Tag Archives: Reading

Flying Commas and Other Gramatical Anomalies

flyingcommas

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,

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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.)

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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.

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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:

elementsofstyle

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.)

grammarsmart

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.)

chicagomanualofstyle

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.

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Prompt Writing

writing

I  used to believe writing prompts would only serve as one more distraction from whatever project I was working on.

When I took a creative writing class in college, however, I discovered that one of the best ways for me to shake off writer’s block was to stop what I was doing and spend about five minutes working on a writing prompt.

Prompts are to the writing world what a starting gun is to a sprinter. And it is a sprint. The goal is not distance, quantity, or energy conservation, it is to get something down as quickly as possible regardless of how coherent, silly, or irreverent it may be.

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How I GotLit! :

Writing prompts also illuminate how many ways there are to look at a single subject. At Inland Northwest Writers’ Guild meetings, we often do a writing prompt or two, and even if we all have exactly the same starting point, the differences in the directions our thoughts take us is striking.

This was also the case at a panel I went to during the GetLit! Festival. Four professional writers were given a prompt: Red Eye, and asked to write something that could be read in about ten minutes. The person who came up with the prompt had been thinking of airplanes and red-eye flights, but that’s not how any of the authors interpreted it.

inthekingdomofmen

Kim Barnes, a professor at the University of Idaho and the author of In the Kingdom of Men, wrote a nonfiction piece involving her family history (Which was filled with scandal and made for a great story.) and the Red-Eye Gravy her grandmother made. It brought to life the complicated family dynamics involved with several generations of relatives, and the self discovery that comes from bringing who you are together with where you come from.
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Shann Ray, author of American Masculine and professor of leadership studies at Gonzaga University, wrote a fictional story about a professional ballerina who marries a lumberjack. The connection to the prompt was a scuffle between the husband and wife, which he starts, but she ends by nearly putting his eye out. It sounds violent, but it had an emotional depth and a flow reminiscent of well-written poetry. By the end, I felt as if the characters were old friends, and was rooting for them to patch things up.

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Nance Van Winckel, a Spokane poet, read a piece about a young child’s tragic accidental death, and the after math for the child’s parents and their friends. Everyone’s eyes were red from crying. It was so powerful partly because she had the courage to ask the question I can never bring myself to ask when I hear about something like this on the news: [Please note, I am paraphrasing, these were not her words. I could never hope repeat her exact phrasing here, but I tried to capture the sentiment because I found it so incredibly moving. My apologies if I fail to do so.]

This was an accident caused not by malice, but by a simple lapse of memory. He forgot. I forget things all the time. Little things mostly, but where is the line between and a careless moment that leads to inconvenience and one that leads to disaster?

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Jim Lynch, author of Truth Like the Sun, ended the panel on a lighter note. His story was a spoof of old Noir detective stories (which faithful readers will know I love.) It was titled Spokane Envy, and involved a blues-music-obsessed son of a rich Seattle woman running away to Spokane. I never would have guessed I’d laugh so hard at anything so soon after contemplating death and culpability and whether good intentions mean anything. But as soon as Jim Lynch started reading, I was so caught up in the story of this socially inept, bumbling private eye who was running around Washinton State looking for a missing rich kid, trying to interrogate a girl who works in a fruit stand by the side of the road, posing as a waiter in the Peacock Room at the Davenport, and meeting a rooster named Red Eye, it was impossible not to laugh.

I found the spectrum of emotions and styles, all evoked by the same two words staggering. It was like some insane literary Rorschach test. But that’s the great thing about prompts, everyone comes up with something different. It’s also easier to venture outside your comfort zone because you don’t give yourself time to over think things.

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My Own Prompt Response:

Annette Drake asked me to include my own response to the prompt given at the last Writers’ Guild meeting in this post. The prompt was GetLit! You could take it any way you wanted. We were told shorter sentences were preferable because that had been a style we were discussing at the meeting. Anyone who had anything at the end of five minutes was asked to read if they felt comfortable doing so. I did. It’s good practice for reading my more polished work, and you won’t find a friendlier audience. I came up with this:

Patches don’t do a damn thing for me.

Gum don’t work worth shit.

What I need is a cigarette:

The glow of an ember.

Smell of tobacco.

Warmth of smoke in my lungs.

But the bitch took my lighter when she left this morning.

The unlit cylinder hangs from my lips:

Benign.

Impotent.

No fire hazard here.

[Please note, I am not and never have been a smoker. I have no idea what inspired this, but that’s often how prompt writing goes. Things seem to come out of nowhere.]

I liked that I’d found a rhythm different from what I usually do, but my feelings about the piece as a whole were lukewarm until I heard the response (laughter like you hope for in a comedy club) and Annette encouraged me to share it with all of you online. I highly doubt I would have even thought of anything like this, without a prompt, let alone written it down or shared it with anyone.

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5 Infectiously Good Books: Non-Fiction

Alright, same drill as the last post, but for this one, it’s all true! How creepy is that?

In no particular order:

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1.) The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

The author of this book actually went inside level 4 (highest risk of infection) rooms at the CDC (Center for Disease Control) researching this book. You can’t even do that anymore! Anyone curious about how our government researches and prevents or controls diseases should give this one a look. And buy some hand sanitizer. The information on Ebola may give you some sleepless nights, but this book is worth it. Also look for Panic in Level 4, and The Demon in the Freezer, Preston’s other nonfiction works on the subject. All are fantastic.

spillover

2.) Spillover by David Quammen

Everything you didn’t know was fascinating about zoonoses (diseases that spread from animals to humans). This book gives an overview of several of these types of  diseases including  Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, HIV, and some I’d never heard of before. David Quammen traveled, did interviews, and thoroughly researched his subject. The first hand narrative about things like hiking through the jungles of Africa adds a depth and a personality that is often lacking in non fiction. I got to hear him read at Auntie’s and he even talked to me about my novel and signed my copy of his book. Nice guy. Awesome writer.

americanplague

3.) The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby

A well researched story told in a way that grabs and keeps your interest. The downside is that I now have a phobia of mosquitoes. Also check out her book, Asleep.

 

4.) Awakenings by Oliver Sacks

Behold the incredible mind f*&% that is Encephalitis Lethargica. You go to sleep, and you might wake up three days, three weeks, three months, or thirty years later! You might not wake up at all. Or it could have the opposite effect. You might not sleep ever again and just run around possessed by hyperactivity until you die of exhaustion. If you manage to A) survive, and B) regain consciousness, you’ll most likely be left with Parkinsons-like symptoms that rob you of the ability to walk, talk, care for yourself, you name it. The clincher? They still don’t know what causes it. I’ll be honest, this disease scares the living $#^& out of me. That’s why I decided to write about it. This book is written by another of one of my favorite authors. Oliver Sacks is a former neurologist, who now writes humorous, touching, and sometimes tragic memoirs and case studies.

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Oddly enough, this book was also made a movie staring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. It’s actually very good, and mostly accurate.

littlebookofpandemics

5.) The Little Book of Pandemics by Dr. Peter Moore

Gives a great overview with easy to read charts at the beginning of each chapter that list when and how each disease was discovered, its infectivity, the severity of the resulting illness, and the potential threat from each if they are used as a bioweapon. It’s been a go-to for me while I’ve been writing this book.

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5 Infectiously Good Books: Fiction

As many of you know, I’m writing a novel that has to do with an epidemic. (Those of you who don’t know, go read https://theoccasionalmeatcleaver.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/my-novel-giving-an-old-disease-new-life/)

That being the case, I thought I’d share some books on the subject of infectious disease that I found inspiring:

blindnessthebook

1.) Blindness by Jose Saramago

This is one of my favorite books of all time. His characters hardly ever have names, there are no dialogue attributions… Truth be told, his novels look like Gertrude Stein’s poetry, but that is said with affection because I love them both. If I tried to mimic their style, it would look like something written by a not-too-bright second grader. When they do it, somehow it’s brilliant. Still, it can be disorienting, so if you don’t feel up to the book, there is a movie version.

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 In my opinion, both are modern classics and not to be missed.

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[Be advised, both are very graphic, and not to be watched or read with children. And, really, that goes for everything on this post.]

thestand

2.) The Stand by Stephen King

Apocalypse by government engineered flu virus, and that’s not a spoiler. That’s the first chapter. Does it get any better? This book is regarded by many as Stephen King’s best work. I’d certainly call it one of his best, but I find it difficult to play favorites with his books. This one is also a movie, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen it yet.

contagionbook

3.) Contagion by Robin Cook

Robin Cook’s mind is so twisted, his books make me shudder. Ah, how I envy him his disturbing imagination. Envy aside, this book will have you reading late into the night and avoiding hospitals. I guess that goes for all of his books, but this one in particular involves the 1918 flu, so it was of special interest to me.

contagionmovie

The reader should note that the movie Contagion has nothing to do with this book, and is a completely different story.

firsthorseman

4.) The First Horseman by John Case

I can’t stress enough how much I like this guy’s style. No frills, no self indulging tangents, just pure, edge-of-your-seat story. I love all of his books, but this one involved a cult trying to start a Spanish Flu epidemic, so it was good market research for me as well as a good read.

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5.) The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Interesting villain? Check. Terrifying biological terrorism? Check. Images you wish you could get rid of, but can’t? Sooo many, but that’s part of a successful horror/thriller book. You know it’s good because it kinda makes you sick. Great, suspense-filled book.

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Things I didn’t need to know

iheartbooks

I used to get yelled at constantly for reading in school. My math teachers were really pissed. Weird, right?

Actually, my english teachers yelled at me too. I’d always finished the book they assigned and moved on to something else. And they really wanted me to re-read along with the class. I didn’t (and still don’t, truth be told) see the point. All they did was get me in the habit of re-reading a section once I finished it, which I sometimes do to this day. It slowed down my reading considerably, but it does come in handy when I’m editing what I’ve written. So, I suppose in the long run, this did serve a purpose, although perhaps not the one they’d intended. (They were always talking about working with the group, which as a writer/blogger, I still have limited use for. I always wanted to tell my teachers, “Well, let’s all be a group and compromise, then. I’ll try to slow down if the rest of you hurry the hell up!” I had a wee bit of a temper in my youth. While I never actually said that out loud, I did get in trouble occasionally. I never got in fights, or anything, but I forgot and ran in the hallway sometimes. I actually picked  up a Sherlock Holmes book for the first time during lunch detention. Everything led back to books for me.

Math is a different story. At twenty-five, I still haven’t had a single day in my life where I thought, “Oh, thank the Lord I took all that algebra!” I know I will at some point, now that I’ve said that. That’s how these things work. You curse your high school, and, next thing you know, some dude in a ski mask has a gun to your head and says, “Alright, listen up! If you can solve for X, no one gets hurt!” That’s Karma, I guess. Until that happens, I’ll probably go on wondering how much more I might have learned if they’d just set me loose in the library and left me alone.

library

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So… about last night…

I know I promised to post every day in April. For yesterday’s post, I’d planned to attend the Patrick McManus reading and then do a post about it when I got home.

Let me explain what happened:

I woke up at 5AM yesterday morning, went to college as usual for my (gag) math class,

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Did my homework,

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Checked my blog to see if there were comments that needed approving,

Worked on my novel for so long that I forgot to eat lunch,

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Met up with my parents and my brother, got an early dinner and coffee,

Coffee

and went to Auntie’s for the reading…

Aunties

Which it turned out had an open bar courtesy of Sante, the restaurant next door…

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Now, I know what you’re thinking, but I only had one small glass.

Still… I may have ‘got lit’ in more than one sense. heh heh

(See Get Ready to GetLit! if you don’t get the reference.)

Patrick McManus was great, and I got my copy of his latest Bo Tully mystery signed. Awesome!

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Also, my mom was friends with one of his daughters growing up, and they’re going to reconnect,

so it was a great event no matter how you look at it.

BUT, although I maybe slow at math, I now know that

me+no lunch+caffine+wine= incessant giggling

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and forgetting to take a picture at the reading for my blog

and falling asleep after my mom drives me home instead of posting… yeah..

So now I know. Please, no shouting in the comments section.

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PS- I will be posting again today. I’m counting this as yesterday’s post.

 

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Get Ready to GetLit!

booksandwine

Okay, I know that sounds like Cinco de Mayo is coming early for me, but Lit is short for literature. The annual Spokane festival celebrating the arts (and especially literature) is coming up this April 8th-14th. This week, Auntie’s Bookstore is already gearing up for the festivities. Tomorrow, April 4th, Patrick McManus is reading at Auntie’s at 7PM. April 5th, there will be an Open Mic night, also at 7PM. April 6th, there will be a reading by Julie Lilienkamp at 2PM.

For more information on events at Auntie’s Bookstore, go to http://www.auntiesbooks.com

They also have a link to the GetLit! website.

insideaunties

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