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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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?)


Monday, September 5, 2016

10 Tips for Aspiring Writers—Tips 9 and 10

9. You're in the Writing Business, So Why Are You So Terrified of Looking Up Information about Words?

Not sure whether a word is spelled right or if you are using it correctly? Look it up.

I'm always baffled by this. Not only do I find writers who constantly get words wrong, but even when they are made aware of the error, they tend to either (1) think about it a bit, then decide whether they are right based on how they feel about it, or (2) ask a friend or search online until they find a forum in Slovenia where people are discussing the meaning of English words and usage. For some reason, the Chicago Manual of Style, Garner's Modern English Usage and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are too pedestrian for them, even though they are the bibles for most professional editors.

And don't even get me started with those who review my edits, then inform me that one of my edits is wrong. Most of the time, this assertion is based on feeling rather than fact. Although every editor (including me) makes mistakes from time to time, in matters of usage, especially those that are highly technical, you can be pretty sure that the editor has looked it up, for the umpteenth time, just to make sure before sending the edited copy to you. Not extending the same courtesy is a sign of laziness and a lack of interest in the field of which you are supposedly a member.

10. Learn the Lingo

As with knowing that writers don't edit their own work, but rather revise or rewrite it, it's important to understand the language, genres, and conventions of publishing, books, and what have you. The following are just a couple examples.

A typical novel may be just 200 pages, or it could be as many as 300–400. Rarely, however, especially with a debut author, is a novel 700 or 800 pages long:

Typically a book has 250 to 300 words per page, so this guy is assuming that his book is all rarin' to go with 700 to 800 pages. Dead in the water.

Next, this is an example of not understanding what "ghostwriting" is (and is not):

It's funnier because it's a request for someone to write school papers for the actual student, but you'd be surprised by how many "writers" have rough concepts and then want a "ghostwriter" to write the story for them so they can put their name on it and call it their own. I'm sure it happens, but that's not really ghostwriting—it's writing. Why would I write your book for you, unless you're a famous person with something to say or a story to tell, but without the writing skills to do so? If you have a random fiction idea, there's no reason for someone else to write it for you so you can call it your own. And besides, why would you even want that? It's not like you can proudly hold up the book and say, "I did this."

Sorry if the responses here seem a bit direct, but these are the things I know from a few years of editing fiction (and nonfiction, too).

Other tips in this multipart post (and a few others):


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Non, Non, Non, Non . . . Non, Non, Non, Non . . . Heey, Heey . . . Gooood-Bye

I bet lotsa folks think that publishing/writing/editing folks are superperfectionists (and superperfectionistas) who always spell and write everything perfectly. Not true. If it were, I wouldn't constantly be seeing these little gems:

ISBN number ("ISBN" means International Standard Book Number, so no "number" is needed at the end)

From a book sell sheet (a sell sheet is used in the trade to give commercial buyers information about a title—sort of like a one- or two-page product brochure):

I included one entire side of the sell sheet to show what one looks like, but also because despite a big error somewhere (hint: it's one of the headings), the sell sheet is solid and this is a great little series. Full disclosure: I got a cute T-shirt from these folks at the BEA convention in Chicago.

Give up? "Advanced Praise" should be "Advance Praise." Advanced would mean highly evolved or sophisticated, not beforehand or ahead of time as was obviously intended.

But here be the one that gets me the most. For years, the word "nonfiction" has been spelled by Merriam-Webster without a hyphen, just as many "non-" prefixed words are. In fact, virtually all words starting with re-, pre-, ultra-, non-, un-, etc. are not hyphenated. So why, for the love of all that is sacred, does the publishing industry insist on spelling it "non-fiction"? God only knows (or "Only God knows"? Oh, well, a post for another time). Trying to be sneaky? Snarky? Is it like Houston Street in downtown NYC, which is pronounced "HOW-STUN"? Or do people in the word business think that dictionaries do not apply to their own work?

I don't know, but I sure as hell wish they would get the message and get rid of that annoying freaking hyphen:
That is all.


Friday, September 2, 2016

10 Tips for Aspiring Writers—Tips 6, 7, and 8

6. Get a Good Cover

And not the kind where Duke yells to Bo, "Cover me, Bo!"

Covers sell 70%–80% of books. Sometimes with back cover marketing copy, but typically without any reading of the body of the book whatsoever. That's why reviews, covers, and marketing copy matter so much—most book purchase decisions are made based on the foregoing factors and word of mouth, and not based on the text of the book itself.

Unless you are a graphic designer, some sort of graphic artist (if you're not sure, you probably aren't), or have experience with cover design at a professional level, pay someone to create your cover for you.

7. If You Can't Write Perfect Copy, Hire Someone Who Can

I don't profess to understand copywriters and copywriting—they're almost as foreign to me as the way that the brains of graphic designers work.

Don't write a book description and copy littered with typos and grammatical errors (see the last part of #2). That's really marketing advice rather than writing advice. Think about it—would you really want to read a book for which the most important marketing prose is riddled with errors?

8. Stop It with the Bizarre and Nonsensical Dialogue Tags

Use "said" for all dialogue tags unless you have a really good reason for doing otherwise.

An example of a bad tag:

"Well, I'd like to see you without your knickers on, that's for sure," Ian smiled.

An example of a good tag:

"Well, I'd like to see you without your knickers on, that's for sure," Ian said.

You could replace "said" with "moaned," "stuttered," or something similar, but not with "leered," "grinned," or any other word not synonymous with "said." And don't try an end around by doing this:

"Well, I'd like to see you without your knickers on, that's for sure," Ian leeringly / grinningly / smilingly said.

No, that's not a joke. I've seen it. If you want to add something like that, then make your dialogue more enticing instead. Dialogue tags are roughly equivalent to "show, don't tell" for prose overall. Don't tell us "leeringly." Let us know that the guy's lips pulled back from his teeth until his teeth blinded the barfly and his gums were the crimson of half-dried blood. Or something, anything, other than "leeringly."

Other tips in this multipart post (and a few others):


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

10 Tips for Aspiring Writers—Tips 3, 4, and 5

Tip 3: How to Save a Few Bucks by Editing Your Own Work

See #2.

Tip 4: Learn to Handle Criticism

If you can't handle critical feedback, write in a diary/journal. You'll be happier, and so will everyone else.

Good writers take in all the criticism, incorporate what works, and ditch the rest. Bad writers either ignore it all or incorporate it all like a puppet on a string. Neither response will improve a book (except in a few instances where a hack decides to give up writing, I suppose).

And one other thing—learn to recognize the haters, and ignore them. They're not worth it.

Tip 5: Write What You Know

For the love of God, rather than assessing what is "hot" and trying to write a book with that theme (zombies, vampires, time travel, dystopian survival games, etc.), write about something that interests you, that you enjoy (or despise), and that you can actually write about with some feeling and depth. Will it be marketable? Who knows? But it sure as hell will be a better piece of writing.

More to come . . . soon.


It Just Happens Sooo OFTEN

We interrupt your regular programming for this public service announcement.

I know this is talkin' rather than writin', but do you say "often" as "off-un" or as "off-tun"? Seems a lot of folks these days are opting for the latter. The argument, as I've heard it most, is that it has a T in it, so ya hafta pronounce that little bugger.

Uh, OK. I'll think that over tomorrow when I'm using fabric soff-tener on my laundry. Or perhaps I'll add some moist-ener, too. Though to be honest, if I add moist-ener as well as soft-ener, I have trouble fast-ening my belt because of the shrinkage.

But, hey, here's a word that has a hard T, for all you "off-ten" lovers:


Or do you think I'm paying too much OH-MAUGE to those who think language matters?


Words from the Front: 10 Tips for Aspiring Writers—Tip 2—Get an Editor

Tip 2: Have Your Work Edited

There are reasons that most professional editors, when assessing an unseen manuscript, double the estimated time it will take to edit and assume that the manuscript's quality is one to two levels worse than what the author has determined it to be:

1. The biggest reason is that writers are dreamers and tragically optimistic about their own work. As much as established writers almost always question their own work, oddly enough, unestablished writers seem to think anything they write is the cat's meow. I once read that 60% of people believe they are better looking than average, but 80% believe they are smarter than average. It is my personal belief, with nothing but anecdotes to support it, that more than 90% of people think they are better writers than average.

2. Most writers, and the general public, have no idea what editors do, nor (and this is scary if you think about it in terms of book quality) do most of them care. Commonly, folks think that editors are proofreaders and correct typos. Most work of that kind can be done with a good spellchecking program, whereas editors are concerned with grammatical and syntactical errors, and especially concerned with faulty logic, unresolved story arcs, and the like. Even so, I've found that most authors, when a fatal flaw is shown to them, will ignore the feedback and instead ask if all the typos have been found.

3. Because of #2, most writers don't realize that having their [insert name of personal relationship here] read their book is not the same as editing, nor will doing so accomplish more than a small handful of the tasks an editor would typically handle. Sometimes it's even worse, and writers will install themselves as the editor of their own work. Sorry to give you the bad news—when a writer makes changes, it's called rewriting or revising, not editing.

Here's a typical exchange:

Editor: Sounds good. What shape is the manuscript in?
Author: It's in pretty good shape. I've rewritten it two or three times, and my [insert name of biased reviewer here] has edited it twice. A few friends have read it, too, and they all think it's freaking great. In fact, they all love it.
Editor: Well, OK, but what kind of shape would you say it is in?
Author: Probably just needs a quick read-through. Proofreading, typos, that kind of thing.

Assessment: Full line edit. Should have a full manuscript read first to assess whether it has any fatal flaws or glaring errors. Unlikely to need only proofreading.

And another:

Editor: Sounds good. What shape is the manuscript in? Is it finished, and how is it formatted?
Author: It's in Word. I already set up all the margins, and I've read the MS through several times to ensure that there are no errors.
Assessment: Probably littered with errors and the formatting probably includes tabs for every indent, a hard line break at the end of every line, even in the middle of paragraphs, and several dozen spaces before words that need to be centered.

[Hey, don't hate me. I'm just giving you the lowdown, Holmes. This is what happens in the real world.]

And just an aside. If you have published your own work and did not have it edited by a professional, it is glaringly obvious. Believe me when I say it—glaringly. I can read copy for books on Amazon and spot the "self-edited" ones in a few seconds. And so can a lot of other people.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Words from the Front: 10 Tips for Aspiring Writers—Tip 1: Show Don't Tell

Tip 1: Keep It Simple ("Show Don't Tell")

This little phrase gets bandied about like some sort of magic spell, but most people (at least those the message is meant for) seem to have no clue what it means, so I'll have a go. If your sentences comprise multiple adjectives and adverbs (more than a couple), and your paragraphs comprise multiple multiple-adjective/multiple-adverb sentences in series, it's an indicator that you should lose all the descriptors and pick better words.

Rather than

"He walked cautiously, slowly, and scarily down the forlorn, treacherous street lined with scary, creepy characters,"

go for something like

"He shuffled his feet, hesitated, and then traversed the avenue lined with ne'er-do-wells."

The picture is the same, but the lack of clutter in the second version allows the reader to better visualize the scene. The first is overly descriptive, but with ambiguous and general words that convey little but take up a lot of space that could be freed or replaced with additional information. Don't see it? OK, let's dissect a bit more:

"He walked cautiously, slowly, and scarily": this tells us how the character feels rather than letting his actions convey his emotional state. The alternative phrasing tells us what he's doing, but we are left to determine why.

More specifically:
  • "walked cautiously" can be replaced by a more-descriptive phrase such as "halting steps," "shuffling feet," or "nervous shuffle."
  • "slowly" is redundant if a properly descriptive word is used. All the examples, including "cautiously," have the concept of slow built into them. 
  • "scarily" is nonsensical in this context. This is a common descriptor error—the character is not doing the scaring; he's scared. Not to mention that, again, if the right words are used, the concept of scared is already embedded. 
  • "forlorn"—poor word choice, as this word typically describes a living being rather than an inanimate object such as a street (in this case)
  • "treacherous"—probably OK, though describing the characters lining the street would convey treachery without having to state it explicitly.
  • "street"—maybe avenue, thoroughfare, boulevard, alley?
  • "scary" and "creepy" and "characters"—throwaway words that rarely convey much unique meaning. We already know that they are characters; some other word, any other word, would be better here. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Words from the Front: 10 Random Tips for Aspiring Writers

Today I'm going to begin a 10-point discourse covering a few general points about writing, probably pissing a few people off in the process. As an editor, I've seen just about everything. But one two things never changes—(1) most writers make the same errors again and again, and (2) I will always love and overuse the em dash.

But my acerbic rants may be better than the alternative—I could give you the same sugarcoated pablum spewed by the authors of many other articles about writing. There you get general tips that aren't actionable unless you already understand the technical aspects of the error being discussed. Most of these articles, in addition to being part of the Internet's great copy-and-past machine, throw out superficial cliches but don't get into the details that might communicate concepts effectively. And second, they always seem to end with some feel-good nonsense that tells you how wonderful you are, even if your writing sucks. But I won't be doing that here, so brace yourself.

Whew. Now that that's out of the way . . .

It seems you can't throw a dead cat these days without hitting a writer. Don't believe me? Next time someone asks you what you do for a living, just tell them you're an editor, or even better a publisher, and you'll soon find that everyone has written a book, is writing a book, is thinking about writing a book, or is thinking about thinking about writing a book.

These fledgling auteurs fall into three camps (three being the magic number for a series):
  1. Really good writers who've finally gotten around to writing their great novel, children's book, guidebook, etc.
  2. Marginally good writers with decent stories to tell, but who suffer from redundancy, flat storytelling, etc.
  3. Bad writers with questionable stories that are mostly about either (a) themselves (e.g., memoirs by people we've never heard of, detailing a life that could be used as an encyclopedic entry for the term "ordinary") or (b) whatever the current "flavor of the month" is in terms of genre (think YA paranormal romance against a backdrop of zombie apocalypse). The common thread in both cases is that these authors think in terms of themselves and their need to "share" their story with the world without considering whether readers will recognize or care about the story or characters. I suppose a third category would be those who combine Sins (a) and (b) into one huge Sin-Si. 
In my experience, those in Group 1 are the most receptive to criticism and improving their writing—those in Group 3 the least.

In dishing out "help" to all these knowledge-starved (there's a bit of irony in that phrase, as we'll see) scriveners, what do the Interwebs tell them to do? Write more, read more, learn your craft, blah, blah, blah. But mostly they tell them:

"Hey, you're a good writer."

"Don't listen to those who say your writing blows."

"It's just a matter of time before you're finally discovered and your greatness is worshipped like a golden idol on Mount Vesuvius." 

This is akin to giving everyone in a potato-sack race a gold medal at the finish (even little Jimmy who fell down at the beginning, cried like a little loser, and never even finished the race because he preferred to cry to get attention, which all the parents and classmates doled out in the spirit of narcissism that now rules the day cloaked in the lingerie of utopian sameness and democracy).

But in the interest of tough love and providing a different perspective, I'd like to go out on a limb and propose something else to discouraged writers everywhere, an idea that seems to get short shrift by those in the business of selling crap (or who are just too lazy to come up with any new ideas):

"Your writing may simply suck, and no amount of work on your part will change it. Now move on with your life." 

Brutal, huh? Welcome to the real world. No pussyfooting around here. I'm not trying to sell you an all-inclusive publishing package for 20 large (google Author Solutions if you want one of those—but DON'T), so perhaps my motivations are a bit purer.

But wait, Brent. Just like I don't know what "flavor of the month" I should choose as my preferred genre, I have no idea whether or not my writing sucks . Without a whole manuscript review, how might I tell? (Tip #1—lose the "or not" after "whether"; and Tip #2—you may need to get a professional manuscript review, with "professionals" generally denoting people other than relatives, friends, children, parents, siblings, etc.)

Even though it requires that I violate one of my loose "rules" of blogging—don't write silly "top ## things blah blah blah"—I'm going to give y'all a list for determining if (a) you are doing the things you should be doing to become a better writer; (b) you have the fortitude to do the things needed to become a better writer; and (c) your writing sucks. All for the greater good.

The ten tips in these posts cover some general areas of writing, whereas future posts will deal with the finer points (the great arcana, as it were).
Tip #1 can be found here!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Words from the Front—Introduction

Gentle Readers,

So now we embark upon a new and wondrous experiment—blogging about writing.

Some of you will undoubtedly say that I have blogged about writing countless times. True, but mostly to criticize or ridicule those most pompous yet incorrect in their communicational choices.

No, this new blog topic will address the most common errors writers tend to make (they vary a bit by genre, but most are universal). But rather than just poke fun, I'll break down (1) what's wrong and why; (2) ways to verify that the first assertion is correct; (3) how to correct the mistake; and (4) some ways to avoid the problem in the future.

Virtually all of the material will be either stuff I make up or lines I cull from elsewhere—which I choose will be determined by (1) relevance, (2) expositional value (i.e., how well it communicates the point being discussed, and (3) how funny it is (hey, I didn't say I would never criticize).

Why? And why now?

Let's start with the second question. I now have enough data from projects I've worked on that I believe they are statistically valid. And enough people follow my blog that I thought perhaps I should give them something they can actually use.

During a few years of editing the work of others, I've been privileged to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and the absolutely gruesome in terms of writing. Because of this, I'm better positioned than most to know what errors crop up again and again in writing. And I feel that I can use some of this knowledge to create real-world examples to help writers become better at, well, writing.

In keeping with using examples that I hope will be relevant and identifiable, I'm also planning to keep the professional lingo to a minimum. I'm not going to waste your time or mine discussing participles and gerunds and case unless doing so is likely to make a concept easier to understand. Plenty of sites and books already exist to teach English and writing in a way that is laborious, inundated with technical explanations that would mostly be understand only by those who already know what is wrong with a particular phrase or sentence, frustrating, and boring. Using terms like "prenominative" are only helpful if you know what they mean—I'll try to stick with things like "if the word in question occurs before the word it modifies." I know—more words, but easier to understand, methinks.

Although in my profession it's imperative that one knows the why for a particular grammatical or syntactical point, that's not the case for writers. Don't get me wrong; it's tremendously helpful for one to learn the finer points of English (or any language). But if you had to choose between technical knowledge and writing ability, which would you choose? I've always said it's better to be a great writer who can't necessarily explain everything about writing, rather than a bad writer with great knowledge that you're unable to communicate.

A few other posts:

"Comma Chameleon is write around the corner, so to speak.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When (Amazon's) Robots Fail

As many may know, I consider the Interwebs one gigantic copy-and-paste machine. Whether content is accurate doesn't matter—what matters is to get that content out the door. That's why when you google some topic, the first-page posts are often the same or very similar. They're often copied from each other or from one main post. So much for original content and pride in writing.

But not Amazon. They are always coming up with fresh new ways to categorize books. I know, because I constantly battle with them when explaining that one of our books, Gertrude and Toby's Friday Adventure (actually every book in the series) should be categorized under "Action and Adventure" and "Fairy Tale Adaptations." Meanwhile, from format to format, Amazon puts it in less=relevant categories such as "Farm Animals":

Now, a less generous person would assume that Amazon is just messing with people and arbitrarily putting their books into random categories to annoy them. And the real conspiracy theorists believe that Amazon is doing this to prevent their success. Granted, these are the same people who think they can self-edit their error-riddled and poorly written books, lay them out on Microsoft Word, then wonder why they can't get any sales or reviews.

So what is the problem? Why the inconsistencies?


Yep. Robots.

The robots read the content and ad copy for a title, then categorize the book based on those words. Screw reading the category the publisher has used—what the hell does a publisher know about the content of its own books?

Don't believe me? Here's your sign. We did a BookSends promotion for our title JED last weekend:

JED is appropriately categorized in "Spiritual and Religious" as well as "Historical," as it has a bit of both, though mostly the latter.

Then something happened. JED soared, and soon was #6 on Amazon's bestseller list for historical fiction within "Spiritual and Religious" books. Which is, of course, totally cool. And here's the screenshot showing JED rising to the top:

But things got curiouser and curiouser. Look at #1. Go the F**k to Sleep is #1 in Religious & Inspirational Historical Fiction. It's a funny book, and definitely well written, but placing it in this category is not correct.

So how did this happen? Robots. The robots read the copy and decided that Go the F**k to Sleep is a book of religious & inspirational historical fiction.

From the book: "Jesus Christ" plus lots of descriptions of birds and animals in the skies and fields (the Bible has a few similar descriptions)

From the copy: "a hymn to the horrors of bedtime," "a gleeful howl of blasphemy," "cult bedtime nursery rhyme," and one of the authors' prior works, The Year of Living Biblically.

The robots took this info and put Go the F**k to Sleep firmly in the Religious & Inspirational Historical Fiction category, where it sits at #1. Needless to say, I dropped them a line so they would know that this is not correct. Not that I expect them to do anything about it.

And what of this? Perhaps the publisher intended this to happen? It's entirely possible, with such misdeeds being common in romance categories, wherein a romance book will be slotted into some arcane category in order to hit #1. Though Amazon has been trying to crack down on the practice, there's really no stopping the robots.

Regardless of the intent, what matters is that books be categorized correctly, but that's unlikely to occur so long as people game the system, publisher-designated categories are ignored, and robots rule the day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Win a Free Kindle Book—JED, a historical fiction novel set in mid-1800s America

There's a 1 in 10 chance of winning. You just have to follow me on Twitter (and you can always delete right after if you want).

Get it at Amazon now, while supplies last!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Enter to Win a Free Kindle Edition of the Historical Fiction Novel JED, by Jim Wetton

No purchase necessary, but you'll have to follow me on Twitter (which of course you can delete if you like).

The link for the giveaway is here (Amazon).


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Boom—Gertrude and Toby Smoke the Competition in IPPY Awards

OK, permit me a bit of hyperbole, freaks. 

For those who don't know, I own and operate a tiny little publishing house in Southern California. What we lack in size we make for with giant cojones and super-awesome wizard skills at editing and layout. 

Exhibit 1—our first release, Gertrude and Toby's Friday Adventure, just slayed some dragons in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, scoring a silver medal in the Best Children's Illustrated E-book category. You can find the press release here:

And for those who scared of random links, here's a pretty picture:

We're pumping out about one title a month at this point, so be on the lookout for other Atlas Publishing releases on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.


Saturday, March 5, 2016


(Advisory - the following lyrics contain explicit language—surprise [said no one ever]):


Steady like a gun, I am living a nightmare
Married to my fucking disease
Can't stop now, wanna die in a car crash
Maybe that's what I need

I can't stop a deadlock
I won't let you pray for me
I'm not gonna stay long
My head is turning

Fallout, left me without our love
Tear us apart my heart
Burning inside me, oh

Terrified of none, I am sleeping with hardware
Fearless and fucking mean
Out of control, stone cold and reckless
Looking for my enemies

I can't stop a deadlock
I won't let you pray for me
I'm not gonna stay long
My head is turning

Fallout, left me without our love
Tear us apart my heart
Burning inside me, oh

Fallout, you're leaving me undone
Maybe I'll use my gun
It's right here beside me, oh

{guitar solo}


Running from the law
Always looking behind me
They better get ready for me
Wanna kill them all
Put an end to this long chase
I won't stop till I succeed

The lawyers, the fraud
The system is flawed
It's time to take it to the streets
I won't take the fall
I wanna leave them with no trace
For the naked eye to see

Fallout, left me without our love
Tear us apart my heart
Burning inside me

Fallout, you're leaving me undone
Maybe I'll use my gun
It's right here beside me
It's right here beside me
Burning inside me, oh

Words and music copyright Buckcherry and Warner/Chappell Music

Oh, man, almost forgot. Because of the many possible metaphorical interpretations, let me help out by dedicating this song to the generally mediocre douche bags who run General Electric. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Why? Oh, Why?

I just want to know . . .

How come the two companies who have demonstrated, time and again, the most incompetence with the English language—Microsoft and Adobe—are the two who control the vast majority of all publishing, through Word and InDesign?

I shall assume that this is the McDonald's effect. Only worse.