Monthly Archives: July 2014

Baseball’s Hall of Fame teach writers a grammar lesson

Who knew?

The English language has a dictionary full of words with meanings, but unless you are a word savant, it is easy to mistake, misuse, or error in using certain words.

Case in point is the recent Hall of Fame induction of Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers in baseball history. The ungrammatical passage on the plaque that will be in the Hall for all to read throughout eternity or the apocalypse, whichever comes first, reads,  “…3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks.” 

Unless a few eagle-eyed word savants pointed it out I would think nothing of it. I understand what the passage means, it makes sense to me. However, the word “less” is incorrect. The correct word is “fewer.” Both words mean “not as many,” but the words are used in different contexts. Fewer should be used with countable items, like walks in the offending passage. It should read “fewer than 1,000 walks.” My book “Which Word When” says that “less” is to be used for plural numbers when they deal with distance and amounts.” The examples cited are “less than four miles”  and “less than a hundred dollars.”

 I understand the importance of using the correct word. When we use the right words in writing and speaking we are clearly understood-or at least have a better chance of it-but is pointing out the error by the Hall of Fame nitpicking? I think so.

The book I cited also adds this: “Despite all these rules-or perhaps because of them-many people use “less” when they should use “fewer” and vice versa and have been doing so for a thousand years. But they are still not interchangeable.”

I love the last sentence. After saying in essence, people have been using the wrong word for centuries, they throw in the reminder  that it is still wrong. It is like the fact that everyone jaywalks from time to time, but a policeman stops you and  tells you it is still wrong. Does it really mean anything?

Language is fluid, it changes, words take on different meanings. A few years ago there was no such word as “selfie” now it is being added to dictionaries. The word “gay” meant something different a few decades ago than it does today. I realize I am citing words, not grammar, and though I will try to use the correct word, be it “less’ or “fewer” I will not beat myself up if I get it wrong. I have been getting it wrong for a thousand years, yet I believe I have been understood, except by fewer than 100 English teachers.

I will not object to those who wish to purchase one of my e-novels and point out to me my grammatical errors. All of us need help, even the Hall of Fame.


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Comic strip tells truth about writers

In the Sunday comics Stephan Pastis, creator of “Pearls Before Swine,”  told the truth about writers; funny, yet sad, because the truth hurts. I can’t illustrate the panels, however, I can share the words.


8:01     Today I will write ten pages

8:02     Whoa, can’t write without coffee.

8:17      @*@#. Now I’m hungry.

8:50       I need inspiration. I’ll watch YouTube


12:00     Lunch break

1:13        Still not inspired. I need a walk

2:26       Okay, now I’m ready

2:28       Whoa, No printer ink. I’ll buy some

4:15        Okay. Now I’m all set.

4:19        But could use more coffee

4:36        And one game of “Words with Friends.”

4:58        ring ring ring

4:59        ‘Hey, Rat. It’s me. Pig. Wonder if you have time to talk.’

5:00        Great. Now you’ve wasted my whole day. I give up.


8:01         Today I will write twenty pages”

I am confidant writers can identify with the strip. The excuses will differ, but we do find reasons not to write. I would say more, but I have thirty pages to write today. However I have finished enough pages for three books that can be found at Amazon here.



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An easy way to write better

Writers know there are thousands of blogs with writing tips, e-books guiding you to better writing, magazines like Writers Digest or Writer to make you writing perfect, not to mention a library of books about creative writing. And like self-improvement books, they all pretty much say the same thing,  variation of the same themes. 

But there is an easier way to improve your writing. And it is more fun.

Whatever genre you write in, try reading various writers in the same genre. Chances you already have done that, but now read with a different eye. Read like a detective. How does the writer begin his story? Analyze it study it. How does he create characters? How does the writer structure the story?

I had an English professor in college who said read every book twice. Read it once to find out what happens. Read it a second time to find out how it happened. I know it is time consuming to read a book twice, especially when you have a pile of books to read, or have a Kindle full of titles to read. But there is no reason why you can not pick apart a book as you read it for the first time. Read it as a writer, not as a reader.

We have heard one hundred times how to begin a story, but some writers break the rules. Does the book you are reading break rules? How? Does it work? Why?

Of course  the danger is the book may be so good, draw you in so far, you forget your original intent on reading. Jerry Lewis reportedly told film students to watch bad movies so you can tell what works, make notes of why, then do not repeat those mistakes. Of course what is  a bad movie to you may be a good movie to me. Having reviewed movies for over ten years I know how that goes.

So try a book you would not ordinarily read. Go to a library and browse for something that by scanning,you think may be either a bad book or a good book and work your way through the book making notes for what works and what doesn’t it.

Or for the low price of $2.99 you can try one of my e-novels or short story collection using the same strategy. The point is to analyze with a critical eye of a writer.



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How writers can train their keyboard

A keyboard is like a cat. Neither will listen to you. A keyboard is independent of you. You can hit the K, but if the keyboard wants L, it will do so. Remember, and this is vital, the misspellings or any errors you see are not your fault. I repeat, it is not your fault.

That being said when your keyboard makes a few mistakes, gently finger-slap the keyboard below the space bar or in the corners, your choice. It is a reminder to the keyboard that it needs to be obedient to your writing.

If misspellings persists, which just happened to me, then slap the center of the keyboard. Do so quickly with force. Some keyboards don’t respond to the gentle approach, you must be firm with them. You may have to do this a few times, but the keyboard should improve its behavior during this period.

However, their are some keyboards that will defy you. Some keyboards are agent provocateurs, anti-writing terrorists infiltrating stores to sabotage writers like you without regard for their own well being. When you realize you have one of these insidious, infernal, saboteurs you must slam your open fist into the center of the keyboard. Keys are sure to fly off the board onto your desk or on the floor. Your message must be that their behavior will not be tolerated. You may have to slam your fist into the keyboard a number of times.

After inflicting the severe pounding you may find that a few keys are broken, can not be inserted into their proper place, or the space bar is stuck and will not give you space. It is sad, but there will always be casualties in war and remember this keyboard was trying to drive you insane, to ruin your writing, increase your proofreading time, and give you a heart attack.

I recommend you try various brands, all cheap ones of course, until you find one that will obey you.

I have examples of e-novels created with previous keyboards that obeyed me for a period of time, until they reverted to their feral life. Examples can be found here:

In the meantime, I must make a trip to the store as my keyboard destroyed the first draft of this blog and I must buy a new one. The present one will face a firing squad.










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I am melting as I write . . .

I don’t know how long I can hang on. The window shades are down to keep out the suns scorching rays from my computer and yours truly as I try to write, surrounded by fans blowing cool air over my body.

It is hot, hot hot.

My skin is damp, sweaty, sticky, and I just took a shower in which the cold water was hot.

It is hot, hot, hot.

I have a large plastic bottle filled with ice and water. By the time I get from the kitchen to my computer the ice has melted.

It is hot, hot, hot.

I tried eating ice cream. It turns to soup within 20 seconds of opening the package.

It is hot, hot hot.

I must keep this short as I am melting. I can see a small pool of my watery skin cells at my feet.

All of this means I have no time or energy to work on my e-novel. It takes energy to write and the heat is zapping me lie a Taser. At this point in the blog I have written 174 words and it has taken 92 minutes. It is so hot, the cat is sitting in his water bowl and pawing his fur with water over and over. I must fill his bowl every five minutes. It is so hot, the cat fills his mouth with water and spits it in the dogs face, who is lying on a rug. The dog does nothing. He too is melting.

It is so hot authorities have blockaded the city, there is a media blackout, no one is in the streets, all stores are closed. This is worse than “Walking Dead.”

I wish I could finish my e-novel, but thanks to the heat I have an excuse not to write.

However, while I melt you can visit my Amazon page to read about the books I wrote before the heat.





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Watch your language in historical novels.

When my generation was growing up parents instructed us to watch our language or we would have our mouths watched out with soap. I rarely watched my language, however, my mouth was soap free. I don’t know what a soapy mouth would have tasted like, but it would not have cleaned up my language.

I write fiction. My first e-novel is set in 1911, the second in 1922, and the one I am working on is set in 1927. Now I must watch my language with vigilance, taking nothing for granted. I won’t wash out my mouth if I make a mistake, but I will whack myself in the head.

I am not talking about foul language but about words we take for granted, words that may not have been used in the historical era in which the story is set. For example, my main character is a writer for movies. I knew in 1922 with silent movies there was not really a script, but a continuity scenario. With no dialogue the only thing to truly write was the title cards.

But with the transition to sound in 1927 with the “Jazz Singer” requiring more detailed scripts full of dialogue should I use the word “screenwriter?” Despite the success of “Jazz Singer” which had only four scenes of improvised dialogue by Al Jolson, silent movies were still made for a few years. The transition to “talkies” was not instantaneous.

In the early chapters of my work in progress I used the word “screenplay” six times. My mind was in the present historical age using a word I have used a thousand times in writing film reviews for ten years, reading the word a thousand times and speaking it another thousand times.

That is why as a writer once must never assume certain words we take for granted were used in the era you are writing in. Honestly the word “screenplay” was an easy one to correct. It came out in proofreading. But other words one must research like you research everything for your story. So when in doubt Google a word, searching for its usage, when it came into the language, learn everything about it so it is used correctly for that era. And don’t be surprised if you find out that in 17th century England no one watched television.


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What do writing and a baseball pitcher have in common

It may not seem like writers and baseball pitchers have anything in common, but if you write and also, like me, are a fan of baseball, you may guess what I am getting at.

When a pitcher is going well, all his pitches working, his delivery fluid, is in sync with his catcher, throwing with grace and ease, even with 95 miles an hour pitches, the pitcher sails through the innings. When he does this he is in rhythm.

When a writer is in rhythm his eyes are on the keyboard-if you are like me-hunting and pecking, but in a rhythm where hunt and peck is quick, the keys found with lightening synchronicity of eyes and fingers in perfect-or near perfect-harmony;  eyes and fingers working like a pitcher and catcher, the writers thoughts, whether it be description, or dialogue, the words spinning out onto Word Doc with ease.

The writer’s understanding of his story, his plot, his characters, all of it embedded into his creative gray matter with no distractions to intrude into his fictional world does not always get into rhythm easily, but once the flow gets going, nothing can stop it. 

To get ready for rhythm the writer like the pitcher must prepare himself. The pitcher has a game plan for the day, he warms up in the bullpen, fine tuning his pitches before taking the mound. Once he feels comfortable and gets his rhythm, he dominates like Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw. The writer can and perhaps should follow that same routine each day. Have a game plan for the days writing. Warm up with some writing exercises; write a blog, write stream of consciousness, any type of exercise to get your mind into a creative set, then get into your days work, following your game plan. You will get your rhythm and you may be the next Felix Hernandez of writing.

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