Friday, November 8, 2013

Blackfish and The Cove: My challenges to you

When it comes to the natural world, we humans are some of the most selfish creatures God put on this earth. I am tired of trying to saying this nicely. I’m tired of trying to be politically correct. There aren’t a whole lot of “issues” I get on a soapbox about, but people, we have to stop supporting dolphin and orca shows (and other similar exhibits). We have to.

A couple years ago, I watched The Cove, a documentary about how marine parks of all types and sizes acquire the dolphins they use in their shows. Ever gone to one of those? Ever had a “dolphin experience”? Well, “your” dolphins were there (in captivity, remember) because they were stolen from their home—oh, and their friends and families were murdered in the infamous cove.

So here’s my first challenge: Be human enough to watch The Cove. It will take less than two hours of your time. It will cost you MUCH less (in dollars) than it would cost to go to a dolphin show or participate in a “dolphin experience,” and it will change the way you look at those parks for the rest of your life. I guarantee it.

Tonight I watched Blackfish, a documentary about orcas—killer whales—in captivity for our enjoyment. Here’s what I learned in Blackfish:

(1) Orcas are very social creatures. That’s why they strand themselves in huge numbers on beaches. They refuse to leave each other’s side.

(2) Females live as long as human females—sometimes even beyond a hundred years. Males live at least fifty or sixty years. Sea World will tell you that when the orcas in their custody live to be twenty or twenty-five or even thirty, they’re living longer than those in the wild. Sea World lies.

(3) A female’s offspring remains with her for ALL OF ITS LIFE. All of its life, that is, unless it is stolen by captors working for Sea World and other groups like them.

(4) An orca trainer is never really safe with the orca. After decades in a small pool (compared to the ocean where they can swim a hundred miles a day if they want!), being deprived of food, being contained with other orcas who can be aggressive and cause physical injuries, some orcas get frustrated and take that frustration out on their trainers. How happy would you be after spending twenty-five years in a bathtub?

So here’s my next challenge: Watch Blackfish. It will take much less than two hours of your time, and you will be a better person for it. You will think differently about what we as “the intelligent species” do to those other species who are “less intelligent” (except orcas feel emotions more deeply than we do and in ways we aren’t capable of).

My third, final, and biggest challenge is this: Stop supporting these places. Stop going.

See, here’s the thing: Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Your kids don’t HAVE to see those shows. Your kids don’t HAVE to swim with the dolphins. They will not grow up to be better people for having done so, but you will have contributed to the early deaths of these amazing creatures by supporting the companies that put them on display. Thousands of dolphins are killed every year off the coast of Taiji as new dolphins are caught and sold for these shows. Orcas die many decades sooner than they should after living horrible, sad lives in tiny little fish bowls. Why? So you could have an hour’s worth of entertainment?

We need, as the human race to be different and better than this. It should matter to all of us. Instead of taking your kids to these shows, educate them about these animals, about  amazing creatures with whom we get to share this world. Rent videos. If you can afford to do so, take them on a whale-watching tour. Teach them to respect the natural world, to stand in awe of it, not to try to manipulate it for their own enjoyment. Then they will be better people. 

We're the only ones who can end these shameful, harmful acts against nature. It's up to us. What are you going to do?

Monday, November 4, 2013

In the Time of the Butterflies: Required reading

I should begin this review of In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez by confessing I am not the greatest history student. I remember little from what I was taught in high school, but some from what I learned in college. I was an English major, so I took only what I needed to meet my requirements for my degree, but I don’t believe I was ever taught that the Dominican Republic—such a close neighbor of ours—was ruled by a savage dictator for more than thirty years.

I know it now—and will never forget it—because I read Alvarez’s book. You should read it too.

In the Time of the Butterflies is a novel based on real sisters—the Mirabal sisters: Patria, Minerva, MarÍa Teresa, and Dedé—three of whom were active members of the resistance against the Trujillo dictatorship. Dedé was the only one who refused to be part of it, and she was the only one who survived it.

I’m giving away nothing by telling you this; that part of their story is clear from the beginning. In fact, that’s part of what makes this story so heart wrenching. You know they’re going to die, and then you grow to respect them, to be inspired by them, and ultimately—if you’re like me—fall in love with them, taking them into your heart as if they were family or friends you wished you had known.

Alvarez came to this story because of her own family history. Her father was a part of the Dominican resistance and fled to New York in 1960 to escape death. Alvarez had grown up hearing stories about the “mariposas” (the butterflies), as the Mirabal sisters were known, but she wouldn’t fully understand their story until she was a young adult and back in the Dominican Republic for one of her many visits. Alvarez was able to interview Dedé and Minou, Minerva’s daughter. She visited the museum where many of the sisters’ personal belongings are on display. She researched their lives, she began to imagine them as real people, and then she gave us the gift that is In the Time of the Butterflies.

Yes, it’s historical fiction. Yes, she took some liberties as novelists do. But I challenge you to read this book and not be moved by what the people of the Dominican Republic endured. I challenge you to forget these sisters and everything they stood for, everything—and everyone—they loved. I don’t think I ever will. I don't think it's possible.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dexter - A Little Reflection - Welcome back, Hannah!

It’s been a couple weeks since I talked to you about Dexter. Have you been watching? As predicted, Deb spiraled quite a ways down, didn’t she? But you can’t blame her. Were you surprised when she fished Dex out of the lake after crashing their car into it? Nah, probably not. More than any other emotion Deb feels, she loves her brother. Like she said, she couldn’t imagine her life without him.

That wreck seemed to be a turning point for her. It seems Deb’s coming to accept who and what Dexter is and who and what she is because of her connection to him. As Deb said last week, “The family that kills together ….” Is this acceptance going to be healthy for her? Is having Dexter in her life better than not having Dexter in her life? I’m not sure.

Regardless, they want us to feel better about the Morgans as a family, but Dexter has this whole Zack issue to deal with. Dr. Vogel doesn’t want Dexter to kill Zack; she wants to teach him the Code. Dexter says no way. The kid kills innocent people and he needs to die.

Not surprisingly, we soon see Zack all Saran-wrapped up on Dexter’s table and that big knife is flashing as Dexter begins his “don’t lie to me” spiel. But he listens as Zack describes his need to kill, the way it fills him up until he can’t take it, and how he feels so much lighter after he’s killed someone. It all sounds pretty familiar to Dexter and he seems to feel bad for Zack that the kid never had a Harry. The two killers even share a mom connection. Zack started killing trying to protect his mom; Dexter started killing because he witnessed his mom’s brutal murder. Dexter frees Zack and the next scene is Dex at Deb’s house.

Things are getting back to “normal” for Dexter and Deb. They share a steak dinner—that tasted like ass, in Deb’s words—and they’re back to drinking beer and talking about their lives. Dexter was just beginning to tell Deb about Zack—which surprised me. I wasn’t sure she was really ready to hear about that—when Deb passes out.

And just before Dexter himself passes out, whom do we see? Hannah McKay, ladies and gentlemen. Hannah McKay.

How many more killers can this show juggle? Guess we’ll find out next week. We have only six more episodes of Dexter left. It’s going pretty fast, isn’t it? 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ask Your Editor: What kind of editing do you need?

So, you’ve written a book and you think you might want or need an editor, but you’re not sure what kind of editing you need. You’re new at this, and you’d like to understand what an editor does before you go looking for one. Let me try and help you sort this out.

The first—and deepest—level of editing is developmental and/or content editing. When I perform this type of editing, I look at the big-picture items. If it’s fiction (and please don’t describe your book as a “fiction novel”—a novel is fiction so “novel” is all you need to say), I look at your plot development. Are there holes? Is it hard to understand how your protagonist gets from Point A to Point B? Does the plot feel contrived—are things happening to your protagonist because it’s what you want to happen even if these things don’t make sense?

I also look at your character development. If you’ve shown me that your protagonist is an honest, trustworthy, very serious guy, but all of the sudden I’m not supposed to believe what he’s saying/thinking, that will raise a question mark for me. I’m not saying your honest, trustworthy guy can’t tell a lie, but he ought to have a pretty good reason for breaking out of his character—something I could get behind and understand and probably something that’s moving the plot ahead and deepening the conflict.

Those are brief descriptions of how I approach developmental editing for fiction.

For nonfiction, it’s more about your organization, your content, and your voice. More often than not, I know very little about the subject of the nonfiction books I edit, which is actually good for the writer. It makes it easier for me to judge if the book makes sense because I’m learning about the subject as I go. If there are holes in your logic, I’ll tell you that you need to elaborate more on this point or that point, or that you need to give an example (or a better example) to illustrate your point. Another problem could crop up if you explain “C” before you get to “B” and I need to understand “B” so that I can understand “C”; in that case I’ll point that out and likely fix it by moving big chunks of the book around. (“Big chunks” could be a few paragraphs, a few pages, or maybe a whole chapter.)

When it comes to voice with nonfiction, I ensure that if you started out sounding conversational (and that’s the voice you wanted), your voice remains conversational throughout the book. The opposite is true as well: if you want to sound professional and detached, I ensure that the words you’ve chosen and the way you’ve structured your sentences come across in that manner (and I fix them if they don’t).

This last point bleeds us into the next level of editing—line/copy editing. At this level, I look specifically at how you’ve written your book (or your paper, or your newsletter, etc.). I look at your word choice, your sentence structure, your grammar and mechanics. But I also look to make sure the voice remains consistent and things make sense. If I’ve worked with you on developmental editing first, then I ensure the changes that needed to be made were made and that they worked and that we didn’t create different problems when we made those changes.

Finally, for the last round of editing, I proofread the document. This is a quicker, more superficial round of editing. I look for typos and any other grammar or mechanics mistakes we might have missed in the copy-editing round. (If you’ve ever read a book, you know that even best-sellers get published with a typo or grammar mistake here or there.) Proofreading is the last line of defense when it comes to publishing a clean manuscript.

Again, these are quick descriptions of what you can expect for each level of editing from most editors who know what they’re doing. In order to decide where you need to begin with an editor, I recommend giving your book to someone who will read it with a critical eye and be honest with you about the problems they find. If they come back to you and tell you that the book made sense but your grammar stinks, you can likely start with copy/line editing. But if they come back to you and tell you they couldn’t follow your train of thought or they couldn’t connect with your characters or something else big like that, you’re probably better off starting with the first level and hiring someone to do a developmental edit. (Please keep in mind, if you put your book through developmental editing, copy editing shouldn’t happen until developmental is completed.)

As a writer myself, I know it’s hard to think about handing your writing over to someone else to cut and splice, chop and dice. But we editors don’t just spill blood—we also polish and shine. If you hire a professional, trustworthy editor, your book will be better for it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ask Your Editor: Compare with caution

If you’re a writer, you probably work hard on your style, don’t you? You labor over the words you choose, you search for the perfect phrase to describe the scene, and you’re constantly coming up with new (and better?) comparisons for the settings and the conflicts in your stories. You want the pages to sing. You want your readers to believe you’re an original storyteller.

That’s wonderful, and it’s all a worthy exercise.

But …

Don’t let your descriptions overtake your story. Don’t work so hard on your similes and metaphors that your readers stop and think, “Hmm, that’s a really funny / original / crazy comparison. It must have taken him / her a long time to think that up.” Because as soon as your reader stops to actually think about the comparison or description you’ve written, they’ve stopped reading the story and they’ve started paying attention to your writing. Do you see the difference?

A book that I’m editing right now is really interesting and filled with day-to-day conflicts of many varieties, unusual conflicts that many people haven’t experienced and may never experience. On top of that, the writers have a great sense of humor, so they are able to tell these stories in a way that often makes me laugh. However, they use a lot of similes. There are so many similes that trying to read the stories is like trying to swat flies away from a two-day-old picnic to see if there are any crumbs worthy of a snack.

I find myself getting so caught up in the comparisons—trying to picture them, trying to connect them to the story itself—that I get taken away from what’s actually going on in the story itself. Don’t work so hard that you lose the story. After a while, the work becomes obvious, which is again, not what you want.

It’s hard to kill your babies, which is probably one of the best services your editor can provide. We’re baby killers. You worked really hard on that comparison, that description, didn’t you? You were really proud of it, weren’t you? It HAS to stay in your book. It’s your baby. You’re not deleting—you’re not killing—your baby.

That’s OK. That’s what you hire me to do. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dexter ... is a gift to the world?

Who worries you more on Dexter? Dexter himself or Deb? One of Dexter’s most telling lines from this episode: “It’s the one thing I’m good at: vetting, and stalking, and killing people. And now I can’t even do that anymore.”

Dexter had been sure Sussman was the guy they were after, even when Dr. Vogel said she didn’t think it was the right person. “Forensics don’t lie,” he told her. True, forensics don’t lie, but, as Dexter discovered, they don’t always tell the whole truth. He’d been ready to put Sussman on his table, but Sussman wasn’t really the bad guy, and when he realized that, Dexter’s faith in his own abilities took a hit.

Then there’s the sister. When Dexter thought Deb was going to spill the beans on herself about El Sapo and pulled her from the interrogation room where she’d been with Quinn, Deb told him that El Sapo wasn’t the first person she’d killed and he probably wouldn’t be the last because of the hell that is her life now. Dexter’s gift to her, she said.

So I ask again: Who worries you more?

 Dr. Vogel is telling Dexter he’s a gift to the world, that the world is a better place with him in it. He’s starting to trust her, and he’s starting to lean on her for comfort and strength. Is this wise? And is Dexter a gift? Is the world a better place with him in it?

If you watched the teaser for next week, you heard Dr. Vogel say, “When your sister found out about who you were and what you were doing, why didn’t you kill her--not that I’d ever advocate such a thing.” Is this foreshadowing? Can we take Dr. Vogel at her word?

I’m asking so many questions this week because I don’t know what to think right now, although there a couple things I feel pretty sure about: Deb has been Dexter’s center for a long time. She has helped keep him centered. But now she can’t stand to be around him and worse than that, she is spiraling rapidly out of control. Dexter’s constant isn’t constant. And Deb is losing herself. Maybe it’s even safe to say, Deb has lost herself, past tense. I don’t know if there’s a recovery in Deb’s future.

It’s bleak in Miami. What will the Dexter team bring us next week? What are you hoping for?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ask your editor: A dictionary is invaluable

It occurred to me today as I was editing a client’s book that I could offer some very simple but very good advice for anyone who writes things for others to read.

If you write
  • Books
  • Newsletters
  • Papers
  • Articles
  • Letters
  • E-mails
then this post applies to you.

What's my advice? Use a dictionary. Preferably Merriam-Webster’s (if you are writing in US English). Webster’s is available for free online and it’s a very user-friendly dictionary.

You might be surprised to know how many times I look things up on Webster’s through the course of a day. I’m often surprised how many times I use it, and I think often how lost I’d be without it.

I access it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I just have a brain cramp and need to double-check a spelling. Sometimes, I’m not sure if I need the open version or the hyphenated version of a word, such as double-check in the previous sentence. Double check is a noun. Double-check is a verb. I’ve looked it up before, but I double-checked it just now to be sure I used the right one.

Sometimes I access Webster’s when I’m not sure if I need a hyphen between a prefix and its root. Sometimes I check on capitalization. (A client recently used “promised land,” and I wanted to see if it should be capitalized or not. Curious about the answer? Look it up!)

Webster’s is really helpful and it provides sentence examples for most of its entries as well. Play around on it to see how useful and friendly it is. If you care about your writing and can’t hire an editor to check your work, Webster’s could be your new best friend. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dexter: Season 8 Premiere -- A Beautiful Day

Dexter's final season opened at full speed, didn't it? Deb's in hell, where she belongs -- her words, not mine. And Dexter, according to Deb, is lost. She said she finally realized it wasn't she who needed Dexter all those years; it was he who needed her. Now that he doesn't have her, he's spinning like a top careening away from its center.

Any of you who shared my concerns for Deb going into this season are probably feeling the way I am. I knew she was gonna be in trouble, but I had no idea she was gonna be in such a low, low place. She can say what she wants about just doing her job, trying to find Briggs and the jewelry he stole, but that was Deb snorting cocaine and screwing that criminal ... and liking it. She told Dexter she was OK with Briggs. She cried over his dead body. And even though I understood why Dexter killed Briggs, I still hated that Deb had to witness her brother murder someone else. This is not a healthy relationship, friends. Deb put her detective face back on when she was talking to the local PD after she called in the murder, but I don't think she fooled that cop.

So where does Deb go from here? We know that the hitman sent for Briggs saw Deb leave, so the physical danger Dexter tried to protect her from is likely still there. But I think Deb is a bigger danger to herself than any hitman will ever be to her. She told Dexter she didn't care about the danger. I don't think she cares about anything. No ... check that. I don't think she wants to care about anything. And therein lies the conflict. She still does. As she said, she's in hell.

Dexter seems like Dexter. He's even happy LaGuerta's gone because that "solved a lot of problems" in his life. The only piece of Dexter that seems off is Daddy Dexter. He's losing it with Harrison. He blew up at the cute little kid, he left him alone in the car at night in a motel parking lot and almost lost him because of it, and he stained the poor kid's teddy bear with Briggs's blood. (Quite the symbol there, huh?) The innocents in Dexter's life tend to suffer, so it's not surprising that Harrison's turn has come. But it's sad to see and I hope the price he pays for loving Dexter isn't as high as the price his aunt paid ... or, worse yet, the price his mom paid.

One more character worth noting before I go is Dr. Vogel. How interesting is she? I'm excited about her addition to the show. She knows everything, and judging by the preview for next week, endorses Dexter's life choices. The thing is, Dexter doesn't trust her. So we'll be left to judge whether or not he should. I think when killing people is how you spend your free time, the fewer people you trust, the better off everyone is.

Hats off to the Dexter team for the opening of Season 8. I'm into it. Let's see where it takes us.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ask Your Editor: Launch Dates -- Don't jump too fast

This will be a short post, but it's super-important. If you are self-publishing, don't set a launch date for your book until the editing is completely finished.

I can't tell you the number of projects I've worked on where the writer has been in a rush to get the editing done because their launch is fast approaching. This is not the scenario you want for your book. You want to give your editor enough time to really work with your book. And once your editor has worked through it once, you need time to go over what the editor has done. And then you might want to (really should want to if you can afford it) send it back to your editor for proofreading.

It's exciting, this business of writing books. Now that self-publishing has been made so easy and has become so prevalent, everybody wants to do it, and that's cool. But if you're going to labor over a book, don't force it out into the sunshine before it's had time to be polished. You want it to shine once it gets there, don't you?

Write. Leave it alone for a while. Go back to it and revise it. Let some beta readers have a go at it. (Maybe beta readers would be a good post, yes?) Revise it again. Then hire an editor. Go over the editor's work. Hire a proofreader. Format it. Hire a cover designer. Create a website. Launch your baby into the world.

But please, don't rush the launch. There's no need. Your book will thank you. And so will your editor.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dexter: Final Season Preview

The end is almost here. Dexter fans, are you ready to say good-bye? For better or worse, our favorite serial killer’s run is almost over. The new—and final—season begins June 30.

If you haven’t watched any or all of Season 7, read no further. There be spoilers.

The biggest question on my mind at the beginning of Season 8 is what’s going to happen to Deb? Who is she now that she’s killed LaGuerta and who will she become in the fallout? Deb already has serious self-esteem issues. What will this do to her? She’s not only lost all sense of who she thought Dexter was, she’s now lost all sense of who she thought she was.

Deb’s one constant she could cling to in her life was her job—that and her foul mouth that we’ve all come to love. She may not have a solid, dependable love interest. She may not have the solid mooring of her family. But she’s always had the job. How will Det. Debra Morgan be able to report for duty now that she has the blood of an innocent woman—another cop, no less—on her hands? (I’ve read enough about the upcoming season to know she forfeits her badge, but I won’t go into that. We learn it early in the first episode.)

Knowing she’s no longer a badge-wearing officer of the law doesn’t change the questions for me because Deb is still a cop at heart. I believe she still longs to be able to cling to the black-and-white world of law enforcement, where right is right and wrong is wrong and the bad guys pay, which is why the evolution (or downward spiral) of her character is going to be so interesting to watch this season. We all have to make a peace of some sort with the choices we make. Considering who she is at heart and who she holds closest to her heart, how will Deb ever make her peace?

And then there’s Dexter. My husband says he won’t be happy with the ending if Dexter isn’t in cuffs or dead. I still don’t know how I feel about it. One part of me agrees with him. Dexter is degenerating. The Code isn’t really working anymore. Maybe it’s time for Dexter to face the consequences of his actions. But another part of me wonders if he could bring the Code back to where it’s supposed to be. Could he go back to killing only those who have killed others and thereby “redeem” himself? Could he and Deb form a team? (No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think Deb’s built that way. It would destroy her.)

I care about Dexter. I hate the childhood trauma he endured. I admire how Harry tried to “save” his son by teaching him how to live with his “dark passenger.” I respect how Dexter has tried to right the wrongs society failed to right. My heart broke for him when Rita died and it melts every time he’s with Harrison. Dexter wants to be good. What will happen to him? What choices will he make? Is his relationship with Deb destroyed completely?

I’m looking forward to discovering what the Dexter team has in store for us in its final season. I’ll be talking about it here each week. Please join the discussion!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ask Your Editor: Capitalizing relative titles

Are you writing about your Aunt Helen or your aunt Helen? Have you gotten advice from my Mom or my mom? Do you know when you should capitalize relative titles, or do you just do what feels right? There are rules, my friends, and they’re pretty cut-and-dried, so here we go.

If you want to put a relative title in front of someone’s name, it’s fine to capitalize it as long as you don’t also put a personal pronoun in front of it.

Compare these two examples written correctly:
  • When we asked Uncle Harry about his health, he changed the subject.
    • “Uncle” and “Harry” are used together as his name.

  • When we asked my uncle Harry about his health, he changed the subject.
    • In this sentence, “my” and “uncle” are used as adjectives to describe Harry, but they are not used as his name.
These two examples are written incorrectly:
  • When we asked uncle Harry about his health, he changed the subject.
  • When we asked my Uncle Harry about his health, he changed the subject.

The same rule applies if you’re using the relative title without the proper name.

These two examples are written correctly:
  • If you want Mom to agree to the plan, we have to talk to her soon.
    • “Mom” is being used as her name, so it’s capitalized.
  • If you want my mom to agree to the plan, we have to talk to her soon.
    • Placing “my” in front of “mom” means “mom” is no longer being used as her name; it’s now a description of who she is.

These two are written incorrectly:
  • If you want mom to agree to the plan, we have to talk to her soon.
  • If you want my Mom to agree to the plan, we have to talk to her soon.

Any questions? Send ’em my way. Suggestions for the blog? I’d love to hear them.

I’ve got a get-ready-for-the-season-premiere-of-Dexter blog in the works. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ask Your Editor: Is it "there," "their," or "they're"? Let's talk usage.

Some very basic, but very common mistakes I find when editing are usage mistakes. These involve swapping one word for another because they (very often) sound alike and spell check won’t catch them (although grammar check sometimes—and I emphasize sometimes—will).

Here’s a quick rundown of the most common usage errors:

  • Are / Our – These two don’t always sound the same, but often they do, which I think is what leads to their confusion. Practice your enunciation and I think you’ll confuse them less often.
    • Are – is a verb.
      • The chocolate éclairs are my favorite. 
    • Our – is a possessive pronoun and indicates “we” own something. 
      • Our house is the first one on the right. 
  • Affect / Effect – There are some nuances to these two, but 99 percent of the time, you can rely on the following: 
    • Affect – is a verb. Think of it as another way to say “to influence.” 
      • How will the weather affect the town-wide yard sale? 
    • Effect – is a noun and can usually be thought of as the consequence (result) of something. 
      • What was the effect of adding salt to the recipe? 
  • All right – This is a personal pet peeve, and I really don’t have very many of those. “All right” is always, always, always two words. Always. And while we’re at it, so is 
  • A lot 
  • Farther / Further – Although they are both adverbs, there are distinct differences between how they are used. 
    • Farther – should be used to describe a physical distance. 
      • It’s farther to my grandparents’ house than it is to my aunt’s. 
    • Further – should be used to describe a figurative distance, or to imply something should be done to a greater degree. 
      • My English teacher drove me crazy because she always wanted me to take my literature discussions further than I wanted to. 
  • Its / It’s – Another pair that sound exactly alike and that have been confused for each other for centuries. 
    • Its – is a possessive pronoun indicating ownership. 
      • I think that dog has lost its bone. 
    • It’s – is a contraction for “it is.” 
      • Do you think it’s going to rain today? 
  • There / Their / They’re – Yes, these three words sound identical to each other, but they serve three very different purposes. 
    • There – is an adverb and indicates where something is located. 
      • My wallet is lying over there on the table. 
    • Their – is a possessive pronoun and indicates “they” own something. 
      • Do you know if their house is on this street? 
    • They’re – is a contraction for “they are.” 
      • Of all our friends, they’re the ones I like the best. 
  • Where / Were – Whenever this duo gets mixed up, it surprises me because they sound nothing alike. However, even outside the classroom, it’s a usage mistake I still see often. 
    • Where – is an adverb indicating place or location. 
      • Do you know where the game is tonight? That is where she said it was. 
    • Were – is a verb. 
      • They were going to call us later tonight. 
I could go on—and probably should—but this gets us started. I’ll probably revisit usage, but not likely in my next post. Maybe we should talk about voice … or formatting … or launch dates … What would you like me to discuss? Message me your comments and questions! 

Keep writing. Talk to you soon!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ask your editor: Tips for writers

For two years, I’ve been working as a freelance editor. For the last year, I’ve been doing it full-time. I do most of my work using the Elance platform, and there I’ve edited hundreds of books and articles from people all around the world. One of the memoirs I edited last year, Michael Hurley’s Once Upon a Gypsy Moon, was sold to Hachette Books. An educational book I edited recently, Money and Teens: Waste Less, Have More by Wes and Darby Karchut, was named the EIFLE 2013 Children’s Book of the Year.

I share this with you for a couple reasons. If you’re a writer looking for an editor, you can click on the Elance link above to see in more detail the kind of work I do. If you want to have a conversation about the book or article or website you’re working on, send me an email and we’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

The other reason I mentioned what I do for a living is that I’m going to start using my blog (when I’m not talking about my favorite TV shows, books, or people) to try and help writers who are working on their drafts and who might be close to the point of looking for an editor or a publisher or who might be almost ready to make their website live. I’m going to share some common problems I see when I edit and try and help other writers avoid making those mistakes before it even makes it to an editor. Some of my posts will be short and sweet; some will be longer. All of them will be geared toward helping to make writers better—to thin the weeds from their work.

Any questions? Shoot ‘em my way. Ideas for the blog—writing or editing questions you’d like answered? I’m listening.

And for you Dexter fans … the new and final season starts in a couple weeks. I’m planning on blogging my heart out for that. It’s gonna be hard to say good-bye to my favorite serial killer.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Courteous mechanics -- oxymoron, right?

I’m grateful for the mechanics my husband and I use. I really am. They’re trustworthy, they do the work on our cars for a fair price, and did I mention we trust them? Do you hear the “but” coming?

Here’s the “but”: I really like them, but why can’t they call me when the work isn’t going to be done when they said it was going to be done? I won’t be mad. I won’t be nasty. I know things happen, and I know they’re keeping the car because they still have work to do. Why can’t they just pick up the phone and call to tell me that?

Those of you who know me know that I’m self-employed. I’m a freelance editor who works out of her home. Lots of people trust me with things that are important to them—books, articles for the websites, white papers, etc. They pay me money to make these things better, and I promise to have them done on a certain day.

Even when I’m on track for delivery, I still communicate regularly with my clients to let them know how the work is progressing and that they can still expect the work to be delivered on the day we agreed. They appreciate hearing from me. On the rare occasion when I need an extra day or two, I message them early, explain the circumstances, and ask if they can afford the extra day or two. If they can’t, then I bust my hump to get it done on the scheduled day.

Why do I do this? Because they have trusted me with something that’s valuable to them, because they’re paying me to work on it, and because we had an agreed-upon delivery date. It’s common courtesy to communicate with your clients.

So why is this so hard for mechanics to understand? Why do they get indignant if you call because your car wasn’t done when it was supposed to be done? When I talked to them today, it was made very clear to me that I should not call again. They will call me when the car is done. Hmmm.

I’m not inclined to cut my nose off to spite my face, so I won’t be discontinuing my patronage of this mechanic. Like I said, they do good work and I trust them. But right now, I’m not liking them very much. Courtesy doesn’t take that much effort or that much time, and it goes such a long, long way.

I wish more mechanics were inclined to feel the same way. (And I made that blanket statement on purpose—most mechanics I’ve ever had to deal with have this same attitude.)

I don’t get it.