Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cut to the Chase

Our house has a pretty miserable excuse for a tooth fairy.

Like one of the last times #4, thrilled over her latest lost tooth, put it under her pillow. I fully meant to engage the tooth fairy on her job before I went to bed. I really did. But I was tired. And I forgot.

In the morning, #4 came to me with a sad little furrow on her brow. "The tooth fairy didn't come."

#3, who is older and wiser and knows a bit about the ways of the world, helped distract #4 while I ran around the house for change and sneaked it into her room.

Turns out the tooth fairy just pushed the money into an awkward corner deep under her pillow so she didn't see it.

Phew.

Or something.

Yesterday, #3 lost one of her last teeth. An hour or so later, I walked into my office to find a 5X7 piece of red cardstock on my desk and a note from her on it:

Can I have a buck?

Plus a smiley face . . . and her tooth.

Smart gal. Might as well cut to the chase, get your cash, and not risk Mom forgetting to whip the tooth fairy into action.

Or something.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Top 5 Essentials to a Writer's Life

Totally stealing this idea from the current (Sept '10) Writer's Digest. It's their "Big 10" issue, where every article and department has a theme of 10.

One section has ten best-selling writers, each given a question with their top 10 answers. I'm going to answer some of those myself, only keep the answers to five instead of ten. (I'm no Jodi Piccoult.)

Top 5 Essentials to a Writer's Life

1) The Right Tools
This definitely includes a computer, because you simply cannot function in the modern publishing industry without one. That is, unless you're Ray Bradbury (who still insists on using a typewriter). But he's Ray Bradbury.

Some writers prefer drafting in longhand, so their tools include a notebook and pen or pencil. I can't do that, in large part because my handwriting is atrocious. One of my best tools ever is my Alphasmart Neo. I've done more drafting on that puppy than almost anywhere else, and it's made drafting possible in places a laptop or other device wouldn't be convenient.

I'd include books under this category. A writer must read. A writer must research. Books are the lifeblood of a good writer.

2) Brainless Time
This is time when my brain can wander around and be creative, thinking ahead to maybe what scene will come next, how to solve this plot problem, what this character is really like. If I use my brainless time wisely, I'll be ready to crank out 1,000 words next time I'm at the keyboard.

Brainless time is critical for anyone who isn't a full-time writer. (In other words, those of us not lucky enough to have big blocks of time to write. Or, most of us.)

3) A Solid Internet Connection
This can be both a blessing and a curse: if I'm not careful, I can "just" check e-mail or "just" read one blog, and next thing I know, two hours are shot, with nothing written. That said, e-mail is how I communicate with my editor, how I submit articles, how I communicate with my readers, how I, oh, blog. It's how I stay up-to-date on the industry and trends. It's a must.

4) Rewards
These can be small, for daily goals (I get a piece of chocolate if I finish this scene/chapter/reach my word count) or big (I get a massage when I finish drafting this book). Or somewhere in between. Really, it's scary how well bribery works on your inner writer. It's such a baby.

5) Writer Friends
If I didn't have friends who are as weird and loopy as I am, friends who get me and the way I think, who have been there and understand both the highs and lows of writing and publishing, I'd completely lose my mind. The act of writing is solitary; I desperately need links to writer friends to breathe life back in to me.

What are your essentials?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WNW: Rules? Who Says?

Several people have asked me recently about the rules of grammar and usage. Who makes them? What determines what a rule is? When and why and can we break them?

To answer that, first, we have to back up a bit.

Language evolves; we all know that. Take a look at the opening line of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original, and your eyes will glaze over. (That is English? What the . . . )

My dad has the first paragraph memorized, and when he recites it, it sounds stinkin' cool . . . but nothing like English.

My History of the English Language class was taught, as I've mentioned before, not by a linguist as it should have been, but by a well-meaning but ignorant literature professor who had no clue what the material meant. (Fortunately, I could go to Dad to figure out what the HECK she was teaching.)

But the workbook was helpful. It gave us exercises to show how the language had gradually changed in very predictable ways (if this vowel came after this consonant, it changed into this one). We'd apply the changes to Old English sentences and get Middle English ones. Then we'd get a new set of rules, apply them and, assuming we'd done the previous set correctly, we'd end up with Modern English.

It was way cool, especially to see how the changes weren't random, but very systematic.

We did similar things with sentences in a current dialect: BEV, or Black English Vernacular. Such "street" talk may sound random and just wrong, but even it is governed by its own rules (whether the speakers know it or not).

That was a lesson in a simple linguistic concept:

No dialect is inherently better or worse than another. They all have quirks and rules and structure. There is nothing in and of a standard dialect that makes it better than another . . .

Except for the fact that those who are educated have picked the standard as the dialect of the educated. They've selected it as the "correct" dialect, for lack of a better term.

Therefore, to be taken seriously in school, jobs, and other settings, a person must know the standard dialect and know its rules.

If you break the rules of the standard dialect in a situation where the standard is called for, you risk losing credibility and looking uneducated.

But break the rules of the standard by speaking your home-town dialect with family and friends, and that's totally fine. That dialect is what's expected of you in that environment.

Most of us have several of these "registers" (sort of like mini dialects) that we use in different situations. For example, I'd tell the same story to a gal pal very differently than I would to a police officer or my parents or one of my children. In each situation, I'd slip into a different register, using different vocabulary, sentences lengths, etc.

Okay, so back to the standard dialect and THE RULES:

The rules change gradually over time. Note the over time part.

A true change can take literally decades before it's accepted as a new standard.

So who accepts it as the new standard? Essentially, if the majority of educated, standard-dialect speakers view the change as an acceptable usage, it's considered a new rule.

Forty or so years ago, parents constantly corrected children asking, "Can I go to the bathroom?" with, "May I go to the bathroom?"

But the word can has since taken on a definition beyond ability. It also implies permission. Today, you'll occasionally run into someone old-school who insists on the old definition, but kids today will grow up with the new one.

Recently we watched an old movie that had a moment using can in the old sense, with an adult correcting the child, and my kids were genuinely confused as to what the problem was. (And these are well-read, smart kids, if I say so myself.) The rule has simply changed. Can I go is perfectly acceptable now.

Another rule that's on its way out but has a few die-hard people holding on is whom (and its cousin, whomever). There's a funny scene on The Office about when to use whomever, and it's a great example of how the general (educated!) public has almost entirely lost the meaning of whom. (Pam, the secretary, knows the rule. Michael, the manager, doesn't. Then again, I wouldn't call Michael educated . . .)

Today, whom is so rarely used that in my own writing, I avoid any sentence structure that would call for it, because it would draw attention to itself. Can you imagine Kim from Band of Sisters asking "To whom does this straw belong?" Um, no.

Other books, including the new Mockingjay, use who in places where the old rule required whom, which again shows how things are changing and how we're getting pretty darn close to having who being acceptable in every situation. (But not in everyone's book, quite yet. I'd give it another ten years.)

All of this is why, in casual conversation and on blog posts, I don't worry about broken rules and the like. Those aren't situations (or registers) that require the rules, such as they are, to be kept.

But in professional situations, such as in articles and novels and the like, I tend to lean on the side of being conservative, to be sure that my colleagues, readers, and reviewers are aware that yes, I am well-versed in the standard dialect and know its rules.

And this is precisely why I freaked out when a copy editor added a lay/lie error to one of my books. I caught it at the last minute (phew!). And yes, I know 99% of readers likely either wouldn't notice or care. But I do. And I know that there are readers who do care.

I also know that the distinction between lay/lie is dying, but, to quote Monty Python, it isn't quite dead yet.

So it's a good idea to learn the rules, including what's gradually changing and how close the changes are to being considered standard. Then use that knowledge in speech and writing when the register is appropriate.

Hanging out with friends, I could well say, "Me and my sister went to the store," but if I'm talking to a prospective employer, I'd rephrase it as, "My sister and I went to the store."

Because I know the rule and the expectations surrounding the standard.

Lots of rules are bent all the time, and you can definitely get on those bandwagons, but if you're hoping to be taken seriously in a professional writing capacity, you do need to know the "real" rules of the standard and know how to apply them.

But then you can have fun breaking them in dialogue, because your characters can speak in whatever register and dialect they want.

Monday, August 23, 2010

NOT an Anne Freak

I'll be back with my regular schedule soon. For today, here's a favorite post of mine from waaaay back, from March 12, 2007.

NOT an Anne Freak

I know this may come as a shock to many people. To many of my close friends, in fact.

But I am
not an Anne of Green Gables freak.

Sure, I have every single one of the Anne books. They're all dog-eared and nearly memorized. I own all the movies except for the last one, which is a vile thing that should never have been made. (Any self-respecting fan knows what I'm talking about, and I could go on a rampage about the timeline, the characters, the technology, and the sheer adulteration of all things Montgomery, but I'll spare you.)

I was introduced to Anne in the eighth grade. It was the year when L.M. Montgomery's books were being republished after a long time of being out of print, and I scooped them up as quickly as they were being reprinted (and as quickly as my allowance and babysitting money let me). I remember the excitement of buying
Rilla of Ingleside at the Farrer Middle School book fair.

My closest friends were doing the same, and we were all living the Anne life. We took long walks through nature and watched sunsets and ate cookies and had tea parties the way we imagined Anne and Diana might have. We started (okay,
I started) a creative writing club based on Anne's.

But there was a big difference in how the rest of them viewed our activities. While they imagined themselves as being Anne, I imagined myself as her
creator.

Forget Anne; I was Lucy Maud Montgomery!

Oh, I liked Anne. I still do. But I wanted to be the writer who made her up. I wanted to create a character and stories. I wanted the paper and pencil in my hands (or the keys of the typewriter under my fingers).

To this day, I have an entire shelf in my office that carries my LMM books. And it has a lot more than Anne; it has all of her books that I began collecting in eighth grade. At some point (when I really, really trust them) I'll let my daughters borrow them.

In addition to Anne, there's Pat and Emily and Marigold and Kilmeny and The Story Girl and Jane and Valancy and The Tangled Web and a slew of short stories. There's an autobiography. There's five volumes of journals. There's a CD of photographs and information about LMM's life. There's a first edition Windy Poplars. There's a volume that includes poetry and other writings that pre-date Anne.

If I'm being perfectly truthful, Anne doesn't even make the top three of my favorite LMM heroines. [2010 note: Those would be Rilla, Emily, and Valancy.]

To me, Anne is only a slice of who Maud really was. (No, she didn't go by Lucy. She hated that name.) For that matter, she only wrote eight books about Anne because the public demanded it. Even she got tired of Anne. Ever wonder why she started writing about Anne's KIDS?

I love learning about who she really was, what her life was like. How it differed from her books. (VERY MUCH.)

Some day I'd love to go to Canada and visit places that are special to her.

And no, it wouldn't necessarily be the Green Gables house, although that might be fun. I'd prefer the manses where she spent her married life and did the majority of her writing, and that might mean not visiting Prince Edward Island at all. Instead I'd go to Leaskdale and Norval, both not too far from Toronto, on the mainland. I'd visit her final house, which she aptly named Journey's End.

If I ever do go to PEI, I'll be sure to go to Park Corner and check out the little nail by the stairs that she used to measure herself on each time she visited her cousins. Those are the little human elements that make her real to me.

LMM has had such an impact on me that I've noticed phrases, characters, and even plot lines in my own work that hearken to hers--unintentionally. My computer is even named after her. (Maud, of course, not Lucy.)

As a nod, I try to read one of her books each year.

[2010 Note: Up next is Rilla of Ingleside, to me, the best of the Anne series.]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Listocity

It's the end of summer, which, for a couple of weeks, has meant being very busy.

These weeks have included things like spending several days at various events for the LDS Booksellers Convention, where I got to handle the one existing copy of Chocolate Never Faileth (with strong instructions that I MUST return it . . . very hard to do!).

Also had a family camp-out with Grandpa during which we played silly games, fished, and had a great time (yay for my parents being HOME!). Then came a Lyon family reunion (yay for having ALL the Lyon siblings in the same state!) and getting ready for school (NOOOOOO! Please, no more money!).

Then there was random chaos of various levels, such as all the laundry from the trips, the AC breaking, and other loveliness.

Hence, I've had spotty Internet access at best and very little time.

And, hence, a 2-week bloggy absence.

I'm back, at least for today. And yes, it's Wednesday, but it's not Word Nerd Wednesday. My apologies. :)

Today, a list:
  • Yesterday was my day over at the AML blog. I remembered late into the afternoon, but the post did go up on my assigned day, the 17th, so it totally counts, even if I was sleep-deprived and rambled on about three or four different topics. Read it HERE.
  • One event during the LDS Booksellers Convention was author "speed-dating." Writers were paired together, giving 3-minute pitches of our books to 16 different tables filled with book buyers (store owners and the like). The best part: I was paired with Mary Jolley, author of The Green Diet. Mary began with scientific and scriptural evidence supporting the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet free of refined sugars and other bad stuff. Three minutes later, it was my turn: YO, CHOCOLATE, anyone? (As we left one table, an elderly gentleman patted the cookbook and said, "I'm on your side." I was surprised at how many people seemed genuinely interested in both books. Paradox, anyone?)
  • It could have been worse; we were paired by last name. Which means I got this close to being paired with Michael McClean. How can you possibly follow him around for 16 tables, maintain your confidence in presenting, or make a dent when he's speaking to table after table of rabid fans? I think I would have hyperventilated. (Side note: Later that week, he was inducted into the LDSBA hall of fame. Really cool moment. Totally deserved.)
  • Instead of book buyers, one of the tables had a camera, and we gave our spiels to it. You can see me yapping at the camera HERE. Seeing the clip afterward, I wanted to smack myself. Why I kept looking to my left is beyond me, but hey, at least I'm not talking at the speed of sound, the clip shows the cookbook itself, and I give a basic idea of what it's all about. It was filmed in the same room as the rest of the tables, with something like 150 other people talking nearby, during a loud rainstorm. Ergo, there's a lot of background noise. Consider it ambiance.
  • The companion DVD for the cookbook is about to be filmed. And here's a really fun bit of news: my good friend Sarah M. Eden gets to be my co-host! If we can keep ourselves from getting too slap-happy silly during filming, it should be a great DVD. We'll see how many recipes we can pack in 60 minutes. Several of the recipes that'll be on the DVD don't have photos in the book, so this is people's chance to see some of them. Should be fun!
  • Speaking of Sarah, our publisher is looking for reader help in selecting the title of her next novel. Participate in the survey by clicking HERE.
  • For now, that is all. Except that I need dessert and an ice cream sandwich is calling my name.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

WNW: It Bugs Me Anymore

Some time ago, Erin asked whether any words were particular peeves of mine.

I could easily list of a bunch of broken rules that are peeves (many I've discussed here at Word Nerd Wednesday), but while I knew I had word peeves, I couldn't think of any offhand.

Then I heard one misuse over and over. That's it, I decided. Time to post that one. It's just one word, but a word that is constantly misused and has therefore become a hated one for me:

ANYMORE

I know, random, right?

But it's used incorrectly so often that it's like nails on a chalkboard to me. (The title of this post is yelling at me to change it.)

When anymore is correctly used, we refer to a way something once was, and then state it in the negative: It's not that way ANYMORE. Things have changed.

For example:

When I got my driver's license, gas was about a dollar a gallon. You can't buy gas that cheaply anymore.

I learned to type in high school, but with the advancement of technology, that's not early enough anymore. Kids needs to learn keyboarding skills in grade school.


THOSE ARE CORRECT USAGES.

What drives me absolutely bonkers is when people use anymore to mean nowadays. It's like they're skipping over the how it used to be part and landing on the anymore part.

Skip all you want.

Just don't use that word if you aren't using it in the negative sense.

WRONG examples:

Anymore, gas is so expensive.

Kids need to learn to type younger and younger anymore.


Shudder. Just writing those out makes me want to hurl something against a wall. Do you see why the post title is wrong? I hope?

When someone uses anymore incorrectly, they're thinking back on how something has changed, sure, but they aren't mentioning the current situation in the negative. There is no clear reference to the past. There is no anymore.

Easy tip:

Use anymore if you're using both sides of a direct comparison ("Things used to be like this, but they have changed and aren't like that anymore"), or if you're referring simply referring to a fact that HAS CHANGED and do so IN THE NEGATIVE ("They aren't as friendly anymore").

Use nowadays if you're just jumping ahead and discussing how things are now without a direct or implied comparison of how things have changed: "My kids do the lawn mowing nowadays." Note that we can guess that things used to be different, but there's no negative saying so. (Hence, no anymore.)


Here's the correct usage of both in two situations:

I don't mow the lawn anymore.
My kids mow it nowadays.

This radio station plays the weirdest stuff nowadays.
I prefer classic rock, but this station doesn't play it anymore.

Make sense?

My nerves thank you in advance.