Friday, April 30, 2010

Capitalization Rules For Life, Part 3 of 3

Guest Post by Darcie Carsner Torres

We come to the end of a fine series of articles on capitalization. We have already been through the most common mistakes I find as an editor, and now I will present some not-so-common mistakes I run across.


Capitalize titles if they precede a name; use lower case if not.

General Grant won the Civil War. The general won the war.

Professor Day gave a good lecture. The professor is intelligent.

We prayed with Rabbi Goldstein. The rabbi prayed with us.

All hail Queen Elizabeth! We saw the queen bow to the king.

However, titles of respect remain capitalized:

the First Lady

His Majesty

Mr. President

Your Highness

One can also make a case for the following:

All hail the Queen!

Here, the crowd is referring to a particular queen, not the position of queen. It can also be argued it is a term of respect from the well-wishers. This case is ambiguous; go with the style you prefer.

Ethnic and religious groups

African Americans (but not black people)

Caucasian (but not white people)



French culture





the middle class

the poor

the homeless

the blind

the deaf

the disabled

Names of places

Capitalize cities, countries, continents, geographic ranges, bodies of water and regions: Chicago, Lithuania, Antarctica, the Swiss Alps, Pacific Ocean (the Pacific), the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains. One also capitalizes popularnames, even though they may not be the proper names:

the Village [Greenwich]

the Promised Land [Israel]

the Windy City [Chicago]

Tornado Alley [a zone in the Midwest]

Organizations and associations

Girl Scouts

AFL-CIO (but, the union)

the Chicago Bears; the Bears

Democrat; Democratic Party [party members]

anarchists, socialists, republicans [ideological movements as opposed to recognized parties]

Historic events and time periods

World War II; the Second World War

but: the second world war to come about was WWII

the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Dark Ages

the Fifth Republic, the Ming Dynasty [debated whether to capitalize "dynasty"]

the War on Crime

Cold War; Cold War era [debated]

the forties [1940s]; but the Roaring Twenties

Exceptions and more

Now that I've given you the rules, it's time to turn it all upside down. There are certain times when it is acceptable to break them.

One of the most classic examples occurs in fantasy novels: Faeries and Dwarves and Orcs, oh my! Yes, faeries can become Faeries when fantasy writers turn faeries into a specific group of people - like Asians or such. Fantasy writers also like turning the tower into the Tower and the forest into the Forest. Sometimes this is okay, sometimes not. One of the most powerful rules of capitalization in fiction writing is to not over capitalize. If you over capitalize anything, it loses it's power and becomes another mundane entity. Use the exceptions sparingly and don't create your world around them. You don't need to creatively break the rules to get attention, lest you get the wrong kind.

Another area we often find it acceptable to break the rules is in business. Sometimes our bosses find themselves on an ego trip and insist on having their title capitalized under every circumstance. Business theorists also love to capitalize their theories, which contravenes the traditional accepted styles. In fact, we often see theories capitalized regularly: Management Theory, Particle Theory, the Theory of Evolution. McGregor's theory of motivation, theory x and theory y, is most often written in business articles in capitalized format: Theory X and Theory Y states that individuals have more powerful motivation triggers than....

There are those who write fiction that believe you can do no wrong when it comes to grammar, punctuation and general rules for writing. I'm here to tell you that is not the truth. If an editor or agent sees a manuscript full of errors, whether purposeful/creative or not, they will dump it before they finish the first page.

One of the most comprehensive books to treat the subject of capitalization in great depth and with a plenitude of examples is The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.). In fact, there are 70 pages of detailed explanation for just about every question you might have about capitalization. Most books only treat the subject cursorily.

As always, there is also a wide variety of resources available on the internet. If you want to be a good writer, invest in some of the tools you need to get the basics right.

Darcie Carsner Torres is a professional editor and ghost writer with over twenty years experience in the field. She is a favorite on and through her website She also coaches aspiring writers and provides a host of writing resources through

For additional resources on sentence syntax and standards, see

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Capitalization Rules For Life - Part 2 of 3

Guest Post by Darcie Carsner Torres

Capitalization with colons and in dialogue is our topic for today.

We start with the colon, where the rules are simple. First of all, the colon is used in three basic ways:

  1. To introduce a list of items using "pointing out" expressions (e.g., "as follows," "the following," or any other phrase that 'points out' and emphasizes the items in the list;
  • Before a long, formal statement; and
  • Between independent clauses wherein the second clause explains the first.
  • In the first case, the first word following the colon is not capitalized:

    Harry Potter had three unique qualities: intelligence, perseverance and magick.

    Harry Potter had the following unique qualities: intelligence, perseverance and magick.

    In the second and third cases, the first word following the colon is capitalized:

    To me, my father said: "Let the wind blow the petals where it may and the seeds to the four corners of the Earth, such that..." [long statement]

    It was the most peculiar case I had ever seen: The woman had purple blotches with blue centers all over her body.

    There is one last note on colons that grammar books seldom address: the explanation. Just like the previous sentence, the colon can be used to introduce a short phrase, or even a single word, that is explanatory in nature, but which lacks a complete sentence structure:

    He lacked the one ingredient that would make the meal perfect: wine.

    There is one person I despise over all others: my ex-wife.

    If what follows the colon is not a complete sentence, you should not capitalize it unless it falls within the purview of other rules - names for example.

    We've already addressed one rule about capitalization within the world of dialogue, which involves the use of a colon to introduce a long statement surrounded by quotation marks. The first basic rule of dialogue is that every new sentence requires a capital letter:

    Jane said, "I love you, Mark." Then she bowed her head to avoid seeing the hurt in his eyes. "I just can't go on like this anymore."

    That was an easy example. All new sentences are easily identified by a preceding period. What happens when things become complicated?

    "I love you," she said.


    "I love you!" she exclaimed.

    Notice that even though "I love you" is a complete sentence, there is a tag placed at the end. A tag is placed in dialogue to tell the reader who is speaking: she. Therefore, because the sentence doesn't completely end with the statement "I love you," the following word, she, is not capitalized. Regardless of whether the statement ends with a comma, an exclamation point or a question mark, if the tag follows the statement, the first word of the tag is not capitalized unless it is a name.

    Let's go one step further:

    "I love you," Jane said, "but I just can't go on like this."

    Here, we've placed a tag in the middle of a sentence such that the clause ("but...") does not start a new sentence but continues from the preceding phrase. If we removed the tag, the dialogue would be written like this:

    "I love you, but I just can't go on like this."

    Therefore, capitalization rules with dialogue don't differ from the ordinary rules of capitalization.

    In Part 3, we will tie up some odds and ends of capitalization by giving you some quick examples of other capitalization rules that need little explanation, but which you might have forgotten.

    Darcie Carsner Torres is a professional editor and ghost writer with over twenty years experience in the field. She is a favorite on and through her website She also coaches aspiring writers and provides a host of writing resources through

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Capitalization rules for life, part 1 of 3

    Guest post by Darcie Carsner Torres

    Capitalization seems like a pretty basic subject, right? WRONG! As an editor, I see violation after violation of very basic principles of capitalization that we all learned in grade school...or at least, should have learned.

    There are rules to capitalization. The basic ones - the ones I find need little explanation are these:

    Always capitalize the first word of any sentence.

    Always capitalize "I" and its contractions (e.g., "I'll").

    Always capitalize names of people.

    Always capitalize names of cities, states and countries.

    Always capitalize proper nouns (e.g., Central Intelligence Agency, Eiffel Tower).

    Always capitalize days of the week, months and the names of holidays.

    Some capitalization rules are not quite so clear, however. Those rules encompass the "sometimes" or "it depends" rule, which will be the focus of our lessons in this series.

    Our first lesson looks at family relationships: mother, father, sister, brother, aunt and uncle. This is one rule where I often see confusion. If we are talking about my mother, his aunt or our grandparents, we do not capitalize. However, if we are using the word as a name, then we do. Note the differences in the following examples:

    My mother told me to sit down.

    "I love you, Mamma," said the little girl.

    My aunt, Cecilia, washed the dishes at the old water pump.

    I asked Aunt Cecilia to fetch me some water from the old water pump.

    Shirley's grandma died last week.

    We both love Grandma Smith. - or - "I love you, Grandma!"

    Another, though minor source of confusion is when to capitalize seasons or points of the compass. For the most part, the answer is "seldom." However, there are exceptions. First, when we personify a season, such as spring, we then capitalize it: When Spring opens her gentle hands, she brings forth the greenness of new life. Second, when referring to directions, north, south, east and west aren't capitalized; however, if we refer to them as regions, then we do: When the South seceded from the United States, I lived in the Northeast at the time.

    Another easy rule to forget is which words to capitalize in the title of a book, heading or movie. The proper answer is all of them except the conjunctions (and, but, or) and short prepositions (in, on, for). However, there is an exception to the exception. For example, in the title of this article, I only capitalized the first word. Because it's my article title and that's how I prefer it. However, if I were referring to this (or anyone's) article title in another article or book, I would cite it as "Capitalization Rules for Life, Part 1 of 3."

    Job titles, school subjects and departments create a lot of confusion among writers. There are rules within the rules in this area. Job titles are generally kept in lower case:

    I am applying for the administrative assistant position.

    John Smith is the finance director.

    John Smith, the finance director, came to our luncheon.

    The president has arrived. He is the president of the United States.


    John Smith, Finance Director, held a press conference on Earth Day.

    We waited for President Obama to arrive at the White House.

    The principal of our school is Principal Davidson.

    We saw Mayor Crotty walking downtown.

    Always capitalize language courses and departments: I took English through the English department. Generic classes are not capitalized, but course titles are:

    I'm taking history and psychology next year.

    I'm taking History of Religion and Psychology 101 next year.

    Seems relatively straight-forward when seen through the lens of examples, yes? Well, I feel obliged to throw you a curve ball at this point. There is not a firm consensus as to school or university departments.

    My bible of English grammar, Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook (2ed.), is silent on that subject. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends capitalizing: Department of English. The APA is ambiguous: capitalize department names "if they refer to a specific department within a specific university." So, we capitalize Department of English, University of Florida, but do we capitalize "the sociology department?" The University of Colorado states: "Capitalize only the complete and official names of colleges, schools, divisions, departments..." and goes on to demonstrate that lower case is used in the following example:

    Mary Moore of engineering has been promoted to associate professor.

    Faculty members from the geography, anthropology, and ethnic studies departments are cooperating on this project.

    My thoughts are that if "department" precedes the subject and "of" is used (i.e., Department of Chemistry), it constitutes an "official title" and if not, it remains lower case: English department, psychology department, etc.

    The second part of our series will address capitalization with colons and dialogue, while Part 3 will discuss some odds and ends of capitalization.

    To view other articles of interest, visit the author's blog.

    Darcie Carsner Torres is a professional editor and ghost writer with over twenty years experience in the field. She is a favorite on and through her website She also coaches aspiring writers and provides a host of writing resources through She also publishes articles on her blog about publishing, grammar and other topics of interest to writers.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Does Size Matter? Choosing Your Book's Size

    Guest post by Irene Watson

    What size should your book be? Both beginning and longtime authors have to make this decision with each book, and depending on the kind of book, it can be an easy or a difficult decision. Here are some basic guidelines for determining your book's size depending on the kind of book you are publishing.


    Fiction books are the easiest for choosing a size. Most novels and short story collections are one of two sizes-the mass market paperback size (4.1x6.6) and the slightly larger 6x9 size (occasionally some are 4.1x7.4). Books that are 6x9 have become more popular in recent years-they also usually cost more to buy than mass market paperback sizes-partly I think so publishers can charge more because they look more substantial. In any case, either size is acceptable for fiction. These sizes are appropriate because novels are some of the most portable books from how readers use them. Novels should be easy to hold, relatively light, and portable so readers can take them on airplanes, read them on the beach, etc.

    The only real consideration in choosing between the two sizes of fiction books is how thick the book will be. A large novel like Gone With the Wind (my mass market copy has 1,024 pages) would be easier to read as a 6x9 which I would guess would run more around 800 pages, simply because your hand would have to apply less pressure to hold it open, especially if you're able to hold a book open with one hand-a small feat for most men who have larger hands, but more difficult for women. You don't want to make your book a size that is awkward for your readers to handle, no matter what kind of book you are publishing.

    Children's Books

    Children's books come in a wide variety of sizes. If they are novels with chapters, then I'd recommend the above sizes for fiction, but for picture books, you want a larger book that will display the pictures to more advantage. Even if you pick a hardcover book, you want it to be lightweight so children can easily open it. Larger sizes also mean the book is thinner and easier to hold. Books that can stay open by themselves are a definite advantage; a larger size and the right binding will make them do so.

    You also want a book that is easy to hold open. Remember that with picture books, adults often read them out loud, and they will hold them open wide so children can see the pictures.

    With picture books, you want to make sure you determine the size of your book before you get far into your project so you can plan out the individual page layouts. With children's books, you'll want pictures to match the text, so you'll want to plan out what the illustrations will represent, and if you have pictures on each page or every other page, you'll want to figure out how much text will go on each page, which requires you to know the book's size so you can write the proper amount of text to fit the page.

    Knowing the book's size beforehand is imperative for the illustrations so they can be drawn at the size of the final book; otherwise, you'll have problems later with the resolution when you try to shrink or enlarge the photographs to match the book size.


    Nonfiction books allow the most flexibility when determining size. Depending on the book's purpose and contents, a simple non-fiction book is appropriately sized at the same options for fiction books. More complicated books with photographs or charts may benefit from a larger size.

    The main thing is to make the book look substantial enough that readers will feel they are getting their money's worth. A large but thin book with 50,000 words in it may make the reader feel it is overpriced at $15.95, but a book at the same price with the same word count may look like a good buy if it is smaller and thicker.

    One small publisher of non-fiction titles told me his goal is for all their books to be roughly 200 pages. The company sells books ranging in size from 6x9 to 8.5x11, but the size is determined by what will result in that 200 page goal. Why 200 pages? They've determined that size makes readers feel they are getting their money's worth without feeling the book is too long and intimidating to read it.

    If you're going to have photographs in your book, you probably want a larger size so the pictures do not look small or cramped but can be viewed easily, and the larger the book, the more the photographs will stand out. Depending on your audience, books with lots of photographs or illustrations, including pictorial histories and art books, or books with lots of graphs, timelines, genealogy charts, or other special design elements may be best in coffee table sizes.


    Finally, consider your book cover. When posted online, your book will look small regardless-book images at Amazon are at most two inches in size. But in a bookstore, a larger book is going to stand out amid stacks of mass market paperbacks. Books too large to fit on a regular bookshelf might make some bookstores less willing to carry them, but in most cases, large books are more likely to end up on display tables where they will easily be noticed rather than be buried on a shelf with only their spines showing.

    Remember that the cover is the first thing the customer will see, and it is first and foremost what will affect the vast majority of customers' buying decisions. A bigger book might well make the difference between it being bought over another simply because it stands out more.

    Other Considerations and Recommendations

    The size of your book has many other considerations involved with it such as the size of the font in the book. Larger books can have larger fonts so they are easier to read. You might even be considering producing a large print book for people who have difficulty reading.

    Most importantly, you need to consider your potential customers. Go to the bookstore and look at books on topics similar to yours. See what you like and don't like about their sizes. Ask bookstore owners what they would recommend. Talk to printers and book designers to see what they would recommend as well.

    In the end, size does matter, so find the book size to satisfy your customers.

    Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    5 Incredible Tips on How to Write Blog Posts

    Guest Post by Brian C Scott

    Millions of people write blogs every day on thousands of topics: news, reviews, personal journals... the list goes on. If you're a blogger, here are a few simple tips that can help make your blog a lot more appealing to your readers.

    1) Pick a Great Headline

    Headlines mean the difference between stopping to read your blog and passing it right by, so choose your words carefully. It's great to ask the question that your blog answers. Let's look at the headline "Is Your Shampoo Hurting the Environment?" It introduces your concept while enticing your readers. You can also try picking an interesting detail from your blog for a headline. Something like "The Secret the Diamond Industry Doesn't Want You to Know" will tempt your audience to read further.

    2) Involve Your Reader

    Using words like "you" and "your" is better than using "they" and "their." "You" words aim your blog directly at your reader by involving them personally. Compare the following sentences:

    "People with children need to choose the best school that's right for their family."

    "Your children need a school that's right for your family."

    Both sentences convey the same information, but the second sentence narrows in on the audience reading your blog. Although it's tempting, there is no point in trying to make your blog appeal to a broader audience by using non-personal language. Remember that the people who are interested in your topics will likely be your only readers, so direct your blog right at them.

    3) Use Lists and Bullets

    If you've got a bunch of related information to convey, consider making a list. Lists are easy to read and pass on a lot of information without too many words. For example, if your blog is about a supermarket sale, it's better to make a list of what items are on sale instead of writing, "Lettuce, cereal, frozen pizzas, toilet paper..." A list clearly states relevant information in a concise, easy-to-read fashion.

    4) Mind Your Spelling and Grammar

    Do not underestimate the power of your words. Do not forget about spelling and grammar just because you aren't handing your blog in to a teacher. Proper spelling and grammar lend a degree of professionalism both to you and your blog. Even if your friends are your only audience, it will be frustrating to read your blog if you don't take care to remove typos and run a spell check. If you have time, it's always a good idea to have someone else proofread your blog before you post it. If not, put your blog away for a day or even a few hours and then go back and read it again. You're sure to find mistakes that you missed when you were first writing.

    5) Be Consistent with Your Format

    When you're posting your writing online, there are unlimited combinations of fonts, colors, formats, etc. Resist the urge to make your blog too flashy. Choose one font that is easy to read and keep the size of your body text uniform (your headlines should be slightly larger).

    Make sure you keep your paragraphs short and put one line space between them. It only takes a split second for a potential reader to decide if they'll read your blog or not. One mass of text with a complicated font will not appeal to your audience. Even an informative and entertaining blog will be overlooked if it's too hard on the eyes. Remember, blogs that are more readable enjoy larger and more loyal audiences.

    Brian Scott is a professional freelance writer who teaches how to write in Plain English using correct style and usage in the English language. He recommends using StyleWriter, a Plain English editor, to write better English, available at

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Things You Must Know Before Writing Your Novel

    Guest post by Dorothy Zjawin

    Thinking about writing a novel, but are wondering how to begin? The following tips will help:

    1. Get your main character or characters in BIG trouble. For example, a potential divorce means trouble for one of those characters, but it shouldn't be the only problem. Other problems, such as the main character's attitudes and other shortcomings, should prevent that character from getting what he or she wants.

    2. Try to determine the outcome before writing your novel. In other words, will your character have solved his or her problems or not?

    3. In your novel's first chapter, present the thing that will really upset your character's way of living. So far, he's gotten what he wants and continues to live his life without a care. Everything is going smoothly. But without warning, something happens that will change that character's life forever and he must do something about it NOW before things get any worse. All of the chapters after the first will be devoted to your character's attempts to solve the problem.

    4. After writing your first chapter, make a scratch outline, or quick list of events that are to follow. For example, the character returns home, only to find that his home has been broken into and ransacked. What does he do now? Does he succeed or not? What's the next obstacle that will frustrate his efforts to solve the problem?

    5. As you write, keep thinking about your character's mental and physical obstacles. How do they hinder your character's efforts to get what he wants, and what does he do to overcome them?

    6. Try to resist the urge to edit as you continue writing, especially as you write the first chapter. Doing so will slow you down and prevent you from continuing. Just keep writing!

    Dorothy Zjawin is the author of a number of Instructor articles that inspired her published book, Teaching Ideas for the Come-Alive Classroom (Parker/Prentice-Hall). For more ideas, visit her website at She includes tips for writing a novel that are based on her own experiences.

    Article Source:

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Power Proofreading - 10 Steps to Become a Better Proofreader

    Guest blog by David Walshe

    It's hard enough to get people to read what you write, but when your writing is also riddled with errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence structure, it's even more difficult.

    Power proofreading may be the solution. Take the time to make sure that your writing flows for your reader and then develop a process that quickly and efficiently eliminates the errors that inevitably detract from easy readability. Professional proofreading or proofreading courses can sometimes be a necessary option; however, there's no excuse for not having at least a basic knowledge of good spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Show your reader the respect he or she deserves by carefully proofreading everything you write.

    Proofreading is rarely a pleasurable task; however, with a set procedure and a few sensible tips, you can make it at least an efficient process that creates a more enjoyable and productive experience for your readers:

    1. Hard Copy - Try to proofread on a printed, hard copy rather than on a computer screen. This will aid concentration and has the added benefit of reducing eye stress. The ability to move your proofreading to different heights (compared with set at the height of a screen) enables you to move your neck to different angles and avoid neck and back strain.

    2. Concentrate - Avoid distractions and interruptions. It would be nice to think that you could proofread effectively and watch television at the same time, but unfortunately it can't be done if you want the best possible results.

    3. Treat Spell Checker Software with Caution - In the phrase "There clothes were dirty" the incorrect use of "there" (rather than "their") would not be picked up by Spell Checker.

    4. Punctuation - Punctuation errors can be hard to find and easy to miss. Remember that correct punctuation helps flow and readability and is an important courtesy that should be paid to your reader.

    5. Use Proof Reading Symbols - develop your own or use the proof reading symbols commonly used in the industry. These will "standardise" your changes and make it easier for you to develop consistency throughout your work.

    6. Back-track - Try reading your work from the last word in the last sentence, backwards. This forces you to read every word and is a valuable aid to picking up errors (especially missed words) that may be overlooked when we assume what's on the page.

    7. Take a Break - Don't work for any longer than 30 minutes at one time. This reduces tiredness and enhances concentration.

    8. Read Out Loud - Another very popular and important trick used in proof reading. By reading out loud, you read each word independently, which increases the chance of finding all manner of errors, including missed or repeated words.

    9. Get Someone Else to Proofread Your Work - go over it firstly yourself and then ask someone else to take a look. Apart from offering a second "pair of eyes", another person is likely to be more detached than the author and offer a different perspective on the flow, tone, effectiveness and appeal of the piece.

    10. Proofreading Practice - Like everything else, don't underestimate the importance of practising the skill. Look carefully at the writing in newspapers, books, advertising, websites, etc. and you'll gradually notice more and more errors as your proofreading "eye" develops.

    These simple steps are just an indication of easy ways that can help to reduce errors in your writing and make it more appealing for your reader. Take a disciplined approach to your proofreading and it will become a more effective and successful process.

    And by the way, did you notice the use of both "proofreading" and "proof reading" in the foregoing? Well, if you thought you'd caught me out, you didn't. I personally like "proofreading" (for no particular reason) but both are perfectly acceptable in UK and US English.

    If you need it, here's the best and least expensive professional proofreading on the net.

    David Walshe is a prolific freelance writer on numerous subjects that engage his professional and personal interests. His entertaining and insightful pieces have appeared in numerous publications and have provided the lead-in to the regular speaking engagements he fulfills in his local region.

    You can contact David on

    And for many more tips and other information on proofreading, go to...

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Living in a Realm Between Fear and Faith

    An excerpt from an upcoming Yorkshire Publishing release: Spirit Warriors: Living in a Realm Between Fear and Faith by Dan Rooney

    The chime of the seatbelt sign interrupted my “trip down nostalgia lane” as United 664 descended into Grand Rapids just before midnight. While I always remain open to the infinite possibilities that come with every journey, landing in Grand Rapids kicked off a succession of events that would permanently alter my life’s course. Taxiing to the gate the captain came over the speaker and made an announcement: “We have an American hero on board with us tonight.”

    My thoughts immediately shifted to the soldier sitting in first class. What has he done?

    After a long pause the captain continued, “We are carrying the remains of Army Corporal Brock Bucklin…and his twin brother, Corporal Brad Bucklin, has brought him all the way home from Iraq.”

    My heart sank. My life and my values came suddenly rushing to the surface. I’d recently returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq thinking I’d left the death and destruction of the war behind. Tonight I realized I was wrong. It had followed me home.

    The Captain went on to make a request. As a sign of respect he asked everyone to please remain seated until Brock Bucklin’s remains were removed from the aircraft. This was the least we could do as Americans to honor this young man and his family who had given everything for our country. For the next forty minutes I watched over the right-side of the plane as this hero’s ceremony unfolded before my eyes. The images enveloping the scene and the lives of the Bucklins forever burned into my soul.

    The flash of emergency vehicles broke the night. It had been raining earlier and though the drizzle had already stopped the tears continued to fall, their gleam visible with every breach of blue light. The Bucklin family stood on the tarmac, holding each other, holding themselves, for warmth, as a shield against the pain. And then it came, conveyed from the belly of our 737, wrapped in a finely pressed, carefully placed five by nine swath of red, white, and blue by way of Dover Air Force Base...the meaning of sacrifice.

    As Brock Bucklin's flag-draped casket descended the cargo hold ramp, inch by final inch, his four year old son Jacob, securely enveloped in the arms of his grandmother, could only watch, eyes fixed on the father who would never hold him again. Brock had given up that treasure, his very life, for the sake of every other father and son, in the name of the colors that now covered his body, his world all gone, so the rest of us can live free.

    The dignified hands of the Honor Guard sheathed in brilliant white gloves shone in the darkness, raised in honor over the brave warrior’s remains. With them, the ungloved hands of Brad Bucklin, now on the tarmac from his first class seat, worked among them, gripping the remains of his brother’s casket in intimacy, fulfilling the pledge they had made. Brock had come home for the last time.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    On Writing and Poetry: Harry Calhoun in Conversation

    "This is just brilliant. The whole interview is incredible... I'm... REALLY appreciative of some seriously good advice from a fellow writer." Mark Howell, Senior Writer, Solares Hill

    Harry Calhoun's picture could appear beside the dictionary definition for "journeyman." Living proof that not all writers have to be famous or stick to one type of writing to be successful, Calhoun has found frequent editorial favor as a poet since 1980 and was a widely published freelance article and literary essay writer in the 80s and 90s. In addition, he has edited a poetry magazine and a trade magazine for the housing industry and placed poetry and fiction pieces in magazines such as Thunder Sandwich and The Islander. He has been an award-winning marketing writer for multinational companies such as GE and IBM for the past twenty years.

    Trina Allen is a freelance writer and editor who has read and enjoyed much of Calhoun's work.

    Trina Allen: Your poetry has gotten you the most recognition in publications. To what do you attribute your success?

    Harry Calhoun: Absolutely no doubt, three words -- three words, short attention span! That's why I like my job now. Marketing writing is a lot like poetry. It's frequently very short. It's trying to express something in the fewest amounts of words and say it with the kind of spin that sticks with the person who's reading it. It certainly isn't poetry, but it's the same mentality, just trying to say things really quickly and crisply. People think that poetry is flowery language or something that goes on and on, but usually it's quite the opposite, it's succinct and quick... trying to nail it in as few words as possible.

    Allen: Is there any one poem that you consider your most successful piece?

    Calhoun: Yeah, there's a poem -- ironically, a very short one -- called "Leaving." I always look at that as a success because I feel like it captured the feeling and the moment concisely and with compact verbiage.

    Allen: I understand that a reviewer once surprised you with his take on your poem, "The Day after Christmas." Can you tell me about that?

    Calhoun: Oh yea. It was a really funny moment. I had the poem published in a little magazine, Taurus, where I was published pretty frequently when I was starting out. The poem was called "The Day after Christmas," and I wrote it to compare the feeling of let down you get after Christmas to the loss of a love relationship -- we had something great, like Christmas, and now you're gone and it's all mundane again. The reviewer said that he liked the poem, which was cool, but he said it was a scathing indictment of the commercialism of the Christmas season. He apparently didn't get the idea that I was trying to tie it into a love relationship at all. And it surprised me, but it also showed me that poems and fiction are open to interpretation. Just because I wrote it doesn't mean that he can't interpret it the way he wants to. His interpretation is as valid as mine.

    Allen: You have over 500 publications in magazines including Writer's Digest, Private Clubs, Gargoyle, Mississippi Arts & Letters, and The National Enquirer and you have won awards for your promotional materials including an Addy award for best direct mail. What are your feelings about your success?

    Calhoun: It's kind of like looking at your resume and saying, "Gee, did I do all that stuff." You realize that somewhere along the line you did it, but it almost doesn't seem real. I feel some remorse for not having done more, particularly in fiction and poetry, but I also feel that it's been a good, full career and I'm basically at peace with it.

    Allen: Would you expand on your greatest success?

    Calhoun: Yeah, actually I've bounced around enough that I've had some successes in different areas. I can't really point at any one great success. Things that come immediately to mind were in my most fertile poetic period, which was back in the late 80s when I had a few chapbooks of my poetry published by small presses. That was really fulfilling for me. I was also having a lot of my poems published in magazines around that time and even after that -- and I hosted a poetry reading and music series with my friend Mark Howell in Key West. That was a really great time in my life... but so is right now, being a marketing writer, which is obviously totally out of the publication realm. I'm still finding a lot of happiness doing that because its nice being at this stage in my career where I feel like I'm fairly good at what I do.

    Allen: What advice would you give novice writers regarding a career in writing?

    Calhoun: The first prerequisite is to have talent. You have no control over that. But beyond that, there are several things within your control. Here's my top five list for writers, in reverse order David Letterman style:


    5. Read voraciously, especially in the genres you're most interested in. One thing that amazed me as a poetry editor is that people who didn't read poetry would send me poems. It's like trying to walk before your legs develop. Reading gives styles to copy, styles that will help form your own personal style.

    4. Remember that it's all writing. Whether you're writing a novel or an e-mail or a poem, it's all writing and it all helps. Plus, if you're like me and a lot of writers I've known, the very act of writing feels good -- no matter what kind of writing it is. Writing this response to your interview question feels good, for example!

    3. Work, work, work. Don't let anything get in the way of your writing. Make it your job, even if you're already working another job to support yourself.

    2. Have goals -- but don't be afraid to change them. Not everyone's career is like mine, and some people start out wanting to write fiction and end up doing just that. But if you find other genres that you're good at, don't be afraid to change your goals. The corollary to this is: Don't have preconceived notions about where your writing will take you. I started out trying to write fiction, took a detour into poetry and then magazine editing and ended up as a marketing writer. My goal was always to be a successful writer -- but the form that success took changed several times during my career.

    1. And my number one rule for writers: Want it more than you want anything else in the world. Passion is everything. I'd recommend Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing for advice about writing for love rather than money. I honestly think that any success I've had is because I wanted to earn the title of writer -- wanted to do it for a living -- more than anything. I wanted it more passionately than anyone else I knew.

    You'll notice that I left off two of the usual tips for writers: Keeping a journal and setting a daily time or page limit for your writing. That's because neither one was particularly effective for me. I think that if I had stuck with fiction I would find a journal more useful, but as a nonfiction writer and poet it just got in the way of my "real" writing ... it was more efficient to get my job done than to bother with a journal.

    As for setting a goal to write for an hour a day or one page a day, I find that having an assignment is more of a motivator than an artificially set limit. Don't have any freelance assignments? Make them up! In my poetry heyday, I would often set myself the task of completing x number of poems so that I would be able to submit them to a given magazine. No daily time limit, just the "assignment" to have the submission ready in a week or two weeks.

    Allen: Would you like to share any additional thoughts on the topic of writing?

    Calhoun: Writing is writing... (It's) a tactical thing... that takes passion. Some lucky people start out writing fiction and can do it-- for them the linear path is best. Personally my career has been organic, which is a good way of saying I've been all over the place. I certainly didn't start out thinking I'd be writing marketing copy and nobody could have told me I'd enjoy it as much as I do. I got my first marketing position because I'd written a lot of freelance articles and parlayed that into marketing. I wanted to find work in a more metropolitan area and the owner of a small ad agency in Pittsburgh was very impressed with some of my freelance writing and hired me as a marketing writer. I've been doing it ever sense.

    I've had to change gears a lot. I've had to say, what are my goals now? Do I want to make some money? How can I make some money? Do I want to get published? How can I do that? As much of an emotional thing as writing is, it's also a tactical thing. I found opportunities to parlay one type of writing into another or into the next step in my career.

    I can't subscribe to the idea that you're a sellout if you don't write fiction or poetry... Writing is just writing. If you're accomplished at it and you're good enough to get paid for it then there's a certain amount of satisfaction to that, even if it's a nine-to-five job like my marketing writing. It's less bohemian than I though I'd ever be, having lived for a long time in a classic third-floor "writer's garret" attic apartment. But whatever I do, if I don't have passion about it then I don't think I'd want to do it.

    Allen: Some of your activities have included poetry readings, book reviews, articles in newspapers and magazines, and poetry, fiction, marketing writing. Which gave you the most satisfaction? The least?

    Calhoun: I can look at myself as a journeyman or say I've had an incredibly varied life, however you want to look at it. I've gotten satisfaction out of the different phases of my writing. I'm considered one of the best writers for the major technology company where I work now. I get a lot of thrills of seeing my work on the Internet for audiences around the world. That's exciting and I really enjoy that. I enjoyed seeing my poetry published and loved doing the poetry readings, including dabbling in performance poetry. That was a lot of fun.

    There've been a lot of high points. I still remember getting my first article published and that of course was a huge thrill. It was back in the days when you still wrote on a typewriter and cut and pasted your stuff until you were happy with it and then typed it up on good paper to get it published. Fond memories.

    Allen: It sounds like seeing your writing in print was one of the most thrilling things for you as a writer.

    Calhoun: Definitely, those first publications were just great. The first thing I had published was a poem, followed by book reviews and my first article. It was nice to see my name out there.

    Allen: What gave you the least satisfaction, or was the most frustrating early in your writing career?

    Calhoun: I'm glad I made the decision to go away from fiction. I started out in the mid 70s writing it. I read tons of fiction, of course, but fiction was hard for me and continues to be difficult for me to this day. I guess my biggest regret is that I never had a major fiction work published. I had a few short stories published, but it's not my strong point. That's the thing I regret most and like least about my career. I have to give myself credit for making the decision to let go of this and do other things.

    Allen: Was there a writer or poet that you admired and hoped to emulate in your early writing career?

    Calhoun: Actually, there were several. When you asked the question I immediately thought of three or four writers: Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, and W. S. Merwin, an American poet who I really admired. I definitely was influenced in my poetry by both. I also thought about Ernest Hemingway because I really like the conciseness and crispness of his writing -- I definitely tried to emulate him for a while.

    And then I finally realized there was one writer that influenced my style more than any other: Harlan Ellison, best known as a science fiction and fantasy writer. Besides writing entertaining stories, he would do these really interesting introductions to his stories, and they were always written so conversationally-- this really drew you into them. A lot of times today, even as a marketing writer, people say that my style is breezy and conversational, and I think I owe a lot of that style to Harlan Ellison because I was deliberately trying to copy his style. I liked the way it sounded and what he was doing.

    And Charles Bukowski, the German poet and fiction writer who adopted LA as his home, definitely influenced me. I started out reading him in the 70s and quickly became a fan of his gritty, no-nonsense style, his humor and his accessibility. In the 80s, I got his contact information from a fellow fan and began a correspondence with him that lasted from 1983 until just before his death in 1994. I published his work in Pig in a Poke, a little poetry magazine that I edited for most of the 80s and even put out a small pamphlet of his work. He was an inspiration because he was a well-known writer who still kept in touch with his small-press roots.

    Allen: You started a critically acclaimed magazine in the 80s called Pig in a Poke, which you published from 1982 to 1989. What gave you the idea for the magazine and why did you stop production?

    Calhoun: It's interesting. I still see online references occasionally to Pig in a Poke and other magazines from around that time. Some of them, like Thunder Sandwich and Black Bear Review, are still going right now. What gave me the idea for it? At that time I had only been published as a poet for a couple years. I was working as a book reviewer, and when I say working I mean I was being paid in copies of the books I reviewed. I wasn't making any money. I was working another job and trying to find my success as a writer.

    There were a lot of small-press poetry magazines at that time. I really liked the way their editors did business. They were usually really fast in replying. They gave advice. They were more conversational in their letters. It was a kind approach and I really liked it because as every writer knows those rejection slips can be impersonal and pretty tough to handle. I thought I would be good at editing a magazine and I also thought it would expose me to a lot more poetry, which it did, most of it really bad poetry. Definitely I got to know a lot of poets in the scene.

    I published Pig in a Poke out of my own pocket for a number of years, which is why basically I stopped production because it got to be too much of a drain on my finances. But also its time had passed with me. I started to work in marketing and get real-world jobs. I didn't have as much time for it as I had had before. It makes me think that possibly I could revive it on the Internet because that's more of an immediate medium that printing it myself on paper.

    Over the course of the years from 1982 to 88, I held a series of Pig in a Poke poetry readings at Hemingway's in Pittsburgh every year. They were successful and a lot of fun.

    Allen: Do you believe such magazines and chapbooks are a good way to get work published today?

    Calhoun: If your goal is to make money, they're a terrible idea. But my goal was not at all to make money. It was to get my poetry exposure, to get people to read my stuff and respond to it and tell me how to improve and to connect to it in some emotional way. In that sense, the little magazines are good because it is a bit easier to get published in them than the mainstream magazines. Some of them are of surprisingly high quality, though. Usually what you get from them is editors that are quick to respond and respond with a lot more empathy-- they actually will give you advice or tell you what they like or don't like about your poetry. And that's really valuable, especially for a young writer or someone who hasn't done it for that long. Plus, because they are fast to respond and cheap to produce there was the thrill of getting to see your work fairly quickly. It is not quite as immediate as the Internet is today, but you could get a poem accepted and within a few months you could see it in print. And you got to share your thoughts with others. It was fun.

    Excerpt from the interview in Thunder Sandwich #25, January 1, 2005.

    To read the interview in its entirety go to


    By Harry Calhoun

    It's like a door closing.

    I want it to be gentle, noiseless,

    Japanese. Reopen it and apologize

    to the wood if it slams.

    But humidity swells this

    beyond what it should be

    and the squeak and push

    to close it sounds

    as if I beg

    to be let back in.

    Trina Allen left a successful career as a middle school teacher to concentrate on her writing. She is a versatile writer, whose passion is fiction. Her fiction and nonfiction publications have appeared in various magazines such as Education Today, Science Scope, Dana Literary Society, and Thunder Sandwich. She is excited to be finishing Katharine Taylor and the Magic Quilt, a historical fantasy set in 1775 America, for children ages nine to thirteen. When she isn't writing she is spending time with her husband, working out, playing chess or reading and watching thrillers. For more information or to view and discuss her writing visit

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    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    The Power of the Written Word

    Guest post by William James Carter
    (William James Carter is a member of the Thorncrown Publishing family of authors. Thorncrown Publishing is the evangelical Christian publishing division of Yorkshire Publishing.)
    Words are used as an expression of thoughts, feelings and facts. Many times these expressions are made verbally. Yet there are times when these verbal expressions are taken out of context particularly when the audience is unfamiliar with the terms used. This causes a need for clarification which can be accomplished with the writer’s pen.
    The writer’s pen causes words to come to life in a way that is not always possible by the spoken word. It allows the reader to see the words rather than just hear them. Seeing the words, one can reflect on them over a period of time without the context or the words being changed. Additionally, the writer has the option of choosing appropriate words for his discussion over a period of time rather than using random words in the heat of discussion.
    The written word is not to be taken lightly. It is absolutely necessary, and for a number of reasons. It impacts the here and now, and can be sustained for indefinite periods of time. This makes the written word more valuable over time because it can and will be passed on for generations to come. Even so, it is not just the written words that are important. Spoken word is important also.
    Words are the best way to communicate. If there is a desire for posterity, the written word is most ideal.
    William Carter is the author of Down the Via Dolorosa, a message preached to a local church in Fort Smith Arkansas examining aspects of Christ as He traveled toward Golgotha. The picture is far from pretty but the end of His road was met up with victory not only for Him but also Christians from that time forward.
    There is but one thing to keep in mind. While the road may seem rough, perseverance guarantees victory!
    About William James Carter
    Although a mild-mannered, unassuming preacher, Elder William James Carter is far from weak-kneed when presenting his interpretation of truth. Having been raised on the east side of Baltimore his background as a Marine and corrections officer only served to undergird the boldness already found in him. Elder Carter has spoken in a number of venues to include ministerial alliances and men’s breakfasts wherein the Bible proved to be the highlight of the messages. He has also served three pastors in Maryland, Virginia, and Arkansas as church administrator and is now on the path to greater things as he propels further into ministry.

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    A Story with Curves: Using Metaphors

    Writers are often faced with the problem of having to paint their readers a mental picture. Unlike works produced for visual arts, writers must use the reader's imagination and lead it down the path to the picture they wish to paint. This can be very frustrating, especially if you do not have an innate sense of how to effectively write in a visual fashion.
    One of the easiest ways around this problem is the use of metaphors. These phrases assist a reader in understanding the information you are trying to impart. For example, "the wind cut through her thin clothing like a knife." This metaphor gives the reader the image of someone who is poorly dressed and freezing cold.
    When using metaphors, the most common problems readers face is mixing their metaphors. It is all too easy to fall into this trap and editors do not appreciate it. If you cannot correctly use metaphorical text, your book may not be published.
    Another common issue is the overuse of metaphors. While it is tempting to throw a few on every page to continue painting the story in your reader's mind, excessive use is actually annoying and amateur. While there is nothing wrong with using metaphors throughout your book, they should be sparse. Otherwise, your book may come across as dated and clich├ęd. This combination is one you must avoid at all costs.
    The best way to learn how to use metaphors is to read the works of the literary giants who perfected the art. Philip Marlowe, Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton are just a few examples of writers who effectively used metaphorical text. Read through these works carefully and make a note of how often metaphors are used. This will give you a better idea of how to balance them in your own work.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Peacock, Study, Knife: Writing Mystery

    Writing a mystery novel can be an incredible experience, especially if you are a champion for this genre. You have the ability to take the reader on a journey in their mind, and you have the choice to lead them correctly, deceive them temporarily, or simply take them along as the story unfolds. One of the most difficult tasks facing mystery writers is the fact that sometimes you just don't know how the end is going to turn out – even if you are the one writing the story.
    Agatha Christie, known as the world's premier writer of mystery novels, had a secret. Quite often, it wasn't until the end of the book that she knew who committed the crime. Once she came to that realization, she often had to backwrite to add evidence. There is no shame in backwriting and if the world's best mystery writer used this technique, we can all learn from her.
    The most important thing to remember when writing a mystery is that character motivation is the key to your success. If you have a character that simply kills without reason, readers will have a difficult time processing the information. If the hero just stumbles on the answer without putting any effort into the investigation, your readers will feel cheated.
    Remember, your reader should also be your main character. They are trying to solve the mystery at the same time and they will be identifying with this character. In order to make it believable, you have to craft a story that the reader can follow logically from point A to point B. This is a secret that many fledgling mystery writers miss. If you can put your reader in your main character's shoes, striving to find the truth, you will have the key to success.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Literary Gladiators: How to Win Writing Contests

    If you are trying to make a name for yourself in the writing world, or develop your resume as a writer, winning writing contests is often the easiest way to accomplish this. Every year there are hundreds of different contests available and while the prizes may not be large, the recognition and industry backing you can gain make them well worth the effort.
    There are two main types of writing contests – one for works that are already completed, and one for stories written entirely for the contest. If you are submitting an existing work to a contest, read the rules carefully to make sure that your work fits the guidelines. There is nothing worse than paying an entry fee only to have your work rejected because it did not fit the scope of the contest.
    If you are writing a new piece for a contest, it is important to keep the right perspective. Consider your odds of winning, coupled with the amount of time that it will take you to complete the work. It's smart business to spend your writing time in the most effective way possible. Don't take your time away from an existing project if you do not feel confident that the contest is worth the effort.
    One thing to remember however is not all writing contests are legitimate. There are many people who use these contests as a way to get easy money from writers and awards are either never given out or are entirely meaningless. If you want to enter a writing contest, take the time to research it first. If they have a good reputation and the award is worth winning, then enter. If not, it is better to spend your time doing what you do best – writing. If you keep honing your craft, you will gain recognition.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Whirled Peas: Creating a Theme for a Book

    The theme for your book is the central point that the entire plot revolves around. If you don't have a strong theme that can carry through to the end, holding a reader's interest will be impossible. Often, the difference between a book that is sold and one that ends up on the slush pile is the strength of theme. Before you even start your book, it is vital to develop a central theme.
    First, you need to plot out the entire book, start to finish. This outline will be useful in helping you finish the book, and can be used if you get stuck in the middle of a chapter. This outline will help you develop the central theme in your book. What is the main premise of your book and how will you work towards resolution?
    Consider also the genre you are working in. For example, if your book is a murder mystery, you will need to create a theme that supports the plot elements. If your book is an action adventure, the main theme should be the quest. Whenever you are stuck, you can always fall back on your theme to pull you through.
    It has been said for centuries that there are twelve main types of stories – or themes if you will. These themes follow a set formula. Using the above example, an action adventure story typically revolves around a quest that the characters must undertake to reach their desired goal. A murder mystery revolves around clues given to the reader and the main character's attempts to solve the mystery.
    Your theme must be strong, it must be believable, and it must follow the set formula for your genre. While there is nothing wrong with departing a little or mixing thematic elements, at its core, you must have a theme that can carry the story from beginning to end.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Storia Della Mia Vita: How to Write a Memoir

    Writing your own memoir is a task many people dream of undertaking, but once you get to it, it can be easy to get discouraged. No matter what kind of story you are trying to tell, a memoir is intensely personal and the process can be exhausting. If you have decided that you have a story to be told, whether it is intended for the mass market or even just your close family and friends, a memoir is a serious undertaking.
    The first step is to get organized. Decide how you want to tell your story. The most logical flow for a memoir is chronological, but this may not always work, depending on your story. Create a timeline of the events and time periods that you want to cover in your book. This will help you get organized for all of the information that you want to include.
    Next, decide which events will be included and which may not be as important. If something pivotal happened in your life, then it will definitely need to be included. If you are discussing what you had for breakfast in 1963, it probably isn't as important, unless of course you developed food poisoning that changed your life. Weigh everything in context to see just what you want to include in your book.
    The most important piece of advice is to take your own ego out of the equation. Even the most humble of us still has an ego and it can be easy to overlook things or include things that paint you in a certain light but may not tell the story honestly. Aim to be honest with your readers, even if it hurts. A memoir can be anything from a thrilling adventure to a stirring confessional – but it has to be honest.
    If you qualify, we will publish your book at our expense. Email your proposal to

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Turbo-Writer: How to Write a Book in 30 Days

    Writing an entire novel or non fiction book may on the surface seem to be impossible. However, if you break up your tasks the right way, it is completely possible to finish a book quickly. The average full length book can range anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 words. If you divide that number up into days, in order to finish the book in a month, you would only need to complete 2000 to 3500 words per day.
    The key to quickly finishing any book is proper planning from the beginning and having a firm understanding of the subject matter. If necessary, complete any needed research ahead of time and make copies of what you will need to know for certain sections of your book. Many times, the researching phase takes longer than the actual writing of a book, especially if you are working on non fiction.
    Create an outline for your book from start to finish, even if you are writing fiction. After you have completed your outline, write a treatment for your project. This treatment should be like a condensed version of the book you are going to write and can be from three to five pages long.
    Once you have your outline and your treatment, you can fall back on these resources while you are writing. If you do get stuck in the story, returning to the outline you prepared can help you get back on track. Set aside time each day to focus on your writing and set a goal of how many words you want to write each day.
    There may be days where 5000 words easily flow and there may be others where you simply cannot get any work done on your book. However, with dedication and firm goals, you can write a book in less than 30 days.

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