Saturday, June 28, 2014

Punctuation Can Be Fun

Many times when I've told people that I was an English Major, I am answered by a groan and someone saying, “I hated that class in school.”  Why?  They often answer, “Too much memorization of stupid rules.”  I’d like to stick up for those “stupid rules”: I think that they are important because misuse of punctuation marks can lead to confusion; and isn't writing ultimately about communicating, not confusing?  Here’s the best description of the importance of these rules:  “Punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, take notice, or stop.”  This quote is taken from Lynne Truss’s book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”   She provides several funny examples of misused punctuation.  Consider her title.  It was taken from a sentence she had read that was presumably was about the eating habits of pandas; but the way it’s written, it makes you think that the panda had a gun: he ate his food, shot his gun, and then walked away.  Obviously, that’s not what the writer intended and there shouldn't be a comma in his description.  Frank McCourt, the noted writer and humorist, said that Lynne Truss should be nominated for sainthood; and he should know about the need for rules about punctuation: he taught English and most likely saw several examples of bad writing over the years.

Here’s a funny example from her book about the misuse of apostrophes: she had seen a sign about a large play area for kids that said: “Giant Kid’s Playground.”  Would you want your child playing with the kid of a giant?  I sure wouldn't.

Do you overuse exclamation points in your writing?  Truss quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of them.  He says, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”  She says that they are “like a big attention-deficit brother who gets over excited, breaks things, and laughs too loudly.”  This is definitely something we should keep in mind in our writing.  I do not want to over-use them.

I write books with my husband and he’s asked me for help in knowing where he should use commas.  I tell him to imagine saying a sentence out loud, and whenever you pause, you probably will need a comma or some other punctuation mark.  Like Lynne Truss says, “they tell us when to slow down.”

Have you ever wondered when you should use a colon?  Here’s her rule: “they deliver the goods that have been invoiced by the preceding words.”  I use colons a lot in my writing and I love this rule.  Here’s an example she uses for the correct way to use colons: in “The Hound of Baskerville”, Sherlock Holmes says, “This much is clear Watson: it was the baying of an enormous hound.”  The writer should imagine saying a delighted and satisfying, “Yes”, where the colon comes.  Colons are nearly always preceded by a complete sentence and are used to precede lists.  When should you use semi-colons?  They are used to combine two related complete sentences when there is no conjunction (and, or, nor, but).

I wonder if someday soon, because of text messaging and Twitter, things like good grammar, spelling, and punctuation will be seen as a dying art; like using a fountain pen and going to the post office to buy commemorative stamps to mail your correspondence and cards.  In my own fiction writing, I use a lot of sentence fragments because I think they make the paragraph more dramatic; so, there is a time and place to bend the rules; but I liked to think that when I read articles from Time Magazine or Smithsonian, the writers will continue to use sentences that deliver the goods and tell me when to slow down, take notice, or stop.  I have to admit, though, that misuse of punctuation marks can lead to some hilarious and unintended meanings which are always fun to catch.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Murder at the Abbey: A Detective Santy Mystery

Do you like murder/mysteries?  Do you like reading about female detectives?  Do you like a story that focuses on character just as much as plot?  Then, here's a book that you might like to add to your summer reading list:

In this murder/mystery, a monastery in Orange County, California is shaken when one of its priests is murdered. Who would want to kill him? Tempers have been running high in Silverado Canyon ever since the abbey purchased land to expand on. Detective Clarissa Santy is trying to solve the murder, while she's busy reintroducing her father to the world outside of prison.

It's available in paperback and eBook formats at your favorite on-line bookstores

Amazon Apple B & N Smashwords

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Traveling to England

What is your idea of a dream vacation?  Mine was going to England and seeing the birthplaces and environs of my favorite English writers: Dickens, the Brontes, Jane Austen, James Herriot, Shakespeare, and D. H. Lawrence. A few years ago, my dream came true and my husband and I went to England for three weeks. When we came back, I wrote this essay, then my husband and I looked at our pictures from the trip and chose the ones to go with it. I hope you like it as much as we did.

It's available at most of your favorite eBookstores and costs only 99 cents.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who loves A Prairie Home Companion?

Just in time for Father's Day, here's a book I wrote about a precocious fifteen-year-old who talks her father into taking her on a pilgrimage to the mythical town of "Lake Wobegon," a city brought to life on the radio every Saturday night by humorist, Garrison Keillor.  My husband and I actually made this pilgrimage ourselves and we've included our photos of the real places that inspired Garrison Keillor's make-believe town.  We even got a chance to meet him when he was coming out of a bookstore!!

This book is told from the point of view of our teenage sleuth, Nancy Keene.  In the story, a bachelor farmer from Lake Wobegon goes missing and Nancy and her Dad are hot on the trail.

It's available in both paperback and eBook formats.

Amazon Apple B & N Smashwords