Thursday, May 30, 2013

At the Coffee Shop

Finally, finally made it to the coffee shop to write.  I’d love to stay here an hour, or really, all day.  That’s not possible.  Yesterday was one of those days, and I’m waiting for the auto repair shop to open, but until then, I’m enjoying being alone, drinking my coffee, and eating my “pain au chocolat.”  (That’s a chocolate filled croissant for those of you who don’t speak French.)  I even got a glorious surprise—my pastry was free, as this is the first time I’ve been in since my birthday, which was just over a month ago.

I’m hoping, sincerely hoping, that in the next two days, I’ll be able to successfully reload my novel, “Destined Love is Immortal,” which is currently available as a paperback, onto Amazon again as an ebook.  I wanted to add some hyperlinks to the back and pretty much everything went wrong when I did that.   It appears that Amazon has ironed out their end of the problem, and I’ve calmed down enough about it, that I think it’s time to try again.

You see, I was so extremely frustrated with the whole reloading my ebook disaster that I knew I had to give it a rest.  When I want to take a sledgehammer to the PC, it’s time to step back and do something else for a while J

The prequel to “Destined Love is Immortal,” the title of which I won’t announce yet, will be out in no more than a couple of weeks as well.  I’ve edited and proofed it.  Another author has generously proofed it (thanks Peter) and I have another friend proofing it as well.  I hold my work to a high standard of quality, and I want to be sure to have typos and punctuation errors out of it before releasing it. 

Anyway, it’s been great to sit here, a eating European-style pastry for breakfast, while writing and drinking my cup of coffee, but I’ve got to go—the auto repair shop calls J

Have a great day, and if you like to write, take time to do so.  If not, make sure you find time for whatever your passion may be…

Monday, May 27, 2013

I'm Crazy & I'm Okay With It

I'm a little crazy and I'm okay with it.  Why?  Simple--lots of what I do doesn't fall under the category of "normal" by most standards, but then again, "different" can be fun.

I just figured out after I don't know how many years, that I can search by actor name for programs starring a certain person using the satellite TV "search" feature.  I think I've had satellite TV for the better part of 10 years.  It's about time I realized this :)

Yes, I just searched for "Steve Byers" and found that the movie "Static" (AKA "Glitch") in which he stars, comes on Friday morning on Showtime Beyond at the bright and early hour of 6:00 a.m.  So I did the first thing that came to mind--I called my satellite provider and upgraded (or actually added the Showtime package) so that I can get the channel and be able to watch the movie. 
Now, I've seen the movie before, but it was dubbed in Romanian, or some such language, and while the fact that I could get the general idea of what was going on can be attributed to Steve's great acting and expressiveness, I still can't wait to see it in English, although French, which I also speak, would have been acceptable as well.

So, while you're either working out, getting dressed, or snoozing away in the wee hours of Friday morning, know that I'll be eating a chocolate bar (only one with a high cocoa content), drinking Coke Zero, and munching on popcorn while watching my favorite star shine on television.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Success—It’s All In How You Measure It

Written last week, I'm posting this now that I'm back:

It’s my second day “unplugged” here at a cabin the woods.  After breakfast and a good cup of French Market coffee (purchased ground in New Orleans), it was time for fishing.

“Now what does this have to do with success?” you ask.  I’m getting to that.  Bear with me.

After grabbing the poles and tackle boxes, I took my young crew down to the water’s edge for some morning fishing.  My son was concerned that I didn’t bring along the “Missouri Fishing Regulations” booklet.  I was not.  I knew that it would require an Act of God for us to catch anything that was even remotely close to large enough to keep, so I was almost certain that if we did hook anything, it would be released back into the wild after it’s photo op.

“Why go then?” You may be wondering.  It has to do primarily with how I measure successful fishing, and I’m relatively certain that my measurement is different than that of the rest of the world.

To me successful fishing, at least with my kids, means that no one hooks themselves or a sibling, no one falls in the water or has to be rescued, there are not temper tantrums or meltdowns, and (a new criteria added this morning) no one gets bitten by a venomous snake.

Yep, that’s it. We didn’t catch anything but sticks but we had a good time trying.  We even observed wildlife from a safe distance, but clearly we need a different fishing spot next time, as we were far too close for comfort to what ended up being a next of venomous water moccasins.  It was cool to see them swim, since we were on ground, but once they’d been identified clearly as being the poisonous water snakes, not the more common, non-venomous species frequently found around here, we returned ended our hour-long fishing excursion and headed back to the cabin. 

I try hard to teach my kids what to avoid in wildlife without causing great fear and panic.  Panic never leads to anything good and there’s value in being able to identify a poisonous species when you encounter it.  If nothing else, you learn to give said creature a wide berth.
Later in the morning we went crawfish catching with nets in shallow ponds, and that was more successful by pretty much every definition of the word.  We caught and released lots of crawfish, there was no deep water to worry about, and there wasn’t a nest of venomous creatures in the area.  In short, it was great fun.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Footloose & (Almost) Technology Free

Though this won’t be posted until I’m back among civilization, I’m writing from one of those rare areas with no wifi and very erratic cell phone service, otherwise known as---Paradise.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to keep in touch with everyone I know easily and often, however, it’s also amazingly refreshing to just “get away from it all” for a while too.

As I write this, I’m looking out an open window, overlooking the lake, listening to the last drops of the rather strong rain we just had, and the sky is golden, really golden, and it’s truly breathtaking. 

My kids are playing in the next room. We managed to have s’mores over a campfire before the downpour really came, and though the car got stuck in the mud, we’ll get it pulled out tomorrow or the next day, and it’s not like we don’t have everything we need here anyway.

I’m having all sorts of technical issues with a book right now, and since there’s nothing at all that I can do about it, I might as well just enjoy my vacation from the world.

Our car was packed to capacity, so much so that you had to be really careful when opening the back doors, otherwise everything would fall out on you.  The floorboards were full of stuff too, and at the moment I’m grateful that my children aren’t any taller.  If they were, I’d have gotten a lot of complaints about lack of leg room.

Yep, I’m truly in the middle of nowhere and loving it!  No video games, television, or other electronic irritants.  No one is calling, occasionally I can check Twitter on my phone, but that service is spotty at best, and basically I get to hang out, eat s’mores, read, hike, fish, swim, and canoe for a week, without interruption.  Life is grand!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Am I Part Alpha?

I've been watching "Alphas" season 2 on DVD.  I saw it when it originally aired, but I wanted the DVD set so I could watch the previously deleted scenes and the gag reel.  Anyway, I digress...

Sometimes I feel a lot like Rachel, well at least as far as he "super powers" go.  I can hear and smell things that most people around me don't even seem to notice.  I can't stand the "sound" of a television on "mute" or the noise a DVD player makes when the TV is off, but the machine is cranking--it drives me crazy.  For the general population who has no idea what sound I'm talking about, it's this super-high pitched noise that might as well be someone scraping their fingernails across a chalkboard.  Being able to hear such sounds can really be a nuisance.  Don't get me wrong--it's great to be blessed with fantastic hearing, but I could do without the late nights walking around the house trying to identify the source of an irritating noise that only I can hear.

I think this ability is something inherent in my genetic make-up. Decades ago, a relative of mine purchased a new home. Soon after, he couldn't sleep because of some noise coming from an unknown source that only he could hear.  Eventually, after much driving, he identified the sound as coming from a factory about a mile away.  To solve his sleep problems, he installed sound-proof windows in his house.

My sense of smell--that one is even more of an issue.  I could totally relate to Rachel from "Alphas" when John came to the office the first day.  I've worked in offices with people who wore far too much perfume or aftershave.  Usually, the end result was a pounding headache,  where nothing would dull the pain in my skull. Not to mention the sneezing or stuffy nose, depending on the exact irritant.  Trying to work in those conditions is nearly impossible, as it's impossible to concentrate.  Then, since it doesn't bother anyone else, people think you're crazy no matter how politely you ask them not to wear the previously mentioned perfume or aftershave to work.  Yes, this is one of my pet peeves.  Needless to say, I thought it was one of the most romantic gestures I'd ever seen when, John on "Alphas" brought in soap for Rachel to smell so she wouldn't be bothered by his scent/odor at work.

So, am I part Alpha?  Probably not, since the show was, after all, science fiction, but it certainly is interesting to be able to relate so well to a character with "super powers."  :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I Confess-- I'm a Trekkie

I confess, I'm a Trekkie.  Though the original "Star Trek" episodes aired before I was born, I've seen each and every one numerous times, to the point that usually I can identify the episode and recall the entire plot after seeing only one or two minutes of the episode.  Moreover, like many people, I've seen every "Star Trek" movie and series spin-off since then, and I love them all.

A few years ago, I went to a Star Trek Convention, alone, in costume, of course.  Though I'm not as big of a fan of "The Next Generation" as I am of some of the other spin-offs, I went dressed as Deanna Troi. Why? Because I figured I had, at best, 1 hour to sew a costume from scratch, and hers isn't particularly hard to construct.  Moreover, at a towering 5'0" with dark brown curly hair, I bear more of a resemblance to her than to any other crew members.

My husband had to work, and the grandparents watched my kids, so I had the pleasure of spending roughly eight hours all by myself at a Trek Convention, and it was a blast.  Since they charge for autographs of and photos with the stars, and as is human nature, people want as many interesting pictures to take home as possible, when you show up in a good costume, people want to have their picture taken with you.  It's a little like being a "celebrity for a day." 

Somewhere, floating around on the internet, is a picture of me, in costume, hugging Dominic Keating (Malcolm, "Enterprise") but of course I can't find it.  I know I was there, so I suppose that's what's most important, still, it's disappointing that after so many computer crashes, I've managed to lose a picture of me hugging a star.

Anyway, I digress.  I LOVE "Star Trek."  On Friday, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary by seeing the new Trek movie at the theater.  Of course, when he posted this on facebook, acquaintances who didn't know his as well, asked how I felt about celebrating that way.  He responded, quite accurately, "She insists!"  And so I did.  The movie is fantastic and I loved every minute!  It was a wonderful date to celebrate many joyous years of marriage.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I'm a Chocolate Snob

People think I have a sweet tooth.  That's not entirely accurate.  If it's just sweet, but not  chocolate, I could care less.  More than that, if it's chocolate with a low cocoa content, I won't eat that either.  No, I'm a chocolate connoisseur, or as my husband calls it, "A Chocolate Snob."  It's not the classiest way to describe me, but it's relatively accurate.  And, it's really pretty funny too. 

Seriously, the chocolate Easter candy, brands of which will remain unnamed, that my kids have in the pantry still, it doesn't count.  When I make the statement, "There's no chocolate I the house," my husband knows what I mean--there's no chocolate I like in the house.  So how do I gauge a good piece of chocolate?  The simplest measure is by its melting temperature. If it doesn't start to melt when you put it in your hand, the cocoa content is too low and it's not, I my opinion, it's not worth eating.

When I lived in Belgium for a summer, I'd eat Belgian chocolate (the best in the world) with coffee for breakfast, and it was divine. For a few years after my return back to the USA, my Belgian friends would mail me boxes of chocolate from time to time.  This, of course, was a little tricky, as I lived I Oklahoma at the time, and if the chocolate were sent at the wrong time of year, it would be a melted heap of brown goo.  So, for about four months out of the year, I knew I'd have to do without.

This morning I ate Nutella (the chocolate hazelnut spread) on toast for breakfast, with French Market coffee from New Orleans, so I feel like I've experienced a little bit of Europe without leaving home.  Moreover, I'm on my back deck, which gives a similar feel to being at an outdoor cafĂ©.  Not a bad way to start a great day.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Smashing Spiders, Meeting Stars, & Getting Autographs

Decades ago, as a teen, I loved ballet.  I took for many years, and when the greatest male ballet dancer of all time, Mikhail Baryshnikov, came town to perform, my mom and I decided we had to see him.  We weren’t season ballet ticket holders, so we didn’t have first dibs on buying tickets to see him.  In fact the performance sold out before we even had a chance to buy a ticket.  We viewed this as a minor inconvenience.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

My mom taught me the meaning of persistence.  She once told me that there’s no such thing as a sold-out theater performance because someone always doesn’t show.  The key is to not give up, so we didn’t. The day of his performance, we dressed up, made a sign that said “tickets?” and stood in front of the Performing Arts Center. We weren’t alone, but it wasn’t a large crowd trying to get tickets at the last minute either.

Anyway, after standing out in the 100F heat for a while, we did manage to get tickets without paying through the nose.  I think one of them was free from a generous individual who had one seat that wasn’t being used and the other we reimbursed the individual for.  As you can imagine, the performance was magnificent and didn’t disappoint.

After the show, we were prepared to get an autograph.  More than a week before the performance, we’d managed to “wander around” backstage, under the guise of being clueless and lost, and we’d determined what door Mr. Baryshnikov would exit through.  We made a beeline for it after the curtain went down.

Security at the stage door was busily informing fans, like us, that Mr. Baryshnikov would exit through the front.  One by one, the fans left and went around the building, all except us, that is.  There was a black Mercedes with the air conditioning running just outside the door.  We knew we were right and that if we just politely waited out in the sweltering heat long enough, he’d have to walk right past us.  We didn’t pester security, try to look through the door, or anything else.  No, we just stood there, patiently waiting on the public sidewalk.

I’ll never forget the short black formal I was wearing.  As we waited, a spider appeared from nowhere and began crawling down my chest and towards my stomach, so quickly, that I couldn’t get it off me before it disappeared beneath the material.  If I left to use the Ladies’ Room to get my dress off and get rid of the spider, I’d miss my once-in-a-lifetime chance to get Mr. Baryshnkov’s  autograph.  So, like a true fan, I took the only course of action open to me.  I slapped at the front of my tight black dress and smashed the spider between my body and the fabric.

Shortly after I had spider guts against my skin, Mr. Baryshnikov came out the door, as we knew he would.  I had my pen and magazine with his picture in it ready, and was able to find my voice long enough to politely ask for an autograph.  He gave me one, and I was thrilled.  The next day, the “Tulsa World” reported that he hadn’t given out any autographs while in town, and hadn’t signed anything for the people at the $500/plate reception (or some large figure like that) that was held, that I of course, didn’t attend.  But they were wrong.  Yep, I’m the only one in Tulsa who got his autograph.  It made my day, week, year! 

I know that a lot of people buy autographed memorabilia from Ebay at high prices, but to me, the whole point of getting an autograph is the adventure of getting it.  When it hangs on my wall and someone asks me about it, saying “I bought it on Ebay” just wouldn’t do it for me.  No, I need a story like the one I just told.  Or, even if it’s less exciting, and I wrote off to get it, there’s still an adventure there.  That’s what makes it so cool.  It takes time to write a fan letter, and there’s always the anticipation of a response.  To me, it’s the adventure behind the signature that makes it so exciting.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Write What You Know

Years ago, when I opened a martial arts school after moving to a new town, I was nervous.  Sure, I'd trained a long time, and I'd learned a great deal.  I was respected as knowledgeable in the Korean Martial Art in which I'd trained, Han Mu Do, but still, I was nervous. Why?  Because the more you learn in a martial art, the more you realize you have left to learn.  When you've learned a little, at first the gut reaction is, "Wow--I'm getting this."  Then, after a few more months, you realize that you've only learned a piece of the pie.  A few years pass, and as you gain a greater understanding, it dawns on you that all of the experience and knowledge you've amassed, well, it's just the tip of the iceberg. 

Sure, I knew stuff.  I'd never have been awarded a black belt, much less a second degree black belt, if I didn't, but I also knew I had nowhere near the level of expertise of my instructor.  That's when he gave me a valuable piece of advice.  I was moving to a new town, and there was nowhere to train, so I'd decided to open my own martial arts school.  My instructor told me to "Teach What I Know." 

A simple concept, but it was sound advice.  I'd learned a lot.  I had a lot to teach my students, so I focused on teaching what I knew I was particularly good at.  And, my school was a success. We were profitable from day one, as I couldn't afford to be in the red.  It wasn't always a large profit, but it was a profit nonetheless. 

But the title of this post is, "Write What You Know," you may be saying to yourself.  True, it is.  When I started writing, I adapted that valuable advice from my martial arts instructor, and applied it to writing.  My novel, "Destined Love is Immortal," takes place in Belgium, in specific locations with which, for the most part, I'm greatly familiar.  This makes it possible for me to make the experience more realistic for the reader.  I want you, my audience, to feel like you are actually there. 

Now, am I saying that you shouldn't do any research?  Of course not.  I did a lot of research to make certain my information was up to date, or to fill in details of which I was uncertain.  As much as I would have liked to return to Belgium and travel around to find all of this out for myself, I couldn't, so I used the internet search engines and also e-mailed anyone who I thought could help.  It was a lot of fun and allowed me to fill in any gaps I had, but still, had I not decided to "Write What I Know," I don't believe my final product would have been the captivating book that it is.  Nor would I have felt so confident in writing it.  So, I encourage you to write about places and things that are familiar to you, and bring your characters to life.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Call of the Beach

I admit it--I took Mother's Day off from blogging, but I was certain I'd post something early this afternoon.  At least I was certain until I realized it was going to be a sunny 80 F outside, and I live a mere 2 miles from the beach.

Now, don't get too excited.  I don't live by an ocean beach.  I'm by a lake beach, and if you go to a lake beach expecting white sand and clear blue water, you're setting yourself up for a terrible disappointment.  If, however you go wanting to make the best of your locale, soak up some rays, dig your feet into small pebbles, and don't care what color the water is as long as it's surrounded by beautiful green trees and large birds flying overhead, then you're in business

An hour away from the crazy hub bub of life can be absolutely wonderful, and at this time of year, on a Monday afternoon, the beach really isn't a popular place, so it's like I'm on a private one, which is pretty cool.  Well private with my crew of kids that is.

I suppose I should mention that the birds flying overhead were turkey vultures and geese.  Sure, up close they aren't the most magnificent of creatures, but soaring overhead, wings outstretched, they're still pretty impressive.

So, maybe you don't live in your favorite area for relaxation, but take time to make the best of where you are, and enjoy the gorgeous days to come!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finding Inspiration for Writing

Finding inspiration for writing--sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes it's much harder.  Writing my first novel, "Destined Love is Immortal," I was full of ideas.  A lot, though not all of the action in my book, comes from real-life situations that I then fictionalized and turned to the extreme, way extreme. 

I suppose it's a little like a game of "imagine the worst possible scenario." Or you might even compare it to watching one of those end-of-the-world movies.  Those certainly take everything beyond the norm and to the point of crazy and exciting.  This is what I do in my writing.  I let my imagination run wild with all of the "what ifs" and then I write it down.  Sometimes I like what I write, and sometimes I scrap it, but exaggeration of real-life events has served me well in the development of action and intrigue in my stories.

Sometimes I even talk to my kids about a scene I'm writing.  For example, one of my books has a cave scene in it.  My son was instrumental in getting the gears in my head turning regarding the development of the scene, as well as the details of what my character encountered inside the cave.

I've also found that doing research, whether historical in nature, or more of a tourist take on things, can give me lots of insight into how my characters would act in the environment I've placed them in.  Often, just learning one new detail about the locale can give me ten or fifteen great ideas that I want to incorporate into my plot.  It also makes writing more fun. I fell like I'm more a part of the action in my book, the more I find out about a given place. 

Generally, I write about places with which I am greatly familiar, but even with those, I've learned that there are often details I didn't notice as I was visiting and corresponding with someone who lives in the area is invaluable as well as enjoyable.

There are probably thousands of ways to find inspiration for writing and what I've listed were merely a few that work for me.  I hope they've been helpful to you too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Writer's Block...and Dealing With It

If you're a writer, you know what I"m talking about about.  Writer's block, it happens to all of us.  That moment when, after so much hard work on a book or story, you find yourself clueless as to how to continue.  So what can you do about it?

I've written two full-length novels, one of which is published at this time, a (sort-of) short story, due to be published within the next month, and five illustrated rhyming picture books, one of which is published so far.  And yes, I get writer's block too.

It's frustrating, aggravating, and can make you want to pull your hair out.  I find myself asking why, after beig able to write over one-hundred pages on a story, do I suddenly draw a blank?  I have no idea.  It happens. The real question is, what to do about it.

Well, I don't know what works for everyone, as I can only write about what helps me.  If my husband is around, I usually talk it out with him. Sometimes, in fact, frequently that's all it takes. Talking it out makes everything clearer, and it also brings to light any "plot holes" that I might need to address, or characters or situations that I could explore more deeply.  Just talking usually makes the wheels of  my brain start turning again and I leap the hurdle of writer's block.

If my husband isn't available, I call a friend I trust, and if I can't reach one of those, sometimes checking my Twitter feed, leaving the house for an hour, or watching a little television will spark an idea.  Or maybe I have an idea for a different story, and that distracts me enough that I can't focus on the one I'm writing.  I have a notebook in which I write such ideas.  I find that once I commit them to paper, I can let them go and focus on the story at hand.

The most important thing though is for me to remember that it will pass.  If I let myself get stressed out about not being able to write, I find that the problem only perpetuate itself.  Whereas, if I remind myself that it will eventually pass, just maybe not as quickly as I would like, it does leave, and I can get back to my passion!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bonkers for Belgium

I'll admit it, I'm bonkers for Belgium.  The little country sandwiched between France, Germany, and the ever-so-small Luxembourg.  Much too long ago, I had the pleasure of working there for a summer, and I'll never forget the wonderful experience.  Belgians must be some of the most generous, welcoming, people on the planet. 

I lived with a Belgian family which had been set up for me by an exchange organization, but I there was a problem part way through, and I needed somewhere to say for one month (because of vacations) in the middle of my stay.  Having learned this, all of my co-workers offered me different places to stay, free, and it was marvelous!  Even though I worked at a grocery store, and as a result those people I knew, were far from wealthy, I've never experienced such hospitality. 

A dear friend insisted I stay with her and her husband who were also residing with her parents and brother in a much-too-small apartment, but they made room. She and her spouse had one bedroom, her parents had another, her brother slept in the living/dining room, the kitchen and bathroom were no wider than a hall, and they crammed a bed in the laundry room for me.  It doesn't sound comfortable, but I'm short, and it was fantastic.  I was completely at home. Though not wealthy, the cooked marvelous food, as Christophe, my friend's brother, was attending culinary school. He even taught me to flip crepes, which was great fun.

It only takes two and one-half hours to traverse the small country at the widest point, and they took me everywhere. We went to the beach, the countryside, the castles, and all of the beautiful small villages.  Everywhere you turn, well, except certain parts of Brussels, is absolutely breathtaking.

Years later, when I visited, my friend's husband picked me up from the airport.  We took the train to the nearest stop to his home, which was a nearby village.  Then came the fun part.  He only had a motorcycle.  I brought an outer frame backpack which weighed about eighty pounds.  So, holding on for dear life, and being able to see absolutely nothing because the helmet was pushed down over my eyes by the backpack, we zipped up and down the hilly, curvy roads to his house.  What fun, oh how I miss it!

I've found though, that it's not just the Belgians I met while I lived there who are so helpful. It really seems to be the whole country.  I had to do a lot of research over the internet to make certain that the information I provided in my fictional visit to Belgium in "Destined Love is Immortal" was up to date, and I found that whether it was the spelunking society, the Belgian consulate, the tourist bureau, or the owners of business establishments, everyone was more than helpful in my quest for information.

It's my hope that one day I'll return again to this beautiful country, but for now, I'll travel there vicariously through my characters.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Editing Your Manuscript for Publication

Guest Blog Post By: Elizabeth Simons

What is it about writing that captivates the reader? Simply put, good writing consists of good words that are put together in such a way that a new way of thinking is created. Good writing brings into being something that has not existed before, and that’s exciting. It’s creation. It’s power.

How do writers make sure their words hold the reader’s attention? By making their writing impeccable. By making sure that there are no distractions in the way of misspellings, typos, syntactical errors, punctuation errors or incomplete sentences. In other words, the writing must flow seamlessly.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. Once upon a time, before the publication of dictionaries, writing was more fluid, especially spelling. Authors exercised their right to arrange letters more or less the way they wanted, sometimes spelling a word several different ways on the same page. No one gasped. It was the way things were done. One can see a remnant of that freedom of expression in names. Consider how many different ways one can spell a name. For example, Sarah, Sara, Sera, Serrah. No one questions the right of parents to spell their child’s name any way they choose.  At one time it was that way with all words.

But standardization came along, and as literacy increased so did rules. Not only for spelling, but for construction. Dictionaries came into being and printing presses literally carved words and phrases into irrevocable shapes. If one wished to be taken seriously, one spelled and punctuated one’s words according to the standard. (One wonders who were the arbiters of correctness, but that’s another story.) Not doing so indicated lack of education, which also meant lack of social prestige.

Which brings us to present day, replete with all manners of rules for how to say a thing. A quick search on the Internet revealed dozens of sites that help you abide by the rules, sites that parse the complexities of a sentence, sites that tell you how to shape your sentences so that they don’t distract the reader. Especially the agent/reader who peruses your manuscript with a critical eye.

So how do you, dear writer, make sure your prose is flawless? First, learn the most common mistakes in spelling and punctuation. Check out any number of web sites that tell you how to spot the most common errors; for example, apostrophe usage. When to use it’s instead of its? You’re instead of your?

Or how to spell homonyms correctly, words that sound the same but are spelled differently? Words such as then and than, sight and site, wright, rite and right? Not writing them correctly might mean the difference between a Pulitzer Prize and a pullet surprise. For that reason, avoid relying on spell check. It will never tell you that you ought to have written your instead of you’re, because both are correct spellings.

It’s annoying, but your brain automatically corrects a misspelling as your eye peruses the page, especially after you’ve read over your manuscript several times. This happens to everyone, amateur and professional alike, which means we all struggle with these limitations. So step back and take some time off before looking at your work again. Then look for one thing at a time. For example, go through your writing and look only for misspellings. Then go through it again and check just for punctuation. Go through it a third time to make sure your subjects and verbs agree. Check to make sure you’re not using a word too often. If so, keep your prose fresh by using a different word in your text.

Another trick for spotting mistakes is reading through your manuscript backward. This might work for shorter pieces, but I can't imagine reading a manuscript this way. However, if this doesn’t bother you, it just might be another editing tool in your arsenal.

Ideally, you should have someone go through your writing, someone who has not read your text before and can spot the errors your brain has altered into correctness. This might be a professional editor (whom you would have to pay), or your grammar nerd friend who can spot a split infinitive from the back of a running horse.

Finally, understand that even today the rule-oriented world of language is fluid. There is even disagreement among the various grammar and punctuation sites. Who, then, is the ultimate Grammar Guru?

Let me tell you a secret: There is no Ultimate Grammar Guru. Therefore, you need to choose a style and stick to it. If you’re submitting to a publisher, find out what style this publishing house uses and make sure your prose conforms to their standards. (If you’re submitting to a publisher in the UK, make sure your punctuation is outside your quotation marks and write labour instead of labor.)

Pay attention to the details. Just because you’ve written that last sentence and added “the end” to your manuscript doesn’t mean you’re finished. Take a break, and then follow up with that extra polishing that separates your flawless prose from those not-so-flawless manuscripts.

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Elizabeth Simons is an editor by trade and a poet by heart. She has been passionate about language from the time she first learned to speak, and began writing as soon as she could hold a pen. She has kept a journal since the age of eleven, written many poems and short stories, written innumerable letters, a manuscript on creative writing for young adults for the University of Missouri, and most recently a novel for young adults titled “To Die For.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hiccups—An Affliction Worthy of Note

Shortly after I asked my preschool-aged kid to put away the toys strewn around the living room, I heard fake hiccup sounds.  Wondering what she was up to this time, I poked my head back out of the hallway to see as many toys as before littering the carpet.

“I thought I asked you to get your toys off of the floor,” I said.

“I can’t Mommy,” my child replied, followed by another very loud fake burp.  “I have the pick-ups.”