Dialogue and Accents – Don’t Be the Monkey with the Bazooka

RT 2013 promo

This is one of the magic wands I’ll be handing out at the RT Booklovers Convention next week. They arose out of a post I did recently on my personal blog, about how I’ve become the Fairy Godmother of Good Sex.

 I think they turned out pretty cool.

Today I’m over at Word Whores, talking about showing accents in dialogue – and how it can go oh, so very wrong.

Growing Up and Letting Go of Nostalgia

Me at Bowles PlazaThis is me back on campus at ol’Wash U. Thanks to Felicia Conway Korengal for the pic!

So, I mentioned on Tuesday that I was still processing my 25th College Reunion. People keep asking me if I had fun and if I’m glad I went and my usual answers have been “kind of” and “yes.” I think it’s good that I went and I don’t regret it, and there were many fun moments, but I didn’t really enjoy myself all that much.

I felt super emotional – lots of sadness – and I wasn’t sure why.

A few things played into this, I think. I’ve been back to campus and St. Louis many times over the last 25 years since graduation, but always with very specific plans. Sometimes I was there for work and arranged to see local friends. Once I arranged for a celebration of my favorite professor, who was dying of cancer. Many of his former students from over the years came together to talk about how much his teachings meant to us. That was an amazing, fulfilling experience.

This time, it was the random luck-of-the-draw, whoever turned-up-for-the-reunion thing. There were some people I knew – Felicia being one – and a whole lot of people I didn’t remember. Very few of them remembered me. I ended up walking around by myself a lot, which was fine because I’m good with that, and it also replicated how I was in college. Most of the time I went from place to place on my own, caught up in my own thoughts, following my own schedule. So that put me very much back where I was then.

And I became profoundly aware of how different I am now.

It was kind of wrenching to realize.

See, for a very long time, I regarded my college years as an ideal time in my life. And it was, in many, many ways. At Wash U, I found my tribe in a way I never had before. I blossomed – socially, intellectually and, dare I say, spiritually – and when I graduated and moved on, I deeply missed the community I’d had there. I grieved for it. I may have idealized it.

Because, walking around, visiting all my old places, memories came back to me that made me see how unhappy I’d been at times. Especially in the first couple of years. It was a time of great growth and change for me, which often means pain. To my surprise, instead of happy nostalgia, I re-experienced a lot of that old pain. An amazing sensation, 25 years later.

The extraordinary thing that hit me was, how much better my life is now.

It’s especially clear to me as I plan to go to the RT Booklovers Convention next week. My schedule is already full – meals and drinks and parties with friends, various writing and reading communities and publishers. There are so many people I’m excited to see and talk to.

They are my new tribe.

It’s an interesting experience, to realize you’re not the person you were. Almost like a little death. No wonder no one remembered me – I’m not at all who I was then. Which, I suppose, is how it should be.

I walked onto that campus at 19 and left four years later a transformed person. Of course that didn’t stop. One of the things I most value about the education I received at Washington University is the tools they gave me to continue a lifetime of learning and growing.

Learn and grow I have.

It will be interesting to see who I am in another 25 years.

Why I Don’t Care About Commas

BIQNbrsCIAEUWCUThe ceremony for my 25th college reunion was held in Graham Chapel, one of my favorite places on campus. I saw the Violent Femmes play here, back in the day. They put lights outside that enormous stained-glass window and made it part of the show. Amazing memory.

I thought I’d post about my reunion today, but it turns out I’m still processing what ended up being an unexpectedly emotional experience. On my way there, I was joking about writing a reunion book so I could deduct the trip and now I’m thinking what I have to say might end up being something like that. Perhaps this long-time set-aside-to-ferment narrative nonfiction book.

We’ll see.

Also  on the way there, and while I was there, and on the way back, I worked on my content revisions and line edits for Rogue’s Possession. This is my least favorite round of edits and most hated part of the whole writing gig. It’s painstaking and requires great attention to detail at the point when you’re completely Sick To Death of the story. You’ve been over stuff so many times that it all seems trite and dull.

With edits, too, there’s a constant struggle to determine what the right decision should be. My editor wants it one way. I want it another way. How can I please us both? More – it becomes this internal tug-of-war in sorting out whether I’m just resisting not having it MY WAY or if I have a solid foundation for fighting the alteration of my original text. This is exacerbated by the whole “art” thing, where a lot of times I can’t rationalize or articulate my reasons for sticking to my guns. I just FEEL it and there lies the boggy territory of sounding like a diva and being Difficult To Work With.

So, I do this rarely. But sometimes I feel I have to dig in my heels and say no. I want to keep this character. Or I like this line. The scientist in me hates not providing a logical defense, but the artist is happy. Believe me, Artist Me is much more difficult to placate than Scientist Me.

For this reason, I accept most edits. Especially punctuation and grammar.

You know those things people are always sending around Facebook, showing why commas are important? Never amuse me. Especially the ones championing the Oxford comma. For those who are not punctuation-obsessed, the Oxford comma is the one preceding an “and” in a series. It’s considered optional by most rational people these days. Thus it can be “apples, oranges, and bananas” or “apples, oranges and bananas.”

Yes, Mom, I know what the nuns told you. It’s optional now.

Personally, I like fewer commas. The Oxford comma is a waste of a keystroke in my world. Even other comma games, like those demonstrated in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, leave me cold. The title is a kind of word play, thus the panda image. The comma placement supposedly differentiates between whether a panda “eats shoots and leaves” of plants or “eats, shoots and leaves,” suggesting it might dine on the plant, then shoot someone and take off for parts unknown. It’s a cute example, but this kind of this drives me crazy. Nobody would seriously believe in that context that the panda is shooting a gun. If they are that easily confused, then they likely have bigger problems. I’ve also got issues with a “zero tolerance approach” to pretty much anything at all.


I do understand that some people care about these things. I have an old friend who’s been a computer coder all his life and it makes him crazy if I fail to close my parentheses. Yes, it’s a careless mistake on my part. For him, that missing parenthesis could mean a week of work sorting through code to determine why a program won’t run. This is more than panda antics to him.

Really, this matches my approach to most things, such as housework: whoever cares the most is responsible for doing it. You want a clean kitchen all the time? Knock yourself out! I don’t mind a few dishes in the sink. You HAVE to have an Oxford comma? Fine, whatever. I will never fight a comma placement. I just don’t care enough.

I save my caring for the REALLY important stuff.

Like keeping “laughed” as a dialogue tag.

I don’t see why I can’t have that.

<end rant

In Other News…Exciting New Book!

againstsLGWow. What a week.

Terrorism at the Boston Marathon. (I think we can say that safely now.) Fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. Shoot outs, car chases, deaths as they chase down the Chechen perps in Watertown. And, as I write this, the entire city of Boston is shut down while they chase the guy on the loose.

And my good friend and crit partner’s new book, AGAINST THE DARK, releases today.


No, no, no. I don’t think so.

This is Carolyn’s first foray into Romantic Suspense, with a book that I think is the most exciting thing she’s done since her Disillusionists series, which I loved so much. It’s tight, suspenseful, sexy and with a great premise about the mysterious Associates – uber smart spies with niche expertise. Nerdgasm for the win!

So, if you’re looking for a little escape from the stranger-than-fiction horrific events of this week, how about some time with a safecracker and her sexy hot spy?

Nom. Seriously. Nom.

Social Media, Tragedy and Giving Each Other a Little Room to Be Good People

001I love this kitty queue to keep a vigilant eye on a nest they can’t quite reach.

You all know I’m on the internet pretty much all the time. I work from home for my day job, so I have my personal laptop on Twitter while I work, in case something interesting happens. For a break, I’ll pop over to FaceBook to see what’s going on. I prefer to keep up with emails as they come in, so I keep an eye on my personal email In-Box along with my work one.

I’m lucky this way. I have unfettered access to my wireless network. If something funny occurs to me, I can tweet it right then. If someone posts an NSFW link (Not Safe For Work), I can click on it. No firewall stops me. No one looks over my shoulder. When people ask me how I have so much time for social media, this is why. Sometimes I turn off the internet if I need to concentrate and can’t afford distractions, but mostly I dabble throughout the day.

So, yesterday, within ten minutes of the bombs going off at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, I saw a tweet about it. I don’t always see stuff that fast, but someone I follow happened to post it and I happened to glance right then. The company I work for is based in Boston and I have a lot of connections there, so it caught my eye.

It’s interesting to watch things ramp up, as more and more people become aware. There’s a lot of very good trading of information. There’s also expressions of thoughts and prayers. Soon the tweetstream overruns with nothing else. With a few glaring exceptions.

The tweets NOT about the unfolding tragedy begin to stand out in stark relief. They can be jarring – someone’s book release, a tweet about a fascinating thing a speaker said, a picture of a statue at a museum.

There are two things going on here: 1) people schedule tweets to post during the day while they’re at work or school or whatever. 2) people are at conferences and museums, posting interesting stuff, but paying attention to what they’re doing, not what people are saying on Twitter.

But, in the heightened emotional sea of the people who are glued to what’s going on, they see these diversions as distracting, and worse, a sign of self-absorption.

Thus the castigating began. People were posting tweets like “anyone posting promo for their book at a time like this ought to be ashamed of themselves.” A prominent publishing figure on Twitter said “People, now is the time to pull your scheduled tweets,” one I saw RT’d over and over.

Well, it’s lovely for her that she thinks it’s so easy. She is another who is online all the time and has unfettered access to the internet. A whole lot of people out there simply do not. They are not allowed to access FaceBook from work. They are behind government or private firewalls that provide security but prevent them from signing into something like Twitter. Their choices are to be silent on social media all day or schedule posts. For people working hard to promote their new book, being silent isn’t an ideal choice.

The thing is, most of the time, these scheduled tweets are invisible in the stream. They look like the same thing everybody else is saying. Only when the mass voice of Twitter shifts to something like yesterday’s tragedy, do they stand out like proverbial sore thumbs. I saw one guy comment that he hates scheduled tweets and their inappropriateness at those times makes him hate them more. My bet is that he doesn’t know which ones are scheduled most of the time. I also bet he can access the internet whenever he wants.

So, as people were dog-piling on these “selfish” tweeters, I noticed two of my friends who were going to draw negative attention. One was at a tourism conference and she was tweeting all sorts of fascinating facts. The other was at a museum, posting interesting photos of things he was seeing. Very normal for both of them, but it looked insensitive. Both are lovely, empathetic people, so I knew they had no idea. I ended up texting both of them on their phones, so they could stop – and both were grateful for the heads up.

But, I think I shouldn’t have had to do this. I think there’s a lot of room for us to be tolerant of each other. It’s easy, especially when emotions are strong and there’s nowhere to channel them, to make assumptions about people’s motivations and abilities. It seems that, especially in the face of tragedy, we could maybe give people the benefit of the doubt. Pretty much nobody is so insensitive that they’ll be chattering about their book or a conference speaker while people are posting photos of the bomb scenes. It’s clear the person doesn’t know. If scheduled tweets are continuing, maybe we can figure that the person can’t sign in to pull them. It might be good to practice assuming the best of people, rather than the worst.

Yesterday, while people were expressing despair and horror, they were also passing around this quote ascribed to Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

And people pointed out how many rescuers – police, medical folks, runners, civilians – immediately ran to help. There are a lot of good people out there. Most of us are good people. Most of us try to be better people.

Maybe we should assume that, first.