Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt 13 Plurals, possessives, and ’postrophes

A number of eateries around here go by the name of Athens Pizza, and I’ve heard such good reviews of them, I’m tempted to give them a try. However, although their menus and online presence use “Athens,” each restaurant proudly proclaims, on at least one outside wall, “Athen’s Pizza.” 

If they’re as sloppy with their food as they are with their apostrophes...

It’s a shame that the plural and the possessive both involve the letter s. Some folks get so uptight about it, they toss in esses and apostrophes in the vain hope that some will stick in the right place. Girl’s’ room, hers’elf, Athen’s, Lan’sdale. The rules are simple in concept, even though the exceptions are numerous. Pay attention, now.

Most singular English nouns, including nouns that end in s, x, or z, form the possessive by adding ’s. The horse’s bridle, a girl’s hat, the car’s brakes, a worker’s income, the class’s assignment. You get the idea. Most plural nouns form the possessive by adding just the apostrophe. The horses’ bridles, the girls’ hats, the cars’ brakes, the classes’ assignments, the workers’ incomes. 

These rules are pretty obvious when applied to common nouns, as above. What about proper nouns (that is, nouns that apply to a particular person, place or thing)? According to CMOS, the same rules apply. Secretariat’s bridle, Lois’s hat, the Lexus’s brakes; the Lincolns’ legacy, the Andrewses’ house. Yes, that last one, funny as it looks, is correct. My last name is Andrews; my husband, kids and I are the Andrewses; we live in the Andrewses’ house. Good thing I don’t lisp. Theriouthly, when you run into a situation like this, rewrite to avoid such a silly-looking word.

To be honest, there is some leeway here. Some publishers will allow Lucas’ as the possessive of Lucas, for instance, as long as you’re consistent. 

You knew it would be more complicated than this, didn’t you? Well, you’re right. Some common nouns end in s and look plural, like politics, economics, species. These words take only an apostrophe to form the possessive: politics’ effect on government, economics’ beginnings, a species’ evolution. If I knew an easy way to remember this, I’d tell you. Honest, you just have to memorize it, or check CMOS or your dictionary. By the way, the singular form of species is...species. Not specie. Shudder.

I could go on about the exceptions to the general rules about possessives, but the best thing to do is to put a sticky note at the relevant page in CMOS. And trust your editor.

I do want to mention what Lynne Truss calls “the greengrocer’s apostrophe” or the singular possessive where the simple plural is needed. If you’ve ever seen Lemon’s for sale and wondered, “Lemon’s what is for sale?” or even “Who is Lemon and why is he/she for sale?” then you’ve encountered the greengrocer’s apostrophe. Of course, the correct phrase is Lemons for sale. 

And, while it’s not strictly about punctuation, here’s one final note. The plural of potato is potatoes; tomato/tomatoes. However, it’s banana/bananas, papaya/papayas. English is a little schizophrenic when it comes to foreign words ending in vowels. But please, no videoes.

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt 12 Apostrophes

When I think of apostrophes, I think of riding in the backseat of our green, split-windshield Chevy on the Route 1 bridge across the Raritan River. That’s because when I was a second-grader, reading in the car, I asked my dad how to pronounce I-S-A-A-C-that comma thing but up in the air-S. He insisted I dredge the word up out of my memory instead of helping me out. Thanks a lot, Dad.

Apostrophe usage can be broken down into two main categories—as a stand in for dropped letters in contractions or dropped figures in dates (can’t, didn’t, ’tis, the ’80s) or in non-standard English (Look ’ere, mate); or as an indication of the possessive (the cat’s bowl, Isaac’s book). Both seem relatively straightforward, but hey, we’re dealing with the English language here. It’s always more complicated than it seems. For today, I’ll just look at the apostrophe as a substitute. Next week I’ll tackle those pugnacious possessives.

[While I’m here, let me point something out. Notice that all of the above apostrophes have the tail pointing down and to the left. That’s as it should be. But many word processing programs treat an apostrophe at the start of a word (‘tis, ‘80s, ‘ere) like an opening single quote, with the tail pointing up and to the right. What a pain. Your work will look more professional and your editors will bless you if you correct this error. Here’s a tip: click CTRL + the apostrophe, release, then type the apostrophe. This tip also works when you need close quotes after a dash. The program will want to use opening quotes. Just click CTRL + Shift + quote key then release and type the quote. Ta-da!]

Contractions shouldn’t (should not) be much of a problem. We use them all the time. They’re (they are) often associated with forms of the verbs to be, to have, the various forms of will, would, should and with the negative not. Some examples:

I’m (I am)
You’re (you are)
It’s (it is)
We’ve (we have)
They’d (they had or they would)
Shouldn’t, wouldn’t, won’t, aren’t, haven’t, hadn’t

You can have double contractions. They’d’ve for they would have is somewhat colloquial but perfectly acceptable.

Below are some particularly irksome contractions that also happen to be homophones (words that sound alike).

Its vs. it’s
Its is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to it.” Every dog has its day. It’s is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.” It’s a three dog night. It’s been a hard day’s night.

Your vs. you’re
Your is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to you.” Is that your dog? You’re is a contraction for “you are.” “You’re sugar, you’re spice, you’re everything nice, and you’re Daddy’s little girl.”

Their vs. they’re vs. there
Their is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to them.” Their dog chases my chickens. They’re is a contraction for “they are.” They’re afraid of dogs. There is an adverb meaning “in that place” (Stand over there) or a pronoun used to introduce a sentence or clause (There is no reason to confuse these words).

For a delightful excursion into the history and use of apostrophes, check out Lynne Truss’ book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I promise you’ve never laughed so hard about punctuation.

Next week: Why I refuse to eat at Athen’s (sic) Pizza.

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

End of Normal by S. C. Arscott - Review from LASR

End of Normal by S.C. Arscott

End Of Normal
End of Normal by S.C. Arscott
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (216 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Richards’ last day of normal is just that, normal. She worries about impressing Sawyer Rising, the hottest guy in school, and argues with her mother. Everything seems fine except for that strange, glowing plant in the yard and her dad lying to her and deaf twin brother Charlie, which is the weirdest thing of all because their parents do not lie to them. Ever.
Normal ends as lights shoot out of the sky and turn into stinging drones, killing their parents. As he lay dying, their father gives them cryptic clues about coordinates and begs forgiveness before insisting they leave.
The twins join forces with Olivia’s boyfriend Axel, her best friend Clara, and heartthrob Sawyer. Together they go in search of answers only to find conspiracy, death, and an awful truth about their families.
Sometimes parents keep secrets from their kids, but most of them aren’t as dangerous as the one Olivia’s father has been keeping from her.
One of the things I appreciated the most about Olivia is how calm she stays in a crisis. She thinks through her options carefully before making a decision even when she’s in danger. This isn’t something that typically happens in this sort of tale, so it was a real treat to realize that the protagonist is such an intelligent and level-headed girl.
The pacing of this novel was disjointed. While the flashbacks to Olivia’s previous life were interesting, describing what her last few days of normalcy were like took up a disproportionate amount of space in the plot. These scenes would have made a good prequel, but they didn’t blend in very well with the fast-paced material that appears later on.
There are times when a book needs to be vivid and gross in order to get its point across. This isn’t normally the sort of thing I seek out in this genre, but it worked really well for this particular story. It’s hard to discuss it in detail without giving away spoilers, of course, but I was pleased to see how neatly the author tied everything together. Certain scenes would have been much less effective without these elements. I also thought I should mention it in my review because it’s something I would have preferred to know about ahead of time.
I’d recommend End of Normal to anyone in the mood for action-heavy science fiction.

Castles Burning by Keith Wayne McCoy - Review from LASR

Castles Burning by Keith Wayne McCoy

Castles Burning by Keith Wayne McCoy
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
Wil Warner is a tormented son tossed about by the waves of both parents. His father is a beautiful but simple father and husband, and his mother is a narcissistic woman obsessed with the art of acquisition and the relentless climb to the top of society. After his father’s death, an adult Wil is left to face the ultimate horror of his mother’s mental illness.
Not every terrifying thing in this world has a supernatural origin.
Horror isn’t necessarily just about blood and guts. One of the things that first attracted me to it was how versatile this genre can be. As a fan of Mr. McCoy’s previous work, I was intrigued by what he’d come up with this time as the last book I read from him was from a completely different genre. He made the transition nicely, though, and has definitely piqued my interest. It will be fun to see where he goes with his next project.
Even though Wil is the main character, there wasn’t a great deal of time spent developing his personality. Almost everything I learned about him was due to his reactions to his severely mentally ill mother. The glimpses of Wil’s harsh childhood made me wince, but I would have really liked to see more examples of how those experiences shaped him into who he became as an adult.
With that being said, secondary characters were well drawn. Stories that explore dysfunctional families are utterly fascinating to me. Almost anything can feel normal if someone is exposed to it early enough in life or for a long period of time, but that doesn’t mean that those things are actually healthy or safe. It was interesting to see how the people around Wil responded to their circumstances. Based on what I’ve observed in real life, it was also chillingly accurate.
I’d recommend Castles Burning to anyone who enjoys horror that’s set in a realistic, contemporary environment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt 11 Capping it off Redux

Last time we took a look at capitalization. Several comments came up that deserve clarification.

First of all, I’m not ashamed to admit I got part of it wrong. Or at least, I wasn’t clear enough. I included endearments in the list of words that should be capitalized--honey, dear, sweetie. Most often those words should not be capped. Only cap them if they replace the person’s actual name. For instance, if I call my sister Grumpyface rather than her given name, I’d cap it. (In point of fact, I do not call her Grumpyface. I call her Runs with Bears. But that’s a whole ’nuther story.)

Regarding the names of relatives: If you call you father’s sister Aunt Alice when you talk to her, do you also capitalize aunt when you talk about her? Yes, you do. Hi, Aunt Alice. I’ll drive Aunt Alice to the store. However, there is an exception. If you’re talking about an aunt named Alice, don’t cap aunt. I’ll drive my aunt Alice to the store, and my brother will drive my aunt Gert to church. 

Thanks to my gentle readers and fellow editors who questioned me on these issues and made me think harder and more clearly about them. Learning never ends.

The permutations of capital letters are nearly endless, especially when language is changing as fast as it is now. When I was learning grammar--heck, when my kids were learning grammar--a capital letter in the middle of word was unheard of. Now we have so many of them--LinkedIn, BrainBashers, InDesign--a new term had to be invented for them. Camel caps. When in doubt, do as I do and refer to CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style). 

Next time, the most misunderstood punctuation mark of them all--the apostrophe.

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tattle and Wrye December 2014



“Dashing through the snow, on a ton of books as we go.  CBG has the best and this garland is a mess, hey!"  sings Wrye as he attempts to unknot tattered old garland.

"Isn't it time you bought new garland?"  Tattle says as she daintily hangs an unrecongizable handmade ornament from her childhood on the tree. 

"I like this garland, belonged to my Auntie Tessie on my mother's father's side."

Tattle grins.  "Sentimental, are we?" 

Offering the manly jaw jutting pose.  "Hogwash, frugal."

Shakes her head, knowing the truth.  "Nothing wrong with hanging on to things.  Speaking of which, we're taking a Love of Literature Leap down sentimental lane, CBG books from a few years ago."

Tosses the garland aside.  "I'm game!  Let's leap!"

Roses are red, violets are blue, sci-fi BLADE DANCER by K. M. Tolan came first and ROGUE DANCER is number two.  It's our offering of the day, but DEFIANT DANCER, the third, will be reviewed possibly in May. 

Tattle reels off ROGUE DANCER'S addictive storyline in seemingly one breath.  “Ah, yes, Mikial Haran is back, a savior of her people, previously chosen to defend them from potential human encroachment that did not happen.  Heroine in waiting?  Mikial discovers Suria has undermined her. Does this foredoom?  Suria continues to discredit Mikial, hence the rising belief she’s not the savior which might get her arrested.  This smacks of treachery!  To make things complicated, to avoid civil war, she places herself under the shield of the most powerful of the Qurl Holdings, the Holding of Kinset.  However, to tangle the woes, she is accused of murder and flees Kinset.  Oh, what a muddled web has been woven.” 

“Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  Trouble is brewing.  Whatcha to do?”  Wrye skims a chapter or two.  “Listen to this, while trying to recoup, she has a vision.  Prophecy?  The mental mirage is that of a spaceship arriving in the desert at the ruins of an ancient civil war."  Wrye reads more and then sing-songs, "Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  She gathers together. An unlikely crew.”  

“So true, m’Blooming friend, and she plans on using the White Spear, a gruesome ancient weapon to destroy the trespasser.  Only all is not what it appears.  Da da da daaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

“Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  Tattle do you see?  A bit of romance, too?”

“Naughty?  Risky?  Steamy?  True?  Plus so much more.  This fast-paced story takes us from fierce combat to ruins to cascading waterfalls, spanning emotions, testing friendships, and the understanding that a repeat of history foretells a disastrous future.  Quell the beat of my now aerobic heart.” 

“Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  This sounds so good.  Give us another clue.”

“No more for you, Wrye m’Scribe.  One more book awaits for leaping sake!”

Tattle and Wrye abruptly find themselves in Ute Carbone's THE P-TOWN QUEEN, a contemporary 

romantic comedy.  

"Roses are red. Violets are blue.  If you want a bit of luck, I'd advise you to duck," shouts Wrye.

"As in quack?"

"As in down!"  Wrye yanks her away from the words blowing up a boat.

"Oh, wait...the Mona Lisa is not being blown up, it's just Nikki Silva's brothers teasing her about it."

“Mona Lisa as in painting?”

Wrye points to the storyline.  “As in a boat.”

"But she didn't blow it up," Tattle announces as if he had been the one confused.  “However, Nikki is certain her life is being bombed well-n-good.  A divorce survivor.  No funding for her shark research.  And, now, back home in Provincetown to live with her father.  Poor baby is feelin’ a little lost, but determined to be found.”

"Only, the darling has to present her newly written grant proposal to her ex-husband, Ned, who runs the Massachusetts Bay Commission."

“The very Commission who can grant her grant money for her beloved research.”  Tattle winks.  “Get it…grant her…grant money.”

“I get that Ned would rather give sharks the money rather than grant her anything at all,” Wrye confides, as he moseys around the story and snorts with laughter.  “This all leads to a comedy story d’force.”

“Now, for additional laughs….” Tattle giggles to reinforce her words.  “Roses are red, violets are blue, Marco Tornetti is hot, but Fat Phil Lagosa is not.  The former enters the scene on the run from the latter, his ex-biz partner sets him up to take a lethal ride.”

Wrye stumbles over a paragraph and chuckles.  “Marco escapes by hitching a ride on a bus filled with the Greater Teaneck Gay Men’s Choir heading to Provincetown, figuring Phil will never find him within the gay community there.”

Wiggling her brows, Tattle says, “Ahhhh, but it isn’t so easy to pretend he’s gay when he starts falling for Nikki.”

“This story has it all, tension, romance, and several chuckles over a belly laugh.”

“Only, no time to dawdle…we need to leap into a cyber stocking full of CBG Christmas books!

UNDERNEATH THE MISTLETOE by Rebecca Goings - Can Jeremy teach Faith about the magic of Christmas and get her to open her heart -- to him?

CHRISTMAS EVE-VIL by Angelica Hart and Zi - Resisting the advances of sexy Luke Calico isn’t Anya’s only problem, she must also hide from a malicious preacher and a demonic spirit trying to lure her soul.

REINVENTING CHRISTMAS by Linda Rettstatt - You can go home again but, as M.J. Rich learns, you can’t expect things to remain as you left them.

NOELLA'S GIFT by Donica Covey - A disillusioned cop, and a bitter woman. Can a little girl take the bah-humbug out of their holiday?

CHRISTMASIN' by Ed Williams - A deeply Southern Christmas Epistle that'll have you wishing Christmas really was every day.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy and healthy New Year!

Dona Penza Rutabaga Tattle, Esq. and Associate Wrye Balderdash of Blather City, Wannachat


Created and written by
Angelica Hart and Zi

Books by Angelica Hart and Zi

Books by Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Punk-EEK Pt 10 Capping It Off

A capital letter can change the pronunciation of one word in English. Do you know what word that is? Answer at the end.

Strictly speaking, capital letters, aka upper-case letters, are not punctuation, but we’ll treat them as such here. The basic rules for capitals are very easy:

1. Start sentences with a capital letter. Most word-processing programs will do this for you if you forget. 
2. Use a capital letter for proper nouns. (Improper nouns don’t deserve them.)

As always in English, there are exceptions. If the first word of a sentence is a proper noun that is not capitalized, you don’t have to cap it here. For instance, my son Jack used “jaQ” as his musical nom de guerre. jaQ Andrews is a guitar-pickin’ genius is therefore correct. As is e.e. cummings is an intriguing poet. (For foreign names that include a particle, such as Jaques de Vaillancourt, consult CMOS.)

The second rule is the one that trips people up. Not because it’s hard to understand--if it’s a proper noun, capitalize it--but because the definition of a proper noun is a bit hazy. In theory, it’s straightforward. A proper noun is the name of a particular person, place or thing. Nikki Andrews, Pennsylvania, Legos are all proper nouns. But some nouns can be
proper sometimes, common other times. Everyone has a mom. You’re special, Mom. Or The doctor is ready. Thanks for your help, Doctor. When a noun is used as a name or a form of address, cap it. Some examples would be relatives (mom, dad, uncle, aunt, cousin, grampa), officials, ranks, or professionals (doctor, nurse, officer, duke, chief), endearments (honey, love, sugar). 

Don’t use a capital letter for occupations, even when combined with a name: writer Jessie Salisbury, architect I.M. Pei, poet Walt Whitman, district attorney Lee. Don’t use them for titles that indicate rank or office, unless a name is also used: the president but President Kennedy; the sergeant but Sergeant Smith. Hint: if you can use the with the occupation, rank or office, don’t capitalize.

When in doubt, check with CMOS or another reliable style manual, or your publisher’s style guide. Remember that modern usage tends to minimize capitals. Next time I’ll go into some more detailed examples. If you have a question or a situation that puzzles you, I’d be glad to hear from you.

Click here to listen to an excerpt from jaQ Andrews’ CD Stars or Streetlamps.

Oh, and that word I mentioned at the beginning ? It’s Polish/polish. 

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Very Vampire Thanksgiving

Hi Everyone!

I’m delighted to visit the Champagne Book Group blog during this holiday week. In addition to roaming the blogosphere for my DESTINY book tour, I’m busy preparing for my real world, family Thanksgiving dinner.  We do a mix of traditional and California cuisine over here, with the requisite roast turkey and its fixings (stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, etc.) plus grilled fish, roast vegetables, and salads. Dessert is typically a variety of pies and assorted chocolates.  Okay, now I’m hungry! :-)

In honor of this holiday, I brought some of my characters with me today, to introduce themselves and share how they plan to spend Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Carina:  “Hi there. I’m Carina (Rina to my friends), heroine of Celia’s Tranquilli Bloodline Series. Dance club owner, vampire princess. For the past several years, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my friends: Adrian, Mark, Ren, Faith, and Kai. Adrian, Mark, and Ren are fantastic cooks. We usually do sushi, and grilled meat and fish, along with rice and noodle dishes. For dessert, we go for beverages such as port or cognac, paired with cheese. We’ll do exactly this for Thanksgiving this week!”

Alexander: “Hello. I’m Alexander, Carina’s fated soul mate. I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving in years. I look forward to my first holiday experience with Carina. No food for me since I’m a vampire. Blood for dinner and whiskey after.”

Jonas: “I am The Executioner. Duty calls on me every day.”

Thomas: “I am Carina’s vampire uncle and will attend her festivities while Jonas attends to our…enemies.”

Dixon: “That would be me, their enemy, Dixon de Champagne. I’m from England. Thanksgiving is just another day for me to pursue my blood vendetta against Thomas and the entire Tranquilli cosca. And by the way, Carina will be mine.”

Fineas: “Dixon, do you ever burn yourself with all that hot air you blow?  Hello, I’m Fineas, vampire extraordinaire, member of The Tranquilli cosca, and the life of any party. No Thanksgiving dinner for me, but you’re welcome to attend the wonderful, after-party in my penthouse. Not for the faint of heart, however. Or Dixon.”

Celia Breslin
urban fantasy & paranormal romance author

Love on the Wild Side
Twitter | Facebook | Website

Available now - HAVEN & DESTINY

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt 9 Putting on the breaks (Semi colons, dashes, parentheses, colons)

Okay, another bad pun. Sorry about that.

English punctuation has a sliding scale of stopping power. From the gentle lift-off-the-accelerator of a comma to the stomp-on-the-brakes of a period (and its relatives, the question mark and exclamation point), a full range of pauses is at your command. Let’s look at each one, shall we?

We’ve spent several sessions on the comma, which can be used to indicate the briefest of pauses or simply to provide clarity. Commas give you a chance to take a quick breath and let you know when you need to watch for a minor change in direction or a lower speed limit.

One step up from the comma is the semi-colon (;). It’s a signal you should move from the accelerator to the brake, but you don’t need to panic. In fiction, use it with restraint in narrative but rarely if ever in dialogue. Most often you’ll see it used to replace a conjunction between two short independent clauses: Fernando drives a Ferrari; Sebastian drives a Red Bull. In this instance, the conjunction could be and, while, or but. The two halves of the sentence should be closely related, just as they would be if you used a conjunction. Fernando drives a Ferrari; the sky is blue just won’t work.

Next up you’ll find the paired punc, parentheses and dashes. Parentheses are so lackadaisical they must always be in pairs. Fernando drives a Ferrari (the red car), while Sebastian drives a Red Bull (the blue car). Notice the closing parenthesis at the end of the sentence. The closing punctuation, whether a comma, period, exclamation point, or question mark, goes outside the parentheses unless it belongs to the words inside. Fernando drives a Ferrari (the red car), while Sebastian drives a Red Bull (is that the blue car?). Yes, you need the question mark, close parenthesis, and the period. 

If a sentence were the Indy 500, parentheses would be caution periods. The race goes on but not a lot happens. You can safely go for a hot dog and ignore what happens inside the parentheses or during the caution. Some publishers prefer to have no parentheses in fiction.

Dashes, in the Indy 500 scenario, are pit stops. They’re loud and important. What goes on during a pit stop or within dashes can make a huge difference in the race or in the sentence. Plan your pit stops carefully and use them only when you really want to make a point: Fernando drives a Ferrari—the fastest car on the track—while Sebastian drives a Red Bull—the most fuel-efficient car. Two things to notice here. First, when dashes occur in the middle of a sentence, you must use two of them. Don’t start the pit stop with a dash and finish with a comma. Second, a dash preempts a comma or semi-colon. See how I had to rewrite the sentence to delete the semi-colon and include a conjunction (while)?

Because the dash is so noticeable, use it with care. Make sure the information it encloses is something you want to emphasize.

Finally, the colon (:) is a red flag. It yells, “STOP THE RACE. PAY ATTENTION. SOMETHING BIG IS GOING ON.” The colon usually prefaces “an element or series of elements amplifying or illustrating what has preceded the colon.” (CMOS 15, 6.65.) I used the colon in this way in the fourth and seventh paragraphs in this post. In the UK it sometimes serves as an emphatic stop, but this use is generally not accepted in North America. The colon is seldom used in most modern fiction.

To sum up: to go from 60 mph to a standstill, use a comma, then a semi-colon, parentheses, dashes, colon, and period. 

Enjoy the race!

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt 8 Oh, the agony! The what?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had it with commas. Let’s talk about something else for a change. I know! Ever wonder about question marks and exclamation points? 

These two punctuation marks are pretty easy to understand. Just don’t ask me to explain why one is a “mark” and the other is a “point.”

Use question marks at the end of questions, and exclamation points at the end of exclamatory sentences. So far, so good. Want a few examples? You got it.

What was he doing? Was she wrong? These are clearly questions, so you need the question mark. But let’s rewrite the sentences a bit. She wondered what he was doing. She asked if she was wrong. Although these sound like a question, they aren’t. They are indirect questions and do not need question marks. What was he doing? she wondered. Yes, you’re seeing right. That’s a question mark in the middle of a sentence, and it’s correct. Notice there is no comma.

A one-word question doesn’t need a question mark: My dad said I couldn’t go. I asked him why. You could also say I asked him why not and still not need a question mark.

Exclamation points are easy, too. Use them to express an emphatic or strong emotion like anger or surprise. Danger, Will Robinson! Oh, you startled me! Sometimes a sentence that is a question in form, like Why do computers hate me? can be an exclamation, and should be punctuated so. Why do computers hate me! 

In order to be effective, exclamation points should be used with restraint. How many times a day are you really scared or really surprised? Let your text convey the emotion. Can you use both a question mark and an exclamation point!? No. Never. Choose which mark will best express your intent, and go with that one. And never ever use multiple exclamation points!!!

I once edited a non-fiction book by a local author. Great guy and a fascinating read, but boy, did he love exclamation points!!!!!!! I kept taking them out and taking them out, and he joked he’d lose three pages of manuscript before I was done. When I went to his release party, I gave him the hundreds of exclamation points I’d cut from his work, contained in a little drawstring bag. He tells me he uses it as a paper weight.

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt. 7 Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

Okay, my age is showing. Please don’t laugh at me. The point is, commas can do a chameleon job on a sentence. For example:

The driver who won the race was awarded a trophy.
The driver, who won the race, was awarded a trophy.

Although both of these sentences are punctuated correctly, they mean very different things.

In the first sentence, with no commas, any driver who won got a trophy. In grammatical terms, “who won the race” is restrictive. It restricts who gets the trophy.

In the second sentence, the driver, who just happened to win the race, got a trophy. In grammatical terms, “who won the race” is nonrestrictive. The driver got a trophy, and oh, by the way, also won the race.

Maybe it will make more sense in context:

1. The driver who won the race was awarded a trophy. The driver who came in second got a bottle of champagne. The other drivers received a dashboard plaque.

2. The driver, who won the race, was awarded a trophy. The pit crew was treated to a party. The team owner received a large check.

In example 1, “who won the race” specifies which driver. Only the winner gets a trophy. The paragraph concerns the rewards given to the participants in the race. In example 2, which concerns the rewards given to the members of a racing team, “who won the race” is just a bit of extra information and could be eliminated without changing the meaning.

Remember the example from last time? “I’d like you to meet my brother Dave.” The same rule applies. What this sentence means is, “I’d like to introduce you to my brother named Dave. My brother named Tom isn’t here.” Dave and Tom are restrictive because they specify which brother. (Not that either of my brothers has ever been able to restrict me. Hah.)

Got a headache yet? Don’t get too hung about the definition of restrictive vs. nonrestrictive. Just remember this--if the information in the phrase or clause could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence, you need to put commas around it. If the information specifies a particular person or thing, do not use commas.

Incidentally, another way to determine whether or not to use commas is to try putting dashes or parentheses around the words. If you could do so without changing the meaning, use commas. Be aware, however, that dashes are very emphatic, and parentheses are generally frowned on in fiction. 

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tattle and Wrye November 2014



“There is a bit of a delightful chill in the air, and so much to be thankful for in this month of turkey and pie,” announces Tattle.

Wrye slides into the room fully decked out in a tux and tails.  “Aye!  Even for those who don’t live in the States can join us in the Thanksgiving festivities and….”

Tattle interrupts as she spins about in her Victorian era outfit, “Aye?”

“If you’re going to dress like that, I’m thinkin’ I can talk in me own way.”

Tattle does the sigh and eye roll combo.  “Fine!  Now, we can go on and on and on about our American holiday and your odd choice of verbiage or we can get down to business and jump into our Love of Literature Leap, a review of TRACKS by K. M. TOLAN.”

Wrye proffers his arm.  “M’lady?”

Tattle takes his arm, muttering, “You are one strange duck.”


Tattle watches as the book’s paragraphs and sentences transform into a temporary reality. “So here it begins, in a field, where twelve year old Vincent Maloney and his seven year old sister, Katy, discover railroad tracks where there hadn’t been tracks just an instant before.  And within moments both their lives will alter forever.”

“Hmmm,” Wrye sniffs the air, checks out his surroundings.  “I can’t seem to track…” chuckles, “get it, track?  Track down the genre of this adventurous tale.”

“Well, it is sort of a fantasy with a vibe of sci-fi but it’s not sci-fi, it’s errr, wellllll, in a category all its own, a universe totally unique, and wonderfully different.  We’re in a place of knights who don’t look like you’re typical knight, hobos who are carded, steam children, yegg (monstrous beasts) and a mountain made of rock candy.”

“So like another planet?”

“No, the here and now.  A place that exists alongside us in a way.  It is here in the present, but not here… maybe.”  Tattle’s face twists with confusion but also a mischievous delight.  “The word that describes it all from prose to characters to storytelling is brilliant!”

Wyre’s expression mirrors hers.  “It is indeed and the story keeps you on the brink of anticipation from the instant the train soars by out of nowhere and Katy disappears right out of Vincent’s hand.”

“It doesn’t help that, in time, his father leaves as well, leaving Vincent to grow up with his mother’s hate and his life a tragic mess that has no escape.”

Wrye flips through pages and points, “Until he helps a stranger who is being beat up by two thugs.  Though he is too late to save the man’s life, the oddly dressed gent gives him an equally odd nickel that has been transformed with the face of a beautiful girl on one side and a bas-relief of two circles touching, a hobo sign.  With the man’s last breath he tells Vincent to save his sister.”

“Unfortunately, the cops think Vincent killed the man, and in desperation he goes home only to face his mother’s bitter hatred.”  Face tinted with sympathy Tattle goes on.  “Fury takes hold and he goes back to the field where his sister disappeared, determined to find the tracks, follow them and find Katy.”

“Instead,” Wrye adds, “he finds Hobohemia, a land of living tracks, trains with souls and the two men who killed the stranger.  As he fights them, they turn into yegg.  Samantha, a feisty, tough, angry, tragic, yet in all opposition, endearing character saves him from the monsters.  He alternately detests her and is drawn to her.”

“He eventually finds his sister in a state he doesn’t expect and to his dismay she doesn’t want to go home.  He also discovers the stranger who had been killed was his father as well as a gandy dancer with the moniker Cracker Jack.”

“Samantha takes Jack to meet King Willy, and he is given the moniker Brass.  Vincent is then set on a course that could lead to his death.  In the meantime, his sister is kidnapped by Bram Van Erie, the villain who had ordered his father’s death.  Now, Vincent with Samantha’s help, must also become a gandy dancer to restore King Willy to his rightful place, help a conniving, treacherous, yet lovable, Samantha, who he is falling in love with, from her own monstrous self and finally to bring Katy home. However, first he has to die, hitch a ride on the Westbound train to Hobo heaven (where his father’s restless spirit rides the rails), grab a piece of mountain rock candy and cheat death.”

“Is that all?” Tattle grins.  “Seriously, I repeat the word BRILLIANT!  The characters were dimensional and unexpected, the imagery was like watching a movie rather than just reading words, the storyline never gave you a chance to catch your breath. It was unlike anything I have ever read, and I couldn’t stop reading it.  I truly hope the very talented K. M. TOLAN creates another story in this universe.”

Wrye guides Tattle back through the leap, saying, “I agree.  TRACKS is such an imaginative work, where heroes aren’t who you imagine and the creativity of every scene is beyond what you could conceive.  Way to go, Tolan!  This is certainly his best work to date.  Keep them coming.”

We hope you enjoyed our review of K. M. TOLAN’s TRACKS.  Until next month, keep reading.

Dona Penza Rutabaga Tattle, Esq.
and Associate Wrye Balderdash
of Blather City, Wannachat

Created and written by
Angelica Hart and Zi

Books by Angelica Hart and Zi

Books by Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Punk-EEK! Pt. 6 More Commas

“Officer, I’m sorry I was speeding.”
“I’m sorry I was speeding, Officer.”
“I was speeding, Officer, and I’m sorry.”

Hands up if you’ve used one or more of the above. Me, me, and me. I drive like Danica Patrick, but I’m not as pretty. And I don’t crash as often.

Since we’re talking about commas, take a note of them in those first three sentences. See how they separate “Officer” from the rest of the sentence? That’s a rule for you to follow: Commas set off words of direct address. I’m sure you’ve seen books in which the comma is omitted before the name: “I was speeding Officer, and I’m sorry.” According to UK usage, you can do that. Publishers in North America frown on the omission, however.

I have to admit this is a pet peeve of mine, drilled into me by Sister Lucille in second grade. I can still hear one of the less gifted readers in that class. “See Spot run comma pause Jane period drop your voice. Run comma pause Spot comma pause run period drop your voice.” Poor guy. But the rest of us sure got clued in to using commas around words of address.

If you need a comma or two for setting off names, you can shift them from their erroneous positions after conjunctions. But she wasn’t speeding. And she didn’t get a ticket. So she got to the track on time. This rule highlights another pet peeve of mine: Do not use commas after conjunctions, even if the conjunction starts a sentence.

But, I hear you complain, you said to put a comma where you would take a pause if you were reading aloud. (And what about that comma after the first word of this paragraph? We’ll get to that.) A lot of writers use a comma to indicate the emphasis put on a conjunction. I like to drive fast. But, I hate to get a ticket. Yes, you can imitate spoken words this way, but that doesn’t make it correct. If you want to emphasize the conjunction, use a dash: But—I hate to get a ticket. Better yet, rewrite to avoid the problem altogether by making the rest of the sentence stronger. I like to drive fast, but getting a ticket is the pits. Or Even though I like to drive fast, getting a ticket sucks.

About that But, I wrote in the preceding paragraph. In this instance the comma is one of two setting off the interjection I hear you complain. The sentence would be complete and make sense without the interjection, right? It’s not essential to the sentence, so you need to set it off with commas. The interjection can be an independent clause (one that could stand alone as a complete sentence) a dependent clause (I bet you can figure that out), or a single word or short phrase (But, hey, you said…) Commas set off interjections.

Wow, three rules in one week! You’re on your way to comma mastery. For really fun discussions, see Lynne Truss’ wonderful book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Really detailed but not so much fun discussions can be found in CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style).
Next time: Comma comma comma chameleon

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.