Monthly Archives: April 2011

To Have and Have Not

A fellow grammarian recently complained about the misuse of “have/had.”  Like nails on a chalkboard, she can’t stand hearing, “I had went …” and “I had did …,” and neither can I. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but maybe it’s worth reviewing for those who still have trouble!

But rather than identify verbs, auxiliary verbs, past participles, etc., (I can imagine eyes glazing over!), I think it’s best to simply give some helpful hints. So …

Say the sentence with – and then without – the “have/had.” If the sentence works without “have/had,” don’t use it! If the sentence doesn’t make sense without it, well then, keep it.

I had went to the concert. I went to the concert. (Without, don’t you agree?)
I had gone to the concert. I gone to the concert. (With, of course!)

I have did everything you asked. I did everything you asked. (X-nay have.)
I have done everything you asked. I done everything you asked. (The “I’s” have it!)

So there you have it. I hope everyone has seen the light!

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Queen for a Day

In honor of the royal wedding approaching, I thought it would be appropriate – and fun – to post a tidbit that I’ve used in writing presentations.

Students in a British university creative writing class were asked to write a concise essay containing the following elements:

1)    Religion
2)    Royalty
3)    Sex
4)    Mystery

The prize-winner wrote:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who the father is.”

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Choose Your Words Wisely

Communication – whether written or oral – can easily be misinterpreted. Case (or carton) in point:

A woman said to her husband: “I would appreciate it if you could go to the market for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get six.”

A short time later the husband returned with six cartons of milk.

The wife asked, “Why the hell did you buy six cartons of milk?”

He replied, “They had eggs.”

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Comma Kaze

Editing can be a thankless – and dull – job, but still, there are moments. If it weren’t for editors, writers might send messages they hadn’t intended. Read ’em and weep (or laugh!)

Look at that computer, genius.

Ladies, remember the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Eight new choir robes are needed because of the addition of several new members and the deterioration of some older ones.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

Low Self-Esteem Group will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. Please use the back door.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the community center. Please use the large double doors at the side entrance.

The Associate Minister unveiled the new campaign slogan last Sunday: “I upped my pledge; up yours.”

And for those who like a little “X-rated” …

Hey, Jack off that horse.

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Hit the Road, Jack!

I recently spoke to the Anthem Authors, a group of men and women who gather weekly in Las Vegas to discuss writing and publishing. They asked me to explain how to show and not tell in their writing, an issue that I see frequently when editing.

With just a little tweaking,  I assured them that their writing could be taken from stagnant and passive to active and interesting, and hopefully, the following examples – suggestions – pointed them (and can point you) in the “write!” direction:

Verbal abuse:
Jack was in a state of severe depression.
 Jack was severely depressed.

Jack fell off the roof by accident.
 Jack accidentally fell off the roof.

To infinitive and beyond!
Jack had to fix the roof.
 Jack fixed the roof.

The wind began to whistle through the doors of Jack’s house.
 The wind whistled through the doors of Jack’s house.

Gerund – ing:
Jack was hoping to finish the house by summer.
 Jack hoped to finish the house by summer.

Jack explained, making a crumpled-up expression on his face.
 Jack explained, crumpling up his face.
 Jack explained, a crumpled-up expression on his face.

It was a year later that I ran into Jack.
 A year later I ran into Jack.
 I ran into Jack a year later.

Across the street from Jack’s house there was a park.
 Across the street from Jack’s house was a park.
 A park was across the street from Jack’s house.

There were a few things Jack still needed to do.
 Jack still needed to do a few things.

Jack had an old ladder that was rickety.
 Jack had a rickety old ladder.

That’s enough!
This is the house that Jack built.
 Jack built this house.

Who do you think you are?
Jack has a friend who is a plumber.
 Jack’s friend is a plumber.

I’ve had it!
Jack had built the house for Jill.
 Jack built the house for Jill.

He said – she said:
“Pleased to meet you,” said the realtor, shaking Jack’s hand.
 “Pleased to meet you.” The realtor shook Jack’s hand.

“Come in,” Jack said, beckoning.
 “Come in,” Jack beckoned.

He said with a smile on his face.
 He smiled.

Jill said, “I love the house you built.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Jack.
 “Jack, I love the house you built.”
 “Gee, thanks, Jill.”

Speak of the devil:
Jack was the first owner of the house.
 Jack was the house’s first owner.

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I need to talk about ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’

‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ gut-wrenching

Posted by Jami Carpenter, Las Vegas Review-Journal guest reviewer

Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2011 at 05:00 AM

Unlike many bibliophiles, I had never reread a book; until now, that is.

When my book club chose “We Need to Talk About Kevin” for this month’s discussion, which I had read several years ago and loved, I was excited to delve into it again.

“Kevin” is not for the faint of heart. As a sound byte, it is a horrific, gut-wrenching tale of a school shooting, but it is also an unnerving depiction of a mother’s desperation to understand why her son did what he did.

Through letters that Kevin’s mother writes to his father, author Lionel Shriver doesn’t so much tell us what happened as let us discover it, like peeling away the leaves of an artichoke to reveal its heart. Bit by bit, we learn of the tragedy that had already happened on Thursday, but until the very end of the story, we never actually see it.

Kevin is difficult from the start — precocious, defiant, devious. Eva’s letters dissect these early years, looking for the signs that things would go so terribly wrong. As readers, we see them clearly (like sitting at home on the couch having the answers to Jeopardy), cringing at the father’s ineptitude and mother’s ineffectiveness. But then, what parent hasn’t struggled with a misbehaving child once in a while? We hesitate to judge, knowing that hindsight is 20-20. After all, Kevin doesn’t cause trouble at school, maintains B averages, flies just under the radar. He doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t have hobbies or interests, he doesn’t stand out.

Like a Hitchcock movie, we can’t quite put our finger on it, but we know something is wrong. We know something is wrong from the very beginning, since the entire story is looking back after the fact, but still, we hang on, hoping that Thursday will never really come.

It is a testament, to Ms. Shriver (yes, Lionel is a female) that our book club discussion was the most passionate, thought-provoking yet. We hated the story, but loved the storytelling. It is a testament, too, that we had to remind ourselves “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a novel.

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Talk is cheap

Well, actually – talk is free. I’ve joined forces with Barnes & Noble in my new hometown, Bend, Oregon, to offer writing/editing workshops to the community as part of their “Second Saturday” series.

Last Saturday was the first session;  an hour sharing ideas about how to motivate students to write – and the key, I found from years as a high school English teacher – is to make writing relevant. That is, forget asking students to write “book reports,” and instead – ask for book “reviews,” book “blogs,” book “tweets.” Sure, the writing might not be as literary or academic, but the kids would be writing!

I also suggested having students write a paragraph (or take a paragraph from a book they are reading) and convert the text into texting. Again, not Nobel prize-worthy, but if writing can be seen as fun – or at least not boring – perhaps students will participate more willingly. Eventually (hopefully) the texting/emailing/blogging will lose its novelty and students will ask – maybe beg – for more substantive tasks.

Perhaps the most important point I had hoped to make was that words are everywhere – that websites, blogs, hip-hop, and rap, are ways to communicate through writing, just as letters, diaries, and poems were for earlier generations. Even the ebook – which I have consistently slammed (because, like many folks, I want to touch, smell, feel the book), has made a positive impact; statistics show that students are actually reading more … the ebooks are lighter, less bulky, cool.

I don’t think the art of writing is dead – it’s more alive than ever!

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