Category Archives: Writing

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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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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Creative Art

A quilter or seamstress invests in the machine best suited for her hobby. She has a sewing room stocked with shelves of materials, trims, and embellishments. A knitter has baskets of yarn, pattern books, needles, and accessories. Artists have easels, paints, and brushes. Most of these crafters have supplies they will never use.

A silhouette artist works with minimal materials. A person chances by. A smile or turn of the head alerts the artist. From a canvas of black paper, he captures the profile with clean, sharp blades. He creates curves and angles that detail the subject. The framed product becomes a visual treasure.

My sewing machine and serger sleep like Rip Van Winkle. My knitting baskets overflow with yarn, needles, and supplies. I’ve donated my colored pencils and construction paper to a charity.

I’m a writer. My hands are my tools. I mold the shape of a head, add a beard or mustache, and dress a dapper character. If the look isn’t pleasing, no need to rip out stitches, or change the canvas, or discard the paper. I can add a hat, shave the beard, and update the wardrobe—all with words that dance across my computer screen at the command of my fingertips.

Words

 

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Some, someone, somewhere

caution-642510__180Writing classes often emphasize more about omissions than inclusions. To-be verbs like am, is, are, was, and were top the list followed by –ly adverbs. The same instructors tell wannna-be authors to eliminate indefinite words like some, someone/somebody, somewhere and skip the menu details.

But wait! What about New York Times best-selling author Stuart Woods? Here’s his narration from Collateral Damage after more than fifty books published.

vegetables-pixabayStone Barrington, the protagonist, is looking for dinner ingredients.

  • Stone found some Italian sausages, some mushrooms, some broccoli rabe, and some garlic.
  • He ran some water into a pot…
  • He found some ziti in a cupboard…
  • Then he chopped some onion…

From another paragraph on the same page:

  • Stone had bid on some books but didn’t get them.

pasta-shrimp-pixabayThese writing examples make me hungry. I’m going to search the fridge for some leftovers. After I eat, I’ll edit my crime fiction to mention some angel hair pasta with some sautéed shrimp my protagonist is eating at home after losing someone she was tailing somewhere on her night watch when somebody got in her way and she lost sight of her mark.

Sherlock Holmes Statue -Edinburgh

Some detective she is. I’ll give her another chance to redeem herself somewhere after my next edits.

 

 

 

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Grammar Cop

computer-books-pencilsThere much ado on Capitol Hill about the importance of spelling. It’s about time. Ask me. I’m a grammar cop with a badge to prove it.

I’m a writer—at least that’s how I use to identify myself before I realized that editing is my niche. I’m a member of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch also known as Tri-Valley Writers. I’ve been part of a novel group, one of the individualized critique groups that meet monthly. There I’m known as the grammarian—often editing English more than critiquing the story.

Grammar Police Award

Grammar Police Award

Long before Trump was elected president, Lani Longshore, a multi-talented crafter, presented me with a Grammar Police shield embroidered on the right inside of a folding credential case. My editing card fits in a clear plastic slot on the left. I seldom have to flash it because most writers know I spout Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) rules as often as President Trump tweets.

If I had made this award public sooner, perhaps the U.S. Library of Congress would have consulted me (or at least the 16th Edition of CMOS) and been spared the embarrassment of a grammar error in President Trump’s inaugural poster.

Too late to correct the posters but production has been halted. If you bought a first run at $16.95, the odds are that someday it will be a collector’s item—not because of the grammar error but because of the wasted taxpayer dollars for a reprint that reads:

No dream 2 big, no challenge 2 great…

 

 

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Okay to ignore writing rules if you’re Lee Child

Start-screenI’m a freelance editor for individuals and independent publishers. My job is to pinpoint spelling, punctuation, grammar, incomplete sentences, and syntax errors, but the rules are always changing.

For example: Limit the use of anybody, just, like, only, some, and somebody. But or and, once forbidden as sentence starters, are now acceptable, but the author should avoid beginning with because, when, which or words ending in –ing. One more grammar rule: Don’t use incomplete sentence in narrative, only in dialogue. Don’t overuse commas.

Bookpages animatedWait a minute! I just read Night School, a Jack Reacher 2016 novel by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Lee Child. Here are random sentences from that prequel.

  • Reacher thought back, to the conversation in Garber’s office.
  • She drove, back to the place she had only just left.
  • Surprised, and a little quizzical.

Are those commas necessary in these three short sentences? What about the double-up of only and just? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that last sentence.

How about these incomplete, single sentence paragraphs?

  • Twitching and writhing and wringing his hands. [Note: At least this is appropriate syntax]
  • Thinking.
  • Local gentleman, like himself.
  • Like an old black-and-white movie.
  • An inconvenient ratio.

Start-Finish-RoadWhy does Lee Child’s editor let him get away with these writing blunders? Not because he was born Jim Grant in England. Not because he hires a freelancer like me (Delacorte Press can afford top-quality editors). Not because the third-person narrator mimics Jack Reacher who doesn’t waste words. Because one thing an editor doesn’t change is the writer’s style.

P.S. Bestselling is now one word. Lee Child and his editors got that right. It’s possible that the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author blurb is the #1 reason basic editing rules don’t apply to Jack Reacher.

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