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