“The Best Punctuation Book, Period.”

I always enjoy good books on writing, but I’m trying to be more intentional about honing the parts of the craft that I struggle with. I’ve decided to make sure I get through one book a month, to see where that takes me. This month my book on writing is literally titled, The best punctuation book, period.by June Casagrande. I’m pretty sure that the title is meant to be annoyingly difficult to punctuate.

So far, it’s pretty awesome. I’ve got some weird punctuation habits, and I was taught some rules that are preferred in the UK but aren’t standard in the US. I stubbornly clung to them because I think they’re more aesthetically pleasing, but I’m gonna have to get over myself to publish in the US.

This book settles a lot of confusing issues. Googling often turns up conflicting advice, and it can be hard to tell which source you should follow for your style of writing. Casagrande breaks the rules down by the dominant styles: news, science, book, and academic; and makes it easy to figure out which to use. When there’s a gray area of punctuation, she consults a group of experts who vote on the best solution.

I’m sure that I’ll need to refer back to this book often, but it’s surprisingly engaging just to read through. It’s no thriller, but it can be an interesting subject. I’m about halfway through, and I’m hoping that in the latter half she’ll expand on the history and context behind English punctuation guidelines. It might make it easier for me to remember where to stick all those extra commas I like to sprinkle into sentences.

Writer Life Tag

Borrowed from Kim Chance.

1. What do you eat or drink while writing?: Tea, fizzy juice, water, and that’s mostly it. Snacking tends to distract me, so I usually take a break when I need to refuel.

2. What do you listen to while writing?: Not much. I can’t focus with music on, but I do end up singing to myself when I’m feeling kind of pumped up. There are some old songs that I habitually sing when I’m alone and in the zone. I don’t really notice doing it.

3. What is your biggest distraction while writing?: The TV. If it’s on, I’m either making no progress, or very little. The only thing I can sort of ignore is Friends, because I’ve seen all of it a zillion times and I usually put it on for background noise while I’m cleaning or drawing.

4. What is the worst thing that has happened to you while writing?: So far? A couple of people didn’t love a short story I posted for feedback. Nothing bad has actually happened with regards to my writing. I realize that this is a very temporary state of affairs, and I am reveling in it while I can.

5. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you while writing?: I finished the first draft of my first novel. The truth is, it’s all sort of a personal triumph. I’m a perfectionist, and incredibly easily embarrassed, and the emotional effort involved in letting myself struggle through writing is kinda ridiculous. Talking about it is even harder, because I’m putting myself out there where judgement is unavoidable. Yay!

6. Who do you communicate with while you’re writing?: I chat and text with people a bit, usually my partners and my siblings. If I do it too much, though, I’m usually just procrastinating. I talk to my dogs a lot.

7. What is your secret to success, or your biggest writing flaw?: I haven’t put the writing down and not picked it up again. No matter what, that means I’ll eventually get somewhere. Biggest flaw, I’d say, is that I didn’t start when I was younger. I wish I had been writing when I was a teen, because I feel like I’d be way past the level of skill I’m currently at.

8. What is your inspiration/what makes you productive?: A weird combination of general defiance and a desire to reach out to other people who are going through experiences similar to mine. I was a lonely, depressed, pissed off kid, and even though my life is better now, I’ll always probably struggle with my mental health. Books have always been there for me, and they’ve helped me form healthier coping mechanisms and a wider world view.

9. What is one thing that you do, or other writers do, that is super annoying?: I complain about being stuck and then get cranky at people who give me advice, because they don’t know my life. In other writers, it bugs me a little when people talk about writing as if they’re not in control, like when they say their characters have minds of their own and won’t do as they’re told. It’s a valid approach to the creative process, because it clearly works for a lot of people, but I’m more inclined to call that making a difficult creative choice in order to make the story more effective or authentic.

My biggest flaw might actually be nit-picking, now that I think about it.

10. Are you willing to share something you’ve written?: I’m gonna be a smart-ass and point out that I wrote all these lovely responses. But no, I don’t really have anything in a state I’m ready to share right now. When I do, it’ll surely get posted here.

Book Review! “A Brother’s Price”

I thought it’d be fun to do some reviews of books that have inspired me. One of my absolute favorite stand-alone novels is A Brother’s Price, by Wen Spencer. It really helped keep me going on my current manuscript, even though Somnolence is very different in style and setting. I think what really did it was just the fact that this book gleefully disregards all of the rigid norms that govern gender roles and relationships in western society, and I dig that. I love that this author just went for it, and made a really sweet and engaging story at the same time.

A Brother’s Price is set in a world where men are vastly outnumbered by women. It’s kind of a steampunk wild west type setting, and all the cowboys are badass women. Because the men are so few, they’re incredibly valuable and vulnerable to being snatched, so they have to be protected. This means a complete reversal of conventional gender roles. Our main character, Jerin, is a young man who has reached the age at which men generally marry. The title comes in because the husband price is a huge aspect of marriage in this world, and because the man’s sisters generally decide who he marries and make the arrangements.

Jerin’s huge family of sisters is pretty cute, and he’s a sweetie. I love reading about a man who is not just allowed, but encouraged, to be pretty and gentle and nurturing. Adventures ensue when he falls for a dashing lady, and she for him, but of course, it’s never that easy.

It is also one of the few good polyamorous love stories I’ve ever read. Men in Spencer’s world generally have a bunch of wives, but not at all in the way that polygamy usually entails. If you’re into, or at least tolerant of, loving more than one person at a time, you may really love this book.

Content warnings: rape, emotional abuse, mentions of incest, much fighting and some gory violence. Think wild west, but without the really offensive native american tropes. I don’t remember much explicit racial diversity, unfortunately. Everybody is pretty white.

Another New Year

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I spent New Year’s Eve celebrating with my family in California, although the traditional cucumber and salmon sandwiches were a bit beyond my reach. I’m the screen in the middle.

I’m going to do my damnedest to get Somnolence published this year.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. A growing number of people who are smarter than I have argued that they’re not the best way to change habits or set goals. Sharing a resolution can actually make people less likely to accomplish it, because it gives a false sense of progress or completion. Just talking about it tricks the brain into thinking the work is already being done. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a short Ted Talk on the subject.

That said, it’s not always that simple. In this case, posting and talking about my work is an actual required step towards the completion of my goal. I’m just going to have to keep the phenomenon in mind, because I tend to procrastinate till the last minute on projects, and a novel just isn’t something you can hammer out the night before it’s due.

I suspect, just from what I HAVE seen so far of the process, that I am taking on something much bigger than I know. I’m going to hit snags, and things will always take longer than I expect because I’m a really unrealistic optimist. I finished my (very) rough draft last New Year’s Eve. Yeah, I actually did the last chunk of work the night before it was due. In my defense, it did get done.

Over the past year, I spent a lot of time editing, but in a rather haphazard fashion. This year, I’m going to have to be a lot more disciplined to get where I want to be.

Word Count Again, Because I Got a Little Lost.

It’s up to about 64,000 words, now. I’ve stopped trying to rearrange in little chunks and have just started rewriting the whole thing from top to bottom, filling in description and background as I go. I’ve read that this has to be done a number of times before a manuscript develops any kind of polish, so I’m plowing through. It’s surprisingly meditative and peaceful. Scrivener makes it nice and easy to place two documents next to each other and just go, which means I’m mostly copying, except in places where major tweaks are needed.

I’m also enjoying one of those brief shining moments where I don’t think my work completely sucks, as I’m reading through it. It won’t last, but those are always pleasant.