Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

New Home

This will always be home for the maus, but my blog specifically for writing-related discussions (e.g., grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, style, design) can be found here:

In coming weeks, I'll be moving writing-specific posts at Musings from the House of Pain to Words from the Front.

The Republic thanks you for your consideration.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Your Teachers Lied to You (a WORDS FROM THE FRONT Aside in the TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITING Series)

Is your writing redundant and flat? I don't want to help any writers pass the buck about what they themselves create, but one culprit that often clips the wings of possible creative genius before it can fly is our educational system. So go ahead—blame your teachers next time someone comments about your stilted prose. But don't read further if you intend to do that, or you'll be making yourself a bit of a fibber.

As an editor, one of the most annoying things I have to do is rectify some common "rules" that many of us were taught in English class. Yes, I meant rectify; though one might argue that these rules are good for writers to follow (they aren't), they are instead substandard and tend to create overwordy and thus redundant prose. [Not everything in editing is annoying. When a writer turns a phrase that's completely original and communicates fully but without the affectations that go with trying to turn a phrase, it's joyous. And even the aforementioned (and about to be discussed) errors, if repeated consistently, are some of the easiest to correct en masse in a document.]

Often people chalk up to "style" those decisions that are really fundamental errors in writing effectively. If you feel that I'm wrong on any of the following gaffes for style reasons, I would suggest a trip to the style doctor to see if your style detector is perhaps malfunctioning or dead.

With that little setup, let's get to my biggest pet peeves in this category, while noting that the complete list is WAY longer than this.


W T F?

There's no need to append "or not" to "whether." It's like someone asking, "Hey, Sally, are you going to the game tonight? Maybe we can hook up under the bleachers or in the utility room like ol' times. Whatcha say?"

To which Sally replies, "I might go to the game or I might not go to the game. But regardless, your paunch, overinflated ego, and lack of steady employment are not as exciting for me as what you brought to the table back when I was a wee cheerleader and you were my quarterback honey, so I won't be rockin' it with you regardless of whether I go."

[Sorry, got a little carried away with that example; it just seemed that the story wanted to go there.]

Let's dissect this a bit. Sally's reply includes (1) "I might go to the game or I might not go to the game." That's equivalent to saying (2) "I don't know whether I will go to the game or I will not go to the game." Less stiltily (go ahead and look it up; you won't find it), it could be written (3) "I don't know whether or not I will go to the game." This sentence could be written more gracefully, however, as (4) "I don't know whether I will go to the game" or "I'm not sure whether [or if] I'm going to the game." The "or not" is implicit in the term whether, because whether by definition indicates a decision between two or more possible options (but usually two).

Now I know what your saying: Who cares? If you're a writer, you should. I'm not all about word count for word count's sake, but when unnecessary words are injected into otherwise good writing, they dilute the meaning of the words that actually convey meaning. Let's see what we have in our example above:

Example 1: 13 words
Example 2: 18 words
Example 3: 12 words
Example 4: 9 words

See the pattern? But it's only three words, really, one might say. True, but let's not use absolute numbers without context. Those three words equal a 25% reduction in word count if they are culled from one's writing, and a 33% increase in word count if added to one's writing (though why anyone would do that I can't fathom). 

There are times when whether needs or not. My guess is that's the reason for this so-called "rule"—so people don't screw up the exception when it occurs. One example is from the final line of the example passage: ". . . so I won't be rockin' it with you regardless of whether I go." It's correct as written, but if the word order is changed, it may require or not: ". . . so I won't be rockin' it with you whether or not I go." Here, the choice of "whether" to indicate choice requires that the choice be made explicit because it's not otherwise obvious from the earlier part of the sentence. Plain English? If your intended meaning is "either way" or "regardless of whether," then "whether or not" is what you need to use. Otherwise, drop it.


C'mon. When people compare two (or more) things, by definition they contrast them. Comparing is to note the similarities and differences between items. So there's no need to add "and contrast." And while we're add it, the proper phrasing is "compare with." "Compare to" should only be used when the intended meaning is "just like" or "the same as"—for instance, "The woman compared the bird to the plane she had seen at the aiport." If "with" were used instead of "to" in this sentence, she would instead be noting similarities and differences rather than saying that the bird was much like the plane.

It's a bit tricky because "contrast" alone usually means to note just the differences. 

And last, while we're on #2, try to lose these little redundancies as well: ATM machine, VIN number, and of course, ISBN number. 


I have no idea where this one came from. Educators with extremely bad ADD or ADHD? Readers who experience sporadic losses of memory while reading? I'm not sure, but I do know that writers tend to repeat themselves, which is super annoying if you got it the first time. And most good readers do. Which is the reason why I think this rule is SO bad: it encourages writers to be insecure and overcompensate; damn those readers who might feel like they've been bludgeoned with a giant moose rack. What do I mean? Remember this?
  1. First paragraph: State your premise, your main arguments and your conclusion.
  2. Second paragraph: State the premise and Argument 1 (or just Argument 1). 
  3. Third paragraph: Argument 2. 
  4. Fourth paragraph: Argument 3.
  5. Fifth paragraph: Restate everything from Paragraph 1, then describe why your arguments support your conclusion in Paragraph 1. 

Beyond the fact that this approach totally violates the scientific method by concluding first rather than hypothesizing (I get it, it's meant to be persuasive), it's just repetitive as hell. Yet my own kid is still taught this silliness in high school. Which is why I tell him to stick it to the man, of course.

Say it once; assume your readers get it. If they don't, they're bad readers. If you don't, then you're a bad writer.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Newest Book Idea

Let's get right to it.

It's a thriller.

It stars an enigmatic young woman. We don't know her name or where she came from. And beneath the visibly sweet exterior lies something more sinister.

It also has killer clowns.

The two shall intersect, either by happenstance, a spell gone wrong, or the machinations of an occult hand sweeping across the universe to send doom.

I'm going to call it THE GIRL ON THE BUS.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Best Wine Deal of the Week

With the fine smoothness of rusty-nail corn mash distilled in a bathtub in a wooden cabin in the Tennessee mountains, the powerful aroma of wet bark, and hints of piccadilly and myrrh, this wine is a testament to the winey goodness of Washington State.

Scratch all that. It's meaty. It's chewy. It's red. After a couple glasses, you might become tipsy. It's from Red Diamond Winery and called Mysterious red blend (2013 vintage):

Just $6.99 at Baron's Market (and likely lotsa other cool places).


Friday, September 23, 2016

Why I Believe Fortune Cookies Are Likely Rigged



Aspiring Writer Tip #11—The Kill Test

So you've finished that manuscript, and you've had numerous peeps read it and tell you that it rocks. But how do really know for certain that your book doesn't completely suck?


that's how.

What be that, say ye?

It's pretty simple. Take all your little characters, line them up on the edge of a big ol' gutter, and shoot them one by one. Do you care that they died? Did a little tear traverse your cheek? Perhaps a twisted hot tear left a snail trail in red from the hot pain of realizing your favorite character has been offed?

Ah, you've succeeded. Great! Except for one thing. NO ONE CARES what you think of your own characters. Now, if you can make a total stranger cry, you've accomplished something.

It doesn't matter how readers react—they can laugh, cry, smile, whatever. But if a reader is indifferent every time you cap the ass of some characters, then you've failed, my friend. Time to begin again, as some might say.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Now Coming from Mother Russia

My newest awesome idea to clear up the saturated reading landscape:

Licensing for writers


Monday, September 19, 2016

Life—Pretty Much NOT Like a Box of Chocolates

I recently read a post that included that infamous freaking Forrest Gump quote:

"Mama always said, 'Life is like a box o' chocolates; you never know what you gonna get.'"[dialect added]

So let me first admit that I'm not a big Tom Hanks fan. It's not like I hate the guy or anything. It's worse—I'm apathetic. It's just that every time I watch Tom Hanks act, it's the same thing; I just see Tom Hanks. Sorry—I think he must be a great actor, but somehow I always just see Tom Hanks acting like someone else, not the actual character. Now Kevin Costner, on the other hand—don't even get me started on Kevin Costner.

But back to my point:


First off, every box o' chocolates I've ever seen had a little map with it, allowing even the most inept among us to divine the true nature of each little, tiny, chocolatey morsel.

Second, for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, chocolatiers have swirled the chocolate type on the top of each chocolatey piece of unicorn heaven. So even without a map to the riches of chocolate, those with some craftiness and intellect can find their favorites and avoid the nonfavorites.

Life, meanwhile—well, you know life. No road map and no swirl (most of the time).

And thus ends my subtle but desperate plea that folks stop using this now-cliched and incorrect phrase to exemplify events that are unpredictable. In doing so, you are creating irony upon a foundation of silliness.

Note: I'm joking.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Something Free . . .

Well, to be perfectly succinct, a chance at somethin' free:

Award-winning Kindle format of GERTRUDE AND TOBY'S FRIDAY ADVENTURE, an illustrated children's book appropriate for ages 6 to 8, or thereabouts.

See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Gertrude and Toby's Friday Adventure (Gertrude and Toby Fairy-Tale Adventure Series Book 1) (Kindle Edition):


Get it while the gettin's good.


One of My Favorite Reviews for My Book Benny the Biplane

No, no, the first one.

I mean, truly, what writer doesn't want to be "not what I expected"?


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Not to Be Overly Misogynistic, But . . .

As if there's such a thing as appropriately misogynistic.


Man ---> Men
Woman ---> Women
Human ---> Humans

What? No humen?

The oddities continue.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Editor Confessions: Just Like Taxicab Confessions but without the Sex

So you wanna be an editor? Here are a few things that most editors were not warned about before becoming editors:

1. You will rarely/never be able to read for pleasure again.
2. You will rarely/never find time to write.
3. You think you saw bad (fake) writing in your editing classes? That's nothing compared with the drivel you'll see in the real world. The clients we take on are the good ones of the bunch. But it's a whole big world of terribleness out there.
4. Most people think they are wonderful writers.
5. Most people are not wonderful writers (though they may be wonderful people).

There are few true "rules" to writing, but a few rules I consider immutable truths:
  • Every word matters.
  • The ultimate goal of writing is to communicate.
  • Showing off only counts if you are communicating.
  • Just because you understand what you've written doesn't mean you are communicating effectively.
  • Just because you don't understand what you're reading doesn't mean that the writer isn't communicating effectively. 
  • A subtle aside is usually more effective than a hammer.
  • While it's true that good writers break the rules with some regularity, note that as a prerequisite, one must know the rules before breaking them. 
  • Yeah, I got it—not all "rules" are rules, they are simply guidelines. That's why people say silly things like, "Well, it can be done either way." Sometimes, however, there's only one right answer, or the "alternative" way looks, sounds, and reads terribly. 
There you go—some largely unfiltered thoughts from the front. 

Now go get 'em, Tiger! (too soon?)