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In Defense of the English Language

March 31, 2011 12 comments

 

Okay, I’ve tried to be nice. I really have. I’ve sat quietly and rolled my eyes. But nice is for chicken salads and grandmas, folks.

I’ve had it with the murder of the English language; put down your mangled, half-chewed pencils and stop stabbing at those sentences. My eyes hurt, and my soul is bleeding. Profusely. Plus, it makes you look like a bit of a dolt, when you can’t spell definitely (defiantly is a different word. Really. I promise. Would I lie to you? *fingers crossed behind back*).

Am I being elitist? Yes. Do I sound snarky? Yes. But I don’t care. I’ve had it with “im” passing as a single word. I’ve had it with “neone” instead of “anyone.” Really? Typing ONE more letter is going to make you implode? I don’t think so. Yes, we all have typos and the odd error. I’ve had those pointed out to me, and that’s fine. Hell, I’ve probably got a few typos in this entry. But I’m addressing habitual errors, not accidental faux pas. Savvy?

So, for the benefit of world at large—and perhaps what’s let of my sanity—let me explain a few things to you. (Those of you who have been reading me for a while will recognize a bit of this post. My apologies.)

  • Homophones. Now, you may be looking at that word with your head cocked to one side. You may not even recognize it. Suddenly, you sound like the dad in A Christmas Story, pronouncing ‘fragile.’ Let me clarify: a homophone is a word that sounds like another word, but it isn’t. Example: wear and where. See? They sound the same, but they are not. Consequently, please learn the difference between the following:
    • to, two, and too
    • hear and here
    • knew and new
    • accept and except (no, these are not interchangeable)
    • add and ad
    • peace and piece
    • than and then
    • there and their
    • where and wear
    • weather and whether

…and there are many, many more, but I fear that I’ve already short-circuited a few brains. Moving on.

  • The phrase is not “I could care less.” Why? Because that implies that you, in fact, could care less than you presently do. Instead, say, “I couldn’t care less.”
  • “Intensive purposes” means…what? Nothing. The phrase you’re looking for is “intents and purposes.”
  • “Unbeknowingly” is NOT a word. Unfortunately, it appears to be “unbeknownst” and “knowingly” shoved together.
  • Just, because, you, you know, throw commas in a sentence does not mean, you know how to use them. (The meaning of this should be obvious.)
  • Conversely if you are missing an important thing like commas everything becomes confusing and no one wants to read a run-on sentence.
  • “Your” and “you’re” do not mean the same thing. “Your” signifies ownership (it is a possessive pronoun). Example: Is that your car? “You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” Example: You’re very interesting.
  • You know, while we are at it, “its” and “it’s” convey a different meaning, too. “Its” is possessive. “It’s” means “it is” or “it has.”
  • It isn’t “alot.” It’s “a lot.” Unless you actually mean “allot,” which scares me, quite frankly.
  • Stop trying to make a time period possessive, or a strange contraction. Writing “1990’s” is wrong. It’s “1990s.” It indicates a span of time.
  • An independent clause can stand on its own; it’s a complete sentence. Example: Grammar is your friend.
  • A dependent clause is–you guessed it–dependent. Thus, it cannot stand on its own. Example (dependent is underlined): When I went to the pharmacy, I didn’t buy any Tylenol. You cannot walk up to someone and say, “When I went to the pharmacy.” It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, it’s a dependent clause; it depends on the independent clause for clarification and meaning.
  • You cannot separate two independent clauses using only a comma. I know you think you can, but you can’t. Use a semicolon–or a comma with a coordinating conjunction. Incorrect example: I went to the pharmacy, I didn’t buy any Tylenol. Correct example: I went to the pharmacy, but I didn’t buy Tylenol. Or: I went to the pharmacy; I didn’t buy Tylenol.
  • Than is used for comparisons. Example: Coffee is better than tea. Then has more than one meaning. It can describe a point in time (I’ll talk to you then), something that happens next (Have a cup of coffee, and then we’ll eat cheesecake), in addition (There’s reason, and then there’s accountability), and in a specific case (If you want food, then you should go to the store).

Honestly, I could go on, but I’m in dire need of more coffee. So…Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Er, wait….that’s not right. But it’s The Princess Bride. Don’t forget to say hi to Miracle Max on your way out, ok?

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You’re My Older Brother, Fredo: Killing Your Darlings Isn’t Easy

March 30, 2011 8 comments

 

I feel like a monster. A bloody, pen-wielding monster.

I’m working on re-writes, and I’ve cut a great deal of nonsense. It is making the story better, but holy hell in a handbasket – this is not an easy undertaking.

There are so many lines I adore. Usually, I’m mocking something or someone. Those lines? Removed. Slashed brutally, before their prime. If it doesn’t serve the story, it’s gone. I’m adding things, too. But it’s the removal that’s the hardest. I’ve also found a lot of clumsy sentence construction. Things that just don’t work. Or that sound like fortune cookie. Those fill me with an all-consuming sense of shame — that crap? It came out of ME? DAMN IT TO HELL! *shakes fist at the universe*

Uh, where was I? Right. Fortune cookies. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good fortune cookie. But I don’t want to bore anyone. And clichés are unacceptable. Apparently, the many times I edited this manuscript? I didn’t have enough distance. Or patience. I’m not exceptionally patient. I’m learning to be. IT HURTS.

Killing your darlings isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty. It makes me twitchy. I feel like Michael Corelone, facing his brother Fredo in that epic scene in The Godfather: Part II. “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” Michael didn’t want to do what he did, but he had to. To be a writer, you need to be ruthless.

(Yes, I totally just compared writing to The Godfather. Remember: leave the gun. Take the cannolis.)

*ahem* So, I’m slashing and dicing. When I’m done, I’ll share a few things I’ve removed. I might even tell you why I took them out, aside from “too wordy” or “didn’t work.” Or “so painfully flowery that it would make rainbows cry.”

 I think it’ll be helpful. Plus, what else do you do with leftovers? Share them! I don’t want the words to have died in vain. (Dear Coffee Gods, I just typed ‘vein,’ instead of ‘vain,’ initially. I find I do that a lot, especially with me and my. It’s as if my brain is hardwired to annoy me. Perhaps I can blame that on muscle memory. I don’t know.)

 Tomorrow, I have a fun, picture post planned. No, no. Not of me. Gutter minds, the lot of you.

Until then, I’ll be over here, slaughtering syllables.

Things You Shouldn’t Do/Say After a Review

March 28, 2011 20 comments

 

Congratulations! Your book has been published. Large cheer! Lots of joy! Champagne!

Now, here’s the hard part: other people are reading YOUR book. Gasp! Can you handle the truth? Or will you crack under pressure?

What about when your book is reviewed?

Do you know what that sound is, Highess? Those are the shrieking eels.

I’ve noticed a disturbing and obnoxious trend (albeit in relatively small numbers): writers who cannot take criticism at all, who act like petulant children, and then bash the person who has reviewed his/her book. Yes, I’ve just read this (not the review itself — check the comments), and it made me angry.

So, in case you were dropped on your head as a child – or yesterday – I have some advice for writers. Consider this a cheat sheet for those who have lost their sanity.

Things You Shouldn’t Do/Say After a Review

  1. Comment on your review as if you were a castoff from Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
  2. Tell the review he/she is wrong. OBVIOUSLY.
  3. Berate or name call.
  4. Give further examples of your lack of writing prowess – while vehemently insisting that your writing is fine. (Its is not the same thing as it’s.)
  5. Throw a tantrum that would make Veruca Salt look at you as if you’d lost your mind. No one cares if you want an Oompa Loompa, darling.
  6. Quote other reviews (possibly written by a relative) as hard proof that your writing is fantastic. Er, sorry. FINE.
  7. Adopt a condescending air that would make Dorothy Parker want to skin you alive.
  8. Abandon grammar almost entirely. 
  9.   Use the phrase, “You were told…”
  10.   Publicly demand that a reviewer removes his/her review. If you ask for reviews, that signals that you’d like a review.
  11.   Utter the phrase “Be a man.” To that I’d respond: be a grownup.
  12.  Accuse a reviewer of being impolite, if he/she is not.
  13.   Repeatly say things that are difficult to parse out and/or make little sense. Such as the phrase, “look at the video of my voice.” That’s right up there with saying, “I couldn’t see my vision.”
  14.   Call a reviewer a liar, especially if flaming pants are not visible.
  15.   And, lastly, publicly utter (to the reviewer or his/her readers): fuck you OR fuck off.

If you violate these rules, you will be a star. Unfortunately, it won’t be for the reason you’d like.

What You Refuse to See

March 28, 2011 8 comments

 

The other day, I tweeted this: you cannot change what you refuse to see.

That may be the wisest thing I’ve ever said. It also may be something I read on a fortune cookie, only to have it burrow into my subconscious.

But still, it’s true.

Everyone has flaws. Some are easily seen, like leaving the toilet seat up or forgetting to clean up a spill in the kitchen. Others are carefully hidden, either or purpose or not.

It’s been my experience that we are so ready to blame other people, and we are slow to look at ourselves. [Insert obligatory disclaimer about there being exceptions to this. A rule without exception is one that breaks far too easily.]

For example, in a relationship of any sort, the work should be shared equally. One person should not be the sole pursuant, the only one making plans, the only one checking on those plans. After a while, that heavy load tips over, and then it’s time for a break.

Come to think of it, one-sided relationships tend to suck. We text too much, instead of calling. We ask route questions, or those that don’t really matter. Or, worse yet, we say nothing at all.

I’ve never been capable of doing anything halfway. If I’m your friend, I’m your friend. If I’m your girl, I’m your girl. If I’m baking, you’ll never find a half-finished loaf of cinnamon bread on the counter. I only do degrees of things when absolutely necessary.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the instances where we stop seeing ourselves, and we’re dancing with so many excuses.

“Oh, I’m tired.” “Oh, it’s cold.” “Oh, I don’t want to get up early for that.” “It’s her fault.” “It’s his fault.” “It’s not important.” “She’ll get over it.” “She’s the one doing the pursuing.” “He’s just being nice.”

Whatever the excuse, it is just that: an excuse. Not a reason. They are different creatures.

It’s so important not to lose sight of yourself, of who you are, no matter what’s going on. No matter who you’re with. If you can’t be true to yourself in a crowd, then perhaps you don’t know who you really are. It’s easy to be you when you’re alone. It’s much hard to do it against a tide.

This is the part where I admit to being stubborn and maybe a little stodgy. I’m also excessively forgiving, ridiculously well-meaning, and a bit of an obsessive when it comes to introspection. I take the inch and stretch it to a mile in that respect.

But life’s too short to carry the load all the time. If you must demand respect, or a certain action, you have to wonder if the other person would’ve chosen that route at all, let alone without your insistence.

A had a friend, a few years back, who was completely wrapped up in herself. Whenever we talked, it was all about her. I brought up my issues three times, at most. She was demanded, but I also saw that she was in a bad situation. For years, I did my best to be there whenever she needed me. It was what I would’ve wanted, if the positions were reversed.

But when I (politely) asked for a little space (specifically, that she not text me in the middle of the night with something other than the house is on fire), she blew a rather ugly gasket. She turned into a rather vicious monster, spewing things that I wouldn’t say to someone I hated. It was horrible, especially given that my personal life had chosen that particular time to explode in brilliant, burning colors of crap and chaos.

It was then I began to back out the relationship, which was an expedition in itself. This person didn’t understand why I was being such a bitch, because how DARE I be unavailable to her at all hours of the night, when she just HAD to tell me about her mother-in-law’s license plate cover.

I realized that I was doing all the giving, while she was doing all the taking. For a while, I attempted to explain the problem to her, logically. I’d momentarily forgotten that you can’t argue logic with someone who is illogical. Or, as my favorite psych professor used to say: you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken crap.

I stopped being her friend, because she had never really been mine. I don’t know if she was ever capable of doing it. It was partially my fault, because I couldn’t see that I was being used. No matter what, though, she refused to see what she was doing and how she was wrong. She was, without a doubt.

She had a thousand excuses, a thousand things she swore were reasons. They weren’t. It was just her trying to win the conversation. She wanted things to go back to the way they were, because she saw that she was losing her totally free counseling service.

Several times since then, she’s emailed me. Trying her best to restore the friendship, when it was never really that. I just couldn’t see it. I do now. I did then. If she had just apologized, or taken my request as it was given, we’d still be friends.

Instead, she couldn’t get beyond herself.

If I were to give you advice, it would be this: pay attention. It’s amazing what you can see if you are open to it. Remember that change only happens when you allow it to happen. Oh, and never get involved in a land war in East Asia. Or go up against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line.

Rewriting: A Strange, New World

March 25, 2011 2 comments

So, I think I’ve mentioned my manuscript before (working title: Devil in the Details). I thought it was done. I sent out a few queries, just a few. Nothing came of it.

I felt kind of crappy. I started to think about the manuscript. I recognized some plot holes. I felt like some of the supporting characters were weak. I decided to not think about that. Then, a curious thing happened.

I didn’t query anyone else. I chalked it up to being busy, which is true. But that is also a vile excuse, and I noticed that as I was able to find time to write a bunch of short stories. The truth was that I didn’t want to rehash the book. I needed to, but I kind of felt like I’d failed at it.

Then, something else happened. The other day, I read Kat Howard’s blog about rewriting. It inspired me. But more importantly, she gave me the courage I needed to revist DitD. I like to give credit where it’s due, and since her blog often explodes with inspiration, there you have it. Kat, the sword-weilding writer, is awesome. She also loves Buffy, which makes me happy.

So, yesterday, I started rewriting things. I’d made notes about what didn’t work, what needed to be removed, what should be there but isn’t, and how some characters should be improved. I made it through the first chapter with a better chapter. This morning, I rewrote the second chapter, and it was…fun. Also, extra crazy.

The female lead? Well, I killed off her parents, changed her occupation slightly, gave her a stalker (instead of a crazy ex-boyfriend), and made her best friend into a self-absorbed nitwit. Because it was necessary to the story. It makes it better, more interesting.

I changed a lot of the language too, because it didn’t fit a character. Some of the dialogue was stilted. I had to kill a lot of my darlings. Some of my favorite lines were uncerimoniously axed. But that’s okay. Because it’s not about favorites.

It’s about the story. The words on the page. The book will be better for it.

when the rest is silence

March 24, 2011 6 comments

This is how people disappear: slowly, in small moments. There’s nothing fast or sharp about it, until it’s all too late, and the world’s tumbling sideways.

 An absent nickname. No hello hug or kiss. And a smile that seems less than it should be. These are all signs.

 It is the beginning of goodbye. It’s that easy, and that hard, to spot. To single out. To admit to. Because we all want to hide, don’t we? From that Jabberwocky of Change. That howling beast of disappointment. The stupid nagging shadow-monster that whispers of regret, pain, and failure. Most of all, it speaks in riddles of death.

 But that moment that causes the tide to turn? It’s when you are too afraid to say how you feel or what you feel. It’s when you worry about what speaking up will do, about what that will mean.

That is a how a relationship dies, slowly, with each choice. When you can no longer be who you are, because it is not welcome. When your opinion no longer matters. When you are constantly brushed aside by a hundred different excuses. Absences rationalized away in favor of something, or someone, else.

Small moments. Small choices. Lies, instead of truth. Omission, instead of honesty. Selfishness, instead of kindness. Apathy, instead of love.

Suddenly, you are gasping in a corner. The last bit of stale heart stuck in your teeth. You realize, then, that it’s your own. You’ve cannibalized who you are for the sake of someone else. And it has to end. But it’s going to hurt. These things always do.

This is how people disappear. Or haven’t you noticed?

Food Rules and Other Nonsense

March 23, 2011 4 comments

 

Apparently, I’m a food snob. I don’t know when that happened. Actually, I’m lying. I do.

AT BIRTH.

You see, I’m Italian. I grew up with a mom who cooked meals from scratch, and grandparents, too. My dad was banished to the Breakfast Items corner, and that was fine by me — his French Toast are awesome. And his potatoes and eggs? The food of the gods.

As an Italian-American, I cook a lot of pasta. If I ever have to give up carbs, I’ll cease to exist. Between that, coffee, and sarcasm — there isn’t a whole lot else going on. But I digress.

I have a couple of Food Rules.

  1. You can never have too much food. I am incapable of making a small amount, so I hope you enjoy leftovers.
  2. There’s no such thing as too much pasta.
  3. Cookies should resemble pancakes in their size.
  4. Please, please don’t ever cook me sauce. Unless I know that you can cook, it hurts my soul.
  5. In that same vein, I won’t eat sauce out of a jar. I did it once, out of respect for a friend (who didn’t hear me when I said, “Anything but PASTA.”). It ate away a piece of my soul. I can never get that little corner back.
  6. I can never have too many recipes. The Pioneer Woman is my latest addiction, even though I’ve tweaked every recipe as I make them. That site makes me unbelievably happy. And hungry.
  7. Eggs do not belong in meatballs. I’ll repeat that: EGGS. DO NOT. BELONG. IN MEATBALLS. Neither does any kind of bullion.
  8. Do not add chopped veggies to your meatballs, either. That’s not a meatball, people. I don’t even eat meatballs, but I do make them. Please. I beg you. Get your veggies elsewhere.
  9. Pasta sauce is called pasta sauce. Not gravy. Gravy is what goes on the Thanksgiving turkey.
  10. Noodles and pasta are quite different. They are not interchangeable.
  11. If you come into my house, I will feed you. This is non-negotiable.

This isn’t a complete list. I think I’ll be talking a little more about cooking, sometimes. It’s a great hobby. If all I did was cook all day, I’d be the happiest person ever. I also might gain fifty pounds, but whatever.

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