July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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Type-ins for Writers

Type-ins are the newest writing frenzy according to Associated Press News (AP) . Writers, poets, and typewriter enthusiasts gather to click keys and roll out paper originals. Could this no-screen craze be the next eye-saver?

Mr. Clyde Quick, my high school typing teacher, agreed. He insisted that his students focus on an oversized keyboard poster centered above the chalkboard to learn touch typing. “Look up,” was his first mantra. His second was, “Keep your hands on the home row.”

My hands hovered above the keyboard of a manual Underwood desk typewriter, left index fingertip touching the “F” key and right index finger on “J,” ready for “Begin.” Later, when the tests were timed for Word per Minute (WPM) achievement awards, Mr. Quick held his stopwatch high and added a little frenzy to the race with “Go!”

Now and then I was fortunate enough to grab a seat behind a manual Royal —much smoother touch than the Underwood.  One morning, two new typewriters, one Royal and one Underwood, shined atop the table in the last row, strategically placed to avoid tripping over the cords plugged into a nearby electrical wall socket. The typewriters weren’t assigned, so the athletic sprinters beat me to those seats most of the time. One day, with an admonition from Mr. Quick to let every student have a chance, it was my turn on the Royal with green keys. No extra pressure for the pinkies to produce a clean, even text. The short return carriage lever made right margin end-of-the-line faster. I fell in love with my first taste of technology. Returning to the stiff manual typewriter was difficult, but it had a side benefit. The electric typewriters were off-limits for achievement tests. I was one of the few who received the coveted 60 WPM level with no errors on a manual Underwood.

Long after my school days, I bought a portable Smith Corona, then upgraded to a full-size IBM Selectric. I was fascinated with the interchangeable typeball fonts and added several to my collection. The Selectric self-correcting feature was fabulous. I pressed a special backspace key, and the letter lifted off the printed page, ready for the correct keystroke.

Thanks to Mr. Quick’s fairness and my few sessions on that electric Royal typewriter, I embraced technology. Now, decades later, I’ve abandoned paper markups to edit on screen with Microsoft Word tracking feature. I delete, insert, or move text and add side comments to the author with soft clicks.

I still follow Mr. Quick’s advice and keep my fingers on the home row of my Dell laptop. His advice to “Look Up” means keep my eyes on the screen.

 

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BYOB forces crime fiction rewrites

BYOB, a term that once meant “Bring your own bottle,” your choice of favorite drink, to a house party has taken on a new definition in Alameda County, California. Effective May 1, 2017, the plastic bag ban for grocers and retail establishments that sell milk and bread has been expanded to include ALL (or as old timers in my young years used to say capital A double L) retailers that sell perishable or nonperishable goods including clothing, food, and personal items (retrieved from http://www.reusablebagsac.org/). Now BYOB means bring—or buy—your own bag.

For several years, shoppers have kept a stash of cloth or heavy-duty plastic bags in their automobiles or a silky-feel-good fold-able bag in pockets or purses for stores that sell perishable goods. A full month after this new BYOB became effective, shoppers still look perplexed at checkout when a hardware or department store employee says “Do you want to buy a bag?”

This new law is causing havoc for fiction writers with works in progress. Crime fiction will never be the same. Where the bad guy once snatched recent purchases, brands visible through thin plastic bags, now the writer has to tell what’s in the bag in a previous scene to make it worth stealing.

What about descriptions? In the original manuscript, the witness says, “He demanded the woman’s purse and jewelry and dropped them into a white plastic bag with the orange Home Depot label.” The investigator makes a note to look at security film from the nearest HD and sees the robber on film. The clerk knows the guy, a local. Arrest made.

In the revision, the witness says, “He stuffed the woman’s purse into a brown paper bag—you know, Officer—the generic kind you have to buy for a dime at checkout.” The investigator will be forced to pursue other questions like “Can you describe the suspect? What was he wearing? Which way did he go?”

Revisions to my manuscript will have to wait. I’m off to do a little shopping, cloth bags in hand, to save my dimes for publishing my first crime fiction novel.

 

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A Different Kind of Mayday

Mayday is the universal emergency distress signal. Every pilot or captain knows the word but hopes to never have to utter Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Long ago, or as some fairy tales begin, once upon a time, May Day was a happy occasion. Near the end of April, Mrs. Buffington, my first-grade teacher, distributed construction paper, scissors, and glue. She showed us how to fold the paper into a triangle or a diagonal shape, somewhat like a flattened ice cream cone. When the glue dried, she punched a hole on either side with an awl. If the hole wasn’t large enough for the ribbon pieces she had cut for handles, she pushed a sharpened #2 lead pencil point up to the yellow paint. When the dismissal bell rang, I took my basket home, eager to surprise an unsuspecting neighbor on May Day—sometimes called May Basket Day.

Early on the morning of May 1, my mother gathered a few spring flowers still wet with dew, cut the stems the right length to stand up in my basket, and arranged them so the paper wouldn’t tear when I hung the basket.  Off I went, skipping diagonally across the street where an elderly lady lived. My goal was to make a clean getaway and peek around our front boxed hedges to see her delight. I hung the basket on the uncooperative screen door handle and pressed the doorbell. I pivoted, hopped down the steps, and ran like a wild banshee—a term one of my nephews assigned to my gallop—arms flapping like a baby bird trying to get airborne.

Before I reached the street, a voice behind me stopped me. (Who knew old people could get to the door that quick?) I turned back. She stood in the doorway without noticing the basket dangling sideways on the screen door. “I caught you,” she said. “Why are you ringing my doorbell so early and running away?” I had to go back, take the basket off the door, and hold it up where she could see the flowers.

The next May Day, a wise second-grader, I chose our next door neighbor as my target. I hung the flower-filled paper basket, hit the doorbell, and high-tailed it across the wet grass home. Mission accomplished.

I never knew if they found the basket before the flowers wilted from the heat because I couldn’t see their front door from my safe hiding place on our front porch.

 

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Reader’s Digest Research behind Times

First, a clarifier. RD is always behind the times because that’s the magazine’s goal—to collect information about things that have happened. So I’m not whining about Brandon Specktor waiting for research before publishing “50 Everyday Mistakes and How to Fix Them.” No, this is about exploring tasks that didn’t need research.

Take #39 for example. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that children ages 6-11 don’t need a daily bath. Once or twice a week is plenty. No need to spend time and research grant funds to learn that. My mother already knew that.

Back then our 20-gallon water heater was sufficient to fill a galvanized #3 wash tub at least to the half-ring. Mama centered the tub in the kitchen floor and carried pots of water from the faucet at the sink. In went the first kid with a washcloth and a bar of soap. Out with that child wrapped in a towel and in with the second child while the water was still warm. Different wash cloth. Same bar of soap. In between, Mama kept a teakettle of hot water just in case the first child soaked too long.

Then we modernized with indoor plumbing. I was proud of a flushable commode. No more trips to the outhouse in the dark. And that new claw-foot tub was a gleaming jewel. The main difference in the routine was less work for Mama. No more filling and emptying the bathtub. Hot water flowed from the spout at the beginning. Each bather pulled the chain attached to a round rubber plug to let the water flow down the drain when finished.

My ritual for a weekly bath began when I draped the thin washcloth over the side of the tub, dropped the floating Ivory soap into the water, and stepped into the tub. I sat a few minutes, then I lay back like floating in a swimming pool. I kicked my feet and thrashed my arms in a make-believe backstroke. In that tub, a child afraid of deep water, I became an Olympic swimmer. My glory ended too soon when all that activity chilled the water—and me.

Now here’s something Mr. Specktor might look into. Do children in age group 6-11 who play in the bathtub release more endorphins that reduce stress and delay depression?

 

Reference: Reader’s Digest, April 2017, page 71, print edition

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Homophones – a viral epidemic

Homophone is a confusing word. Homo means same, similar, or alike. But phone? Nope. A homophone is audible, but not an electronic device.

After my post about the U.S. Library of Congress Trump to/too (not tutu) faux paus, editors keep a keener eye (not aye) out for homophones—words that sound alike but convey a different meaning. See if you can spot the homophone mistakes in this short prose without the use of your spelling or grammar-check program.

Homophones cantor through the computer gait. Editors, like jockeys, reigns in hand, race foreward down the tract toward the finish line in a determined manor. The words hide, stationary on screen, waiting for the editor to waiver. Instead, she knits and pearls the maize into a fashionable story that vales the queues of mistaken identity.

Grammar Police Award

Maybe farfetched that you, the savvy author, would make the exaggerated mistakes above, but here’s a BOLO (be on the lookout) from me, the grammar cop. Like drinking and driving—only not as dangerous—these common homophones can destroy your clear record.

Wind your way through these wry words to the bottom where the edited prose quiz awaits.

 

 

Base~Bass

Boarder~Border

Brake~Break

Caddie~Caddy

Canvas~Canvass

Complement~Compliment

Desert~Dessert

Dew~Due

Disburse~Disperse

Hangar~Hanger

Holy~Wholly

Hostel~Hostile

Kernel~Colonel

Knead~Need

Knew~New

Levee~Levy

Leach~Leech

Lessen~Lesson

Moan~Mown

Missal~Missile

Morning~Mourning

Patience~Patients

Phase~Faze

Pleas~Please

Reek~Wreak

Residence~Residents

Right~Rite~Write

Sleight~Slight

Sole~Soul

Stake~Steak

Tail~Tale

Taught~Taut

There~Their

Vale~Veil

Vane~Vein

Vice~Vise

Waive~Wave

Wares~Wears

Wring~Ring

 

Here’s the edited homophone test with correct words in italics.

Homophones canter through the computer gate. Editors, like jockeys, reins in hand, race forward down the track toward the finish line in a determined manner. The words hide, stationery on screen, waiting for the editor to waver. Instead, she knits and purls the maze into a fashionable story that veils the cues of mistaken identity.

Words

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The Oxford comma has its day in court

I’m an editor. I favor the Oxford comma, but I have to admit it doesn’t fit in mysteries or crime fiction novels. Why? Fast-paced thrillers set the tension with short sentences—definitely no place for extra pauses to slow the action.

In business writing, there’s long been a battle surrounding inserting or omitting the comma in a series of three or more. I edit by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) 16th Edition, which suggests using the Oxford comma based on H.W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd edition, 1965, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, revised (Bibliography 1.2). But that isn’t where I fell in love with the extra squiggle.

English was my niche in school. I relished phonics, spelling, vocabulary, and writing. I made life-long friends with the Oxford comma. Not because my father was English. Not because it was expected in business letters and reports. Because the extra pause clarifies the meaning and avoids ambiguity.

“She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.” (CMOS 6.18, page 312)

Those who argue that the Oxford comma isn’t necessary omit the comma after president. That changes the number of snapshots from three to two—one of her parents and one of the president and vice president.

So when is it better to omit the serial comma? When two words are understood as a pair.

“Their wartime rations included cabbage, turnips, and bread and butter.”

Drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued for overtime wages in 2014 based on the interpretation of a Maine state law that denied that pay. The trial was bread and butter—actually about wages earned from delivering products.  Title 26 Labor and Industry, Chapter 7 Employment Practices, Subchapter 3, §664 Minimum Wages exempts some employees from earning overtime wages if associated with agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable food.

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.”

The lawsuit was based on interpretation of “packing for shipment or distribution of…” as a pair. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the absence of a comma after shipment entitled the drivers to overtime. The finding are detailed in a twenty-nine page document.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Oxford comma finally has its day in court–and wins!

 

Still not convinced you should use the Oxford comma? Try this comma placement test.

I love eating my grandchildren and my dog.

Disclaimer: Cruelty free. This sentence was not tested on humans or animals.

 

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