Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Leave Your Heart There

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Romance Writers of America will be holding its 28th annual national conference from July 30 to August 2 in San Francisco. It’s time to talk to your agent and editor up close and in person and network with other authors. Best-selling author Victoria Alexandra will be jetting in from sunny Omaha to be the keynote speaker, and Connie Brockway will be the speaker for the awards luncheon. Suzanne Brockmann wraps up the conference as emcee for the 2008 RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony.

Click here to see the list of nominees for this year’s Rita Awards. Is your favorite author poised to win one of the coveted statuettes? Best wishes to everyone who will be pitching their stories to agents and/or editors for the first time. Have fun and enjoy the City by the Bay.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grammatically Speaking

I found this short, wonderful article by Deborah Pfeiffer concerning basic grammar stumbling blocks, and wanted to share it. Thanks, Deborah. Happy writing, everyone!

Grammactically Correct by Deborah Pfeiffer

Grammatic stumbling blocks.

We writers all have them, even the most ardent (and anal-retentive) aficionados of grammar (the latter of which I'm a member). So when you pull out your red pen or turn on the redlining function in your word processing program, here are some correctly used examples of commonly misused words to help you in your grammar cleanup. For each set of "confused" words, I show each word properly used in a sentence, followed by an explanation of why that usage is correct and a way to remember that rule. After reading this article, if you need further (or better) explanation, I recommend consulting "When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style," by Lauren Kessler & Duncan McDonald, University of Oregon.

Also, a few disclaimers:

  1. These grammar and punctuation rules probably lean more toward the traditional. Language is always evolving. But these are fairly standard rules, and I suggest you stick with them. If you insist on bending or even blatantly breaking these rules, I challenge and encourage you to find a corroborating citation from a well-known and respected style manual before doing so. (I can give you a list of the top ones if you so desire.)

  2. I'm not perfect either, so no fair e-mailing me grammar corrections for this article! (OK, you can let me know, but don't expect me to be civil and polite in my response to your correction.) The same goes for semantics discussions. I'm trying to write a book too. That said, here goes:


  1. The lawnmower, which is broken, is in the garage.

  2. The lawnmower that is broken is in the garage.

  1. Separate out a "which" clause between commas. Think of it this way - the whole section between the commas could be taken out, and you'd still have the core meaning of the sentence. In the example, the fact that the lawnmower is broken is an incidental fact. You're telling someone where the lawnmower is, and, oh, by the way, it happens to be broken. (Technical terminology: "Which" introduces a nonrestrictive clause.)

  2. Do not use commas with "that" in a phrasing like this. The information in a "that" clause should be totally necessary to the sentence. In the above example, replacing "which" with "that" changes the meaning. Now you're saying the broken lawnmower is in the garage (so go get it and fix it, will ya, honey?). (Technical terminology: "That" introduces a restrictive clause.) Bonus editing tip: A more elegant (i.e. efficient) way to say example No. 2 is "The broken lawnmower is in the garage." Then you don't have to worry about whether to use "which" or "that" at all!



  1. It's time for me to fly.

  2. The bird flew to its nest.


  1. "It's" is a contraction of "it is." Easy to spot - if "it's" should have an apostrophe, you should be able to replace it with an "it is" and the sentence would read just the same. As in the example, "It is time for me to fly." But - jumping ahead a little - obviously not, "The bird flew to it is nest."

  2. "Its" is something that belongs to "it." A possessive pronoun, pure and simple, just like hers, his, your, mine, our, their. Notice you wouldn't even consider doing "hi's" for "his," would you? So don't waste your time putting in an apostrophe in "its" either when it's being used as a possessive pronoun. (Technical terminology: possessive pronoun or, if you want to really lay it on, a possessive pronominal adjective, but I'll stick with possessive pronoun for our purposes.) Extra bonus question: Notice how that last "it's" was not a possessive pronoun, but a contraction? An "A" for you!



  1. There goes my money down the drain.

  2. They're never going to believe me.

  3. Too bad it's not their money instead.


  1. "There" is an adverb (kind of a direction here).

  2. "They're" is a contraction (just like it's) and stands for "they are." Again, all you've got to do is replace "they're" with "they are" to double-check you have the right spelling.

  3. "Their" is a possessive pronoun, just like "its" above. The noun following belongs to "they" (or them). In the example above, the writer is saying too bad the lost money isn't the money that belongs to them. Bonus memory tip: If you're one of those who tends to confuse these three, here's a way to remember. First try the "they are" replacement. If it doesn't work, look at it and see if it's supposed to be possessive. Is the word that follows supposed to belong to "they"? If not, then chances are the word is supposed to be "there" - a certain place.



  1. Who's talking to me?

  2. Whose chocolate is that? Whose is it?


  1. "Who's" is a - you guessed it - contraction for "who is." (See how much you know?) A way to test if it's correct is to replace "who is" for "who's" and see if it makes sense.

  2. "Whose" is a - you guessed it again - possessive pronoun. Here, the person "who" owns the chocolate.



  1. Who is calling?

  2. To whom did you want to speak? She wanted to know whom I gave the money to. (Or if you want to be ultra grammatically conservative about it: "She wanted to know to whom I gave the money.")

  3. I don't know anything about who that person is.


  1. Remember the old saw you learned back in English class - that every sentence has to have a subject and a verb? Well, use "who" when that's the subject of your sentence. In other words, you could replace "who" with "he" or "she" if you made the sentence a statement instead of a question. (In the example, "She is calling." Not "Her is calling.")

  2. So "whom" is used when that's an object - something that's having something done to it. Many times you can easily spot this because there'll be a preposition in front of the "whom." In this situation, if you restate the sentence into a statement, you'd substitute in "her" or "him." For example, "You wanted to talk to her." Extra bonus points: Example No.

  3. 3 is correct. "Who" isn't an object of a preposition here. It's part of a clause that has its own subject and verb: "Who is that person?" So apply the test again: "She is that person." Not "Her is that person."



  1. I went to the store.

  2. Mary went too.

  3. We bought two rubber duckies.


  1. "To" is the preposition, as in going somewhere.

  2. "Too" means the same as also. See if you can replace one for the other. If so, make sure the word has a "double o" - extra, as in also?

  3. Two is the numeral 2. I won't belabor that. Now if you've gotten this far, go raid your chocolate reserve. You deserve it.

Deborah Pfeiffer has 16 years of editing and writing experience in the publishing field, much of it on the staff of national and international telecommunications.