JAN BROGAN - Please Welcome Michael Sherer today. After stints as a manual laborer, dishwasher, bartender, restaurant manager, commercial photographer, magazine editor and public relations executive, he decided life should imitate art. He’s now an author and freelance writer. Mike has published six novels in the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series and a stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, which was a USA Book News “Best Books” award-winner in 2008. Night Blind is the first of Mike’s new thriller series set in Seattle featuring Blake Sanders, and he’s working on the fourth in the series now. He’s also completed the first book in a YA thriller series.
He is giving away two free signed copies of NIGHT BLIND to two JRW blog readers chosen at random from the comments page and asks only that you check out his "Win a Kindle Fire HD" contest on his website. www. michaelwsherer.com.
He'll also donate $1 for every copy sold as a result of reading the JRW blog to Sandy relief. Purchasers can message him on Facebook or Twitter to let him know. His twitter handle is @MysteryNovelist. and Facebook subscribers can go to his author page: Michael W. Sherer, Mystery Author.
Mike grew up on a farm in northern Illinois, went to prep school and college “back east,” and lived in Chicago for 20 years. He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. You can also visit his web site d www.islandlife-thenovel.com.
|Words Photo Credit: Manoj Vasanth, Flickr|
The Power of Words
By Michael Sherer
Not long ago, I volunteered to give several presentations about writing to students at the local high school on career day. My own writing experience ranges from magazine features and public relations to novels and screenplays. I wanted to impress upon the students how many opportunities exist for them to find a career as a writer if that’s their interest or passion. Almost everything, I noted, from the instruction manual for their smart phones to the ingredient list and copy on a box of corn flakes uses written communication.
But I also wanted to imbue them with a sense of the importance of words, the power of language.
Listening to the radio one day a few weeks before my presentations, I heard a series of stories about words so captivating that I parked in a grocery store lot and sat there until the show ended.
The first segment, the story of how a deaf man discovered language for the first time at age 27, brought tears to my eyes. The second segment took the story in a new and fascinating direction. A researcher in England put rats into a white rectangular room and placed food in one corner. Before the rats were allowed to look for the food, however, researchers spun them around to disorient them. When they were released, they found the corner with the food in it about 50 percent of the time, which is what they expected.
Next, they painted one of the four walls blue, thinking that perhaps it would give the rats a visual cue, a navigational clue, such as, “the food is left of the blue wall.” When researchers repeated the experiment, however, the rats still chose the correct corner only half the time. Rats can see colors and have an excellent sense of direction, but they couldn’t put the two concepts—“blue” and “left”—together.
Another research scientist here in the U.S. took the experiment a step further. A Harvard psychologist specializing in children, she wondered if babies would be any better than rats at navigating using spatial cues. To her surprise, they weren’t. Like rats, young children understand what blue is, and they know one direction from another, but they can’t link the two concepts. She continued the experiment, progressively using older children and discovered that at about age 6, kids could solve the problem.
She theorizes that age 6 is about the time that children start using phrases like “left of the blue wall,” and that the act of using language links the two areas of the brain that understand the words “blue” and “left.” (Researchers confirmed the theory by taking the ability to use language away from adults in the same experiment—they performed the same as the rats and babies.)
|The Old Library, Munmuseum of Utrecht, The Netherlands|
For a writer, that’s an extraordinary notion. First of all, language is a combination of words, and by combining words in new and different ways, we can not only communicate new ideas to others, but also influence the way they think. Talk about power… Shakespeare, for example, mashed words together in combinations no one had ever heard or seen before. (Many examples are given in another segment of this wonderful radio show.) And a large number of those word combinations are still commonly used today.
Can you imagine a world without words? A world without language?
The podcast is on Radiolab. If you haven’t heard it before, I highly recommend it.