Thursday, March 31, 2011

Let's Eat Grandma! (Why punctuation matters and why it doesn't.)

What I'm reading right now: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson 

I'm still reading the second book in the Mistborn triology.
So far it doesn't have quite the same steam as the the first, but it's engaging in a different way. The only reason I'm not moving it through it as quickly as I did Mistborn is because I'm also reading The Child Thief at the same time. My Nook makes bouncing between novels far too easy. :)

P.S. Click here for a great deal on a Nook.


Why Punctuation Matters

Okay, so this topic has been done before, (hasn't everything?) from a panda wielding firearms to a Purdish Owl, but I've come across some humorous and poignant examples. Would this topic keep surfacing if we didn't continue to find egregious errors in the script of our beloved tongue? Seems like just the ticket for a logophiliac.

First, the humerous:

Example #1 (contributed by my friend Lady Blue):

Let's eat grandma!


Let's eat, grandma.

I'm thinking grandma would prefer the latter, as would I (my grandmother's a tough old bird).

Example #2:

Eat, Ray, Love

The October 2011 cover of Tails magazine draws our attention by the unique method Rachael draws on for inspiration. Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog. I always wondered how she comes up with all that energy!

Okay, truth be told, this is a hoax. The cover was produced with appropriate commas, but some rapscallion photoshopped-out the punctuation. You can see the actual cover here. Still, a fine lesson in the value of punctuation.

And finally, the poignant:

Example #3 Woman:

An English professor wrote the words:

A woman without her man is nothing.

on the chalkboard and asked the students to punctuate it correctly.

All of the males in the class wrote:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

All the females in the class wrote:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Unfortuantely, I don't know to whom I should credit this. This is my favorite example not only illustrating the importance of punctuation but the power it can lend our writing.

And Why It Doesn't Matter

That being said, don't let punctuation get in the way of your early drafts. Get the story out, then get the red pen out.

I feel we do need to give equal time to the other side. Once you know the rules you can effectively break them. Please note, I said effectively. There's probably no better example than Cormac McCarthy. He effectively uses a lack of punctuation in his books (at least the ones I've seen). His writing has merited him:

The Faulkner Award for The Orchard Keeper
The National Book Critics Circle Award for All the Pretty Horses
The National Book Award for All the Pretty Horses
And most recently The Pulitzer Prize for The Road.           

When you reach the level of Cormac McCarthy, you can do pretty much anything you want. Until then, I'll keep following the rules.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writers for the Red Cross

What I'm reading right now: The Child Thief by Brom 
A darker retelling of Peter Pan; Walt Disney this ain't. I get the impression though, that it's closer to J.M. Barrie's original. I've only just begun it, so I can't say too much just yet, but it's been awhile since a book grabbed me by the lapels and dragged me beneath its covers (and check out the Brom link, the illustrations--also done by the author--are stunning).

To give you an idea, The Art Department interviewed Brom when the book first came out.  Check it out.


Recent events in Japan remind us that we are all living on the brink. The life we know, the life we've built can be wiped away in the blink of an eye and there's not a lot you can do about it. What happened there could happen anywhere at anytime. I live in the Rocky Mountains and scientists have long told us that we are well overdue for a crushing earthquake--today, all is peaceful.

One of the amazing things about us homo sapiens is our resilient spirit. We rebuild. We start again and again.

We can all use a little help from our friends. This is what I did:

I'm not trying to blow my own horn, just trying to say, if I did it you can do it--the Red Cross accepts donations in all amounts (and to quote James, the apostle, faith without works is dead).

Here's what someone else is doing:

What is Writers for the Red Cross? This online event celebrates Red Cross Month (March 1-31). It is intended to raise funds and awareness for the Red Cross and its work in communities across the country. We’re auctioning off publishing-related items and services donated by authors, publicists, agents, and editors. We’ll also have daily guest posts from authors about “What the Red Cross Means to Me.” All donors who give over $25 will also be able to select one free book from a range of books donated and shipped by publishers for the event.

From #LitChat: Disasters
I am reposting this from the #LitChat website to make sure you all are aware of the #LitChat special auction on March 25th, beginning at 4:00pm EDT. For more information, check out this page.

It happened after 9/11. We saw it after the 2004 Tsunami swept through Southeast Asia and in the the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. It occurred following the devastating earthquake last year in Haiti and it’s going on strong now in Japan. It is the near euphoric unity that draws people together in the aftermath of tragedy. In A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (Viking, August 21, 2009), author Rebecca Solnit describes this phenomenon and why it’s so important to the rebuilding of humanity in the face of disaster.

This week in #litchat we’re discussing books – fiction and nonfiction – which feature disaster scenarios. What expectations are placed on authors to write about global tragedies? How much time must elapse before authors of fiction can use a global tragedy as a backdrop for a novel or short story? Do authors with large public platforms have a responsibility to lead efforts in rebuilding communities struck by disasters? How does an author separate facts from emotions when reporting from disaster sites? Join us this week to tell how you respond to global, large-scale disasters and tragedies.

On Friday, March 25, beginning at 4 p.m. EDT, #litchat is joining the Writers for the Red Cross campaign with a special auction of books and other exciting offerings like a query letter critique by literary agent Jenny Bent; a leather, hand-bound journal by master bookmaker Susan Soleil, and more.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~ William Ernest Henley

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You Write Like a Girl! (but only when I blog)

What I'm reading right now: The Child Thief by Brom 
A darker retelling of Peter Pan; Walt Disney this ain't. I get the impression though, that it is closer to J.M. Barrie's original. I've only just begun it, so I can't say too much just yet, but it's been awhile since a book grabbed me by the lapels and dragged me beneath its covers (and check out the Brom link, the illustrations--also done by the author--are stunning).

To give you an idea, The Art Department interviewed Brom when the book first came out. Here's a snippet:

What is it about Peter Pan that drew you to this story?

Simply reading the original story (not the water-downed Disney version). I was amazed what a dark and disturbing tale it really is. Here's a quote from the original Peter Pan: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.”

Thins them out? Huh? What does that mean? Does Peter kill them, like culling a herd? Does he send them away somewhere? If so, where? Or does Peter just put them in such peril that the crop is in need of constant replenishing?

That one paragraph forever changed my perception of Peter Pan from that of a high-spirited rascal to something far more sinister. “Thins them out,” the words kept repeating in my head. How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” Once I pondered these unsettling elements I began to wonder what this children’s book would be like if the veil of Barrie’s lyrical prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in grim stark reality. How would children really react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers? And these thoughts were the seeds for The Child Thief.


Now for something a bit more light-hearted. I was on Kate Duncan's site today, Write About, and she gave a list of some terrific tools for writers. They include:

1) A tool that checks for adverbs, weak words, "said" replacements, passive voice and ending with prepositions.

2) A tool that checks for "be" verbs, abstract nouns, etc.

3) A tool that gives you stats on readability, sentence length, etc.

4) A tool that counts the number of repeated words and gives you a most frequently used hit list.

5) A visual dictionary--awesome!

6) A reverse dictionary--equally awesome!

You'll have to go to Kate's website to get the links, easy enough, just use the link above.

And finally, the tool that prompted this blog:

7) The Gender Genie: A tool that uses key words typically used by males and females and tells you whether you write like a guy or a girl.

Obviously I had to check this out. From what I can tell, the Gender Genie analyzes your text for key words that are designated as male or female. There does not appear to be any psychology behind this. For instance "the" is designated as male. This is not to say that when men write we use the definite article because we are focused on concrete ideas and tangible objects and women are more abstract--I'm purely speculating.

The way I think it works is the creators took a bunch of source material that they knew had been written by women and and equal amount written by men, broke it down, found the patterns, and made an algorithm resulting in some broad (no pun intended) generalizations, which often times are an indicator.

I put in two fiction pieces, one non-fiction piece, and a sample from this blog. The fiction pieces scored strongly male and female but tilted the scales toward male. The non-fiction piece weighed heavily toward male, and the blog post I used weighed heavily female (but I suspect a review of all my blogposts would swing the vote--just sayin').

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