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Happy New Year’s Day

Happy New Year – 2015!

May your new year be filled with joy and blessings. May you be comforted in any sadness.

free images photos dot com

photo: free images-photosdotcom

Did you stop and think about using an apostrophe for this New Year’s Day?

Apostrophes on holidays can be confusing. Some holidays use them; some do not.

If you say “Happy New Year,” don’t worry about an apostrophe. You don’t need one.

But if a noun follows “New Year,” use an apostrophe:

  • New Year’s Day
  • New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s presents
  • New Year’s wishes
  • New Year’s parades
  • New Year’s fireworks
  • New Year’s celebrations

Other holidays that use apostrophes:

  • Valentine’s Day
  • Saint Patrick’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Father’s Day.

If you have a holiday with plurals, remember to put the apostrophe after the s.

  • Presidents’ Day
  • April Fools’ Day

Tricks and Traps on holiday apostrophes: some holidays do not have an apostrophe:

  • Veterans Day
  • Armed Forces Day
  • United Nations Day

And now that you have rested up from your New Year’s Eve celebrations, what do you have planned for New Year’s Day?

Worst of the Week: Writing Errors in Everyday Life: Your, You’re

This trash can owner is obviously annoyed with some of his dog-walking neighbors.

OC Shout, fall 030

This error is so easy to avoid.

You are = you’re.

Omitted punctuation doesn’t help this frustrated person’s message either.

 

First Five Pages: Love, Hate, and Murder and Mendelssohn

Have you ever read a book you loved and hated at the same time?Kerry Greenwood, Murder and Mendelssohn: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Kerry Greenwood’s, Phryne Fisher Mystery, Murder and Mendelssohn, fell into that category for me.

I picked up the book from the new-book shelf at our local Mays Landing Library and decided to read it because I loved its exquisite cover: an exotic damsel wearing an elaborate, colorful, parrot-hibiscus-fern fringed shawl.

And I loved the title. Murder and Mendelssohn. Mystery and music. Nice alliteration.

As soon as I got home from the library, I snuggled down in my cozy reading chair all set to be enthralled by a mystery with musical overtones.

Disaster. But only at first.

Being an editor myself and a fan of Noah Lukeman’s book, The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, I read the first five pages of Greenwood’s book, unfortunately, with a critical eye.  (My bad habit: I can’t separate editing and reading!)

Here’s what grabbed me.

1. First Five Pages: Too many characters

Perhaps I am too much of a critic and not enough of a story line follower, but I got lost in the shuffle of at least eleven characters sprawled on the first two pages. Thirty choristers came ten pages later.

The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher; tired-out police detective Jack Robinson (unnamed until page 3); Dot, Phryne’s companion who was set to marry Detective Sergeant Hugh Collins; Tinker and Jane, Phryne’s adopted children; Mr and Mrs Butler, butler and cook (what a handy name!); Ruth, of unknown and unexplained personage; Ember, the black cat; and Molly, the sheepdog.

Why so many people (and animals) on the first two pages? Can all these people be essential to the plot? (No.) Where is the hook to keep me reading?

My initial thought was that this might be a first novel of a self-pubbed writer. I checked the book’s spine. Hmmm. Poisoned Pen Press, an established publisher of mysteries (since 1997) with numerous awards to their credit.  Greenfield is an Australian author so favors different spelling on words like colour and favourite. Perhaps they published an early draft, and perhaps there are more differences between American English and Australian English than I had realized. I will check on that.

Turns out that this book is Greenwood’s twentieth in her Phryne Fisher Mystery series and her 62nd book(!). These characters in M & M join the parade of characters from earlier books. Although series readers might enjoy an update on Phryne’s household menagerie, as a stand-alone book, these characters form a roadblock, deadening the beginning of the story.

But wait. Read on, and you will find a great story.

2. Verb Tense: Overuse of past progressive, with a switch to simple past

Notice the verb tense starting with the second sentence on page 1: the boring past progressive tense. Greenfield uses it to catalog the activities going on in her home, making her writing wordier than need be.

The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher was sitting…
She was wearing…
She was nibbling…
[Ember, her cat} was waiting…(in two sentences of 63-words) …[and] was contemplating…
She [Miss Phryne] was reading an autopsy report…
…the tired-out police detective was eating… [We don’t find out the detective’s name until page 3.]
Dot…was embroidering…
Tinker and Jane were playing chess…
Ruth was in the kitchen with Mrs. Butler shelling peas and discussing ways to cook pineapple.
Molly (the sheepdog) was lying under the table…

The deadly clue: overuse of the word was (seven times in eleven lines on the first page alone) with the progressive -ing form on verbs. This quickly becomes tedious reading because of its repetitive monotone nature.

But then. a switch:

…Mr. Butler sat down on his comfortable chair and sipped his after-breakfast cup of coffee.

What happened? Why the switch to simple past tense? Why not use simple past from the beginning and declutter the opening?

3.  Too much description

A barrage of details of Miss Phryne’s glamorous (ostentatious?) garden, morning outfit, and breakfast fill page one, leading one to believe that the main character is, well, quite a character.

The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher was sitting in her jasmine bower, drenched in scent. She was wearing a pale green silk gown embroidered with golden phoenixes, the symbol of the empress. Flaming pearls of longevity burned their way, comet-like, upon her fluttering sleeves. Her hair was as shiny as patent leather, cut in a neat bob which swung forward as she read. She was nibbling a croissant and drinking café au lait. With her pink cheeks and red lips and green eyes, she looked like a hand-coloured French fashion plate.

Other equally eye-catching and attention-getting outfits throughout the book receive similar mention. But not to be identified as a policewoman or inspector, Phyrne packs her .22 Beretta in her petticoat pocket.

A Queenscliff fisher boy, a minor character who “had attached himself at heel, like a small scruffy terrier” to the Fisher household, receives almost a full-page of description detailing why each member (including the pets) of this extended family likes him. Quite a lot of info for a minor character who occasionally brings fish for dinner. His role in the story: He occasionally asks questions that help move the mystery-solving process along because he is, as Phryne says, “endearingly intelligent.”

4. The Plot (or should I say Plots?)

A lot happens in Murder in Mendelssohn.

For me, the story started on page 2 with Miss Phryne reading an autopsy report. Immediate questions popped into my head that drew me into the story.

The much-hated and maligned choir director, Hugh Treggennis, gets murdered. Twice? Two murderers? Phyne called the murderer “flamboyant” and “with a point to prove.” Subtle humor throughout this book adds to its increasingly delicious flavor.

Someone has stifled an orchestral conductor with really quite a lot of sheets of Mendelssohn’s Elijah stuffed down his throat.

Seems excessive, even as musical criticism, ” commented Phryne.

The antics of the eccentric choir members ring true. They hated Tegennis (caricatured as a pig-in-a-suit by one anonymous chorister) and didn’t mind that he was dead, and all proclaimed their innocence in the matter. Of course.

Miss Phryne takes on the case. Oops. Miss Phryne gives tired-out police detective, Jack Robinson, assistance in solving this musical mystery. Let’s keep the record straight on that. Okay? *wink *wink.

One subplot has our heroine aiding and abetting John Willson, her former and current pro tem lover (complete with clothing ripped off in a frenzy of passion), in his bid to gain the attention of his currently unresponsive heart’s desire, Mr. Rupert Sheffield. This subplot comes with its own complete back story.

Mr. Rupert Sheffield is highly suspect for other possible international crimes, and hit men are on his trail attempting to silence him, that is, until John Wilson inadvertently foils their plans. Phryne unselfishly jumps in to solve the heart-throb problem when she realizes John is hopelessly enamored with Rupert.

Along the way to solving this mystery, you will receive music, etiquette, French cuisine, and French language lessons, all thrown in for extra measure. Phryne had been a poor nude artist’s model in France after the war so she is well-versed in all of these areas. Sorry, no recipes.

5. Overuse of Adverbs

Tinker, the fish boy, may be “endearingly intelligent,” but the adverbs in this book sound a bit high schoolish. Check these examples.

would undoubtedly award
occasionally making
confidingly laying her head
unexpectedly stung
endearingly intelligent
slightly failed
confidingly laying her head
reliably voracious
utterly uninterested
pleasantly free
rather meanly taken
really unsafe to eat
brooding darkly
particularly
extremely bitter
naturally bitter
unusually fraught rehearsal
thinking deeply
really quite a lot

Honest, I found all these adverbs in Chapter One. Greenfield uses “really quite a lot” of them. Treasure-hunting for adverbs added to the fun of reading this book! A sneak peak into Chapter Two tells us that Phryne had a “slightly sprained” ankle causing her to walk a little “gingerly” up the stairs,  dressed in a “decently quiet turquoise dress.” Well, you get the idea. The adverbs march on and on.

Move over Tom Swift!

Reviews

I checked Amazon reviews of this book and found a range of love-hate opinions. Die-hard Greenwood fans love the book; first-time Greenwood readers hate the book.

Personally, I love Phryne’s quirky and flamboyant personality, and I even got to love her adverbs. The solid plot kept me invested in the book from page three to the end.  And, to be honest, I really love those flaming pearls of longevity. I have got to have some for myself!

Obviously after twenty Phryne Fisher books, Greenwood is onto something. She has steady followers who look for the next title in the series despite (my) perceived writing problems in this volume.

Now, excuse me, I’m heading to the library to see if I can find more of Greenwood’s books. Her writing style intrigues me, including her bad habits. But as Novelist Elizabeth McCracken says “A writer’s voice lives in his or her bad habits” (quoted in Ben Yagoda, The Sound on the Page). That’s what makes Greenwood’s book memorable for me. But please, don’t copy her. Go find your own bad writing habits.

Related article: I is for Izzies, Arzies, Wazzies, and Werzies

Janice Hall Heck, retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek. You can also find her at    janiceheck.wordpress.com., on Twitter @janiceheck, and on Facebook at Janice Hall Heck.

Weekly Photo Challenge: It was a dark and stormy night…

Daily Post. WordPress Photo Challenge: Night time

Even though literary critics sharply criticize this line as clichéd, I still like it. Even a dark and stormy night can be exquisitely beautiful.

Janice Heck photo

It was a dark and stormy night. Janice Heck, photo

 

Why Grammar Matters in Your Book

Read this post reblogged from Julie Glover who tells us why grammar does matter! Well done, Julie.

Julie Glover, Young Adult Author

I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi, a grammar geek, a grammar freak, a grammar nut, the grammar police, and a stickler. What they say behind my back, I don’t know.

I’m not that bad. I don’t critique tweets, personal emails, texts, slang, or other informal communication. I am, however, concerned about proper language usage when it comes to published works.

Before you think I’m here waving a red Sharpie and poised to attack your misspellings, mispronunciations, or mistaken word usage, you should know that first and foremost, grammar geeks are word lovers. Just like writers.

I spend one day a week talking about language on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday. Those posts range from grammar advice to etymology to word games. Language is fascinating. The human ability to communicate a wide range of emotion, information, and ideas sets us apart and allows us to accomplish together what we couldn’t…

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50 Ways Editing Will Drive You Insane (Part 1)

This excellent post was written by Therin Knite of Knite Writes: The Official Blog of Therin Knite. I’m eagerly waiting for part 2!

AAA – Avoid Apostrophe Atrocities – Go to Gary’s for Breakfast

After church services most summer Sundays, our little bunch of Margate-by-the-Sea (NJ) choir members (one soprano, one female tenor, two basses, and two choir groupies) goes out for breakfast.

We gather around the shiny black piano after services and begin our conversation.

Janice Heck, photo of Gary's Restaurant

Gary owns the restaurant so it is called Gary’s Restaurant, or just Gary’s for short.

Well, where share we go today?

Sal’s? Gary’s? Fitzpatick’s? Ozzie’s? Isabella’s, Jon and Patty’s?

Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, Isabelle’s, and Jon and Patty’s get nixed rapidly. The shoobie crowd (summer visitors to the shore) pack out these places on summer Sunday mornings.

That leaves Gary’s, our favorite offshore breakfast place.

Not only does Gary serve good breakfasts, his quaint, offshore restaurant is far away from the madding beach crowds. And, best of all, Gary knows how to use apostrophes correctly!  Five stars for him.

Common Writing Error: Substituting Plurals and Possessives (Apostrophes)

Although it seems like a simple matter to a grammar geek like me, people constantly confuse words that need or don’t need apostrophes. Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites abound with this apostrophe atrocity.

And greengrocers? They thrive on making this common error. But don’t let sign makers or bumper sticker printers off the hook. They help to perpetuate this mistake. Check out this especially egregious example of incorrect apostrophe use.

apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, FL. Posted on Apostropheatrocitiesdotcom

Apostrophe abuse found by Tina in Naples, Florida. Posted on Apostrophe Atrocities dot com

Most common writing errors lists include the notoriously abused, misused, or totally ignored apostrophe. Blogs dedicated to finding and posting pictures of blatant misuse of apostrophes ridicule this particular writing error. (See Apostrophe Catastrophes and Apostrophe Abuse.) The misuse of the apostrophe is high on the list of a grammar geek’s pet peeves.

Strunk & White, in The Elements of Style, list the possessive apostrophe on nouns as the first item of importance on their list of “Elementary Rules of Usage.” In fact, apostrophes are taught in school at about the third grade and reviewed every school year after that, ad nauseum. (See Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?)

Yet apostrophes are still frequently misused, much to the horror of Lynn Truss. This author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) calls apostrophe errors

satanic sprinklings of redundant apostrophes that cause no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse…

Her book is about stuff we grammar geeks love but non-geeks and grammar-phobes don’t care about.

Two Questions Solve the Apostrophe Problem

When it comes to apostrophes, ask two questions.

1. Are there more than one?  If so, just add -s.

Two or more of the same thing = plural.

Two copies of one noun.

Two aardvarks, three curmudgeons, four geezers, five egomaniacs, six gastroenterologists, seven hyenas, ten apes, eleven orangutans,
…and last, but not least, twelve grammar geeks…

You get the idea. Two or more copies of one noun. Just add -s.

If you can count it, just add -s.

2. Does someone own something? An apostrophe shows ownership, possession, or connection of some sort.

When two distinct nouns have a connection, the first noun is the owner and earns the apostrophe.  See Abbey’s Alphabet for a quick review of possessives.)

Gary owns his little breakfast money-maker, so he calls it

Gary’s Restaurant.

Same with Fitzpatrick’s, Sal’s, Ozzie’s, and Isabella’s.

Fitzpatrick’s Deli
Sal’s Coal Fired Pizza (yes, they serve breakfast and pizza)
Ozzie’s Luncheonette
Isabella’s Ventnor Café

Here’s Where It Gets Tricky:  Possessives with Two Owners

What about restaurants that have two owners and both want their personal names in the restaurant name?

What should Jon and Patty call their restaurant?  What should Steve and Cookie call their restaurant? How about Chickie and Pete?

The rule is that only the second owner’s name gets the apostrophe, so the restaurant name should be written like this:

Jon and Patty’s Coffee Bar and Bistro
Steve and Cookie’s (Restaurant) By the Bay

Gary gets his apostrophes right on his kid’s menu as well. Five more stars.

Menu with apostrophes. Photo, Janice Heck

Of course, you will see this rule broken from time to time:

 Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar

Chickie and Pete couldn’t agree on who got the apostrophe, so they both (incorrectly) claimed one.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to make this error in neon lights!

Instead of going to that crab house next time you want a good breakfast, go to Gary’s. You’ll love his omelets. Or, if you’re not so hungry, have a grilled cheese sandwich from the kid’s menu. And thank Gary for getting his apostrophes right!

Summer sunday-GAry's 017 (2)

 

Your Turn:

What are your English grammar, usage, and punctuation pet peeves?

*******

If you are a grammar geek, or just a person who wants to be sure that you use the best grammar and punctuation in all writing situations, then consider following this blog. Just click on the link on the sidebar to the left of this post. Thanks.

This post is one in a series on Writing Quirks. More Writing Quirks can be found on my other blog: Janice Heck

Graphic by Janice Heck

 

Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader? Plurals and Apostrophes

During the course of my weekly Mahjong game with Linda, Suzanne, and Cathy, the conversation shifted to our English languageGraphic by Janice Heck error pet peeves.

Linda said, “I hate it when people misuse apostrophes. Don’t they learn about apostrophes in third grade?”

Well, no, in third grade the kids just want to get outside for recess to play ball. You don’t need apostrophes out on the field, just a good pitching or catching arm and fast running. With those three key ingredients, you can be a star.

Plurals and Apostrophe Confusion

It’s around third grade that apostrophes start their mischievous and devious lives.

Plurals come easily to young children, that is, until about third grade when they half-learn about apostrophes. Apostrophes look so grown up in writing that children begin to use them everywhere, forgetting what they have learned earlier about plurals. Many children get plurals and apostrophes straightened out after some patient teaching, but alas, many get stuck in third grade using apostrophes on plurals or omitting them on possessive nouns.

There’s Hope!

Teachers use an old rhyme to help children decode words with double vowels (rain, brain, pea, speak, teach, boat, coat, glue, and so on).

graphic credit: tiedupwstring.com

graphic credit: tiedupwstring.com

When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.

Thus in words like speak, teach, coat, and glue you pronounce the sound of the first letter (long vowels say their own name) while the second letter remains silent.

We can make up a similar rhyme to help us remember how to use apostrophes:

When two NOUNs go walking, the first one gets the apostrophe.

The Apostrophe’s Function

The apostrophe answers this question:   Who owns this (book, ball, pen, house, car, whatever)?

Who?   A person = Noun                Owns what?  A thing = Noun

Blaze this in Your Memory Banks: 

When two NOUNs go walking, the first one gets the apostrophe.

To use the possessive apostrophe correctly, you must have two nouns.

Here’s Abbey’s Alphabet to help you check out this guideline.

Check. Does every example have two nouns? (a person and an object)

Possessive nouns and apostrophes. Graphic by Janice Heck

Possessive Nouns and Apostrophes. Graphic by Janice Heck

Alas. Of  course, there are more apostrophe rules. We will talk about them in future posts. But for now, just remember that you need a possessive noun and an object noun to use an apostrophe to show possession.

Your Turn:

What writing quirks do you find in writing? What’s your pet peeve in writing?

#AtoZ, 2014: Totally Twitter: Follow, Autofollow, or Not

JaniceHeck

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910 Who’s on your list of Twitter Followers? Look carefully and you might find a few surprises (shocks?):

Twitter Fight Twitter Fight

a porno queen or two
a foul-mouthed jock
a beggar (asking you to follow, pleeeeease)
a person boasting about how many followers they can get for you
people with very strange names
a person who may be calling you or your mother names in another language
other surprises.

I like Twitter, but the speed of its message flow disrupts idea continuity. Still I check Twitter fairly regularly, and I always find something interesting or funny. Kristen Lamb is one of my favorites. She gives lots of advice on writing, blogging, and jumping into the social network. She always has something amusing to say.

Lamb_2011_1__biggerKristen Lamb@KristenLambTXApr 14
Been working since 7 this morning. Can I have back all those naps I didn’t want when I was a kid?       Best-Selling…

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Words That Make My Heart Go Boom

Neat quotes collected by E. on A Sign of Life.

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