There 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
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…
Today, February 2, 2017 is celebrated by some and bemoaned by others as Groundhog Day. On this 131st weather prediction by Punxsutawney Phil, he resisted being dragged from his burrow. Why?
- Maybe because nature says Phil is supposed to emerge from hibernation on his own, not be extracted by human hands.
- Maybe because his sweet dreams were interrupted.
- Maybe because he was exposed to the below-freezing temperature with no insulated underwear, top coat, hat, or gloves like the human handler.
Phil’s predictions have only scored right for about half of these 131 years. I suspect it’s because his mind isn’t clear when his heart rate accelerates from the hibernation rate of about 16 beats or less a minute to a fight-for-life 80 beats when extracted from underground darkness.
Picking only Phil on this day every year hints of discrimination—maybe even a hate crime. My advice to Phil: Rest for the next six weeks, then get a good lawyer.
Neighbors in my senior apartment community celebrated the Chinese lunar New Year 2017 yesterday. A few sang solos in Mandarin while others danced. They floated across the floor dressed from traditional Chinese to casual California. I salivated from the aroma of Chinese food while a costumed woman stood in front of the buffet and welcomed all. She explained the traditions associated with the holiday. A woman dressed in an embroidered cheongsam translated into her broken English for those who understood no Mandarin.
Before the speech, the man sitting next to me had told me in his slow English that this was the year of the cock—something I already knew. Then he explained that a cock is a rooster—something I knew too well from my childhood.
Neighbors had green lawns topped with badminton nets or metal croquet hoops stabbed into the grass. We had a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and a chicken pen. While people on both sides of us lounged on patio chairs, played games and barbecued in the back yard, my parents labored for our food.
Mother enjoyed raising the chickens, but her favorite activity was taking care of newborn chicks. In storms—back when it rained frequently in California—she braved the rain and lightning to check the safety of the chicks. Perhaps her motherly nature, but maybe so they would grow into laying hens and produce eggs for our table.
Our Leghorn rooster had aged, so Mama added a Bantam Rooster to the flock. The Banty was a series of reds—the color of the Chinese New Year although we didn’t know it then—opposed to the stark white feathers of the Leghorn. His only contribution to the Chinese tradition was a fiery red comb that centered his head splitting jealous eyes as he watched the small rooster invade his kingdom. The Leghorn crowed strong every morning, earlier than usual it seemed, or perhaps to show his dominion of the chicken yard.
Although I didn’t like chickens and stayed away from the pens as much as possible, I loved Mama’s chicken recipes. One evening I snuggled under several of Mama’s quilts after gorging on chicken and dumplings and fried pies. The next morning, the Bantam rooster crowed his version of cock-a-doodle-do to announce a new day.
At the Chinese celebration buffet yesterday, I spooned the vegetarian dishes onto my plate and skipped the chicken.
Filed under Events, Memoir
Chomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.
At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.
At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.
As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.
This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.
My father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.
I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.
My mother was superstitious. She wouldn’t walk under a ladder. Actually, that showed her common sense. On a walk through the one-block square park one evening long ago, Mama took my twin and me by the hand as we approached the far side of the shortcut and turned us a different direction because a black cat crossed the sidewalk in front of us. If it was safe for the cat, why not for us? Our home was a shotgun style meaning that the front and back doors were in a direct line (one could see the backyard from the front porch if both doors were open). Mama’s superstitious ways insisted a person who entered the front door, exited the back to see the garden or chickens, must reenter the house and depart through the front door, not leave by one of the backyard gates.
Today, Friday the 13th, I’m repeating portions of a blog I first posted on May 13, 2016.
In Escape, one of my five crime fiction works in progress, I begin with a tight-knit genealogy group called Ghost Chasers (GCs) meeting for Friday lunch in the fictitious town of Pleasantville, Texas. These Friday meetings are the core of my manuscript, but writing rules insist that I minimize repetitious words in a single paragraph or close proximity. But how else to say Friday?
Weighing a decision of whether GCs will meet today, I researched superstition associated with friggatriskaidekaphobia, fear of Friday the 13th.
Now, my genealogists have a new mystery to solve when one of their members vanishes on Friday the 13th. If I need an alternate word for Friday, I’ll let one of my characters say Frigga. Frigga means Friday.
I’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.
Wait 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]
- Local gentleman, like himself.
- Like an old black-and-white movie.
- An inconvenient ratio.
Why 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.