26 August 2013

Punctuation. Rules. Creativity.

As a member of a writing critique group for three years, we often find ourselves, both as a group and as individuals, wrestling with the rules of writing: syntax, construction, and especially punctuation. When does it make sense to follow a given set of rules? Which rule set? Is English grammar really that fixed? And aren't these rules the very things sheltering real writers from the barbarians at the gate - u no wut i meen HMU l8tr

One of the many things I'm 'currently reading' (see my Goodreads page) is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Imagine my inward chuckle when I thought about the group critiquing this passage from Mrs. Dalloway:
“Fear no more,” said Clarissa. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun; for the shock of Lady Bruton asking Richard to lunch without her made the moment in which she had stood shiver, as a plant on the river-bed feels the shock of a passing oar and shivers: so she rocked: so she shivered.
First off, I was simply struck by the imagery used in the language. It is clear, easy to understand and visualize, vibrant. But look at how the paragraph is punctuated, with semi-colons and colons, and, more importantly to one engaged in editing, a single sentence with not just one but TWO colons! Oh my. Oh my my. Where is my red pen?

Does it not work? Is it simply old-fashioned (now)? Or did Virginia Woolf understand the use of a colon and use it masterfully? And what about "made the moment...shiver"? Moments can shiver? Oh, and there is that use of 'her': while we understand it to refer to Clarissa, the object of the clause, the only female proper name used in the sentence is "Lady Bruton."

Hmm. Hmmmmm. What comments would I write on Virginia's submission if she were a member of our little critique circle and she was working on Mrs. Dalloway? What suggestions would you make? And no, you can't say "I'd make no comments since the paragraph is simply perfect as it is," since 'no one' writes like this today. [Just an aside - ran across this blog post a couple days ago and have never really thought about cubism's influence on literature.]

Get your own copy of Mrs. Dalloway at Amazon. Or you can read it online or download a free copy of the ebook from ebooks@Adelaide.

20 July 2013

Perfect Status

Previously the plan was to return with the next batch of episodes of <i>Perfect</i> in June. I've decided to postpone continuing the series until the fall. In the meantime I'm researching and developing the story, hoping to make it better, more interesting, and always working to improve the prose.

Don't worry, George and Anita - or Luis and Avinashika if you prefer - and Willem will return!

I'm also developing another webserial that I've wanted to write for some time. It's set in a fictional mid-market commercial bank in Texas during the 1980s and will have everything you expect from such a story: greed, lust, envy, power, intrigue, death, gossip, and, of course, money. More news on this project to come.

Hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter if down under)!

31 May 2013

a thought

If failure were the only option, I'd rather strive for greatness than accept mediocrity.

23 April 2013

Perfect Episode Twenty

Mysterious clues are guiding Anita and George. He has finally figured it out where they need to go. Where are they headed? And just how easy will it be to get there. Sometimes, life is just so...

Perfect, Episode Twenty ♦ Drooping

With this episode, I'm going to take a break from publishing for a few weeks. There is plenty of reading, researching, and writing to catch up on. I'm also developing a second, totally unrelated web serial which will be ready to roll out this summer.

Look for Perfect to return in June 2013. Hope to also have ePub and Mobi versions ready for your eReader - supporting Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Calibre!

In the meantime, catch up on prior episodes, all free to read on the web.

Happy Spring!

09 April 2013

Perfect Episode Nineteen

Indianapolis is ruined. George and Anita are surrounded by their grief-stricken shipmates dealing with news reports beamed directly to everyone's brain -- everyone but Anita and George. How will they cope in a world going mad?

Episode Nineteen ♦ Together

As always, prior episodes are available as well.

26 March 2013

Perfect Episode Eighteen

At the close of the last episode, George and Anita were hurrying to catch the Harmonie and they had another clue. Just wait until you get a load of their new accommodations! [Where do you think George is spending his nights?]

Another clue awaits them!

Perfect, Episode Eighteen ♦ Cruising

As always, prior episodes are available as well.

13 March 2013

Perfect Episode Seventeen

Episode Seventeen ♦ Harmonie is now available.

Westside Writers Accepting Members

The critique group I belong to is accepting new members for the first time in about two years. Membership is open during the month of March. If you are looking for a writing critique group, then check out Westside Writers.

For specific information about membership, please see this blog post.

26 February 2013

Perfect Episode Sixteen

Last time, George and Anita had checked in to the Seelbach Inn in Louisville to look for Daisy as they head west.

Read about what they find at

Perfect, Episode Sixteen Daisy

12 February 2013

Perfect Episode Fifteen

Last time, George and Anita found themselves trapped in a car on The Track with someone who just wouldn't stop talking! (You can find that in Episode Fourteen if you missed it.) Did they get away? Find out what happens next in

Perfect, Episode Fifteen ♦ Louisville

Punctuating Cumulative and Compound Adjective Phrases

Or: Do I really need that sodding benighted comma?

Many writers have stressed over how many commas are needed in something like the following from this week's episode of Perfect (which I will publish shortly):
She opened the thick, dark brown, recycled plastic frames and placed them on top of her head.
My critique partner Vanessa, shared a link from Grammar Girl with me since she felt I should/could punctuate that sentence differently. If she was punctuating the sentence, she might do it differently. However I chose to leave it as you see it.


Because what I'm really trying to say is:

She opened the recycled plastic frames that were also thick and dark brown...

So why not use "thick, dark brown, recycled, plastic frames"?

Much like dark is meant to tell us about the shade of brown (not dark frames), recycled tells us about the kind of plastic. These frames were not actually reused, but made from recycled plastic. Wow! So much information can be understood by simply using a piece of punctuation. Isn't grammar fun?!?

Here's an excerpt from my email to Vanessa on the subject of punctuating Cumulative and Compound Adjectives

I had started removing them [commas] figuring they were yet another thing to go out of favor in the recent past (like the sodding adverb), so I started pulling them out just for fun and since I hate any extra commas! I ... However, I tend to prefer Truss' explanation from Eats, Shoots & Leaves (pp 86-7 in my copy)
In a list of adjectives, again the rule is that you use a comma where an and would be appropriate - where the modifying words are all modifying the same thing to the same degree:
    It was a dark, stormy night.    (The night was dark and stormy)    [clipping second example] 
But you do NOT use a comma for:
    It was an endangered white rhino.
    [clipping again]    
This is because ... the adjectives do their jobs in joyful combination; they are not intended as a list. The rhino isn't endangered and white.
[My apologies to my readers and beloved Ms Truss for the improper indentation and spacing in the above examples, but wysiNOTwyg editors are a pain in my arse and I'm tired of fighting with Blogger's code! You probably get the idea though.]

And clearly, at some point, we as writers have to decide what the group of words mean. I often use the independence test.

    It was a dark night.
    It was a stormy night.

But while
    It was an endangered rhino.
    It was a white rhino.

both work as independent sentences, they tell more as a single whole. However, this isn't the best example since there are actually no white rhinos, no off-white rhinos, no eggshell rhinos. (And yes, I can tell you the derivation of the misnomer 'white rhino' if you are really interested.) White rhino is actually the common name of the animal, like Thomson's gazelle or Asian elephant or great white shark. But if I write, "the great, white whale," you'll probably think "Hey, that's Moby Dick" even though "it was white and great whale" doesn't make quite as much sense. However:

    It was a white whale.
    It was a great whale.

Makes sense just fine, right?

Happy punctuating!

29 January 2013

Acknowledgment and Thank You

I would like to publicly acknowledge and thank those that have helped me as I've worked on Perfect.

First off, my critique partners from Westside Writers:

Also, for answering my question about bees and honey, Nick Nickels.

And of course you, gentle reader, for following Perfect.

A little more about Episode Fourteen ♦ Discomfort

All writers, all artists, like to experiment with their craft. I am no exception. However, when we drift into new or unknown territory, we may often be left with feelings of uncertainty or even displeasure.

Such was my experience with this episode. While I liked the general idea enough to write it, I wasn't quite sure it worked. I had a range of reactions from my critique partners. Some really didn't like it at all, others clearly got it and had fun with the new characters. What do you think of this episode?

While I don't usually comment on an episode, especially when it's first published, this time is different. The preference is to the let the work stand (or not) on it's own merits. I'm reluctant to tamper with that, but readers need to feel certain that, like all my writing, I'm careful in my choices and there are reasons behind everything in my work. This episode is no exception.

It was fun to play with the concept of having a single character talk through an entire episode. But more than talk, this is no lecture. He just goes on and on and on and on. We've all met people like him and while no single individual in my world has been Matt -- other than maybe the author -- we've all had encounters like this where strangers just keep talking. And then there's the TMI...

The other thing I find quite interesting is readers' reaction to the idea that George might be flirting with Matt in front of Anita and Parker. This online lookup of the verb "flirt" in the Oxford Dictionary of American English reveals the following:
flirtverb1 [no object] behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions:it amused him to flirt with her
  • (flirt with) experiment with or show a superficial interest in (an idea, activity, or movement) without committing oneself to it seriously:  a painter who had flirted briefly with Cubism
  • (flirt with) deliberately expose oneself to (danger or difficulty): the need of some individuals to flirt with death
Maybe in my world, flirting with someone isn't quite the same as coming on to someone. And yes, I know that for many couples, even looking at another will be the cause of long, protracted argument. But it's still fun to see the strong emotions this one word (out of almost 1900) elicits from readers.

Is George a bad person? Is Anita overreacting to George's apparent interest in Matt? Is George simply excited to be around a couple of gay guys? Really, that's for you to decide because once George left my mind and entered the ether, he lives and acts in your mind as much as anyone else's. Including mine. But I get to enjoy deciding what happens to him next!

Cue wicked laugh and video of author rubbing his hands together.

And now for something different, A New Episode!

Last time, Anita and George (the aliases of Avinashika and Luis) were left in the middle of the forest on a concrete platform next to The Track. While we knew something would happen, their next pair of helpers comes with one of those really friendly guys who loves to talk!

Time for the further exploits in Perfect, Episode Fourteen ♦ Discomfort


15 January 2013

New episode added

Well, this is the first time I have simply updated the episode -- no changing the website, no reformatting this or that -- it's just all right there.

02 January 2013

Perfect, Episode Twelve Available

Last time, Luis and Avinashika were contemplating Informateur replacement or removal. What did they do?

Find out in Perfect, Episode Twelve ♦ Identity