Monday, October 25, 2010

Head Spinning Punctuation News

Head spinning news. All these years I have been devoted to the em-dash. That little magically long dash that automatically appears whenever I type a double hyphen between two words and then hit the space bar.

Now, today, lo and behold! I stumble across an awesome blog that every single one of us should read and memorize or at least print out and place next to our word processors written by Anne Mimi, professional editor at a publishing house and what to my wondering eyes should appear?

The em-dash is anathema to professional editors.

In the words of every single George Lucas character at one point or another: Noooooooooo!

I am ashamed to my core to admit I have actually misinformed several other writers about this rule, preaching the em-dash to high heaven among them. I am SO ASHAMED.

Sigh. That wasn't the only surprise, either. Miss Mimi also expounded at length on the evils of a single space after a period, rather than a double space. WHAT THE -- ? But, but, but, but my publisher once upon a time told me just one space!

Now, here I sit, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and gobsmacked.

Gobsmacked sounds a lot like Gobstopper

To most people out there, news of absolutely anything besides punctuation would be more interesting. However, I have long considered myself to be a grammar devotee, a punctuation sheriff, a heat-seeking missile for typos. To me, it's like I'm a little kid and someone just took away my popsicle or told me there was no Santa Claus. How wrong I've been! Such is the ego, the pride. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Now, admittedly, the rules of grammar the editor adheres to (and she even mentioned it in her blog) all emanate from my #1 favorite grammar tome (even though it's short, it's the BIGGEST by nature of its importance), Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.



Seriously. (Or at least check it out of the library.) Soak it all in! Incentive: it gives concise and complete rules for commas! (And everything else.) I keep it by my bedside. Honest. (And I ignore some of the rules when I'm blogging because, hey, it's a blog.)

Meanwhile, I'm just going to have to start making excuses for myself. The rules Anne Mimi insists upon as a professional reader/editor are for manuscript submissions, not writing in general. She reiterates several times that MS submissions should NOT look like printed books. Therefore, I am going to give myself a little pass on a couple of things. There. I feel better. Kinda.

Part of me is truly overwhelmed, frightened that there is a whole world of vital information out there I simply don't know about and that I'm going to make a fool of myself as a total amateur. Another part of me is really super glad I found this information BEFORE I meet with an agent to pitch my novel (assuming I ever actually do that.)

Crud. Now I'm heading back over to my manuscript. With a printout of this REALLY INFORMATIVE BLOG ABOUT FORMATTING in hand, I'm going to get to work. It may take me a week to implement all the great formatting rules I'm now privy to, but if I'm going to submit it to an agent, I want it to look professional -- and not drop directly into the garbage.

But before I do that, I think I'll pop some popcorn and sit down and watch some reruns of Roswell. Now there's some angsty stuff to lurrrrrve. Give me impossible teen love between earthling and aliens on TV any day. I think I need a Milky Way to go with it. Chocolate, caramel, whipped goo. It will soothe the troubled soul.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Go, Songwriters!

A quick thank you to friends who sent me evidence of their songwriting prowess! Way to go! I really loved the creativity you showed, and it's amazing to see what poetry hides in the souls of the people around us. If only we could take a peek inside.

It's kind of like a Charms lollipop. On the outside it looks like a normal sucker, but inside is hours of bubbly fun.

I love it! (Not that ANY of you fine writers are suckers. Not what I meant at ALL.)

Three Cs: Chaos and Chocolate and Creativity

Is writing a reward?

Lately my life has become ridiculously busy. Scary busy. Still, I have this deep-seated need to write, to create--to be more than manager of the chaos of the swirl that is my world.

For the past two months I have not sat down to do this. Yes, I did briefly slap together some edits before doing a chapter-exchange-critique with a friend. It was a sorry effort. It does not count as creativity. It's, once again, just managing chaos.

This situation may be contributing to the chaos, however. Internally I keep telling myself, "When the vortex slows, when the laundry is done, when the 18 months worth of backlog of filing is neatly sorted into the filing cabinet, when I get a chance to dust and clean out the microwave, then I'll sit down again and write."

This attitude is not helping!

Part of me believes that all order must be established so that I can write in peace, so that creativity will flow. But I'm starting to believe that maybe if I could take the time to splat out all my creativity, then I'd have more energy to return to the front lines of the battle.

Laundry will always be there.

And a good chocolate bar wouldn't hurt.

Lindt chocolate has a website and their promotion this month is called "Trick or Truffle." They also have a link called "Tasting with the Five Senses." That's the vacation I need. A five senses chocolate vacay.

Am I alone in thinking Lindt makes some of the best, creamiest chocolate on the planet? Not that I'm exclusive. I'll pretty much eat any chocolate from the Palmer's rice crispy-filled nasty stuff at Easter to the best stuff Switzerland has to offer.

Truffles forever, I say. Bring them on.

About chocolate: they say the milk in milk chocolate negates the antioxidant effect of the Theobromine inherent in dark chocolate. I don't care. I'm not eating chocolate for my health. I'll take it dark, milk, even white (when it's melted and poured over salted popcorn) because it's one of the best foods created by God and innovated by man--most likely through pure inspiration.

So up with creativity and innovation and chocolate and inspiration and five-senses vacations, and down with chaos!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

German Drinking Songs (Oktoberfest!) Writing Challenge

I remember very little from my high school German class. I remember Mrs. Durrant's eyeglasses on a chain. I remember Jamie White and I repeated a hundred thousand times the line from our textbook, "Ich heisse Liese Lehman." My name is Lisa Lehman. Nice. So useful when I actually went to Germany. I remember ein, zwei, drei--one, two, three.

Steven Green and LaRoy Dailey were in there. They wore pearl snap shirts. It was the 80's in Idaho. Of course they wore pearl snap shirts.

The German I remember most is the drinking song Mrs. Durrant taught us. We sang it often, at the top of our lungs. We learned all three verses. We waved our pretend beer steins in the air during the "ja, ja, ja, ja" chorus.

I can still sing that song. Sometimes I sing it to my kids as we drive to school in the car. My toddler screams at me to stop singing. (Not just that song. Always. Should that hurt my feelings?) I still wave my hand in the air.

Drinking songs. They're good fun! (But remember: Even a rousing chorus of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" sung all the way through didn't cause me to abandon my teetotalling.)

There is a point to this. I'm getting to it. But first this:

I remember hearing or reading the story of the penning of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." You can read the story here. Julia Ward Howe visited a Union Army camp during the Civil War. She'd heard the soldiers singing a drinking song, "John Brown's Body" (which lies a-moldering in its grave). She thought there should be more uplifting words to the song. What self-respecting, good Victorian-era woman wouldn't? She gave us the gift of the Battle Hymn. I love it! Doesn't everyone?

Click here for a link to a video of it performed in magnificence.

Ah. So, approaching the point:

I've long wished I could write poetry. I don't do it often. It doesn't come naturally to me. I don't have a lot of music in my soul. I don't even read much poetry. But I do like hymns.

It occurred to me this morning that drinking songs and folk songs and already established tunes of that ilk have catchy melodies or they wouldn't have caught on. One of my favorite hymns at church is the catchy "Praise to the Man" set to the Scottish folk song.

Now, the point. I would like to issue an October challenge to my writing friends. If you have ever wished you could write a hymn or a song but didn't know where to start. If you're like me and it's easier to create poetry by wedging it into a previously established rhythm. If you have words but little "music in your soul" and wish to create something lovely. Or even if you're a great songwriter already and just want a fresh thing to try, here's an idea:

Dig up a folk song (or drinking song from your high school German class, but don't steal mine!), and set some of your own uplifting words to it. See how it turns out!

All this talk of forbidden drinks reminds of a candy I often avoided as a child. Root beer barrels. As a non-root beer drinker, the barrel candies held little appeal to me. Hard candy wasn't my sugar of choice. However, in a pinch, I often ate them anyway. Candy. It gets me. I have little resistance even to its less-delicious forms. There were generic barrels in the shape of wooden barrels, and there were the brand name A&W Root Beer candies.

I'm not sure if there was a difference. Some may have a preference for that frosty mug taste. I just chomped it fast to get the sugar down the gullet to where it belonged--the blood stream.

I found this picture that looks like a fabulous alternative to the root beer barrel straight. Mmm. Here's the recipe.
I think those candies around the bottom *should* be Sugar Babies, but I can't tell what they are. Sugar Babies? Now that's my idea of sugar.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spelling Poorly at the Donut Shoppe

I got an email from my new pal at the radio station. In it he expressed regret that in his previous message he spelled the word "campaign" wrong, leaving out the letter G. "What with you being a writer and editor you should have said something!" he wrote.

My reply was something like, "Well, I think it's more accurate to the feeling to leave out the G--then it's cam-pain, emphasis on 'pain.'"

Still, where would we all be as writers if we took it upon ourselves to correct misspellings in everyday communication? Emails are lax, sure, but text messages would just be a nonstop joke.

I remember growing up we drove to Southern California to see my grandmother and near her house was a place called the "Donut Shoppe." Ugh! Every SINGLE time we passed it, I longed for my eyes to be able to shoot forth lasers to add missing letters and subtract the superfluous ones. WHY? WHY? It made my skin crawl. (Still kind of does, apparently.)

Am I alone here?

And yet, these are different times. Much as I would LOVE to be the instigator of a Renaissance of Good Spelling, I doubt that idea would fly much farther than a cement balloon. Can you imagine trying to police good spelling in ongoing conversations between teenagers, many of which consist of a single letter? MIOK?

What. Ever.

But as a writer, I do feel like I have a responsibility to the language, the purity of the written word, to be a bastion of conservation of formal communication. Sure, my books aren't exactly the height of formality, but the sentence structure in them can aspire to avoid fragments (unlike the preceding paragraph) and to have varying and complex structures, to not begin with conjunctions (uh, unlike this very paragraph and the one two above this), and to present the accurate spelling and usage of words to the best of my ability.

Part of this stems, I believe, from the desire to create a haven for those who feel like I do--that grammar matters, that punctuation counts, that clear and complete communication is possible and can be learned. If no examples of good writing exist for our upcoming generations to experience, I almost shudder to think of the disintegration English (and interpersonal expression) will suffer in the coming decades.

A few days ago I was talking with a friend who had just finished reading one of the classics. It might have been The Count of Monte Cristo (of course I can't remember now that I want to remember). She loved the story, but her main response went like this: "We may think we're so smart and advanced these days, but we have nothing on them! The people back then [I think she meant writers in the 18th & 19th Centuries] had such a complete way of expressing themselves. It was elegant and refined and educated. We're just a bunch of dummies by comparison!" Is my friend right?

Donut, anyone?

(My personal favorite is the Hostess powdered sugar doughnut with the raspberry gel filling. Mmm. I wish I had one right now!)