In which we have guests, part 30

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Linda Niehoff.

Some people collect butterflies or stamps. Some collect old cameras or shoes. I collect words and keep them in lists:
swoon
wisteria
mystery
pendant
locket
crypt
moon
I love words. How they sound. How they mean. I love how each one suggests another. Isn’t that how stories are built? 
A couple of years ago, I read Wuthering Heights again. I opened it on a cool evening in mid-August after a heatwave that had lasted most of the summer and a drought that had lasted even longer. The sky was gray and thundery, and I read in the gathering dark next to an open window and an unexpected cool breeze. I underlined pretty words and made them into lists. Words like “doom” and “fiend.” “Gypsy” and “sanguine.” “Feeble” and “goblin.” It felt a little like stealing.
When I was 11, I saved up my allowance for the thick blue thesaurus at Adventure Bookstore. It became the textbook for my tiny laboratory of words. I’d pick a word like “drone,” and in my spiral notebook, I’d record my findings in poems and stories. It felt like I was making a treasure map. It felt like the secret to everything.
Sometimes I still sit with that thesaurus in my lap, running my finger down the page. A million stories leap up, sparks lit by each word. A good word is the shortest of stories. How can “moon” not make you see its cold bony surface or a low golden coin over a late August field? How is a crypt anything but dank and dark, full of shadow and mystery?
Often, when I’m working on a story, I write it out as a skeleton with the prettiest words as its bones. It’s a way to see just the verbs I’ve used without the weight of complete sentences. Do the verbs show the silent movie version of the story? Do the adjectives cast a spell?
Because words are really tiny magic spells, and you are a magician conjuring pictures that were before unseen, especially when you say them aloud. Doesn’t “locket” sound like the closing and clipping of a secret case? Doesn’t “swoon” sound like someone spinning into a faint? Words are almost onomatopoeic whether they mean to be or not.
It’s even soothing to speak them to yourself in a whisper. Each one is a tiny remedy you always carry with you:
oxidize
slather
wrist
I keep them in the margins of my notebook or in a document on my phone. Words I’d forgotten and want to remember: 
slice
honey
pluck
I like playing with words, scattering them out in front of me just to see how they feel. And all those words I underlined in Wuthering Heights feel like stakes marking a treasure I still hope to find.
 
 
Linda Niehoff is a portrait photographer and spiral notebook writer living in a small Kansas town. She’s a fan of instant cameras, silver water towers and dark and stormy nights. Her short fiction has been published in various literary journals both online and in print. She blogs about writing and photography at www.thewrittenpicture.typepad.com.
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