Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Housekeeping Miscellany

Today is not Word Nerd Wednesday. My sincere apologies.

Instead, a few housekeeping duties:

First, an announcement.
In a wild attempt to meet a major deadline, I'll be absent from blogland, Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much all of the Internet except for some minor e-mail checking here and there for the next couple of weeks.

I hope I survive.

Second, well, another announcement.
On Thursday (that would be tomorrow), September 24, I'll be speaking at The Book Academy, a new writing conference sponsored by Utah Valley University.

Check out their site for more information and how to register HERE. (I'm speaking during the 10:10 breakout workshops. The conference bookstore will have copies of There, Their, They're available for purchase).

Third, I've been horribly remiss in acknowledging two bloggy awards I received some time ago.

Time to rectify the matter.

The first was from Amber Lynae:

The second was from
Chas Hathaway:

Aren't those rockin' awesome?! Thanks to both of you! I was sincerely touched by both awards.

The Superior Scribbler Award is to be passed on to bloggers I think are great writers, and the Lemonade Stand goes to bloggers I'm grateful for.

Even though I was majorly negligent in not passing them on when I was awarded them (I plead busyness, forgetfulness, and deadlines . . .), I'm going to cheat by passing them both on in one fell swoop to five bloggers: people I think are both great writers AND whom I'm grateful for.

Frankly, in blog world, those two requirements aren't too tough to find in the same people. I've found tons of great writers and friends I'm grateful for. In fact, there are WAY more than five who have enriched my life in both those ways.

I've given bloggy awards to many friends in the past. This time I'm purposely looking to award bloggers I've "met" relatively recently, ones I'm quite sure I have not awarded something to in the past and who have not received either of these awards (at least to my knowledge) yet:

SHER the Love! Sherrie is not only an incredibly talented musician (remember the music on my book trailer? If not, take a listen HERE), but she's also one of the most real bloggers I know. She just says it like it is. I love that about her. I've had the chance to meet her a few times, and she's just as real and awesome in person as she is on her blog. Check out her music website HERE.

Sarah M. Eden. One of my newer writer buds and easily one of the funniest people I know. I have to be careful not to be drinking anything when I open her e-mails or read her blog, because if I am, there's a good chance I'll be snorting and spewing whatever I'm drinking all over the monitor. Her "I Need Friends Friday" series is nothing short of brilliant and hilarious. Oh, and she's one talented novelist as well. (Plus a very deserving Whitney Award finalist last year. Her next book will be out with Covenant next year. Woot!)

Duck, Duck, Cow. She recently de-lurked on my blog, so I found hers, and then I won a bunch of wowzer-yummy gorgeous cupcakes. How can I not love this woman? Seriously, aside from her serious baking skillz (and obvious skill in picking winners!), she's darn funny, and I love her blog.

Pensievity. While she was living in Brazil, I was fascinated by her life there, which she blogged at The Misplaced Americans. Now she's back in the States with a new blog and a new look, but her writing is still fabulous and insightful. Plus drop-dead funny at times.

Mommy Snark. She's another relatively new bloggy friend but one I've come to really enjoy. Plus, she's an aspiring writer, so, ya know, the kind of person who kinda gets me. Be sure to check her out. (I've discovered her sister recently as well . . . I feel so cool.)

So there you have it. Ladies, consider yourself awarded twice over.

See you all on the flip side of my bloggy break!

I really hope it won't take me too long to reach this deadline. If it does, I'll go through some serious Internet withdrawals, and it won't be pretty. (Picture me shaking with DTs as I click on "mark all as read" on my Google Reader . . .)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Clock Obsession: This One's For You, Hon

See, I have this problem.

Rather, I don't see it as a problem. The whole thing makes sense to me in my own little crazy wonderland. But five other people in this house have to live with it. The kids just have to suck it up; they're the kids, so they just have to deal with it. But it's a little harder to do that when you're an adult.

Like, oh, a husband.

Here's the thing: My poor man never knows what time it really is.

I don't recall exactly which recent event prompted the comment (I think it had something to do with setting my alarm earlier to reflect a different time for my snooze but not adjusting the actual clock time). It was something crazy and illogical but made perfect sense to me in a bizarro world kind of way when it was late and I was tired.

In a fit of laughter, he called out, "blog post!"

He was spot on; if he had a personal blog (which he doesn't), it would have made great fodder with which to mock me (which I know he wouldn't have).

So, hon, I'm going to mock myself here on your behalf. Because really, such great material can't be passed up, even if it is me making fun of myself.

The problem: I like to set clocks ahead. That doesn't make me too different from a lot of people, but apparently, I've taken it beyond a hobby and turned it into an Olympic sport.

With the exception of my husband's personal ones, nearly every clock in the house is set ahead by a different amount of minutes.

Contrary to what it might seem, it's not a bunch of random craziness. I do have a system. (I can already hear the men laughing. Shush. I do, too, have a system.)

The stove clock is set ahead by two minutes. I do that because when I'm leaving the house, I know that's the time it'll actually be by the time I get my shoes on, grab my purse, get in the car, and pull out of the garage. See? It makes perfect sense.

The clock on the mantel is set ahead by ten minutes. This is more for the kids' sake so they see it and think they're late for school and get moving faster. But it helps me, too. It takes them about ten minutes to finish brushing teeth, getting on shoes and finish zipping up backpacks, and for me to then gather the family for morning prayer and finalize all the little things. So if we're at the final "prep" stage when the mantel clock says it's really time to leave, I know we're right on time.

(Totally logical. Told you. Is, too! Okay, maybe it's a tiny bit weird . . .)

My nightstand clock is eleven (twelve?) minutes ahead. It tells me roughly what time it'll be if I hit the snooze once in the morning, crawl out of bed, and then stumble downstairs to wake up the kids . . . that way they wake up right at seven, but I've been up two minutes before that. (See? I'm such a genius . . . Or a nut case. Whichever.)

Setting my own clock ahead by twelve minutes also helps me know what time it'll be when I actually fall asleep, because pulling up the covers doesn't count as sleep, and I really do need over 8 hours to function. So seeing the clock ahead actually helps me get enough sleep; it encourages me to get into bed earlier.

My extra twelve minutes also help me get ready faster in the morning. If I need to make it on time to an appointment, I should be walking out the door when the clock says I should be there.

(Dang. The longer this goes, the nuttier I sound, even to myself.)

Then there's the minivan clock. It's set four minutes ahead. That's about perfect for letting me know when I'll be arriving at the school to pick the kids up or for other minor trips.

See? It all makes sense. (Shut up. Does too. Fine. I might be slightly off my rocker . . .)

I have two clocks running on exact times. One is above the pantry. It's a giant, decorative clock hanging so high up it takes a 9-foot ladder (and a death-wish) to reach. So half the year it's the right time, and the other half it's off by an entire hour, because I'm not about to risk breaking my neck to change it when daylight savings ends.

The other clock that's on time is the little one in the bathroom next to my sink. It's an atomic clock, so I can't set it ahead. I have to live with the insanity of the correct time on that one.

Darn it.

My downfall is the school clocks. The elementary school and the junior high school clocks aren't in sync with each other. One is supposed to have its five-minute bell at 7:55 and the other is theoretically at 8:10. But even adjusting for my clock resetting, one is really at 7:56 and the other is at 8:08.

What the heck?!

I recently ranted and raved about this disparity to my husband. My time-keeping system requires that other clocks work around the proper, exact times. Having the schools not run on the correct time seriously messes with my mojo. One is a minute late and the other is two minutes early?

Sheesh, people! Get your act together!

My husband looked over with a chuckle. With a smile, he said, "Welcome to a small piece of my world."


Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XXVIII

Terrified over the idea of doing something so far out of my comfort zone as a cookbook (talk about getting out of your box . . . I couldn't even SEE my box at this point, I was so far out of it!), I debated. Could I do this?

Several questions bounced around in my head.

First off, was if it even feasible for me to do a chocolate cookbook on my own?

If so, what kind of angle would I take on it?

And if I managed to pull this whole thing off, could I get Covenant a manuscript as fast as they wanted it?

First things first, I decided.

I really couldn't think about it at all until after the blog tour for Tower of Strength and the LDStorymakers conference and Whitney Awards gala were all over. (Oh, yeah, and ironing out that little grammar book . . .) I just didn't have the brain power or the time to devote to yet one more thing right away.

But as soon as the dust cleared from the conference, I gave the cookbook some thought, and realized a few things.

The most important one was this:

Largely thanks to Mel, I really do know a few things about chocolate that the average Joe does not.

No, I'm not an expert (far from it!), but she's taught me a lot over the years. We sisters got together often around the holidays to make neighbor gifts, and it was always something to do with chocolate, of course. Over the years, I've made things that I never in a million years thought I could . . . things that were now demystified and things I now learned were EASY but just looked hard.

And then I'd go home and make them myself with my kids. I made one of those things for a book club I hosted. It was something insanely easy, but the ladies were so wowed they ooohed and awed. I was stunned and tried to tell them that no, really, this really wasn't a big deal, but they wouldn't believe me.

Then there was the time I made chocolate bark for the birthday of a gal I was the visiting teacher for, and she was blown away by it because the bark looked so amazing. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I made the bark because I was in a hurry and that it took me less time and effort than a batch of chocolate chip cookies would have.

So the realization that I actually did know a bit about chocolate was quickly followed up by the answer to the next question:

What kind of chocolate cookbook would I want to write?

Thinking back on my own experiences, the answer was simple: a book the takes the scary out of chocolate.

It would be a book that makes people realize that they, too, can make cakes and brownies and cookies and chocolate bark and dipped strawberries and all kinds of other things from scratch. Yes, you can. And it's not hard.

Really. It's not.

Plus, you can do other really cool things, like chocolate tulip cups, and those gourmet pretzel rods, and so many other neat things that look impressive but aren't hard. They really aren't.

So that clinched it.

I am a kitchen idiot, and if I can do it, so can anyone else. I said yes.

Mel agreed to help me out as my go-to person when I ran into walls. She helped find some recipes as a payback for some of the work I'd helped her with on the show. I had others willing to give me aid in other ways. I figured that when summer hit, this would be the Lyon Summer of Chocolate (not unlike the Summer of George . . .).

I knew Covenant was hoping for a 2010 release, either for Valentines of for fall, right before Christmas. I told them I'd do my best to get them a manuscript with 120 recipes by the end of August.

I took a deep breath and dug in.

That's when question #3 came to haunt me:

Could I get Covenant a manuscript as fast as they wanted it?

Sure, I figured. I'd have to work hard, but if I kept an even pace and did 30 recipes each month between May and August, I'd hit my target. I'd be right on time.


Murphy likes well-laid plans. They don't call it Murphy's Law for nothing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WNW: Seinfeld Speak

I don't think there's ever been a television show that has had the same social and linguistic impact on English and our culture as Seinfeld. Even though there hasn't been a new episode since 1998, it's still in reruns, and my kids enjoy it (well, most episodes . . . some they aren't allowed see . . .).

Over a decade after the finale, Seinfeld's influence lives on in big ways. Part of that is the fact that the show, which was supposedly about "nothing," was really about everyday life, so there is almost no event that you can't find a Seinfeld episode to relate it to.

Recently, my husband was talking to some coworkers and referred to something as "Seinfeld-esque."

They knew exactly what he meant: something with threads that interconnect in a complex and unexpected way, often at the end, but may have been connected early on and you didn't know it.

He didn't say all that. He just said, "Seinfeld-esque." And they knew exactly what he meant. That's the kind of impact the show had. And has.

The writing was brilliant, which is why my sisters and I had a ball on the Kramer Reality Tour in New York back in '03 (see above). Mom wasn't all that familiar with the show, so she couldn't quite appreciate references to things like:
  • Festivus (complete with the aluminum pole, feats of strength, and airing of grievances)
  • Vandalay Industries
  • The Bubble Boy
  • The Magic Loogie
  • The Soup Nazi (we got to eat lunch there--and DANG his soup really is good!)
  • Marble rye, big salads, and chocolate babka
  • "Look to the cookie!"
  • "Serenity now!"
  • The Human Fund
  • Anti-dentites
  • The Kavorka
  • Ocean/The Beach cologne
  • Level-jumping in friendships
  • The Bro/Manziere
  • George as architect/marine biologist
  • Calling someone "breathtaking"
  • "I choose not to run."
  • An unusual "hole in one"
  • "These pretzels are making me thirsty."
  • "Can you spare a square?"
I could go on forever. The show was full of gems, and each one listed above refers to an episode that makes me snicker. True fans will recognize every one of those, I'm betting. (And could add many more to it.)

From a Word Nerd standpoint, here's the fascinating part for me:

Even people who say they don't know the show are still familiar with many catch phrases from it.

I had a friend who, during the height of the show's popularity, had never seen a single episode. Yet I caught her using phrases from the show. She didn't even know she was doing it, of course, because she'd never seen it. But the phrases had worked themselves into the culture.

Sometimes Seinfeld coined the phrases. Sometimes the show used already existing phrases, and suddenly everyone was using them because of the episodes that made them famous.

Here's a few:

Yada, yada, yada
This way of getting to the point, skipping over either a boring or secret part of the story, came from a Seinfeld episode where one of George's girlfriend skipped over things like, oh, her shoplifting habit.

I'm guessing (but I'm not sure) that people used this term before the episode where George is at a funeral and redips his potato chip in the dip and promptly gets chewed out by a family member of the deceased. The scene became so memorable that the phrase promptly became a popular part of the lexicon.

An entire episode was built around the concept of whether it's okay to regift, and if so, then can't you also degift?

Hand Sandwich
You know this one: the type of handshake where the other person grabs your hand with both of theirs in a hand sandwich. Annoying.

High talker/Low talker/Close talker
These are all types of speakers who make it difficult to hear what they're saying to you. High talkers have voices with pitches so high they're hard to make out. Low talkers speak quietly. Jerry really could have used a volume control on the low talker so he could hear her request and not end up wearing that hideous puffy shirt on the Today Show. A close talker is a person who has no clue on personal body space.

A combination of the terms "male" and "bimbo." Therefore, a male bimbo.

Vomit Streak
A long period where someone's managed to not vomit, such as a good decade or more.

An annoying term of endearment between a boyfriend and girlfriend that drives others nuts.

I'm sure others used this term before the show, but it exploded after Seinfeld.

Same here.

Little Man
This is sort of the inner voice in your head, your conscience telling you what to do. The voice you should listen to. The one Jerry rarely listens to, of course.

A version of the concept of "having the upper hand." If you "have hand" then you've got the upper hand in a relationship. If you've given up your superior position, you've "lost hand."

What they tried to do to Jerry's car after a valet driver with beyond BO drove it. Didn't work, unfortunately. It smelled so bad that Jerry tried to let his car be stolen, and even the thieves wouldn't take it.

The Second Button
The series begins and ends with a debate on the location of the second button of a shirt, and how that location makes or breaks the entire shirt. Too high, and it's awkward, too low, and it ruins the look. Scary thing? They're kinda right on that.

Worlds Colliding
We learn about Relationship George and Independent George and how his two worlds cannot mix without Independent George vanishing for good. We've all experienced those bizarre moments where our worlds collide, whether it's high school self and current-day self or work-self and church self.

I'm sure my readers can come up with more.

I read blog posts or hear stories throughout my days, and it's a rare week where I don't come across something that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. That's how good the show was at understanding humanity and daily life. (It's also evidence that I've watched a few too many episodes . . .)

Recently on a friend's Facebook status, she was having a bad day and wrote, "Serenity now!"

I laughed and responded with, "What you need is a Festivus miracle."

A good chunk of her friends began adding their own Seinfeld references, knowing immediately what she meant. They were all referring to a show that's been off the air for over decade. You can't tell me that's not significant.

A couple of weeks ago on WNW, I mentioned Catch-22. The author, Joseph Heller, managed to get a single word into the lexicon, and it's stuck for nearly fifty years now. I consider that a huge accomplishment.

Yet Jerry Seinfeld and his show got dozens of words and catch phrases into our language. Whether they'll all still be here in fifty years, I don't know. But we're coming on twelve years now, and so far, so good. How did they do that, and what does it mean about their show and our society?

I'm sure someone has studied it, but all I can say is WOW. For our family, one thing it means is that we still TiVo the reruns.

One more:

"Seinfeld . . . four!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kicking Butt on "Cat's in the Cradle"

As far as I can tell, I might be the only person on the planet who absolutely detests this song. If you're unsure which song I mean, you can listen to it below. For me, hearing just the first few notes alone makes me nauseated, so I won't be playing it, but feel free to listen to the whole ugly thing if you want to:

Fair warning: if you love this song, stop now. Don't read this post, because I'll probably ruin the song for you forever. Seriously, stop reading right now if you have fond feelings for it.

Still here? Okay . . . you've been warned. I heard it at the grocery store the other day, gripped the cart harder, and I think my lip turned up in a snarl. Blog it! came to mind, so you can thank Albertson's for today's post (and my overly loud opinions) for the chance to get it off my chest once and for all.

So many people think "Cat's in the Cradle" is such a great, nostalgic piece, a song that not only has a simple, wonderful tune with clever lyrics, but it serves as a warning to parents to not throw away the time we have with our children. To relish the now.

Wow. Sniff. Let's wipe away a tear.

Or something.

Then, for good measure, there's a nasty little warning thrown in: if you don't spend time with your children, they'll turn out just like you, the person who threw away cherished time! (THE HORROR!)

Obviously, I'm being snarky--evidence that I have issues with the song.

First off, I prefer any work (song, book, etc.) to not browbeat me with the message. If there's a message, fine. But don't use a hammer to slam me over the head with it repeatedly to make sure I not only got the message but feel totally guilty for any parenting mistakes I've ever made.

Let me figure out the message on my own, thanks. Assume I have a brain. That way, not only will it stick better, but I won't feel preached down to. I swear, this song is one of the most didactic, preachy things I've ever heard. (Message: guilt, guilt, guilt!)

Second (and this is where I get REALLY annoyed), the song's own lyrics don't hold up what it's trying to preach.

Let's take a look-see:

The father is a self-centered, immature dork. I don't think Harry Chapin himself would argue that, since it's sort of the point. The father has no time for those he loves, as evidenced by when his son repeatedly comes in each verse asking to spend time with his father. Of course, each time the father blows him off.

At the end of each verse, after being denied time with his father, the son turns back and says the haunting little promise/threat, "I'm going to be like you, Dad. You know I'm going to be like you."

So here's the big question: Does the son turn out like his dad?

The song declares that he does. I say he doesn't.

Okay, sure, the son's a bit self-centered in the verse where he's in college. But all adolescents go through the stage where friends become the center of their lives and parents tend to become less important. That's actually rather healthy, as much as we parents don't like it when our kids become independent and take on their own lives.

But it's the next part that really gets me: it's where the son is a husband and father himself.

Is he really like his dad?

I say, no way.

Here's why:

The tables have been turned. The father is all proud and decides that now he wants to spend time with his son. In other words, the father is still a self-absorbed, immature dork. He still wants things to happen on his timetable, and to heck with everyone else's.

He calls (by all accounts, out of the blue) hoping to spend time with his now-grown son. He doesn't ask to see if there would be a good time to get together. He tries to get together right now. Today.

The son says he'd love to see his dad, but right now isn't the best time because:

1) He has a new job keeping him hopping and

2) The children have the flu.

Both very good reasons not to meet now. Let's look closer at the son's reasons:

1) He is a mature man who understands that supporting his family is of the utmost importance, especially with a brand new job.

(I'm sorry but who in their right mind would blow off the duties of new employment just to do lunch with Dad? And what older parent would expect such a thing from his son except for an immature, stupid jerk?)


2) The children have the flu. The son is obviously helping his wife take care of their sick children. Which means he is spending time with his children, something his own father never did. Hello?!

Both of the son's reasons for saying no reveal that he never did turn into his father.

He's a better man, a better father than his own. He's not a selfish dork whose life revolves around himself. Instead, he's a mature man whose life revolves around the family that he's currently raising.

His life just doesn't happen to revolve around his self-centered, egotistical father.

And that is exactly as it should be.

If the son had answered the phone call with, "Sure, Dad, let's go out to a movie," and left his wife alone to care for the feverish, miserable kids by herself, he would have deserved a smack upside the head.

But he doesn't do that. He knows his duties as a father and a husband and stands by them. To heck with Dad, who was never there for him when he was a boy. Instead, he is there for his own wife and kids, thank you very much, probably cleaning up vomit right next to his wife.

In the meantime, the father is still immature and selfish, expecting the world to revolve around his desires, expectations, and timetable. If he can't have what he wants when he wants it, then whiny, whiny, whine, my son's grown into a selfish person. Um, no. But the father can't see beyond himself.

This is why I cannot hear the song without wanting to tear my hair out.

One of the last lines just kills me: "My boy was just like me."

No! No, he wasn't.

Mr. Father Idiot, don't flatter yourself. You got lucky. Your son turned out great in spite of you. Just because your son isn't going out to dinner with you or otherwise hanging out with YOU (a person who totally neglected HIM) doesn't mean he isn't cuddling next to his feverish daughter with a book tonight, and it doesn't mean he isn't playing catch with his son tomorrow after a hard day's work at his new job.

You already know from his own mouth that he's taking care of his children in ways you never took care of your own.

This may come as a surprise, but that's how real parenthood works: it's about the children, the next generation. It's about sacrificing for them. It's not about you. It never has been.

Get over yourself.

Phew. Glad I got that off my back.

There are ways to write a song that make a parent want to grasp every minute with a child without preaching and without guilting them into it. (And without using faulty logic.)

The one below is one of my favorites. It could be because I have three daughters, but I weep every time I hear it, and it runs through my head often on school-day mornings as my girls walk out the door with their "school bags in hand." It makes me want to be a better mother, to "capture every minute."

Much better than that "Cat's in the Cradle" nonsense. Amazing that the two songs were written all of seven years apart from each other and have such different views of a similar topic (scare tactic versus uplifting and encouraging).

I'll take ABBA's perspective any day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XXVII

(Above, left to right, the "chocolate" sisters:
Me, Michelle, and Mel.

Mel's "fun" idea that she had while driving north on I-15 through the desert on her way from Arizona to Utah was about what kind of business she would like to do.

She'd been a caterer, done the whole dip the chocolate strawberries and make the wedding cake yourself thing.

She'd done event production, such as with receptions for businesses and the like (think Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner, the gal with the headset running the show).

As Mel drove on the open road, she thought that while she enjoyed the catering side, she liked the production end more. Hmm. Ideally, if she could produce any kind of event, what would she produce?

An event centered on chocolate. But what would that be?

By the time she reached Provo, the embryo of an idea had grown. It evolved into what eventually became the The Utah Chocolate Show, first debuting in 2004.

First we took a girls' trip with our mom to New York to see their chocolate show. (And take in a Broadway show, visit Ellis Island, walk through Central Park, see the Met, go on the Kramer Reality Tour [a must for Seinfeld fans!], yada yada.)

We three sisters were the founders of the show, with Mel, the brainchild and oldest sister, as creative director. I wasn't planning on being overly involved, more of a helper and cheerleader, since I was writing and mommying and everything else.

When Mel first asked if I'd help out, I said sure, of course. We all assumed I'd be writing website content and press releases and the like.

Here's the thing: We had no idea how much work this kind of event takes, especially in its first year. We also didn't know that in basically every case but ours, large corporations with huge staffs and massive budgets are the ones putting them on, not three stay-at-home moms. We were taking on something massive.

The result? Next thing I knew, I was Mel's assistant director. I was making executive decisions. I was doing sales and PR. I was freaking attending meetings with ABC and the executive producer of Good Things Utah. (And I've been on GTU a few times.)

Talk about surreal.

As you can imagine, trying to balance family, the show, and my writing career (especially as it grew), all became too much, particularly when the show's preparations reached critical mass each fall.

The show is always the weekend before Thanksgiving, so production craziness peaks beginning in September and never quits until the show is over. For a couple of years there, I had fall releases. Which meant I had a book to promote AND a new book to turn in AND a show to produce all at the same time. Falls were ugly for awhile there.

As a result, each year I gradually pulled back from my involvement with the show a bit more, until now, well, I'm not part of it anymore, which is truly bittersweet.

I attended last year with Will Call tickets waiting for me at the box office and walked through the hall, sat at a demonstration, saw all the booths (many of those business were mine; I first got them into the show), saw the chocolate wedding cake and photography competitions, peeked in at the classes, talked to my sisters, and so on.

In truth, I got a bit teary-eyed. It was hard to not be part of the show anymore, but the change was a necessary step. One person can do only so much, and if I had to pick between the show and my writing, my writing had to win.

So here's where this whole story comes back to my writing journey: Covenant has been well aware of my involvement with the show all along (because I, oh, gave them free tickets and whatnot).

Several years ago, they asked if Mel and I could co-write a chocolate cookbook. Sure, I thought. No problem. Mel is the kitchen and chocolate guru. She can provide the recipes. She's a good writer too; I could do most of the writing, and between us, we could do a great book. We had a 3-4 month window each year post-show where things were quiet enough that and we could get plenty of work done on a cookbook before show work ramped up again.

Two years in a row, starting in January (we gave ourselves a six-week break for things like, oh, CHRISTMAS), we tried to collaborate.

Two years in a row, it just didn't work.

We are two people who function on different wavelengths. (We are also two people with two versions of ADD. That made it interesting.) So while we love each other to pieces and can sit together chatting for eight hours straight (not even almost kidding), we just couldn't seem to write together. I sighed and reluctantly shelved the manuscript, such as it was. Collaboration just wasn't something that would work for us.

Then this last March I got an e-mail from Covenant's managing editor. It arrived right in the middle of writing There, Their They're, doing my blog tour for Tower, getting ready for the annual LDStorymakers conference, and finishing up my work on the Whitney committee--including doing all the Whitney reading I had to do . . . basically as I was doing my headless chicken dance.

The e-mail basically said: "Remember that chocolate cookbook we talked about years ago? There's an increasing demand for it. Could you do it alone? We want it out next year. How fast can you get us a manuscript?"

Mel was the chocolate guru. I was the show's writer and assistant director.

I stared at the e-mail like a deer in the headlights.

Umm . . .

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

WNW: "Then" Help

Reader question day here on Word Nerd Wednesday.

UPDATE: I originally wrote this post on a headache brain. Hence, I used the term contraction when I meant conjunction. (Yeah, I know. DUH. Like those two things are anything like one another.) Thanks a million to the alert reader who pointed it out so I could fix it and not look like a total idiot into the eternities.

I was recently asked something akin to the following (rephrased since I didn't get around to asking to use it . . . but I'm just going with it, because it's what I have in my head right now, and I'm guessing there are more people out there who have the same question . . .)

According to some advice I have received in the past, I should technically NOT write a sentence like this:

I tripped on the sidewalk, then dropped my keys.

My question is about the ", then" part.

This is all over literature. Good literature, too.

[The questioner went on to list several bestsellers, including a recent award winner]

So why do people say I'm wrong? I try to use both the comma with "and" as much as possible, but sometimes it sounds too heavy like that.

This is especially true when my priority should be trying to maintain a true teen voice. So what's the rule there?

Here's the gist:

I don't think there IS a rule about using a comma before
then, beyond the almighty Word putting the squiggly green line under it and proclaiming it wrong. (Can you tell how much I love that program?)

See, Word is wrong about 1/3 of the time on things like lie/lay, so you can't count it on it. Which is really a problem, because I think a lot of people, including editors, are starting to believe Word and its pretend rules. The idea of a second-rate program dictating our future grammar rules? That's scary to me.

Off my Word soapbox and back to using commas before then. Feel free to do it.

Granted, if you do it too often (just like if you do anything too often in writing), it'll get repetitive, and you don't want that. Oh, and then can't stand alone as a conjunction, so don't use it that way, but otherwise, heck, use it, I say. I do.

Okay, so follow-up issue: What's a conjunction? (So you can avoid using then that way.)

Conjunctions are words like
and, or, for, nor, yet, but, so: something you add a comma before and then use to combine TWO COMPLETE SENTENCES THAT CAN STAND ON THEIR OWN.

(Note: You'll find much of this in
There, Their, They're. Not verbatim, because I'm just writing it off the top of my head, but I use similar examples in it, and the concepts are there. You get it free today. You're welcome. :)

Here's an example of a sentence with two complete sentences inside it that are then combined with a comma and a conjunction:

He gave his wife flowers, and she smelled them.

If you take out the comma and the
and above, you have two complete sentences, grammatically speaking:

He gave his wife flowers.
She smelled them.

Totally lame examples, but they give you the idea.

Here we're using then correctly, because we don't have two complete sentences:

He bought his wife flowers, then gave them to her.

See how you can't take out the comma and
then and have 2 complete sentences?

He bought his wife flowers. [Complete sentence.]
Gave them to her. [Not a complete sentence.]

Therefore, we can combine the two without a conjunction--just with then. Once again:

Correct: He bought his wife flowers, then gave them to her.

**Incorrect** He bought his wife flowers, then she smelled them.

This time we DO have two complete sentences:
He bought his wife flowers.
She smelled them.

Two complete sentences. We need a conjunction with the comma to make it right.

Since then isn't a conjunction, it can't combine the two by itself.

Correct: He bought his wife flowers, and then she smelled them.

Now we have two complete sentences grammatically
and a conjunction combining them.

All is well with the world.

But while it's technically correct, people often hate the pairing of AND and THEN or other pairings of conjunction [OR and THEN, BUT and THEN, etc.] because it starts feeling heavy, as our questioner pointed out.

So here's my trick to avoid using both a conjunction AND
then: just rephrase one of the grammatically complete sentences so it can't stand alone. That way the conjunction isn't necessary and you can throw in then without it.

BUT we still have the question as to whether you can use the comma before then when there's an incomplete sentence (or subordinate clause, if you're getting all technical).

I say yes, the comma is fine, like with this sentence we used above:

He bought his wife flowers, then gave them to her.

Almighty Word, with its green squiggle, says no, that's wrong. It should be like this, without the comma:

He bought his wife flowers then gave them to her.

Both can work, but there's a subtle difference in tone and pacing between the two. Sometimes you want that comma pause. And that's OKAY.

My editor tends to lean toward taking out the commas before
then. Sometimes I prefer to leave them in for the sake of pause length or rhythm. Sometimes I let him take them out, other times I push to keep them in.

But if you've read all my books, you might notice far fewer commas before then in Tower than in any of my other novels.

That's because I let my new editor take a lot of my commas out. It was kind of interesting getting used to a different style. I sort of liked it. That, and I spent my time fighting to keep em dashes and semi colons. (Those tend to be more important to me.)

I've done a little digging, and as far as I can tell, there really is no a rule (or much consensus) about commas before
then being wrong besides Word hating them.

But then, Word has been known to mark so many things with that stupid green squiggle that I know for a fact are correct that I don't generally trust it with grammar issues anyway. Since we can't trust Word's grammar feature, don't stress it.

(I could do an entire post about how much I loathe Word . . .)

So there you have it: commas before then are okay, but not if you're using then as a conjunction.

Remember: I have a running list of possible topics for WNW, but if you have a specific question, please do pass it on (e-mail me or drop it in the comments), and I'll throw it onto the list.


Amazon's famous Prime Day events are huge for so many reasons, and for bookworms, it's even better: books aren't high-ticket ite...