Category Archives: Education

Flying Commas and Other Gramatical Anomalies


When I was in high school, it seemed much easier to keep things like punctuation and syntax straight. Back then, teachers reviewed that stuff every few months. I don’t think I ever had time to forget it, and they had those handy posters on the classroom wall if I got stuck. It was also something that came easily for me. I never understood why some people had so much trouble with it. I would shake my head in disbelief when other students would do things like call apostrophes ‘those flying comma things.’ Let me just say: I get it now.

I don’t know if it’s the effects of having joined the texting world where, “lol u r sooo funny!!!  ttyl” is perfectly acceptable,


or if it’s just that I have so much other crap taking up space in my head now. (Examples include, but are not limited to: car payments,  job security, taxes.)


It’s not that I’m terrible with grammar and punctuation now, it’s just that things seem less clear-cut than they used to, and at a time when I’m expected to be more confident and competent in my writing.


Having easy-to-use reference material that doesn’t make me feel like an idiot for having to use it is essential.

Here are some of my favorites that never leave the shelf above my writing desk:


Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

The most concise, easiest to use, straightforward book on writing ever written, and it’s small enough to fit in a pocket (okay, maybe a big pocket, but still…) or a purse. It includes examples of common mistakes, not just in punctuation, also spelling, word usage, tense, etc., so you know what not to do. Then, it shows you how to fix them. This book has been a life saver throughout my college career, and when I edit my writing one last time, (and then twice more) before submitting it.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

She made punctuation interesting, even humorous and fun. I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t want to know. It’s like when a magician makes an elephant disappear. I don’t question it. I just stand with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, and applaud. I love the Punctuation Repair Kit that came with the book. The author encourages readers to become punctuation vigilantes who go around fixing signs that say things like, “50% off you’re favorite brands, prices so low you wont believe its real!”

I’ve started doing this. It’s incredibly geeky, good, clean fun… and a public service, if you ask me. (Just make sure you fix it when the managers aren’t looking. Otherwise, they try to take your punctuation stickers and chase you out of the store. Still fun, but more exercise.)


Grammar Smart by the staff of The Princeton Review

A few years ago, my brother started coming to me with questions about prepositions and dependent clauses. I searched my internal memory- I had learned these things, so I must possess the answers- only to discover those files had been overwritten with the rules to beer pong and lyrics to Weird Al songs. Sad, but I guess that’s what happens when you go to college. I invested in this book to help answer his questions and refresh my memory. It was an excellent purchase. They cover everything from parts of speech to punctuation and even gender-neutral writing. (So you can be all politically correct.)


The Chicago Manual of Style

I haven’t sprung for one of these yet, as they are on the spendy side, but, if you want to write professionally, I suggest at least putting it on your wish list. Most publishers I’ve talked to use the formatting and guidlines found here to evaluate submissions, so it can usually give you some insight as to whether your writing is clean and up-to-par.


Filed under Education

How Not to End Up Like My Characters

self defense

Why I Know This Stuff: 

Because of the genre I write in, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can go wrong. What terrible things can happen, and what events lead up to them.

Mostly, these are fictional things. Every once in a while, I’ll have a scene inspired by something that has happened to me. My writing is never taken straight from my life, but once in a while, there is a resemblance. This has led me to modify my own behaviors in order to avoid ending up like the people I write about.

Like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have developed an unusual (if slightly less lethal, and less extensive) skill set.

I know kicks and strikes, tactical holds and weapons takeaways. I know where to hit a person to disable him temporarily, where to hit him to injure him permanently, and where to hit him to kill him. I’m thankful that so far I haven’t needed to utilize these.

I also know observation techniques. My dad is a detective.  Awareness of his environment is a matter of safety, and even survival, on a daily basis.

While we were growing up, my siblings and I were constantly hearing, “Look around! Pay attention! Be observant!” It was kinda like Psych with less pineapple.


I’m a daydreamer by nature, so this was a difficult skill for me to master.

I’m glad I did.

Why I Think It’s So Important:

I used to ride the bus down Division Street to and from the Plaza each day on my way to college.

spokanebus plaza

For those of you who don’t live in Spokane or don’t ride the bus, the Plaza is the Twilight Zone concentrated into the space of a mid-size department store. There was at least one fight almost every day. The local news ran stories about people getting stabbed there despite the fact that there was always at least one security guard on duty. The Plaza made me realize that perhaps my father was not quite the paranoid hard-ass I’d thought him to be.

plaza stabbing

When a guy sat down behind me on the bus one afternoon, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it was about the man. He looked like he’d been in a fight, but so did lots of people there. He wasn’t very old. Early thirties, late twenties. I felt like he was watching me. Like an itch I couldn’t reach, being near this guy was making me antsy.

He asked me for a nickel and I gave him one. (Bus riders gotta stick together, ya know?) His gaze as he took it struck me as too intense. I wanted to change seats, but the bus was full. I thought about talking to the driver at the next stop, but what would I say? It’s not like he’d been rude or unpleasant. He was just creeping me out something fierce.

Well, I thought, it’s possible this is all in my head. Maybe I’m (God forbid) turning into my father. Besides, what’s the worst this guy could do on a bus? Stare at me? But when I got off the bus… That thought got my adrenaline flowing again.

My stop was the Hastings Lot. The end of the line. This time of day, I was often the only one in the parking lot. There were a few businesses around, but not close enough that I was sure anyone would hear me scream. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Dead battery. I might be in some deep shit.

I considered my options. I could go about my day as usual, and hope he wouldn’t follow me to my stop. We weren’t very far down Division. I decided if he was still there when the bus reached the Northtown Mall, I’d get off. The mall was always packed. I could yell for help if he came after me, maybe even lose him in the crowd.

He talked to me, off and on. Asking me questions. I don’t remember what they were. Normal things. Small talk. I didn’t tell him much about myself. My answers were vague, but polite. I didn’t want to be rude in case I was being paranoid. In case he was a nice, normal guy. Didn’t want to hurt his feelings for no reason. We reached the stop before the mall. He was still there. Still talking to me. I got out of my seat as the bus pulled up to the curb near the mall. I pushed my way to the front, and was the first one out the door. He got up, and followed. I was running the minute my sneakers hit the sidewalk. I jumped a short concrete wall around the mall parking lot, and sprinted for the nearest entrance. Better to be paranoid and alive than risk being tossed in a panneled van and driven to a basement somewhere.

I risked looking back once, and felt both vindicated and terrified to see him running after me.

Yay, I’m not crazy afterall!

Holy shit, this dude is really after me!

I beat him to the mall, and ducked in the Barnes & Nobel. I stayed near other people. Stayed behind the bookshelves. I could hear him cursing. I didn’t move for fear he’d see me looking around the shelves. After a short time, he left. My heart was still pounding. I was drenched in sweat, but I was safe. I kept an eye out for him as I left the mall, as I got on the next Division Street bus, and as I got off the bus at the Hastings Lot. He never reappeared.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed on the first bus. I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that it wouldn’t have been anything good. I hadn’t dropped my wallet. If he had wanted my phone number, that was a hell of a creepy way to try to get it. There just wasn’t any legitimate reason for him to be running after me. Traumatic and life altering? Not really. Scary? You bet your ass it was.

The end result was that I decided to educate myself. I went to self-defense classes, read books and studies on the subject, and bought pepper spray.

Now that I’m over twenty-one, I have a concealed carry permit, a Glock with night sights, and (thanks to my dad) a skill level with a handgun that falls somewhere between that of Clarice Starling and Stephanie Plum. (I’m not a marksman, but the gun doesn’t sit at home in my cookie jar either.) I have never shot anyone, and would greatly prefer not to do so in the future, but I firmly believe it’s better to have my gun and not need it than need it and not have it. My goal is to have a schema* for every scenario. If some wanna-be gangster rapist comes at me with a gun, I have the luxury of knowing my gun is bigger, and, frankly, that’s a load off my mind.

stephanie plum


 I constantly plan and re-plan what to do in various worst-case scenarios. I always, always looked at the people around me. Not because I expect bad things to happen, but because it makes me less vulnerable in case they did. Despite a few bad experiences, and the crap on the nightly news, I still believe most people aren’t going to hurt me. But now, I remember they have the potential to. And I trust my instincts.

*This is a cop word. It means a plan of action. Not sure if that’s common knowledge.

 Things for Beginners to Consider:

  • What are the laws in your state concerning self-defense, gun ownership, and concealed carry?
  • What local classes are available to you?
  • What are your personal values/beliefs, and what level of force are you comfortable using to defend yourself and the people you love?*  ** ***
  • How secure is your home? Your car? Your work place? Are there steps you can take to make these places safer?
  • What are your current personal strengths? (Are you a runner? Do you lift weights? Are you persuasive?) Develope the skills you already possess to your best advantage.
  • What are your current limitations? (Out of shape, freeze under stress, uncomfortable with confrontation even in extreme circumstances.)
  • Can you improve yourself in these areas?
  • Under what circumstances is it in your best interest to escape/evade?
  • Under what circumstances should you fight back?

* Do not purchase a weapon you are not willing to use. It’s not worth the risk of an attacker using it against you.

** Practice often with any weapons you do choose to purchase so you can use them effectively.

*** This includes things like car keys! I carried my keys a certain way in dark parking lots for years before practicing strikes on a dummy with them in a self defense class and realizing that the way I’d been holding them was totally ineffective.

Further Reading:


A summary of things to do (and things not to do) to decrease your odds of being attacked, based on an in-prison survey of rapists and date rapists:


An online tutorial on how to escape and evade in an urban environment:



Fightlike a girl&win

Fight Like a Girl… and Win by Lori Hartman Gervasi

Local Resources:

(I know there are many other classes in the area, but these are some I have been to and would personally recommend.)

Classes in the Spokane Area:

These are free, and they’re amazing!

Spokane Police Academy

2302 N. Waterworks

Spokane, WA, 99212

Phone: (509)742-8100

survival mindset

  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 1 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 2 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Violence Prevention in the Workplace (Men and Women)
  • Personal Safety and Awareness (Men and Women)
  • De-escalation Training (Men and Women)

To register, visit:

Classes in Cheney, WA:

These are great for all the striking practice they give you, and the atmosphere is fun and empowering. Everyone cheers each other on as you learn.

West Plains Karate &

Self-Protection Connection

422 First Street

Cheney, WA, 99004

Phone: (509)559-5432

Women’s Self Defense


  • 5-hour Intro
  • 24-hour Advanced

For times, prices, and registration forms, visit:


Filed under Education

5 (Writer’s) Block Busters You Can Do in 5 Minutes


[Said in obnoxious infomercial voice:]

Hey there, Fellow Writers!

Are you tired of having a scene (or even a whole story) in your head that you can’t seem to transfer to a notebook or computer?


Or, sitting down to do your daily writing, and coming up with a big fat blank?


It might not be your fault! According to the research of people you’ve never heard of who do studies of questionable legitimacy, you might be suffering from a condition known to lay people as “Writer’s Block.”


If you have strategies to help get rid of writer’s block that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to say so in the comments. Hearing new ideas (Or ones I knew, but had forgotten) is always helpful. Thanks.

Here are some exercises I’ve found helpful when my brain locks up on me:


1.) Spend 5 minutes doing a prompt. This always gives me a mental kick-start and gets me writing. I don’t have to sit around trying to decide on an idea, and the time limit keeps me from editing as I go, which is something I do too often.

Prompt Examples:

– Find a friend. As quick as you can, both of you write a beginning sentence and an ending sentence, but nothing in between. Trade papers and fill in the blank  left in the scene of the other person’s sentences. Try to have a paragraph-long scene or story when you finish.

– Flip open a magazine and write a paragraph inspired by a picture or article on that page. What you write doesn’t need to have any actual connection to what’s on the magazine page. It’s just whatever that image/article brings to mind for you.

– Look at a news paper and start a scene where a character reads and reacts to one of the headlines. (This is also good for keeping your writing current and socially relevant.)


2.)Take a 5 minute walk. Fresh air, Vitamin D. The outdoors are full of stuff that’s good for you. You’ll also be getting a little (but probably enough for our purposes) of exercise, which, as you probably know, gives your brain more of the stuff it needs. (Blood flow, oxygen.) Try to find a power walking pace that boosts your heart rate, but doesn’t leave you winded. You should end with more energy than you had when you started.

Things to pay attention to while walking:

– Landscape. Is there anything around the area where you’re walking that inspires or interests you? Anything that could be used in a potential story setting? This includes natural and man-made structures. Does a house look like a place one of your characters would live?

– Graffiti. I actually go around looking for graffiti because it always makes me wonder who wrote it there, and what made them think it was important enough that everyone should see it.

– People. What kinds of other pedestrians are in the area? What kinds of cars? How are the people driving? How are they dressed? Is there anything unusual about someone’s gait or mannerisms?


3.) Eves Drop. Not on people you know, or anything. Just people out in public places who are having loud obnoxious conversations anyway. Make them work for your writing process. (I know two out of three so far require leaving the house, but they’re worth it.) Pay attention to word choice, voice inflection, speech patterns, accents, euphemisms. It can really help when writing dialogue.

Good places to overhear a conversation:

– Coffee Shops. Not a coffee shop where everyone else is there alone, writing or playing Fruit Ninja. One where you know people meet for lunch and gossip.

– Bus stations. I swear I have seen and heard stranger things waiting for buses than anywhere else I’ve been except the blood bank. (I do not recommend the blood bank for this exercise. You want to go someplace where the conversation might be a little scandalous or sketchy, but not someplace where you’ve got a high probability of getting stabbed and robbed as you leave.)

– Colleges. You don’t have to crash a class. You can just visit the campus and grab lunch in the cafeteria or something. Topics overheard can range from who did what with who/what for x amount of beer/money to the validity (or lack thereof) of existentialism.


4.) 5 Minute Research Session. Fact check a portion of what you’ve already written, or do some quick research on a subject you may have avoided writing about because you didn’t feel knowledgeable.

Things to remember while researching:

–  Bored sixth graders have taken over a good portion of Wikipedia. That’s not to say you can’t or won’t  find good information there. Just remember to double check it.

–  Librarys aren’t just where homeless people go to use a computer. Most of the writers I know do a good job of utilizing the library as a resource. (Which is much cheaper than buying every book on amazon. Nothing against amazon, but it’s hard to beat free books.) A few, however, seem to keep forgetting it’s there, so I like to throw out a reminder once in a while.

– Databases are your friend. The good ones make it easy to search specific subjects and check the credentials of the authors of particular articles/ books. Plus, lots of these are also totally free.


5.) Make an outline/timeline/flowchart/whatever. I have a large white board I use for this purpose. Sometimes when I’ve got writers block it’s because I know on some level that what I’m trying to write isn’t working. I could be missing a key fact, or maybe a new idea contradicts something that happened in a previous scene. either way, this process helps me figure out what’s wrong and how to change it so it works.


Filed under Education