Thursday, July 28, 2016

Living in the Gap: Intersections (Guest Post by Cheryl Oreglia)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  I'm very pleased to bring you a guest post today from blogger Cheryl Oreglia.  Cheryl reached out via that handy little "Contact Form" widget over on the right hand side of the page.  And YOU can feel free to contact us that way, too, if you're interested in an interview or guest post.  But enough of my blathering.  Let's get right to what you came for her by meeting today's guest and diving into her post. 

I'm a blogger, but I do have a life outside of my head, and it squeezes between me and my keyboard like a frightened child. What can you Do? On the surface my life is common, I’m married with children, work as a teacher, and live for weekends at the lake. But just below the water line is a unique voice and one that I hope will resonate with you. So come along on this textual pilgrimage and let’s see what we can discover one blog at a time.

You can find Cheryl at her blog, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Guest Post:

I sit here sipping coffee, feeling like I’m parked at the drive-in theater, but it’s light out, and no one is smooching on me. I’m actually in my car, on my way to work, early Thursday morning. I have a few hours of work ahead of me and then we're off to the lake for a long weekend. Three whole days to write, relax, and do a little wine tasting. Taking a generous swig of coffee I wait for the light to change at the intersection of Hamilton and Leigh. If you miss this light, it’s no less than a three minute delay, so I might as well distract myself with the people around me. 

The first thing I notice is the guy shaving in the car next to me. I feel like I’m peeking into his bathroom so I avert my eyes. There is a young girl texting in the car in front of me. She is resting her glossy pink phone on the steering wheel, so engrossed in her textual reality, she doesn’t notice when the light turns green. Before I have time to react, the guy behind me lays on the horn, he jerks his car into the next lane, glares at me, and speeds off. I almost flipped him the birdie, but I'm a teacher, and one of my students might see me. It would be difficult to explain why the religion teacher is flipping off strangers on her way to work, especially with the Love One Another sticker, affixed to my bumper.

My lane starts to move, the girl looks up, continuing to text with one hand, while steering with the other. She smiles at me in the rear view mirror and shrugs her shoulders. It makes me think of Anita Roddick who says, "You can't change the world from the rearview mirror." I wonder about the cars, the people, and this intersection of life. Perhaps this random encounter has no greater meaning than the color of my toenail polish? But I'm starting to believe synchronicity is far more important than we will ever know.

I imagine the guy shaving is a mid-level exec, raised in the Bay Area, got caught up in the whole tech craze, and now owns a swanky new condo in San Jose. He has time to shave at home, but he likes the idea of shaving on the way to work, it makes him feel important. His seventeen year old son needs more attention, but Shaver golfs every Saturday with his college buddies, and he's gotten into the habit of prioritizing his own needs. 

I believe the texting obsessed young lady is a student, heading to Del Mar High School, driving a used Jeep handed down from one of her siblings. She is not a scholar, this is her junior year, and she is more concerned about prom then her G.P.A. She'll be transferring schools next year because her parents think she needs a more rigorous academic environment. Her new shoes hurt, but they make her feet look small, and in her opinion that is the only critique for shoes. Her dad sells insurance for All State, which is ironic, because texting while driving annuls your insurance benefits. 

Now the guy behind me, with the short fuse, he could be my husband, but he's not. He is a real estate developer and generally impatient about delays. He's meeting a buddy for a round of golf at the San Jose Country Club, and this red light is going to make him late. If there is one thing in this world that drives him crazy, it is people who show up late for appointments, and he will not be joining that league.

We head off in different directions, unaware of the impact we've had on one another, or the ways in which our lives intersect. See a few years back, Shaver was in a skiing accident, he shattered his wrist, and had to miss a golf tournament. Mr. Impatient was asked to take his place. This is when Mr. Impatient found out about a dilapidated apartment complex that was for sale in San Jose. He purchased the building, ousted the tenants, and converted it into condos. Shaver bought one, his seventeen year old son now attends Del Mar High School, and will be taking Texting Queen to the prom next week. What Texting Queen doesn't know, is she'll be enrolled in one of my classes come fall, and I'll be confiscating her glossy pink phone for most of the semester. 

Every life is an intersection of who we were, who we are, and who we will be. I made up the stories, not the people, but they all represent aspects of myself. On occasion my wayward dispositions intersect, just like the people we encounter on the road of life, sometimes I get held up, and forget how a stranger can transform my day. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

5 rookie writer mistakes to avoid at all costs

A post by Mary Fan
Back when I used to bounce around online writers communities exchanging first chapter critiques
with fellow amateurs, I found myself reading a lot of stuff by newbie writers. These writers often had really cool and interesting ideas, but the writing wasn't there. And over time, I began to notice that some of the same things popped up time and time again. Some of these were mistakes I'd made once upon a time as well, so I totally sympathized. Others were ones that I'd avoided because I'd once had a mentor set me straight.

Here are some of the more common ones. If you're just starting out and you steer clear of these rookie mistakes, you'll save yourself a lot of time on rewrites :-). Also, apologies for the somewhat rant-y tone in advance... When you run into the same things over and over, you start feeling like you're running into a wall, and running into walls always makes me grumpy.

5. Thinking they can tackle third omniscient POV

Look, the debate about whether there are "rules" in writing or not has been raging forever, and it's never going to be resolved. But the fact is, pretty much no one likes third omniscient POV anymore. Yes, it was once commonplace to have a story switch from one character's perspective to another's within a section, sometimes even paragraph to paragraph. Yes, a lot of classics are written that way. But the year is 2016, and people don't write like that anymore. In fact, one publishing consultant I know said she hadn't seen third omniscient commonly used since the 1980s. That's practically before Taylor Swift was born, folks.

I noticed that a lot of rookie writers would hop from character head to character head in an attempt to emulate those old-timey styles. And there are those who had more modern examples of third omniscient to look up to. But the fact is, it's extremely hard to do well, and unless you're a true expert in the craft, you're probably not going to pull it off. When done well, third omniscient offers a grand, sweeping worldview of the book. The way most rookie writers do it, though, it mostly just reads like POV ping-pong, which is super distracting and often jarring. Like, you're happily following one character's POV, then BAM! It's someone else's. Then all the POVs feel incomplete, which has the unfortunate effect of making it feel like the reader's being kept at arm's length.

So if you're just starting out, then when it comes to third omniscient--just don't. Pick a perspective and stick with it for at least one whole section.

4. Not defining their world-building

This mostly affect sci-fi/fantasy writers, but can also affect contemporary writers as well. For a world to be believable, whether it's in a galaxy far, far away or just a few miles South, it has to have a defined set of rules. Now, these rules can be whatever the author wants them to be. As fantastical or absurd as desired. But you have to put them in place, and you have to stick with them. Otherwise, readers very quickly notice that things don't make sense, which pulls them out of the story.

Rookie writers tend to dream big, which is awesome, but sometimes, this means they forget to give shape to their ideas. So you wind up with worlds where anything is possible not because a believable cause-and-effect within the universe, but because the writer said so. This comes across as sloppy, and it kills any hope of creating tension or stakes because the reader's too confused about what's possible or not to follow along.

3. Forgetting that readers aren't psychic

This is another one that's big for sci-fi/fantasy writers. Here's the thing: You are the only one who can see the fictional world inside your head. Readers aren't psychic. So if you use a fantastical, made-up term, they're going to have no idea what that thing is. And it isn't mysterious to keep it that way; it's just confusing (and frankly, really annoying). Often, all it takes is a quick phrase defining an object or concept to set the reader straight.

Of course, there is a lot that can be implied as well. People will no doubt point out that hey, great writers don't spell out everything because they assume the reader is intelligent. Well, there's a difference between intelligence and ESP. There are ways to subtly drop in information without spelling everything out, but if you don't give any information at all, then you're putting the burden on the reader to hunt for clues or make things up, and that's just lazy writing.

This problem also manifests in the form of missing descriptions. A writer might have a clear vision of what a character, place, etc. looks, sounds, or smells like, but unless they tell the reader, the reader has no idea. I've heard the argument that the writer "wants the reader to imagine it for themselves." Sorry, rookie writer, but that's also lazy writing. You don't have to give the reader everything, but you have to at least paint an outline. Otherwise, the reader's doing all the work, so what is the point of you? (Sorry--the rookie writers I've heard this from tend to be pretentious as well, making it doubly annoying). Same goes for emotions--rookie writers will sometimes think that dialogue alone is enough, but here's the thing: words have many meanings, and this is a book, not a screenplay. So unless you hint at what the character's feeling, the reader will have no idea, which makes the writing just feel thin and flimsy.

2. Losing sight of what the story's truly about

The opening of a book sets a reader on a journey--to follow a character (or characters) through whatever trials and tribulations the plot's going to throw at them. And in this opening, the reader is promised certain things. If it's a romance, they're promised a pair of lovers who eventually get together. If it's an adventure, they're promised a quest with a goal at the end. If it's a mystery, they're promised intrigue and possibly danger all leading up to an ultimate answer. And so on.

Though stories can twist and wind their way through their plots in unexpected ways, the good ones never lose sight of that promise--what the whole point of this exercise was. Rookie writers sometimes seem to forget what their own stories are really about and go off on tangents that lead nowhere and do nothing but distract the reader from what they really want. For instance, I've read romance novels with random military operations that have nothing to do with the main characters thrown in for some reason. I've read epic adventures where the heroes, for whatever reason, take a detour and apparently forget all about their quest for chapters and chapters. I've read mysteries where the detective figure apparently forgets that there's a killer on the loose in order to have a social life.

While characters can certainly get thrown off course, the promise set up at the beginning of the novel is always going to loom over the story. It's the reason the reader kept reading in the first place, so when the characters (and writer) seem to forget about it, it gets really frustrating. So be sure to pinch all your story points together. There should be a purpose behind each action, and it should all ultimately tie into the book's larger arc.

1. Not reading books, goddammit!

I once had a writer tell me that he didn't read books, and that his stories were inspired by videogames. He said it was because reading other books would taint his unique vision, and he didn't want to do what was done before. Cue tight smile and uncomfortable nodding.

I've also seen writers go on about how nothing good is published these days, and that their inspirations all come from the Truman administration or earlier. Which would be fine if they'd at least pick up a recently-published book now and then, but often, that isn't the case.

Look, wanting to create a unique vision or drawing inspiration from the past are a noble goals, but the way to go about them isn't avoiding what people are actually reading these days. The result won't be something new; it'll be something out-of-sync.

Thing is, at the end of the day, the only way to get better at writing is to read a lot and write a lot. The reading part is because there's a rather undefinable quality to good writing that you know when you see, but that no one can quite explain (many have tried, but it's never all there). It's something you absorb over time and become attuned to.

The writing part is because practice, duh. ;-)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

United Fandoms

What up, everyone. It's currently Tuesday night, and rather than watch the RNC which is entertaining, I decided to binge-watch Mr. Robot. Believe it or not, this dire look at our society through the lens of hackers is less depressing than our current election cycle. But I digress.

I wanted to blog about fandoms today. And a little about fanfiction. Although, this might become a multi-part series because there's a lot to say about both topics. But let's go back to fandoms. Even if you're not familiar with the term, you more than likely know what a fandom is and you are more than likely part of one. You might even participate in one. Fandoms are a subculture of fans who rally around a common interest -- anything from books to TV shows to movies and music -- and typically network and share online. Although, fandoms do predate the internet.

Fandoms often get jazzy names like Potterheads (Harry Potter), Whovians (Dr. Who), and Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffet fans). Fandoms will often rally around an OTP (one-true pairing), a favorite couple such as Angel and Buffy, or Angel and Spike, or Chuck and Blair, or Lizzie and Mr. Darcy.

Members of fandoms will often write fanfiction, original stories set in established worlds. My first foray into this was reading Jane Austen fanfiction on I was obsessed with Austen's world after seeing a wet Colin Firth in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (and before you judge me, I did go on to read all her books, including Northanger Abbey) and seeing as how Austen was dead and not producing, I went online to read more P&P works, some set post marriage. Some missing scenes from P&P. Some variations on existing scenes. It was like scratching an itch.

 [Be aware when searching for fanfiction, it can get really smutty. Writers will tag their stuff explicitly so you know what you're getting into before you read. I have read amazing fanfiction (check out AO3) and not-so-amazing stuff and I love it all.]

I could write a whole dissertation on fanfiction, including a glossary for important terms. But I won't right now. The point I'm making here is that writers can learn a lot from fandoms and fanfiction. Think of a show you love, now go online and check out the fandom. What is it about the show or movie or book that draws readers? Not just pulls them in but hooks them so tight, they're spending all their free time writing and reading fanfiction. What makes them obsessed? What is it about OTPs that makes readers fall in love? Are the characters super flawed? Redeemable? Pining? What do fans want out of their fandoms? How do they want to feel?

It's hard to pinpoint why certain fandoms take off before others, but as authors, we should examine fandoms and fanfiction to inspire our own art.

Are you a part of a fandom? Do you read fanfiction? Do you write any? Please comment away.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What’s a spelling-challenged Literary Engineer to do?

Have you ever seen this joke or a similar one?

If you’ve read any of my bios, you might recall that I’m a mechanical engineer by degree. While this joke is not accurate for many engineers (including my husband), I can tell you that it is accurate in my instance. I am horrible when it comes to spelling. Always have been, always will be.

And now Im a self-proclaimed Literary Engineer.

Um . . . I think I have a problem.

Oh, wait—Im an engineer. I can solve problems!

When I started to become serious about publishing my first book, I learned through my research that there are many readers who are passionate about an author’s ability to use proper grammar and spelling. That’s fair, after all. I can personally overlook a few errors in books (probably because I don’t notice them), but I have to admit to instances where an abundance of errors killed my enjoyment of the entire story. I knew I wouldn’t be in the camp of more errors than not for my own books, but I’m a big fan of eliminating distractions during the reading experience. I knew I had to pack my toolbox with some industrial grade spelling and grammar tools.

My aunt is a professional proofreader, so she does my final copy editing. It’s a huge relief to have a person I trust take a last crack at my books, but I still want to try to make the job a bit easier for her. I need to get better at catching my own mistakes. Because that’s the thing—in most cases I know what I’m supposed to write, but my fingers don’t always keep up with my brain. Except for spelling. When it comes to spelling, my brain is usually wrong.

I currently write almost everything in Word before I publish—be it a novel or a blog post—so the built-in spell checker is a huge help. However, it does not catch everything. For example, there are a few words I always seem to mix up, even though I know there is a difference and what that difference is.
  • quite and quiet
  • breath and breathe
  • choose and chose
  • heel and heal

These are just a few of the words always I seem to always mix up, so after I finish my manuscript I do a search for these words and correct any I have wrong.

Up next are the words that have multiple variations and different meanings depending on how you use them. For example:
  • someday and some day
  • awhile and a while
  • anyone and any one

Then there are words I didn’t have to use often in my job prior to writing, so I have difficulty remembering the rules. Sometimes I inherently know which to use, but I’ve never stopped to think about why. Writing novels has forced me to slow down and consider proper usage of words like:
  • farther vs further
  • burned vs burnt
  • blonde vs blond
  • were vs was

Most of the time I do a Google search of grammar sites when I need help, but there is one other tool I’ve come to depend on: Grammarly. You can install a plug-in for Word that will catch the errors spell check won’t, but I never was able to get that working properly on my end. But no worries, because I can copy and paste into my Grammarly account.

Most of all, I love that it installs (for FREE) on Chrome. This means I have a powerful tool checking my spelling and grammar for everything I do online: blog posts, comments, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. There is a green circle in the bottom right-hand corner of text boxes which changes to red with the number of possible errors found.

This has saved my bacon many times! I want to look just as professional in my online endeavors as I do in my novels, but I can’t pay my aunt to proof everything I type (nor is it possible for her to do so). As a result, Grammarly has become a very important tool for me.

I realize perfection can’t be achieved, but I’m hoping these tools will correct enough of my errors to keep the grammar police off my back :) Just please don’t expect me to ever learn when to use whom rather than who. Seriously.

Feel free to share any tools or sites you’ve come to depend on in your writing—I’m always on the lookout for additional tools I can use! And, I highly recommend giving Grammarly a shot if you haven’t already.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Six Plot Theory

Image credit deviant art

A Post By Jonathan 

So... lately I've been doing a lot more reading about writing than actual writing. But hey, that's gotta count for something, right? 

During my "research", I came across a study that I just had to share. I don't know about you, but I've struggled with plotting my book(s) from time to time. Well it turns out that I was sweating over nothing. Apparently there are only a handful of plots to choose from. According to a bunch of data mining nerds at the University of Vermont, there are just six plots in every film, book and TV show ever made! They basically put 1,700 stories into their little machine and, using something called "sentiment analysis", determined the most common emotional arcs of each story.

Here's a link to the actual study (and here's an article about the study for you layman out there). I pulled the arcs and the examples from the article for your viewing pleasure. I found them to be pretty easy to comprehend. What say you? 

The Six Arcs Are (drum role please....)

  • Fall-rise-fall: 'Oedipus Rex', 'The Wonder Book of Bible Stories', 'A Hero of Our Time' and 'The Serpent River'. 
  • Rise-fall: 'Stories from Hans Andersen', 'The Rome Express', 'How to Read Human Nature' and 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali'. 
  • Fall-rise: 'The Magic of Oz', 'Teddy Bears', 'The Autobiography of St. Ignatius' and 'Typhoon'. 
  • Steady fall: 'Romeo and Juliet', 'The House of the Vampire', 'Savrola' and 'The Dance'. 
  • Steady rise: 'Alice's Adventures Underground', 'Dream', 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'The Human Comedy'. 
  • Rise-fall-rise: 'Cinderella', 'A Christmas Carol', 'Sophist' and 'The Consolation of Philosophy'. 
According to the study, the most popular stories have been found to follow the 'fall-rise-fall' and 'rise-fall' arcs. Like probably a lot of folks out there, I haven't read many of the books in the examples, so I'd love to hear if you can come up with any more recent examples. 
Thanks for stopping by! And happy plotting 

For more advice on plotting, please see Brenda's Monday article: "Plotter.Pantser? Pole Dancer?"

Monday, July 11, 2016

Plotter? Pantser? Pole Dancer?

I have two weeks to write the first draft of a novella. 25K in 2 weeks is a little more than 2K words per day, which is totally do-able. I'm not a fast writer, but even I can eke out 2K in a day -- and beta read for a critique partner, plan promo for my upcoming release and do all the non-writing-related things life seems to demand. Can't I?

The answer is yes, yes I can -- but only if I plot a little first.

Plotting used to feel like a waste of valuable writing time to me. I have a window of uninterrupted time to write every day and I need to get the words in! The story will flow and I'll follow.

The problem comes, of course, when the story DOESN'T flow and that valuable writing time morphs into tweeting and Facebooking and taking BuzzFeed quizzes. And, for me, nothing kills my word count like frustration over not getting in my word count. (Sounds like a bad T-shirt slogan, doesn't it?) Thus a plotter was born.

My usual method is to outline, complete with Roman Numerals (because there's not enough use for Roman Numerals in adult life, quite frankly.) It's not pretty, but it gets the job done and I end up with a beginning, middle and end -- as well as a few key plot points in the middle.

I have a good writer friend who does character worksheets -- everything from her MC's favorite food to how she responds when that cute guy finally texts her. When she gets to the point in her novel where the cute guy finally texts her MC, she's already got the scene pretty much done. Result!

Another popular method is beat sheeting. I admit I tried this and it felt a lot like writing the nuts and bolts of the story but sans voice. This doesn't work for me because I get lazy. I mean, if I've already got a story, so what if the main characters all sound the same? Does anyone really notice? (Hint: Yes. Yes they do.) But, for a large number of writers, beat sheeting helps them draft really quickly.

There's also the contingent of writers who swear by the Save the Cat method. This actually has its roots in screenwriting and is a type of beat sheeting within a three-act structure. I like it because it includes "Bad Guys Close In" and "Dark Night of the Soul" as plot points. As a romance writer, it doesn't feel like "Bad Guys Close In" is really part of my story, but it is if you look at it instead as "MC is about to lose everything" Not surprising, the next piece of the story is "All is Lost" which applies regardless of genre. This is a great method to use for writers who struggle with providing enough conflict in their novels that then results in character growth.

Finally, there's what I like to call the pole dancers for beginners method, which is what I'm going with this time around. I have a solid start to this novella and I know where it ends, but the middle is one big fat mystery. I keep sitting down to write and getting caught up in the details of how the characters move -- both physically and figuratively -- from scene to scene. So, I'm abandoning all transitions and capturing the key moments. There are snippets of dialogue when I feel inspired, but basically I'm working on the middle so when I go back to work on it, I know what I need to do next.

What does this have to do with pole dancing, you ask? Well, let me ask you a question first. Have you ever tried pole dancing -- as a dancer, not an observer? It's become a popular form of exercise, despite its seedy undertones, and with good reason. Pole dancing is HARD. Anyone who thinks they're going to spin around a pole and look like an exotic dancer on their first go is in for a shock. And no doubt some bruises. Anyone who doesn't have a minimal fitness level to start is going to be in for an even bigger shock. And more bruises.

I confess my pole dancing experience was just one class -- a freebie from a studio down the street from my office. I'm a runner, so I had the minimum level of fitness down. It was the rest of it I struggled with. A lot. Although, strangely, it didn't make me feel inept and awful. I couldn't do the choreography and my "ability" to actually leave the ground and climb the pole was in name only, but when the instructor assured me that if I kept coming to class, I'd gradually fill in the gaps and be able to do the moves with ease and confidence, I believed her.

As is the way with the pole dancers for beginners method of outlining. (See what I did there??) I've got a baseline, the solid beginning of a story. I'm going to put pieces in place that might work or might not once the whole story is written, but it doesn't hurt to try them now. And the more I go back and build on those key pieces, the closer I am to the end, which I can see clearly even if I can't execute it quite yet. As I get further in my story, less needs to be discarded because I know my plot better and I'm not wasting words or effort. By the end, I know exactly where I'm going and how I got there. In theory, it's like executing a flawless martini spin. Except, for this non-pole dancer, with more martini and far less spin. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Dip Into the ATB Mailbag

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  Alison had an unexpected situation this week, so I thought I'd take the cheapest, easiest possible route for creating filler: dipping into the Across the Board mailbag!

If YOU have any questions for us, just fill out that little contact widget on the right-hand side.  I, or your other favorite Boarder would be delighted to hear from you.  Now, let's jump in!

Dear Stevesie,

Are the old children's books the "BerenstAin Bears" or the "BerenstEin Bears?"

- Loves Bear-Backing It

Hi, LBBI!  How funny you should ask.  I had dozens of those books, and I remember them distinctly.  It's the one with the "E."  Berenstein.

(Editor's Note: our fact-checkers have determined that it is actually "Berenstain" with an "A.")

Oh.  That's weird.  My mistake.  Sorry, everybody.

Dear Stevesie,

Is the big four-legged imperial walker in "Empire Strikes Back" pronounced "@@" or "A.T.A.T.?"

- Always Tracking A Transliteration

Hi, ATAT, in my humble opinion the correct pronunciation is "A.T.A.T"  Droid names with similar constructions have all their letters and numbers pronounced, and, perhaps most damning of all, how would you pronounce the name of the AT-ST if you used the phonetic method?  Still, colloquialisms are quite common, and it's a big galaxy out there, so maybe it's best that we just leave each to his own on this one.

Dear Stevesie,

Where in the Bible does it say "The lion shall lie down with the lamb?"  I've searched all over and I can't find it.

- Can't Help Understanding Real Holiness

Thanks for writing, CHURCH.  The verse you're looking for is Isaiah 11:6.

(Editor's Note: our fact-checkers indicate that Isaiah 11:6 actually states "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb...")

Wait, what?  Are you sure?  I could have sworn it was "lion."  Well, okay, nobody's perfect.

Dear Stevesie,

A friend of mine on Facebook loudly and with great certitude stated that putting two spaces after a sentence was wrong and that I should feel old for doing it.  Can you shed any light on the matter?

- Slightly Put-upon And Confused Everyman

Thanks for writing, SPACE!  Your friend is what we call in linguistics a "prescriptivist" (read: asshole.)  In other words, he likes to dictate what language usage ostensibly "should" be, as opposed to a descriptivist, who simply analyzes actual usage.

The truth is, there is no central authority for English language use, as the French have.  Every publishing house (not to mention corporation and government agency) has its own style guide.  While at work, you should, of course, adhere to your company's style guide, and when submitting writing, you should also adhere to the style of that publisher as best as you know how.  

Now, I could go on at some length about the aesthetic value of double-spacing sentences, not to mention its value in actual language comprehension (for instance, telling the different between abbreviations and hard stops) but I have an even simpler answer.  Removing double spaces from your manuscript takes about thirty seconds with a "find and replace" command.  Inserting them would take countless thousands of hours.  And since you'll never know which method the person you're submitting to may prefer, the "correct" answer seems obvious to me.

Dear Stevesie,

When did Nelson Mandela die?

- South African History Bluff

Hi, SAHB.  That's an easy one.  Nelson Mandela died in prison in the '80s.

(Editor's Note: our fact-checkers indicate Nelson Mandela actually went on to become president of South Africa and died in 2013.)

Hey, wait a minute, hold on there.  This is the third time you've corrected me.

(Editor's Note: yup.  Stop fucking up your facts.)

I'm not!  I distinctly remember all of these things.  Lots of people do.

(Editor's Note: perhaps you're all suffering from confabulation, the psychiatric condition where slightly altered false memories replace real ones.)

Thousands of people?  Hundreds of thousands of people?  All confabulating simultaneously?  How is that possible?  Check the damn internet.  A huge percentage of the population remembers the Berenstein Bears with an "E."  A beloved part of their childhoods and, woops, they all just flubbed it?  And Nelson Mandela dying?  That's a pretty major event, no?  And the Bible?  You're telling me all these people are remembering the freaking Bible wrong?  That's a pretty hard thing to confabulate when nuns are slapping your knuckles if you don't keep it right, don't you think? 

(Editor's Note: well, what do you consider the alternative?)

Well...what if (and just bear with me here for a minute) what if somebody were going back in time and tinkering with history?  What if in the future time travel is discovered and those future people decide to go back in time, Sam Beckett-like, to set right what once went wrong?  Something small in the past, say, preventing Bill Gates's parents from meeting, or ensuring that Hitler got accepted to art school, would lead to major consequences in the present.  History could literally be rewriting itself around us, maybe more than once, maybe multiple times, maybe even all the time.  Suppose the future were gradually tinkering with the past to make itself "correct."  And we wouldn't theory.  But the human brain is a complicated thing.  Perhaps it can be aware, to some extent, of time rewriting itself.  Maybe for some people, some memories are so deeply implanted - major things, like politics, a favorite childhood memory, even a favorite religious verse - become planted so deeply that they're actually remembered "correctly" even as history changes.  I once had a dark day where I was certain - absolutely certain - that Jeffrey Hunter had starred as Captain Pike through the entire run of "Star Trek" instead of William Shatner as Captain Kirk.  I had to look it up to disabuse myself of the notion.  But what if it was the records that were wrong and not my memory?  Maybe for thousands of people, millions even, the memory of the lamb laying down with the lion instead of the wolf is so deeply ingrained that it survived even temporal paradox.  Maybe it's even history's way of warning us that things are changing.  Maybe our neurons, our memories, are the only way that time itself can scream out in pain and attempt to alert us to the dark conspiracy all around us.

(Editor's note: or maybe you just remembered some shit wrong.)

Sigh...I guess we'll never know for sure.  Let's just answer this last letter.

Dear Stevesie,

Who is currently the president of the United States?

- Likes To Ask Simple Questions

Ah, finally, a nice cut-and-dry one.  John McCain is, of course, reaching the end of his second term as POTUS.  Thanks for writing, LTASQ.

(Editor's Note: .................................>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<)))))))))))(((((((((((((((______________--------------------...ama.)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Libraries- A Great American Freedom

Last Monday, my phone calendar dinged to remind me to call my local library, as it was opening day to sign up for July's summer programs for children. My children and I were excited as we browsed through the events list and picked out several interesting programs to look forward to, including a planetarium display and a self defense class to include their ages. It dawned on me that many people under appreciate their local library and all the wonderful things it can provide for the community.

I shouldn't have to point out that a building full of books to borrow for free (unless you, like me, contribute financially in late fees) is amazing in and of itself. But it goes beyond that. Libraries help local authors by buying their books and hosting them for signings and Q&A sessions. And I know my library also has a writing group that meets twice a month, encouraging writers regardless of genre or journey and offering constructive criticism along the way.

Libraries also provide internet access for those who wouldn't otherwise have it available to them. Be it for job searching, homework, or just browsing the web, it's there and ready to be used. Not sure how to use a computer? Don't worry, some libraries provide classes for this, resume building, ancestry research, and other valuable skills.

Looking to make friends? Go to the library. My children have made new friends during story and craft time, playing in the children's room, and reading to therapy dogs. I've made friends reaching for the same book as someone else. My brother and I also connected with some trivia buddies at a 90s themed trivia night (I'm still bummed that I've missed both Harry Potter trivia nights aimed at my age range). Another thing my library offers that I love are gaming events. Pokemon, board games, and even video games. OH! And the 75th anniversary of Batman event! That was amazing!

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few benefits of libraries outside of the obvious books option, but these are some of the ones we've utilized in my family. Libraries truly are wonderful places, often overlooked and brushed off without consideration for their community building efforts.  

Why do you appreciate your library and what do you use it for? Any unique programs you've found?
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