Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tackling Commas

There are several comma rules, so here are four to start, and the rest will be covered next week.

Use a comma to join two independent, related sentences.*


The rivalry between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers dates back to the early days of football. The Bears have won more of these match-ups.
The rivalry between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers dates back to the early days of football, and the Bears have won more of these match-ups.

Use a comma to set apart an identifying phrase in a sentence.


Brian Urlacher, the Bears middle linebacker, is an example of the team’s rich tradition of excellence in that position.

Use commas to separate adjectives of equal rank.


Intimidated by the Chicago Bear defense, the Packers racked up a series of careless, foolish penalties in the second half.

Use commas with introductory phrases.


As Devin Hester ran the punt return back for a touchdown, the crowd went wild.

*If the sentences are not related, you must use a semi-colon. However, that edition of “Editing for Grammarphobes” is scheduled for later in the month, so I guess you are out of luck today.

The Horror Begins on Friday

*Blood-curdling scream in the background for effect*

Today is the deadline for submitting your horror flash fiction pieces. The next topic is family gatherings for November. Pieces are due 11/1. Remember, 500 words or less. Send them to me at Please put “Flash Fiction Fridays” in the subject line, and be sure to include a short bio with your story.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Punctuating Decades: Where Does the Apostrophe Go?

I apologize for sounding harsh, but there have been way too many misplaced apostrophes when writing about decades. From television to billboards to even print journalism, people all around the country have been exposed to it for so long, the wrong way has become commonplace.

Why are these incorrect?

A. 1980’s

B. 90’s

The rule is to use an apostrophe to indicate numerals that are left out and add an “s” to show the plural, according to The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook.

I do not know where the “apostrophe s” came from. Traditionally, it is used to indicate possession and makes no sense here. A decade cannot have anything.

The correct way would be the following.


‘90s (with the apostrophe inserted to replace of the missing “19” of 1990)

the mid-1930s

Coming up Wednesday


Friday, September 24, 2010

Flash Fiction Fridays

Today marks the debut of Flash Fiction Fridays, which showcases writers of all genres contributing their interpretations of monthly themes in 500 words or less. To start us off, here is a great piece from Karen Cantwell.

Bashful Blueberry
by Karen Cantwell

Bashful Blueberry had tried the patience of more than one teacher in her time.

“Sue Miller!” they would call out.

Standing slowly, she would correct them. “My name is Bashful Blueberry. I live in a rainbow near a river of diamonds.”

“It says right here,” they would point their picky fingers at a piece of paper, “that your name is Sue Miller.”

Rolling her emerald eyes, Bashful would mumble a reply. “Don’t believe what you read.”

That’s when Bashful found herself in the principal’s office. Many a time she would be forced to write My name is Sue Miller a hundred times or more. Then the principal would ask, “Now what is your name?”

“Bashful Blueberry. I live in a rainbow near a river of diamonds.”

So she would go to another school. Or another home. Because foster parents, she found, were generally as lackluster as the teachers.

One afternoon, her marshmallow of a social worker sat her down. “There’s a woman here interested in giving you a home. She’s a nice woman. Try to . . . act . . . normal. You know – real.”

“What’s real?”

The social worker threw her pencil in the air. “That’s the problem!”

Bashful quietly considered that maybe she wasn’t the one with the problem.

As the young girl’s feet dangled from the chair, a very tall lady stepped into the room. Her hair was shades of autumn, her face as soft as a fairy goddess. The woman, it seemed to Bashful, was singing even though she hadn’t spoken a word.

“Hello,” said the goddess lady. “What’s your name?”

The social worker cringed.

Bashful hesitated. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She tried again. “Bash. . .” she coughed it back. She drooped. “Sue,” she sighed. “My name is Sue Miller.” A tear dripped to her lower lash.

“That’s not what I heard.” The lady smiled a crooked smile. “As I understand it, your name is Bashful Blueberry, and you live in a rainbow near a river of diamonds.” She gave Bashful her hand. “My name is Patchwork Persimmon. You can call me Patch. I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you.”

When Patch brought Bashful home, they got to work straight away painting that house. They painted some blue here, some red there. Yellow over yonder, green on this shutter, violet on that one. Neighbors gawked.

When that was done, they started digging. It took some days but eventually they had a pond that emptied into a long and winding creek which they filled with pieces of cut glass that sparkled in midday sun.

One day Bashful made a proclamation. “I’m ready for a new name.”

“Do tell,” said Patch.

“You can start calling me Magnificent Melody. But don’t call me Mag. My name is Magnificent.”

“So it is.”

And the two of them sipped lemonade on the porch of their rainbow house while listening to the waters dance in their river of diamonds.

Karen Cantwell has been writing plays and short stories for many years, some of which were published in various college literary magazines. More recently, her short story, “The Recollections of Rosabelle Raines,” was published in the mystery anthology Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin’. Her first novel, Take the Monkeys and Run, is a comedy-mystery, featuring soccer-mom/female sleuth Barbara Marr and is available at in paperback and for Kindle. Barbara Marr will make her next appearance soon in The Chronicles of Marr-nia, Short Stories Starring Barbara Marr (Oct. 2010), as well as a second mystery novel, Citizen Insane (Feb. 2011). To learn more about Karen, visit her website at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Commonly Misused Word Pairings

Critical, Crucial

According to Webster, crucial is “important or essential as resolving a crisis, decisive.”

Critical means “being at a turning point or specially important juncture” or “relating to an illness or condition involving danger of death.”

They are not synonyms. "Critical" bumps it up a notch. The something you are describing is of vital importance, possibly a matter of life or death.

Nauseous, Nauseated

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style has a great explanation of the difference between nauseous and nauseated.

“The first means ‘sickening to contemplate’; the second means ‘sick at the stomach.’ Do not, therefore, say ‘I feel nauseous,’ unless you are sure you have that effect on others.”

“Critical.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1991. Print.
“Crucial.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1991. Print.
Strunk Jr., William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Print.

Up First for Flash Fiction Fridays

“Bashful Blueberry” by Karen Cantwell, author of Take the Monkeys and Run: A Barbara Marr Murder Mystery.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Editing for Grammarphobes

Today’s topic is the usage of “I” or “me” at the end of a sentence.

Which of the following sentences is correct?

A. Jane went to the concert with Lizzie and I.

B. Jane went to the concert with Lizzie and me.

The correct answer is B. If the noun and pronoun come after the verb, use “me.”

You would not say “Jane went to the concert with I,” right? That is a good way to check yourself. Remove the additional noun, and read your sentence. Does it make sense?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Get Ready for Flash Fiction Fridays

Flash fiction is a little difficult to pinpoint. Some say it should contain 1,000 words or less. Others go lower, from 500 to 300 to even down to a mere 100 well-chosen words. But whatever the character count, it is an intriguing art form that contains all of the classic story elements of protagonist, conflict and resolution in far less space than the traditional short story. It is also a great writing challenge.

Bibliophilic Blather is proud to announce Flash Fiction Fridays, which will feature micro-fiction from authors of all genres. Instead of weekly writing prompts, each writer will present his or her interpretation of a monthly theme in 500 words or less.

Starting us off next week is Karen Cantwell, author of the exceedingly popular Take the Monkeys and Run: A Barbara Marr Murder Mystery. Her short story, “The Recollections of Rosabelle Raines,” was published in the mystery anthology Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin’. Karen also created “Fiction for Dessert,” a wonderful blog, which includes short fiction, book trailers and reviews.

Then, the bewitching month casts a spell on Bibliophilic Blather, with horror taking center stage in October, followed by another scary occasion -- family gatherings -- in November. We will wrap up the year with holidays in December.

If you would like to contribute, please e-mail your submission to and put “Flash Fiction Fridays” in the subject line. Don’t forget to include a short bio. The only thing I ask in return is that you “follow” Bibliophilic Blather.

Deadlines are as follows: October (horror), 9/29, November (family gatherings), 11/1, and December (holidays), 11/29.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grammarphobes, writers, poor spellers, lend me your ears

A long time ago, much further* back in my personal history than I care to dwell upon, one of my college English professors told me I could be a great writer if I only took the time to properly use the tools of our trade. She flung my essay on the desk before me. Content = A. Grammar = D. Final grade = C. Dejected, I left her office, vowing it would never happen again.

Many wonderful stories are marred by misspellings, grammar mistakes and improper word usage. When I was editing magazines, if contributors handed in a manuscripts polluted with typos and grammatical errors, the entire staff thought they were idiots, even if they had doctorates in chemistry.

Everyone makes mistakes, however writers need to know the rules. Computer spell check and grammar editors are unreliable. But, who has the time to take a refresher English class?

Beginning September 20, Bibliophilic Blather will offer editing tips each Monday and Wednesday. How to punctuate dialogue. When to use “I” or “me.” The dreaded “who” versus “whom” rules. Simple fixes for your editing quandaries.

Just so you know, I have held every editorial position at one time or another, from editorial assistant on up to editor-in-chief. I also double majored in English and communications in college. Lots of years, lots of editing. And I would love to help. If you are so inclined, click to follow Bibliophilic Blather in the column on the right.

Have a grammar question? E-mail me at, and check back here on Mondays and Wednesdays for the answer.

* FYI, I checked whether to use “farther” or “further” while editing this entry, so I did not look like a big dope using the wrong word while preaching about grammar, which would be slightly inconvenient. I was reminded that “farther” should be used for physical distances. “Further” is for an extension of time or degree.

Coming Friday...
Monthly topics and submission deadlines for Flash Fiction Fridays.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Death of the Oprah Dream

Today, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” begins its final season. I don’t know about you, but this leaves me empty, morose and wanting to crawl back into bed, never to surface again. However, this reaction is not due to the impending absence of the program in my life, although I have been a viewer on and off for many of her years on TV. No, it goes far deeper than that. It means I must let go of my “Oprah Dream.”

I bet many of you have the same one. I am standing backstage at Harpo Studios. The frenzied audience is screaming. Then Oprah utters the magic words, “This book really touched my heart. It is truly one of the best novels I have ever read. Here she is, the author of A Whisper to a Scream, Karen Wojcik Berner!” Audience members jump to their feet. I am greeted by thunderous applause and a warm embrace from the Queen of Media.

Looking spectacular, as everyone does who appears on “Oprah” after her stylists and makeup artists work on you, I sit opposite the woman who singlehandedly did more to raise book sales than anyone on the planet and engage in a pleasant conversation, which all revolves around me and my writing. How she loves the characters. Where I get my ideas from. Who do I think should play the lead roles of Annie and Sarah in the movie, which will undoubtedly be in production after this glorious day.

It is the Holy Grail of publishing, and it will be no more.

I wish Oprah well and admire what she has accomplished throughout her career. She has empowered countless women through her communications empire, and I honor her for that. I just have one request. Please devote some programming time on your new cable network to the literary scene. We really need you. And thanks for all you have done.

Most of this blog first appeared in 2009 on my Red Room site. I thought it was fitting to reprint it here today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Change is in the air

Get ready for a new and improved Bibliophilic Blather!

Flash Fiction Fridays

Editing Tips for Grammarphobes

Details coming soon...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010