What does the full moon invoke in you? Many writers do their best writing in the dark. . .What about you?
During this moon, we have our first guest columnist, Tyree Campbell, of Alban Lake Publishing. Without further ado, here is an article that will cast a very wide spell. . .I mean, ah. . .um. . .net.
By Tyree Campbell
The Editor’s Briefs
#1: Stalking the wild comma.
Let’s eat Grandmother.
[Kinda reminds you a little of that Brian Aldiss story, “Let’s Be Frank,” doesn’t it?]
Far be it from me to encourage geriatric cannibalism, but this sort of thing happens to me all the time. The sentence, I mean. Maybe it’s a phase, this rampant commaphobia. Let’s try it again.
Let’s eat, Grandmother.
Whoa! Makes quite a difference, doesn’t it, that little comma. Yet the failure to set off direct address in commas is one of the most common [and irksome] tendencies in contemporary submitted stories. Here’s the rule, filched directly from Strunk’s The Elements Of Style: “Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. A name or a title in direct address is parenthetic.”
For those keeping score, that’s on pp. 2-3 of The Elements Of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White, published by the Macmillan Company, 1962. This paperback volume is about as thick as a Sacajawea dollar–Strunk wasted few words. Those of you who are or would be writers, read this book.
No, belay that. MEMORIZE it!
Why is this important? I’m glad you asked me that question. See . . . the publishing process [Did I mention I’m an editor?] begins when you, the writer, execute a manuscript. When you are satisfied with the superb quality of the manuscript, you submit it to . . . oh, let’s say to me. In my snail mail and e-mail folders, your submission joins scores of others and awaits a reading and a decision. Eventually I get around to yours. I look for many things when I read submissions, and I ask myself various questions–rather like a checklist, if you’ll indulge me. Thus:
Does the storyline hang together?
Does the reader care what happens to the protagonist?
Are the conflict and tension sufficient to hold the reader’s attention?
Does the opening hook demand that the reader read the story?
Is the overall use of language competent? Are there nice turns of phrase?
And so on . . .
And finally: How much time and effort will I, the beleaguered Editor, have to spend correcting the flaws of spelling, grammar, and punctuation in this submission?
That last, like it or not, is a question that conforms to the reality of editorial work. A story which otherwise might have had a chance to be published is declined because of poor or non-existent punctuation. Now, I’m not talking about one or two instances here. Everyone, including myself misses, a comma or a period now and then. I’m talking about writers who are blissfully unaware that they are supposed to set off direct address with commas.
So: why harp on commas?
For one thing–and I freely admit this is one of my undomesticated peeves–I like to see correct punctuation in a story, so that I don’t have to work so hard when I set up the story for publication.
For another, Alban Lake Publishing is one of the two linear descendants of ProMart Publishing, founded by the late and sorely missed James B. Baker, whose intent it was to provide an outlet for beginning writers whose science fiction and fantasy stories were competently and interestingly written. Put bluntly, we help train writers in their craft. Why is this important to you?
Because one day, if and as you grow as a writer, you will submit a story to a magazine that pays some useful money. I personally would like to see your work published in a high-paying magazine. But such a magazine will not tolerate the improper use of silly little things like commas any more than I do.
Unfortunately [sigh], the writers who need to read this probably are not reading it. Published writers learned how to write–and they learned what to do with commas–and that’s one of the little reasons why they get published.
So: do you understand Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones?
Or rather: do you understand, Mr. Smith and Ms Jones?
All these commas are yours except those on Europa. Use them together. Use them in peace.
#2: Who are you, and is this yours?
Earlier I mentioned that as an Editor I prefer an easy path to setting up a story for publication. I receive submissions primarily as .rtf attachments. I download these attachments into a “Pending Folder,” and read them one by one. It is most helpful if those of you who submit stories to me include the following information at the top of the attachment:
Your street address
Your city, state, province, country [if outside the USA], zip code, province code, or whatever those codes are that the United Kingdom uses [I’m sure Ed Cox will e-mail me and tell me][right, Ed?].
Your e-mail address
That way, I don’t have to spend time looking for this information when I have something to communicate to you. This, in turn, allows me more time to edit. Which means I can respond to your submissions sooner.
It’s not just me, folks. It’s professional. It’s the way it is done. The high-paying markets want your personal information presented the same way. Get in the habit of providing it now, when you submit pieces to Alban Lake. That way, when you grow into one of those $$$ magazines, you’ll already have part of the battle won.
Look at it another way. Here I am, all set to mail out your payment and your contributor copy, and I have no clue where to send it. So I have to take the time to e-mail you and ask for the information, then wait for you to return from vacation and respond.
Incidentally, if you change snailmail addresses and/or e-mail addresses, it really is your responsibility to notify your publisher–me, or whoever. Unless you tell me, I will continue to believe that you are accessible at the addresses you gave me. If I send you a contributor copy, and it is returned because it was sent to the wrong address, I’m out the cost of postage and the cost of the mailer. Which leads to the Fourteenth Commandment [which was inscribed on that tablet Mel Brooks broke in History of the World, Part 1]: Thou oughtst not irk the publisher of your story.
One other point: I know a lot of writers personally. Doesn’t matter–each submission should have your personal data. J Alan Erwine sent me a piece some weeks back–and he and I have been working together for years. I have his address memorized. True, because we know one another, the cover letter is perhaps a tad informal. But J still includes his personal data. As I said a moment ago, it’s professional.
#3: A pronoun without an antecedent is like a kraken without a checkerboard.
I receive literally dozens of stories that begin with the word “He” or “She.” Seriously. Frex, here’s almost a direct quote:
“He dove into the swimming pool and came up sputtering. Cyrus Aqualung hated chlorine–it parched his nostrils, and generally made pancakes taste bad . . . ”
Well, who is “he”? Cyrus, most likely. But is there any good reason to conceal his identity from the first sentence? Sure, if for some literary reason or convention you’re not going to identify your protagonist by name to the reader [and the editor] for a large portion of the story, I understand . . . usually. But you’ve spilled the identity beans in the second sentence. Why?
Right. So don’t do it.
Just. Don’t. Do it.
Pronouns without antecedents annoy the heck outta me. And that’s a bad way to start off a story, by irking your editor.
Remember: pronouns require antecedents. That’s why they’re called “pronouns.” They take the place of a noun–which means ya gotta mention the noun foist! Capisce? Don’t make me send my Uncle Pazzi after youse . . .
I will say that this rule can in some cases be flexible. I’ve bent it . . . hell, I’ve friggin’ fractured it! Here’s a good example of my crime, taken from the opening of a story titled “Sentimental”:
“In Troyes she splurged, purchasing one of those colored party bulbs that flicker all night like a string of fireflies in the wind, an ampoule de fete, as it read on the box, this one a deep ruby color. On certain Troyenne streets the color might have had additional significance, but not in the stone-and-thatch cottage near the east bank of the Othe south of Aix-en-Othe, where she lived. No one would see it there. She could turn it on with social impunity, reveling in her solitude.”
So how did I introduce her name? Very subtly, almost as an afterthought . . . because in the story, her name is relatively unimportant. Here’s the first half of the second paragraph:
“From Troyes she took the route that connected the city to Sens in the west, though she puttered but half that distance in the ancient green Renault before turning south to cross the Vanne and acquire the semi-paved roadpath that took her past the vineyards and small estates, through sleepy Aix with its morning aroma of freshly baked baguettes and spicy saucisses still lingering in the afternoon sun and, after a brief stop at the poste for any letters for Pierrette Gossard, finally along the tranquil Othe to the cottage on the small holding bequeathed to her by her parents some years back, a squarish plot a hundred meters on a side, with the corners aligned to the points of the compass. The days of this late summer stretched more than usual . . . ”
And is this good writing? Well, the story won SpecFicWorld’s Fantasy Writing Contest, so I pretty much assume so . . .
But generally, by and large, unless you have a clear and present reason for not doing so, name your character right off the bat.
See . . . I know they do this on television and in movies. The scene opens, and some woman [“She”] walks into a store, or leaves a room, or something, and only later does someone identify her by saying something on the order of, “Hey, Chloe Ackerman, let’s get sauced tonight.”
Please do not write as if you are composing a scene for television or a movie. Words are the oils of your brushstrokes. Details signify. And a name is a detail.
There! Now I’ve disencumbered myself of several irksome minutiae. So let me close with some words of encouragement. Please be ye not afraid to submit your work here. I, for one, haven’t bitten a writer in . . . oh, weeks, anyway. If I can, I’ll help. And if I can publish, I will. It’s your job to send me something I can publish. To that end, please heed the above. It’s good for you. It’s good for me.
Slainte, all y’all,
As you know, Alban Lake Publishing’s new drabble contest is in full-swing.Please check the guidelines here – and follow them to the letter.
Gale Hopping of OBRocks is still looking for bloggers. If you live in the Ocean Beach/Pt. Loma area of San Diego, it’s time to get involved.
Ron Sparks has just launched a new site for flash fiction writers. Get involved now by clicking on this link.
THE OB WRITERS NETWORKING GROUP
Who: Published and yet-to-be-published writers, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, editors, copywriters, and content providers, indie publishers et al. Whether you’re a local OBcean, live in San Diego at large, or are “just visiting” the area, you are welcome to join us.
What: The Ocean Beach Writers Networking group for serious professional writers.
Where: Te Mana Cafe on Voltaire, between Cable and Bacon in Ocean Beach.
When: Every Thursday from 12:30PM-1:30PM.
Why: To connect, share resources, referrals – and more!
How: Just go to FaceBook and click “join” on the Ocean Beach Writers Networking Group and/or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be placed on the weekly newsletter list. Please be sure to let me know if you plan to attend so that we can choose – or reserve – the right-sized table!
Please be sure to thank Te Mana’s owners, Marguerite and Jason, for welcoming us. Check out this awesome menu as well as their beer-on-tap, decadent Mimosas et al. Show your appreciation for the inimitable, cheerful and dedicated staff by tipping often and generously.
To receive the OBWNG newsletter, The Kinder Muse newsletter, or if you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com.
Looking forward to connecting with you!
If you haven’t been interviewed for this series yet, please send me an email, and I’ll send you the questions. Here are a few links to the most recent ones:
I’ve decided to resurrect my “advice” column. . .Looking forward to your questions and comments to generate a lively discussion! If you’re feeling shy, you can choose to remain anonymous and/or use a nom de plume!
RESOURCES FOR WRITERS
I would really like to create an extensive list here, so please send me your favorite sites. These can be range from dictionary.com, Preditors & Editors, andRalan’s SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza and beyond! Once I have a long list, I will start posting to my website.
COACHING FOR WRITERS
I’m in the process of updating my business site, so please excuse the detritus. Meanwhile, remember that if you’re on this list, you receive a 20 percent discount on my services. If you send me a referral who becomes an ongoing client, then you will receive a complimentary session from me as a “thank you.”
If you are also a writer coach or editor, etc., I would be happy to post an announcement for you as well. Every person – and project – is unique, and it’s important to connect with the right person.
Until next time, here’s to your writing success!
Terrie Leigh Relf AKA The Kinder Muse
tlrelf.wordpress.com / terrieleighrelf.com / tlrelfreikipractitioner.wordpress.com
619.269.0706 / firstname.lastname@example.org