Y? Or Y Not?

The writing assignment for Melanie Tem‘s next writing group session is to write a story using only one vowel. I wrote a short-short using E about a prostitute named Sweet Jem, but I used the letter Y. When I read the story aloud to my wife, she stopped me at the word “endlessly,” claiming the Y in that word was a vowel.

I was ready for her, I thought. “I checked it out on Wikipedia,” I said. “It says there that it’s considered a consonant, but used more commonly as a vowel.” Since we were dealing with the spoken word, I could get away with that without a hyperlink. But this is the Internet, and rather than hold forth without substantiation, here’s the full quote and link:

The letter Y was originally established as a vowel. In the standard English language, the letter Y is traditionally regarded as a consonant, but as a survey of almost any English text, including this one, will show, Y more commonly functions as a vowel. In many cases, it is known as a semivowel (a type of consonant). — (Wikipedia, “Y” entry.)

I finished reading my short-short to her, and we let it stand.

Tonight, at Stories for All Seasons, we ran into Melanie. I told her that I might have cheated because I used “Y” for my assignment. She seemed to agree with Lannette that “Y” was ineligible, but also acknowledged that it was a consonant at times. “In school, they taught us that the vowels were A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y,” she said. Her husband, Steve Rasnic Tem, happened to be passing by and said, “They also taught us that the Indians were treated fairly.” (I may be paraphrasing; I don’t remember the exact words, because I was laughing too hard.)

If you know me, you know that I can’t just let this sit. I thought I had dodged the need to figure it out by checking Wikipedia, but as Melanie pointed out, anyone can edit Wikipedia. (That’s true, but anyone else can call “bullshit” and correct it, too. In recent studies, Wikipedia’s accuracy has been found comparable to the Encyclopedia Britannica, at least as far as scientific topics go. However, in an interesting parallel to Wikipedia’s own model of peer review, those studies are also in dispute, not surprisingly, by the Encyclopedia Britannica.) At any rate, Melanie’s comment did prompt me to do more research.

According to AskOxford.com, Y is both a consonant and a vowel, but:

The letter is probably more often used as a vowel, but in this role is often interchangeable with the letter I. However, the consonant sound is not consistently represented in English spelling by any other letter, and perhaps for this reason Y tends traditionally to be counted among the consonants.

That paragon of online dependability, Dictionary.com, says this:

The consonant sound Y is not consistently represented in English spelling by any other letter, which is probably why we tend to think of it mainly as a consonant.

Okay, so we have justification for calling Y a consonant. However, as all of the above sources point out in their articles, it is also used as a vowel. The real question is how Y is used in the word “endlessly.” In looking back through my assignment, I used Y several times, in all of the following words: every, eye, eyes, westerly, they, prey, endlessly, and yet.

Let’s group the words into similar uses:

every, westerly, endlessly — I’m inclined to say that Y is used as a vowel in this case, because it has the /eː/ (long E) vowel sound as in me, rather than the /y/ consonant sound as in you. I’ll need to change those words.

eye, eyes — In this case, I’m inclined to judge Y as a consonant because it is between two vowels and the unique /y/ sound certainly influences the pronunciation of the E vowels, even if it is not fully formed in these words. It also causes a slight obstruction in breath, which is the hallmark of a consonant. It also acts like a diphthong (combination of two vowel sounds), but my gut says it’s being used as a consonant.

they, prey — Again, Y affects the pronunciation of the vowels, and causes a slight closing of the mouth and obstruction of breath. Like in eye above, it also has properties of a diphthong, but I think the use is more consonant-like in nature.

yet — This case is more cut and dried. Y clearly makes the unique /y/ sound in this word, so it’s definitely acting as a consonant.

I had better start revising. Based upon this analysis, I only have a few words to change, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find replacement words with only E vowels without changing the meaning of the sentences, and in a short-short, word choice is everything.

I’ll post the story in this blog after class on Wednesday.

Busy times

I have websites on the brain. In addition to spending a lot of time working on a redesign of this site, I have been putting together the initial informational launch of the Flying Pen Press website. That site is not in its final incarnation, and I look forward to building a standards-compliant CSS base for the site. For e-mail updates on Flying Pen Press news and events, sign up for the FPP Newsletter.

I went to see Bret Bertolf and his band, Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams, perform at Stories for All Seasons last night. Bret is a multi-talented singer-songwriter-musician-writer-artist-illustrator-actor-filmmaker, and his second book has just come out from Little-Brown. The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music presents as a children’s book, but the level of detail and inside jokes in the book are far beyond what today’s children would know, making the book and interesting read for parents and grandparents, as well. For example, in the section of the book describing “Countrypolitan” music, we see drawings of three cosmopolitan country stars on a patio grilling hot dogs. The final pages of the book allow us to identify the three stars as Skeeter Davis, Jim Reeves, and Chet Atkins, but what’s really interesting is the way Bertolf depicted their surroundings. In the background is a 50s-era ranch-style home with Frank Lloyd Wright lines and an Edsel in the carport. But most telling is the “Fallout Shelter” sign to the right of the house, pointing down to a concrete bunker. These are the kinds of details that small children today would not understand, and might cause them to ask questions, increasing the interaction between the reader and the child. In this way, Bertolf trusts the adult readers to fill in the back story for the children and educate them about much more than just the history of country music. I highly recommend the book, whether or not you have a child to read it to.

I also found out about a writers workshop taking place this August. I won’t be able to attend, because I will be taking off nearly two weeks later in that month for vacation, but it looks to be a workshop well worth attending. The Ed Writers Workshop is named for Ed McManis (and possibly for Ed Bryant, one of the instructors, as well.) It is a three day workshop taking place on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, August 6-8, at the Denver Academy. Instructors include Joanne Greenberg (Fiction), Edward Bryant (Science Fiction/Horror), Joseph Hutchison (Poetry), and Denise Vega (Children’s Literature). Registration fees for this workshop are reasonable, considering the amount of one-on-one attention students will receive with these award winning writers.

Speaking personally, I can heartily recommend Ed Bryant as a writing instructor, having participated in a couple of his writing groups. Ed is the master of the informative critique, and is able to point out strengths as well as flaws in a manuscript in a non-threatening way. He always remembers the cardinal rule: the manuscript is being critiqued, not the writer. As a result, writers leave his critiques knowing that even seriously flawed manuscripts have the potential to become great manuscripts with the right revisions.

Okay, enough stalling. I need to get my tax forms signed and in the mail. I’m happy to report that, for the second year in a row, my writing income eclipsed my writing expenses. Hey, $106 profit is still a profit!

Going Public

First, the big news. June 18th, Stories for All Seasons will be presenting Melanie Tem and her new novel, The Deceiver. In addition to reading, Melanie will introduce members of her writing group, who will answer questions and discuss the group dynamic in general. Some of the students will also read works inspired by assignments. I’m proud to announce that I will debut my short story, “Sphere of Falling.”

“Sphere” is the result of a class assignment to write something with a strong sense of place. As I thought about the topic, two different works came to mind: Spider Robinson’s Callahan Chronicles and the story “Shottle Bop” by Theodore Sturgeon. Though “Sphere” is only superficially like either of these works, if similar at all, I do feel that I owe Robinson and Sturgeon a note of thanks, along with Melanie, of course, for the inspiration. It’s a cute story, and could be the germ of a whole collection of stories, assuming I get my butt in gear and write them.

Of course, that’s always the trick, isn’t it?

Lately, I have felt much more like an editor than a writer, though. I participate in two writing groups actively, and I am on extended sabbatical from two other groups. In at least a couple of these groups, I have earned a reputation as a grammarian and editor. Deserved or not, people seem to think of me when it comes time to submit a story, and they often ask if they can run something by me before it hits the group. This reputation seems to extend beyond just writing groups, too. I’ve received editing requests from several people I know who aren’t in writing groups. I’m open to that; I’m happy to help people out, and it helps me improve my own writing.

However, I might be a little too open to it. In the last several months, I have found that I am proofreading manuscripts much more than reading for pleasure, and certainly more than writing my own material. One of my favorite annual short story anthologies has been collecting dust by my bedside for months. And one look at this website will tell you that I have done little to update it in the last half year.

I have started no new creative writing since October 2002, and the guilt is starting to wear me down. I think I’m going to have to finish my current queue of non-group manuscripts and then stop accepting outside manuscripts for critique. Unless I want to become a freelance editor, that is. I don’t think I want to do that, though. I have a hard enough time editing my own work; I think I would go insane if I only edited work by other people and didn’t start producing some of my own again.

In other news, Eight Inch Weeds, my band project, seems to have gone on indefinite hiatus. There are no hard feelings between any of us, but we are not currently a functioning unit. It is possible that I will get back together with a couple of the guys in another band, or perhaps a revamping of this band, but for now I am pursuing other musical projects. Currently, I am working with a couple of members of Dante on some acoustic trio material. Hopefully I will have some news to report in that department before too long.

Update (6/9/2004): I do have news to report about that project. I have been playing with Steel River Three for several months now, making the rounds of coffeehouse jams and playing occasional gigs. Check out the website to see where we are playing next!

Dolphins for All Seasons

As promised, I did get some writing done at lunch. It wasn’t a lot, but I did get a few paragraphs of “Chesterfield Gray” down.

On the way to Stories for All Seasons, I noticed a wispy cloud being pushed over the jagged edge of a Flatirons peak by the wind. The cloud curled over the edge and followed the face of the rock a short way down before dissipating. I could see the wind swirl in the arch of the cloud, and I imagined the cloud was a dolphin jumping over the waves of rock. God, I love Colorado.

When I got close to the West Side Books Annex, where Stories for All Seasons is held, I had some extra time. I decided to stop off at Guitar Center and browse for a while, which is always a dangerous thing to do. This time was no different. Fortunately, I only left with one item, a book about guitar soloing in different modes and patterns. After hearing my clunky minor key solos against Dante Spumante’s major key music, I decided it was time to arm myself with some tools and do a little studying. I hope to find some time to go over the exercises in the next few days.

Lucy Taylor was the guest at Stories for All Seasons this month. Lucy writes horror and detective fiction, often with an erotic flavor. Lucy also happens to be a very pretty redhead. Both of the pieces she read were a bit erotic, one more so than the other, and I will admit that I felt a little uncomfortable watching and listening to this siren of a woman reading erotic fiction. I wasn’t uncomfortable in a bad way; it was just a turning of the tables that I wasn’t expecting. (I guess that means the erotica in the stories worked!)

Broaband, Bryant, and Band

I’ve been waiting to hear the words for over three years, now. “Yes sir, broadband Internet is now available in your area. Would you like to place an order?”

I felt like Fred Sanford. “It’s the big one, Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join you honey!”

I’ve been trying to get DSL or some kind of broadband service since I before I moved into this town home. Unfortunately, I’m too far away from the closest CO (22,000 + feet) to get anything but IDSL, and with the vaporization of the DSL providers, no one will bring IDSL to a residence without charging double what ISDN would cost for nearly the same bandwidth.

But AT&T Broadband has come to my rescue. The cable upgrade in my neighborhood is finally complete, and I will be getting my cable modem Tuesday. It’s not the best alternative; I would much rather have DSL with a static IP, but I’ll take what I can get. I hesitate to leave my excellent ISP, id Communications, but there’s no way they can get me broadband at this time. At least I will lose some spam when I change e-mail addresses, though.

Ed Bryant’s birthday celebration at Stories for All Seasons was wonderful. A spate of writers showed up, including Connie Willis, Steve and Melanie Tem, Wil McCarthy, Terry Wright and Gary Jonas, to name a few. Connie introduced Ed using a “retro Powerpoint demonstration” (Ed’s words) that consisted of hand decorated poster boards, held up to spoof the milestones in Ed’s career.

Ed’s gift to the guests consisted of a raffle. The winner was awarded the dubious honor of having a character named after him or her in a future story by Ed. No one responded to the first number drawn, but we’re not sure if that was an act of self-censorship, wisdom, or if the person had actually left. At any rate, the second number called was my son’s, and I don’t think there could have been a more enthusiastic winner. He respects and likes Ed very much, and is excited that he will be appearing in one of Ed’s stories. Here’s a picture of the odd couple.

Brad the Drummer is playing with Dante Spumante again Friday and Saturday. His regular band is off this weekend, so he can make a little extra scratch. We will probably go to see them play Friday.

I revamped this Creativity Journal, in case you haven’t noticed. I hope the new format will be less daunting and have more of a journal feel. E-mail me with comments if you wish; any feedback is welcome.