off to google great Dutch authors, but when I write of Dutch books, I think of one man: Elmore Leonard, the legendary crime author nicknamed “Dutch.” Compared to a lot of the books I had read by that point, the way Leonard wrote was shockingly minimal. My first Leonard novel was Glitz, a revenge story, and Leonard was writing blunt through the entire thing. He was writing as a storyteller, stripping his prose of all the unnecessary fat, letting his characters carry the book through their dialogue, and damn if it wasn’t an effective way to do things. To tell the truth, I thought Glitz was merely average, but I was interested enough to take a look at another book he wrote.

That book was Out of Sight. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. Out of Sight remains one of Leonard’s most acclaimed books, and it was turned into a Steven Soderbergh flick is fondly remembered for some reason. Yeah, maybe I was disadvantaged by reading the book before seeing the movie, but I dismissed the movie about five seconds after I saw it. The book turned out to be a turning point in my literary interest list. I loved the main character, Jack Foley, and the smoothness and swagger he displayed in making his first bank robbery in a long time…. The day after he escaped from jail. I adored Karen Sisco, her take-no-shit attitude, and her willingness to employ violence against people who got a little too fresh with her. (I was pleasantly surprised that Jennifer Lopez didn’t end up ruining Karen Sisco in the movie.)

I kept reading through a handful of Leonard’s works. Out of Sight remains a personal favorite, though I took a deep liking to Touch and Cuba Libre as well. Somehow, I kept missing a lot of the better known books. I have yet to read Get Shorty, though I loved the movie. Hombre, Last Stand at Sabre River, The Moonshine War, LaBrava, and several others which any other Dutch fan worth his salt would have read years ago. As I write this, Pagan Babies is sitting on my nightstand. It’s brilliant so far, but not among his most discussed work.

This was all before I started writing myself, though, and a good while before I began trying to experiment with fiction. It wasn’t until I started writing up my own fiction that I began to see the effect Elmore Leonard had on me. I try to write dialogue as realistically as I can. Leonard was also a firm believer in – his words – cutting out the stuff people don’t read. That’s often taken as a fancy statement for not prettying up the prose. I try not to do that, and I’m a much better writer when I don’t. My head, however, hasn’t quite figured that out yet. In the late 80’s, Leonard typed up a quick list of ten rules he always applied to his writing, and I like to believe I apply several of them to my writing. One of his rules is to never start with weather. That’s a law I took to heart – I don’t think it’s an accident that “It was a dark and stormy night” is mocked as a cliche. Don’t overuse the exclamation points is another one. The word “suddenly” might as well have four letters. Tagging dialogue with any word other than “said?” Don’t try that. Qualifying adverbs? Forget them.

Some of those rules, I live and die by. Others, I always keep in mind but can’t help breaking them sometimes. Yeah, “suddenly” is a terrible word to use at the beginning of a sentence if you’re trying to keep a tense atmosphere, but I do sometimes use it in the middle of a sentence. Also, I have occasional adverb problems; I fear readers won’t get a feeling I’m trying to convey unless I use them at certain times.

When I started acquainting myself with other authors and forms of literature, I put Leonard on the backburner, but never completely forgot him. He was always there, and my periodic looks in the library archives almost always include a stop in the L section, where they would scream “Read me!” You better believe I wanted to. Hell, I even intended to, but I have a very broad range of reading interests. I’m embarrassed that it took his death for me to come crawling back.

It was only recently that I started to feel comfortable shopping my fiction around, and I’m not enough of a dope to try to offer any writer’s advice. Here’s a little nugget of wisdom that I’m willing to fight to the death on: Read Elmore Leonard. I don’t care how haughty the tone in which you lecture me about how Dickens or Twain changed your life. I don’t care if you’re a Harvard English Professor the university is giving Alex Rodriguez cash to. You’re not too good for Elmore Leonard and if you think you are, then I’m too good for any of your literary opinions.

A Historic Post on the Phrase “An Historic”

A Historic Post on the Phrase “An Historic”

Okay, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time now: If I was writing the laws, anyone who ever used a variation of the phrase an historic, in absolutely any context, anywhere, would have their tongues immediately cut out.

The phrase is a disgusting mangling of the English language and a violation of basic grammatical rules. It doesn’t look right in print, it doesn’t sound right when said aloud, and any first-grader at even the crappiest schools would be able to tell you it really isn’t right. This odd phrasing of the term a historic came to my attention a few years ago and its been driving me nuts ever since, largely because so many of the people using it are the ones who bitch the most about language being mangled.

Let’s get a quick ground rule settled right off the bat: As anyone who has ever seriously studied the English language – and to make myself clear, by anyone who ever seriously studied the English language, I mean everyone who ever heard it in any capacity – knows, the an sound is to be used before any consonant sound. A is used before any vowel sound. Got that? Now, the letter H, for those who have forgotten all linguistic schooling beyond the second grade, is a consonant. Vowels are pronounced with open vocal tracts, so there’s no pressure buildup and therefore no constriction. That’s in contrast to consonants, which are articulated by partial closure and more movements in lips and teeth.

I don’t know how the term an historic came to infect English. I read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago which suggested that, when many people pronounce the word historic, they tend to say it like the H is silent and so the result sounds more like an istoric. I can’t say I’ve ever personally heard anyone pronounce the word like that. If that happens, it sounds like someone was too lazy to pronounce a letter. Is this country suddenly so fat and lazy that people get tired trying to pronounce the briefest of exhaling sounds, lest they faint? Or are they uber-fit folks trying to give a lecture to a university history class after a marathon?

I wish I could be bigger and write this off as just another passing trend, like I did with the ridiculous izzle suffix that was all over street slang some years ago. But apparently an historic has been being used for decades, by prominent people. Like, you know, English teachers who get paid to teach the English language the way it’s supposed to be read and spoken.