Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Horrors of Homophonic Mayhem

by Janis Patterson

Their going to brooch the door, and it will phase them awl if they find the diamond pen.

Nonsense, right? Definitely, though apparently not a growing number of ‘writers.’ I put writers in quote marks, because an alarmingly growing number of scribblers are putting such egregious mistakes all through their books. How can you expect a reader to stay in a story when clangers like this have to throw them out?

To elucidate using the example above - their (possessive which should modify/define something as in their boxes or their time) versus they’re (contraction of they are, a plural with a verb).

Or - brooch (a decorative piece of jewelry, usually large, and pinned onto a piece of clothing) versus broach (to open, as in door or cask or subject).

Or - phase (a measurement of time or behavior) versus faze (disconcert or disturb or sometimes startle).

Or - awl (a tool for piercing something, usually leather or wood) versus all (the whole quantity).

Or - pen (a writing implement) versus pin (a pointed piece of metal used to fasten things, or a piece of jewelry fastened to a garment with such a thing). 

Though to be fair, though, in the last example one could have a pen (writing instrument) decorated with diamonds, though I expect it would be most uncomfortable to use. Another reason one must be careful in delineating exactly what one is talking about.

As the first sentence proves, depending on the usage of words and spelling a sentence can have a totally different meaning from what the writer intended or even become completely incomprehensible. No one should ever expect their reader to translate their work!

For example, I read not long ago about a character that was trying to describe a crime scene as ‘grizzly,’ which jerked me right out of the story. What on earth, I wondered, was a bear doing in there? I even looked back a few pages to see if I had missed the inclusion of an ursine character. Of course, it finally dawned on me that the writer was so disrespectful of her readers she didn’t bother to differentiate between ‘grizzly’ - a large brown bear native to North America - and ‘grisly’ - which describes something of horror or disgust.

Now some may say that I am being too pedantic, that such nicety of meaning is meaningless. Once on a romance critique eloop I made a suggestion after reading a sample that to make the book better the writer might wish to pay more attention to her grammar and word choice. I was astonished at the vituperation such a truthful - and practical! - comment engendered. One which I remember to this day castigated me as a bitter failed writer (I had published over 30 books at that particular moment in time) and that this (incorrect) writer’s emotion and honesty would touch more people than I ever could.

Well, maybe, but only if they could translate the writer’s gibberish into sensible prose. And they didn’t specify which emotion - heartfelt romantic resonance or disgust at such a mangling of the English language.

As writers our job is to communicate, and that can only be done when there is a common, understandable language. One of the difficulties in translating a work of either prose or poetry into another language is that of nuance; differing definitions render such a task impossible. On a less literary note, I can testify to this. For reasons I won’t go into now I read a Belgian newspaper daily; it is written in Dutch (it’s complicated) a language which I do not speak, so I use the automatic translator on the internet. The results are usually pretty good, but sometimes almost incomprehensible and others downright hilarious.

We shouldn’t have to face the same difficulties in our own language.

There are lists of words of homophones (sound alike but different meanings) and homonyms (spelled alike but with different meanings and pronunciations) and they are impressively long. I’m not suggesting we as writers should have to memorize them, but it would be better for our readers and for our own image as communicators if we at least learned to use the correct word with the correct meaning in the correct place.

After all,  when we brooch a knew subject we don’t want to create a grizzly mess and brake our readers’ trust!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023


 I've been so busy, now it's my husband that I'm having to tend to. He's 92 and does less and less for himself. We've been togehter for nearly 72 years. 

I squeeze in time at my computer in the early morning and hours and sometimes like now when he's watching his favorite NCIS--over and over. Fortunately, it's a very long running series.

Because I do work for people wanting to open licensed care homes for the developmentally disabled, I'm oftne busy writing their program designs--and checking out various regulations. I've been doing it for years. Interstingly, the requirements continue to change, so I have to keep up on those.

Last Saturday I went to my first in-person writing group meeting since the beginning of COVD. It was great seeing old friends, but not sure I'll go again. Planning for my husband made it a bit difficult. I need to accept that I'm in a different stage in life.

I'm still working on the last book in my Tempe Crabtree series, and since I have a break in other jobs, maybe I can actually get this first draft done.

My life has always been full of some kind of writing, and I don't see a change as yet.

What I do miss i going to in-person events and seeing prople and talking about my books.

Enjoy your life and your family and friends. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Terror of the Blank Page

by Janis Patterson

If there is anything that delineates the professional writer from the hobbyist scribbler, it is the respect of a deadline.

I will say here that there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, unless you misrepresent yourself as being a professional writer. While both professionals and hobbyists work at building things with words, there is a vast difference. The hobbyist either waits until his Muse (Calliope for epic stories/poetry or Erato for things pertaining to love, or even Sheshat, if you prefer the Ancient Egyptian pantheon) deigns to grace him with driblets of what the writer will doubtless regard as deathless prose. (It is odd that the hobbyist almost always regards his output as deathless and perfect, in contrast to the professional who more often than not never believes that his results are as good as they should be.)

By contrast, the professional knows that by a certain time he has to produce a certain number of words of a certain quality on a certain subject no matter if his Muse is standing over his shoulder or is on vacation in Barbados.

And that involves staring at a blank page, which sometimes resembles nothing so much as a hungry maw demanding to be filled. You stare at the page (or screen) and it stares back at you. It can be terrifying. Behind that blank page stands an editor waiting for the agreed-upon copy, or fans, or even enemies, all ready to pounce on your work and express their opinions. Even worse, they are all - metaphorically, one must hope - breathing down the neck of the poor writer.

Deadlines have variable beginnings - imposed by an editor, or in the case of the self-published or those writing on spec, by oneself, by long-standing contract or to be honest by just about anything. Their one constant is that by a particular time, market, circumstance and/or contract, or Heaven-only-knows what else, they are demanding taskmasters which must be fulfilled.

Oh, there can be certain exceptions where a deadline is either extended or vacated, but the time gained is hardly worth the bother. My own personal periods of grace have been granted because of severe illness in the family, a near-fatal car wreck, the death of a dear one, and other but similar disasters... Like I said, not worth it. I would rather fulfill a deadline no matter what the cost than face those horrors again.

So what is the poor professional to do? If you are worth your salt, you sit in the chair, put your hands on the keyboard and start churning out the words without regard to what siren call is trying to distract you. It doesn’t matter if the first few hundred words are total dreck. There truly is a reason the ‘delete’ key was invented! I regard this as sort of like priming the pump. (Do today’s people even know what that means? Putting water down an old-fashioned lever pump in order to create a sort of suction so pumping the lever will raise the water. TMI? But we gotta fill that word count however we can!) Remember the prolific Nora Roberts said, (paraphrasing) write, even if it’s garbage - you can fix garbage but you can’t fix a blank page. (Told you those blank pages could be terrifying!)

Once primed, the writer’s training and practice and determined professionalism should kick in and the words start to coalesce into a sensible form that fulfills the parameters of your project. And eventually - hopefully! - you will finish it to your satisfaction. A goal you must reach whatever it takes.

The resultant feeling of satisfied euphoria usually lasts until the next time, the next deadline, so always remember that terrifyingly empty blank screen will be waiting for you - but you can master it, with or without the assistance of your Muse. You are a professional.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

No Excuse for not posting

 Well actually I have a lot of exuses as to why I haven't done my regular posting on this blog.

First, my 2nd daughter had a huge heart problem, nearly died. She wentt home and in a couple of days had to go back--this time she had open heart surgery. Thankfully, she is doing well now--not 100% but oh, so much better.

From before Thanksgiving and almost to New Years Eve, I was really sick with bronchitis. I was prescribed two antibiotics and they didn't do anything for me. 

On New Year's Day I actually felt like myself. So much so, I made my annual pot of seafood gumbo. All together we had 21 people here to enjoy it. It was a bit harder to do because I went to church first, so the cooking was later than usual. May not do it again--it's expensive and I'm getting old. Might just make a small batch for just a few.

During all the time and into this year, I had a lot of requests to do program designs for people want to start residential facities. Most were in the area where I do the most work, but some were for other areas. Takes a lot of time. I have to look up reguations and figure out what each regional center wants in the program design. 

Then my house phone went on the blitz and I didn't know it, so probably missed some calls. It's fixed now. 

I'm about halfway through writing my latest and last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, and I've finally had time to do some work on it. Not sure how it's going to end--which of two suspects will end up being the murderer.

Anyway, forgive me you folks who follow this blog. I'll try to do better in the future.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Poor Abused Apostrophe and the Confusion It Causes

by Janis Patterson

I will admit it, I am a stickler for the correct usage of the English language, which means that these days my grammatical sensibilities spend a great deal of time being lacerated, usually over the abuse and misuse of the apostrophe.

The apostrophe is a humble and very useful part of grammar. Not only does it indicate ownership both singular and plural, it denotes a shortening of a phrase by standing in for a missing letter - both very needful in writing if one is not to sound stilted and stuffy. Properly used, it can clarify a point like nothing else.

So why do so many people abuse it? The rules, even though not totally consistent, are easy to learn and follow.

For example, ‘its’ is a possessive, meaning something belonging to it, where ‘it’s’ is a contraction for ‘it is.’ This is an exception to the general rule, but certainly not egregiously complicated.

Customer’s is a singular possessive - something belonging to a specific customer. Customers is a simple plural - more than one customer. Customers’ means something belonging to all or a great group of customers. Is that so hard?

Apparently. Not long ago I wanted to go to a certain store, but the large - and largely empty - parking lot had a sign proclaiming ‘Customer’s Only’. Being of a precise (and admittedly bloody-minded) nature, I parked carefully across the street where I could be seen by the cashier and walked over. Once inside I asked why they restricted their parking lot to only one customer when it was of a decent size.

Unable to answer, she called for her manager, who didn’t understand either even after I explained the different between singular and plural possessive and voiced concern that they were driving away business because of their signage. I even told them that they were remiss in not explaining what exactly was the singular customer’s. Though in this ungrammatical day and age I suppose parking could be logically extrapolated.

They asked me to leave. And I guess that some people have no shame in parading their ignorance to all and sundry, because until they day they went out of business (by a lack of multiply parked customers, I wonder?) they never changed their sign.

Again, in a novel I found the character talking (obvious in the context) about a family named Smith. It read something like, “The Smith’s are going to rent a beachhouse.” Well, this is wrong on so many levels. First of all, which singular Smith? And which singular Smith’s what? In this case it should have been a simple plural - the Smiths. 

Sadly there is a definite prejudice against self-published novels, especially romance, and examples of this disregard of correct apostrophe etiquette are often cited as the reason. What is never mentioned is that there are the same kind - and sometimes worse - examples are to be found in the theoretically superior and sacrosanct precincts of traditional publishing in a rapidly expanding number.

Something like “’s appearance was unworthy of the care one would expect the Carters family shop to have expended on something that would bear the Carter’s name...” is not only confusing, it pulls the reader out of the story, it becomes an exercise in translation. And no writer wants that, does he?

Like its much more challenging cousin the comma, the poor apostrophe is abused and misused with a blatancy that is astonishing, especially since the correct usage is so simple. All writers - and readers - should learn the proper forms and meanings.

And stop being an Apostrophe Abuser!