The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, May 4, 2016:


FYI: the editor is on a rant today.  Proceed at your apostrophes’ own risk!

What is it about apostrophes that gives so many people so much trouble?  You’d think a little upside down comma would be easy to figure out.

Okay, Genie – calm down.  Those upside down commas are for other people like Xs and Ys were for you in algebra.  Remember you got out of those classes by the skin of your teeth, and that was only with the promise that you’d never pursue anything that required math in college.  Otherwise you’d still be in high school, for crying out loud!  Be patient.

You’re right.  I know.  It’s not so much about the written words that should have or not have apostrophes, though.  I can edit those in or out.  Now there’s a new thing.  Now TV journalists are pronouncing – yes, pronouncing – certain apostrophes.  To be more accurate, they’re adding a syllable that shouldn’t follow an apostrophe, and it’s driving me crazy.

You’ll have to explain …

Well, you may be aware that one of the candidates in the U. S. presidential race has an ‘s’ at the end of his surname.

Right.  Bernie Sanders.

Yes!  One particular commentator now adds an extra syllable when she talks about his campaign in the possessive.  For example, she’ll say something like “Bernie Sanders’s path to victory …” or “Bernie Sanders’s advisors told us …”

What’s wrong with that?

It’s wrong – both in writing and in speech – because the apostrophe at the end shows possession and is all that’s needed in this case.  The written version is “Bernie Sanders’ path to victory …” and “Bernie Sanders’ advisors told us …”.  There is no extra ‘s,’ and one should not be pronounced in speech.

It’s just one commentator, though.  You don’t need to get so riled up about one person, Genie.

That’s the thing – it’s not just one person anymore!  Already, in just the few months since she started doing this extra syllable thing with Sanders’ name, other commentators – and now even most of the reporters on the road – are doing the same thing.  They didn’t before.  Perhaps they think she must know what she’s doing because she has a Ph.D. and is a Rhodes scholar.  In this case she doesn’t.  But it’s catching on among her colleagues like the horrible colds they all share eventually, which means more and more of her listeners will start doing the same thing – if they haven’t already – and this blatant error will grow exponentially among the general public.  I can’t bear the thought!

So what’s the worst that can happen?  Civilization as we know it won’t come crashing down on our heads.  Besides, it’s not like people use semi-colons wrong.

Oh, they do.  Not everyone, of course.  But we can’t hear incorrect semi-colons if something is read aloud, even if they do start to grow like a biblical plague …

If hearing the mistake is the issue, then, you can always … you know … turn off the TV. 


Maybe it will help if I write a letter …

To whom?

To Bernie Sanders’ commentators and reporters.

That’s a lot of letters.

That’s what I’ve been saying!

Well, while you’re at it, you might say something about the overuse of ellipses.  Just sayin’ …

(NB: That story at the top about algebra and me is true.  Maybe if they’d let me graduate from high school without that promise I’d be a naturalist now, not an editor, and I wouldn’t be on such a rant.  It’s all their fault …)


The Prompter Room

For Saturday, April 9, 2016:


“Yes, English can be weird.  It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.”

Unattributed meme on Facebook

For some reason, I’ve seen one particular word misspelled several times in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would address that today, as well as a couple of others that seem to be regular trouble for many folks.

The word I’ve seen most recently – in books and online – is intended to be ‘strait,’ as in ‘straitjacket.’  The way it’s been spelled, though, is ‘straight.’  They’re both pronounced the same, so the mistake is understandable.

The definitions differ, obviously, and to add some confusion, ‘strait(s)’ is also used for geographical identification – the Straits of Hormuz, for instance – and to indicate someone is in ‘dire straits.’

‘Straight,’ of course, means an unimpeded course or direction – ‘you go straight through the town,’ or ‘she shot straight to the top of the promotion list,’ for instance.

An easy way to remember the difference between the two is to think of ‘strait(s)’ as someone who or something that is constricted in some way because we remove the ‘gh’ from the spelling.

Unfortunately, not every word that’s tricky to spell is as easy to differentiate or remember.  Another set of words that gives folks trouble is ‘lead,’ ‘lead,’ and ‘led.’  Here’s the trouble: ‘led’ is the past tense of ‘lead,’ as in ‘I need someone to lead me through the store,’ but ‘He led me through the store.’

Too many people write ‘lead’ for the past tense in this case because they pronounce it the same way we say the mineral ‘lead.’  (To add to the confusion and to make matters worse, we pronounce the past tense of ‘read’ the same way we do the mineral.)  But the lead that’s in paint or, sadly, too many water pipes, or the lead we want someone to get out – ‘get the lead out’ – when they need to hurry is not the same as ‘led’ for past tense.  Perhaps it would help to think of the past tense ‘led’ as leaving the ‘a’ behind.

Yes, English can be – and is – tough sometimes.  And more than a little confusing.  Sometimes we can use little tricks to remember the intricacies of spelling this strange, weird language, but other times there are no easy helps.  But that’s one reason we have editors, eh?

Thank you contest


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

Albert Einstein

So let’s have some fun!  As a way of saying ‘thank you’ to faithful long-time and new followers here, I thought it might be fun to have a contest for folks to try their hand at a little bit of editing.

What’s that you say?  That sounds more like punishment than fun?  Well, even editors need editors, and I hope you’ll all help me edit my novel before I’m through with this third draft.

Besides, there’s not much, it’s easy, and it might help train our eyes for things to look out for as we write.

Maybe this will persuade you: everyone will be a winner.  Everyone who participates will receive mention and grateful thanks in the acknowledgements.

Wait, there’s more!  The person who finds the most corrections – I count 16 mistakes (with one that could be counted as a 17th) spread out among the four paragraphs that follow – will receive a complementary edit of up to ten pages in any genre.

And here’s a bonus: If someone finds something I’ve missed, or has one or more suggestions for improvement that I agree with, s/he will receive a free copy once the novel is published.

So if you’re ready to help out this editor …

You’ll see four paragraphs below.  Each one is from a different part of the book.  I’ll start you off with a hint: there are a couple of things among the usual spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes that need to be corrected.

Okay, another hint is that one graph has several mistakes in it and another has only two.

The contest runs through the weekend.  Let’s set a deadline of 7:00 Eastern Standard Time (in the U. S.) on Monday morning.  Use the ‘Comments’ feature to post your corrections or send me your email if you prefer more privacy.

I truly hope you have fun with this.  Good luck, and thank you so much for your faithfulness and company!

Continue reading “Thank you contest”

The Prompter Room

For Monday, February 1, 2016:


“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer.  But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Colette – CASUAL CHANCE, 1964

One of the things I love most about editing is that I get to read two or three books – sometimes more – with each project.  I read the initial manuscript, of course, but then, as I work with the author, each revision round of edits results in a new or different book.

We all love our own words.  There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re our ‘babies.’  Some of us even love the process of putting those words to paper.  What can be hard is to judge and evaluate whether those particular words are the best ones for the story in which they’re placed.  Are they in the right order, do they set an appropriate pace, do they develop the plot?

If not, then they need to go.  Maybe not entirely.  Maybe some words need to go elsewhere in the story, or in the mouth of a different, or even a new, character.  Perhaps the concept of a word is right, but a synonym will convey a nuance that’s better.  Sometimes, though, they do need to be taken out completely.

Some of us writers are better than others at such evaluations in our initial edits before we submit a manuscript to an editor, but a good editor will pick up on even minor changes that will benefit the story, the characters, and the intent of the plot.  I believe this is the sign of a good editor: does s/he work on behalf of the story or the author?

There will be times, of course, when an editor should let the author have the last word – it’s his or her work, after all, and if s/he’s not comfortable with a proposed change, that’s her prerogative.  The key is to develop a solid relationship between author and editor so there can be substantive conversations all the way along.  As long as I’m confident the author is focused on the book’s and characters’ well-being over his or her own words, I’m willing to let go of my own suggestions on occasion.

I work so your book becomes as beloved to you-the-author as the words of the first submission.  If you find someone to whom you can ‘entrust your words who cares as much about your words’ as you do, then you have found a gem.  Your book will benefit each step of the way to final development – and if I’m your editor, I get to enjoy each and every version as if it’s brand new.

The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, January 6, 2016:


“Artists are those who can evade the verbose.”

Haruki Murakami, KAFKA ON THE SHORE

Oh boy, am I in trouble.  Or maybe I should start this with ‘Hi, I’m Genie, and I’m verbose.’

I suppose it’s a good thing that I know I am so I can watch out for it, but I was reminded once again just how bad it is when I started to read the print-out of the first draft of my new novel-in-progress yesterday.  The dialogue parts aren’t bad – in fact, some of them are pretty good, if I do say so myself – but some of the narrative descriptions are beyond-the-pale wordy.

Maybe it’s because I grew up reading William Faulkner and the Bible (some of St. Paul’s writings, especially, are torture to read because they’re so verbose), but I love to go merrily along when I start out.  Descriptive narrative is definitely one of my happy places and I have to catch myself so I don’t go on and on.

Maybe, though, this tendency to verbosity is what led me to editing: I had to learn to edit myself.

Rearranging bits and pieces is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, which I enjoy, so that won’t be bad.   Adding development and transition arcs requires more thought.  I’m still building the puzzle, but I’m closer to the center here, where colors of the same hue and tint blend together.  It’s not as cut-and-dried as the edges or the corners, but it’s doable.

Now comes the fun part: determine which narrative pieces belong in this particular puzzle and which don’t fit anywhere.  After I finish reading the print-out, I have to rein in my words, shorten my sentences, delete adverbs and adjectives and … gulp … whole paragraphs.

Hopefully I can find my inner artist – she’s in there, I know – and I can reduce those wordy parts.  Wish me luck …

It’s Here!

I am proud to announce the publication of my companion to this site, A Short Guide to Hospitable Writing!  Featuring new and expanded material, there’s also a selected bibliography and footnotes.

The print version is available now on Amazon at . 

It’s also on Kindle!

That Horn You Hear is Mine

Note: This is more a reminder to myself than blatant self-promotion.  It’s something of a written ‘selfie,’ I suppose, so read with that in mind, please.

I usually shy away from using the pronoun ‘I’ to start anything I write, but today I’m going to use it on purpose because I’m going to blow my own horn.

I do that even less than I start my work with … you know … but here’s why I’m doing both in this post: I’m a damn good editor.  There, both ‘I’s and the horn in one sentence.  In bold italics, too.  Wow!

I started thinking of this last week. I was in the hospital sleeping off (kind of) the general anesthesia I’d had earlier on Tuesday for a catheter ablation and, for some reason, I started thinking of all the people for whom I’ve served as editor.  Then I started to recall all the different projects they have shared with me.  This train of thought was inspired, I believe, by the teamwork of all the medical staff who worked on and with me for the procedure: the surgeon, of course, but also — and especially — the pre-op, OR, and post-op nurses and nursing assistants, the lab folks, the food service and housekeeping staffs, even the pre-op registrar.

We all need a team around us as we work — family, friends, colleagues to support and encourage us in our solitary writing times.  As an editor, too, I prefer to work as a team with each particular author.  I don’t, and won’t, work alone with another’s words.  I cannot presume to give voice to another’s words and vision on my own, and so I relish the opportunity to get to know each author, to communicate with her on a regular basis, to make suggestions for him to consider, to offer ideas for us both to try together.

As I thought of all the years I’ve done this editing gig — this work that I love, and all the people, all the projects and manuscripts I’ve worked with  — I realized that I am a team myself, too.  The majority of good editors are, and we have to be, but it’s according to a different definition of ‘team.’

This team knows how to edit Steampunk stories, vampire novels, poetry collections, humorous and spiritual memoirs, academic papers and dissertations, essays and other creative non-fiction, fantasy and mainstream short stories, even pastoral theology for the various intended audiences because I have written in all of these — and other — genres.  I know how to spell and punctuate according to British, Australian, Canadian and American customs from a lifetime of reading and studying a wide variety of world literature from the earliest of days to last week, along with the most up-to-date journals and manuals.   In other words, then, I am backed up by the sometimes-centuries of unseen writers who have gone before me, on whose shoulders I am privileged to stand, and what they’ve taught me.

I am beyond grateful.  I am also well aware that my own writing may not — and in some cases, does not — compare with some of the writers I’ve read over the years.  The important thing in my teambuilding, though, is that I’ve tried my hand at the different genres. I made it a point to stretch myself, sometimes going beyond my comfort zone (as when I wrote zombie and vampire stories), for my own benefit, but especially to improve my editing work.

That’s what teams do best: we encourage each other to reach beyond what is normal, what is usual.  I’ve found that because I’ve done so myself, I can do so for others as well.  Together, then, our work ensures my clients that their words are in good hands. They can entrust their words to me because I am a damn good editor.

Hospitable Writing: A Book Review of Sorts

Last night I finished reading a book that really needed an editor.  Or, rather, a better editor.

This non-fiction book was wildly popular when it was first published by a major publisher in the early 1990s, and it is still well-known among women of a certain age.  I bought the book years ago when I intended to use it as a reference in a course of study.  That study never happened, so the book sat on my shelves and made several moves with me.  Along the way, I started to read it a couple of times, but I just couldn’t get into it and put it aside after a short while, never getting past the first chapter.

When I picked it up again a couple of months ago, I had to make myself get deeper into the book, which is almost 500 pages long.  The subject matter still matters to me and I’m glad I made the effort to stay with it.  I’ll even pass the book on to a friend or two, but I will do so with a caveat because both of these women are well-read and one is a writer: try not to get bogged down in the book’s inhospitable writing and presentation.

What makes a book hospitable?  In my view, perhaps stemming from my southern upbringing, a book should be inviting.  A writer should welcome readers and strive to make them comfortable, even if the subject matter is a difficult one.  For example, this book could be shorter in length.  Maybe not by much, but even 100 fewer pages would help.  Long books are usually no problem for me — some of my favorites, both fiction and non-fiction, are far longer — but this author repeats herself quite often, and most of the time it is unnecessary.

The author’s usually dense, sometimes complicated, sentence structure meant I had to read too many sentences more than twice (yes, twice) to glean her meaning.  Some of this is due to her multi-lingual heritage — Spanish and Eastern European, in addition to English — but most of the time this could have been alleviated by a simple comma or two, or making a long sentence into two.  I wonder, in fact, if the narrative was transcribed from tapes because of the sometimes-fast and breathless style.  Still, I believe a better editor could have kept her rich language structures intact, even vibrant, while making the book more comfortable for an English-reading audience.

To the author’s credit, the book is well-researched and her notes and references are extensive.  She is a well-known Jungian scholar and practitioner with a PhD, and her bona fides show throughout.  The subject matter is one I’ve long been interested in, which is why I kept the book and why I kept reading through to the end, even when I had to struggle on occasion.  For such a long book, the typography and formatting are surprisingly well done, although the fonts are necessarily smaller and line spacing tighter than I find most comfortable.

In addition to the above considerations, then, what else helps make a book hospitable?  Readers will differ, of course, but it helps to think about what works, what doesn’t.  Something as simple as plenty of white space is important for me (see the last sentence in the previous paragraph) and is just one more example.

Ultimately it comes down to William Zinsser’s declaration: ‘Hard writing makes for easy reading.  Easy writing makes for hard reading.’  I submit that one can — and should — switch ‘editing’ for ‘writing,’ too.  When both missions are achieved, it’s a good bet the book — or story, essay, academic paper or dissertation, even a blog post — is one you can be comfortable with and you can rest in its hospitality as you read.