John G. Hartness
Hey y’all! I’m back, and almost healthy! After back-to-back Chattanooga conventions, one Connooga and one for the day job, I ended up with a devastating case of con crud/bronchitis that laid me flat for a couple weeks. But I’m back on track now and this week I’m bringing you Part 1 of Bubba the Monster Hunter – Double Trouble, a short story in audio form where Bubba chases down a bank robber and learns that when you’re dealing with a doppleganger, nothing is as it seems! I hope y’all enjoy it, and I’ll be back next week with the rest of the story!
Double Trouble – Literate Liquors Episode 16
(Doesn’t have the same ring to it as “nunnery,” but just go with me here.)
I think I started five different blog topics for today. But they felt forced so I stopped. Then, I sat down to write about some advice I learned and shared this week to a lady in my writers group, and instead…the following post happened. So I’m guessing it’s the right one.
You see, I have a writers group I’ve been a part of since the fall of 2010, comprised mostly of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) people, and I honestly believe they are part of the reason I’m be published now. You may be nodding at this or raising an eyebrow in a questioning manner. If you’re the latter of the two, this blog post is for you.
First of all, if you are a writer who wants your stuff read by more than your close friends (meaning you want to be published in one format or another), I sincerely recommend finding a WG to join as it can be an immensely valuable tool for you. Even if you are not ready to let your baby leave the next and head into the wild, you should go anyway, and listen to what is said about the things they read. Be sure to get into the nitty-gritty of the conversation. I learned so much just by doing both of these things!
Is it the “must have for the season?” No. But…I personally recommend writers (especially new ones) join one and I’m going to tell you why…and you can then decide for yourself. And whatever you decide is the right decision…because no one knows you better than you. Ok?
That said, here we go…
“If you risk failure, then you also risk success.” – Tom Hiddleston
So here’s the thing, writing is a solitary sport and you may love that. You also may not. I’m 50/50 on that front. I love writing with a group so I can bounce ideas off others as I go. However, there’s also nothing quite like that moment where I set up my tablet/keyboard combo at a coffee shop, sit down with my tea (and baked goodies), put headphones on…fingertips on the keys. I get a rush; this energy that centers me, hitting my happy endorphins like a locomotive. It’s my “me time.” No personal problems to dwell on, no stress from real life issues pressing in on me, and no one else to deal with (except for the characters, but I like them…I want them to come talk to me.)
It’s magical and I can sit there for hours. This is an amazing thing for a kid with Hyperactive Disorder (HD) tendencies. In fact, thinking back to when I was a kid, there are only two pastimes where I can remember sitting in one spot for a long period of time and being completely entertained (not counting the TV or VCR…*eh-hem*, I mean DVR…yeah). They were when I played with my Barbie’s (telling stories) or going down to our basement to sit at our electric typewriter (there I go again, I mean our computer…*cough cough*) and write stories. Were people surprised when I became a writer and director? Not so much. LOL!
Anyway, by joining a writers group (and/or NaNoWriMo), you turn your solitary activity into a group sport and it’s a powerful change…filling a void you didn’t realize was there. How so? Because you need to commune with other writers like you need air. I’ll break that “required air” into three things:
A) Support (not only that you get, but that you give).
B) Hearing what does and doesn’t work for other writers.
C) Hearing constructive criticism and positive feedback on your writing.
Let’s compare this to my other love in life: Theater. You may not know this, but before a Broadway show opens, they hold Preview Performances. They do these to find out what works, what doesn’t, and to see what tweaks are needed to make the show run smooth…and I mean both for the actors and tech team (ie: your characters and the technical aspects of your novel). Your book needs that too, except instead of actors and tech team, we shall equate it to your characters (plot/conflict/resolution) and the technical aspects of your novel (format/grammar/editing).
Now, you might hate me for this next thing, but here goes. Only having your friends review your work for feedback is not enough. (Exception to that rule: If your friend is an accomplished/successful writer.) Sure, they should read and tell you what they think! You trust them, and they are a good people to talk to. The problem stems from them being the ONLY ones to give you feedback. You see, they already love you and your writing and because they value your friendship more than anything else, they may not give it to you straight. But your writing group will…because they want you to improve and succeed and no matter how hard their constructive criticism is to hear, it is invaluable to your writing and your story.
That brings up a sub-point I want to state real quick. If you are involved with a group who cannot rejoice in your successes, you should find another group to join. All writers humans deal with that ugly, green monster, in one way or another and that’s okay. As long as we can, in the end, be happy for others in our field and support them from the bottom of our hearts, then we can’t beat ourselves up if inside we get a little jealous. But here’s the rub…if the majority of those in your group show they can’t let go and support you…move on. Because, as I said, the #1 perk of a writers group is the amazing support (I have a gal in my WG who is my anchor. I bounce ideas and planning off her all the time. I’d be lost without her). So if you find you are in a toxic group, quietly slip away. No fan fare. Just go.
If you can find a group who builds you up and helps you become the best writer you can be, hold onto them. They are GOLD! That said, I want to send a ton of love to the NaNo WG I work with her in NYC. They are an amazing group of passionate people who truly want their fellow writers to do their best. Sure, we get off topic sometimes and debate things that are silly, but I love knowing that if I want to get a feel on something new I’m working on, I can drop it in their laps and get honest feedback. So thank you! May others writers out there find the same support!
If you don’t have a writers group, but want to find one, it may be hard to find on. You might be better off starting one. Or, seeing as it’s about to be April (which is when Camp NaNoWriMo is), maybe join this year. It’s free and you can connect with people on the site in your area, or genre, and possibly find people you want to be in a group with.
And remember, if you sincerely prefer this craft of ours as a solitary sport, so be it! You’re not “wrong” because you don’t follow something I recommend. Do what’s best for you. However, if you feel like there’s something you’ve been missing on your quest to share your brilliant stories with the world…maybe this is it.
That’s it for me this time around…stay safe out there and remember…Write Hard and Bathe in Imagination! -Tamsin
The There Transformation and Cleft Sentences.
Today I’m going to be talking about a fairly contentious issue in writing. No, it isn’t adverbs. For quite a long while—so long that I don’t know when I first heard it—one particular sentence has been known as one of the worst ever:
It was a dark and stormy night.
Why is such an innocuous sentence so vilified? Because it starts with a pronoun that comes BEFORE the antecedent? (“It” comes before “storm.”) Possibly. Today I’m going to discuss why there is nothing wrong with that sentence structure.
But first, I’m going to talk about what’s known as the expletive there.
A quick definition: An expletive, a term that commonly describes many of what we call “bad” words, has a specific grammatical meaning: “a word that enables the writer or speaker to shift the stress in a sentence or to embed one sentence in another. ‘There is a fly in my soup.’ The expletive is sometimes called an ‘empty word’ because it plays a structural rather than lexical role.”
The example from the definition: There is a fly in my soup.
Notice that the subject of the sentence (a fly) follows the verb (is). Normal, subject-first English grammar suggests the sentence would be “A fly is in my soup.” So what does the “there” do? As you can see, and like the definition suggests, the word “there” doesn’t have a specific lexical meaning. That is, it doesn’t add content meaning to the sentence. (In this case, “there” is NOT the adverbial location.) “There” is structural. It allows us to shift the emphasis in the sentence.
Now, how does it do that?
In this case, it has to do with how we speak. We speak in a series of stressed and unstressed words, peaks and valleys. Sentences usually begin in a valley. So, “A fly is in my soup!” would mean that the emphasis would NOT fall on “fly.” However, if we shift “fly” to the middle, it lands at a peak. “There is a FLY in my soup.” “Fly” is the most stressed word, and the remaining stress fades until we end with “soup” stressed roughly the same way that “there is” is stressed. 
This can be a very easy way to add inflection, especially in speech. It also can work in writing, in dialogue, but also in narrative passages as a means of establishing voice.
So, now for the Cleft Sentences.
In a long sentence, there are multiple elements that can be stressed. We use cleft sentences to mark the most important element in the sentence.
Charlotte destroyed the evidence with the shredder after the meeting.
Charlotte destroyed the evidence with the shredder after the meeting.
Charlotte destroyed the evidence with the shredder after the meeting.
Charlotte destroyed the evidence with the shredder after the meeting.
In each case, a different word is stressed. In writing we don’t really use bold (or italics) to emphasize words, but the cleft sentence gives us a grammatical option.
It was Charlotte who destroyed the evidence with the shredder after the meeting.
It was the evidence Charlotte destroyed with the shredder after the meeting.
It was with the shredder that Charlotte destroyed the evidence after the meeting.
It was after the meeting that Charlotte destroyed the evidence in the fireplace.
The focus of each sentence is different, and the “It” draws our attention to that focus. (Bonus: the “that” in the final two examples is an expletive “that.” It is present not because of it’s meaning, but because it alerts us to the fact that an entire clause is about to show up.)
So, “It was a dark and stormy night,” isn’t a pronoun error. It simply shifts the focus of the sentence, the emphasis, so that the phrase “dark and stormy” falls at the highest point of vocal stress in the sentence.
A word to the wise: be very careful overusing either of these constructions. They add unnecessary words and aren’t always the strongest way to phrase an idea. But, they are one more tool in a grammar toolbox that allows a writer variety and choice.
 Martha Kolln and Robert Funk. Understanding English Grammar. 9th edition. New York: Pearson, 2006. 354. “There” is not the only expletive in the English Language. “That” is also used. Perhaps at a later time, I’ll discuss the expletive “that.”
 Kolln and Funk, 96.
 “What” can also be used this way. “What Charlotte destroyed after the meeting was the evidence. For further discussion of that construction, see Kolln and Funk, 99-100.
Saturday last, I took part in a group book signing to launch The Big Bad II, an anthology edited by John Hartness and Emily Lavin Leverett. See?
Anyway, most of the folks there had been published before, either in other anthologies, by traditional publishers or by the self-pub route. Except Riley Flynn (the dark-haired woman sitting next to me.) This was Riley’s first professional publication, and she was as delighted as a child at Christmas. Her mom made the trip to be there for Riley’s first signing, and lots of her friends and family also showed up. It was adorable watching her sign books. Every single one was a thrill for her.
Sometimes when you’ve been at this for a while, signings become a less-than-wonderful experience. Too often you only remember the people who rush past the table as if they fear you’ll force them to stop, or the ones who want to stand at the table the whole time telling you how much better some other writer is. I’ll admit more than once wishing I didn’t have to sit and smile for two solid hours. But Saturday, watching Riley having so much fun, I remembered how nice it is to get to meet people, to get out of the house for a little while. Writing is sometimes lonely, and getting a chance to participate in social situations is a refreshing change. Most of all, it was good to be reminded of why we put words on paper to begin with.
By the way, y’all, the book’s available right now…
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Most writers wish they had a nickel for every time someone asks that question, and the truth is, we don’t have a really good answer. “Out of thin air” seems flippant, but it’s true. “From things that happen to me” is also true, but when you write epic fantasy and stories about haunted heirlooms, that kind of answer makes people wonder what your life is really like.
For me, it always starts with “what if?”
What if….magic was a natural force that could be harnessed, but the bond between people and magic was artificial, a magical construct itself?
And what if… something broke that bond. Could it be restored? If so, would it be the same? If it came back, how would it be different? Would people get back power if they had lost it, or get new powers they didn’t have before? Would people gain or lose power? Would the rules be the same?
And what if…there were powerful forces who liked a world without controlled magic, who thrived on the chaos and had plans of their own, taking advantage of the new imbalance of power? We all think that after a devastating event, everyone wants to get back to normal, but what if some powerful people saw new advantages in the rubble?
Those were the questions I grappled with as I created my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga with Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and coming April 21, War of Shadows.
In the first novel, Ice Forged, a war destroys the ability to harness and use magic, devastating the kingdom of Donderath and its neighboring lands. Blaine McFadden just might be the only man who can put things right, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in an arctic prison colony before the war began.
It’s probably not a big spoiler to say that Blaine does finally agree to try to restore the magic. But doing so is harder and more dangerous than he imagined. When Blaine returns to find a way to restore magic, he’s not only up against the deadly forces of untamed magic. He also discovers that he’s gained powerful enemies who have a vested interest in making sure he fails–and dies. The longer it goes without controlled magic, the more out of kilter things become, and the more danger Blaine faces.
So when the second book, Reign of Ash opens, the consequences of Donderath’s cataclysmic war are still unfolding. Not only is magic still wild and lethal, but without a king or the nobility, the kingdom has devolved into chaos. Warlords vie for land, resources and dominance. Old hatreds and secrets create new dangers. Not only are the mortals fighting among themselves, but the immortal talishte are riven by internal jealousies and vendettas. And everything Blaine does to try to straighten things out seems to make it worse.
War of Shadows continues the domino effect of consequences that began with the Donderath-Meroven War and the choice to use a devastating magical strike to destroy the enemy. Although the kings of Meroven and Donderath are dead, the repercussions of their choices continue to bring new disasters for the survivors. And while Blaine wins some important victories in Reign of Ash, new challenges arise from the wreckage, including a deadly threat from the magic that has not yet been safely tamed or anchored. Powerful forces battle for control, and the only way Blaine can protect his homeland and the people he loves is by becoming the most fearsome warlord in the kingdom. Magic, betrayal, conspiracies and assassins make for a dangerous path.
Will the alliances Blaine has built hold? And will his special connection to the magic, something in his very blood, be enough to tame it again? And most importantly, will doing so require his death? The answers are in War of Shadows!
Oh, dear pronoun. You are so abused. So…misused and mistreated. Let’s fix that, shall we?
Today’s post will be the first in a three-part series. Part one is pronoun agreement, part two will be pronoun types, and part three will be pronoun case.
First, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. A pronoun is a word like he, she, I, we, us, etc. A pronoun must agree with the word that it is replacing (the antecedent) in three ways: gender, number, and person.
Agreement in Gender
We have three genders for pronouns: masculine, feminine, and neutral.
Masculine and feminine are the easy ones. Most of the time, we know the gender of the person we are talking to or about.
Example: Steve worked hard today.
Steve is male, so we would want to use a masculine pronoun if we wanted to use a pronoun instead of the noun.
Example: He worked hard today.
Easy, right? The same would apply for feminine nouns.
The problem comes in that we don’t have a gender neutral singular pronoun in English other than “it.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be called an “it.” Isn’t that similar to what people say when they don’t know a baby’s gender? “What is it?” they ask. “It’s a llama in a baby carriage, what do you think?”
If we don’t know the gender of the singular noun (ex: lawyer, doctor, writer) then we have a couple of options.
- You can guess. This is probably not your best option. It’s sort of like asking a woman when she’s due. You had better be really sure she’s actually pregnant before asking that one!
- You can use that awkward he/she phrasing. Keep in mind that you’re going to have to keep that up and your writing will flow terribly if you choose that option for an extended discussion.
- You can rework the sentence to make the noun plural, if you’re able. This is my favorite option. It makes the gender neutral noun plural, and we have a gender neutral plural pronoun (they) so we’re in the clear!
Example: The lawyer will present ____ argument.
- The lawyer will present his argument. (Assuming the masculine used to be acceptable, but women can be lawyers too, so be careful!)
- The lawyer will present his/her arguments. (Most of the time “his or her” is preferred over “his/her” but always check your style guide.)
- The lawyers will present their arguments. (Isn’t that nice?)
Quiz 1: How would you fix the following sentence?
The doctor washed their hands before going in for surgery.
Agreement in Number
The next problem that we have with pronouns is agreement in number. We touched on that one when we talked about gender, but it is always good to explain some more.
A pronoun needs to agree with its antecedent in number (singular or plural). From my experience in teaching and editing, this error usually occurs as a typo (unless it is as described earlier).
Quiz 2: Fill in the blanks
The cat pushed the papers out of _____ way.
The cats are playing with ______ toys.
Agreement in Person
The final hurdle with pronouns is agreement in person. There are three “persons” in English: first, second, third.
First person is the speaker. First person includes I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours.
Second person is the person spoken to. Second person includes you, your, yours.
Third person is the person spoken about. Third person includes he, she, it, its, them, they, him, her, hers, his, their, theirs.
So, the pronoun must be the same “person” as the noun.
Example: Charleston is a lovely city. It is in South Carolina.
In this example, Charleston is the noun, and it is the pronoun. Charleston is third person, so the pronoun must also be third person.
Quiz 3: Correct the following sentence
Students often come to class late. You should really work on your punctuality.
All right, folks. You have three quizzes to try! Let’s see how you do. Post your answers in the comments.
In two weeks, we will talk about the different types of pronouns! I’m excited about that. Are you?
On Thursday, we lost Sir Terry Pratchett. He’d been diagnosed with a rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s a while back, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. But he was only 66 years old (every year that passes makes that number sound younger and younger to me) and I don’t think anyone was ready for him to go. I’m grateful he never had to deal with losing his identity. I also admired his determination to die on his own terms, instead of letting the disease transform him into an empty shell of what he once was. I don’t know if he died by his own hand or not – they’re keeping the specific reason for his death very quiet – but I do know that the world of fantasy is a little less bright now that he’s moved on.
Within hours after hearing about Sir Terry, I got word that a wonderful man (and a pin-carrying Rogue of the highest order) lost his life in a car accident, leaving behind a loving wife and many friends, all of us heartbroken. As one of my friends said, it was a terrible double-whammy for many of us in the Renaissance faire community. Losing Rowland was not just a tragedy, but also a heavy reminder that we don’t know where our last moment is waiting for us. I ended up feeling extraordinarily old and fragile by the time I reached early afternoon.
But then a beam of light shone into my darkness. A friend was reading a not-yet-released book, one I knew about and was sincerely looking forward to reading eventually. She sent me the file (with the author’s permission, of course) so that I could start reading it myself. That small kindness made so much difference in my feelings. I remembered that new days were coming, and they’d be filled with more than sadness and heartache. I remembered that I had work of my own to complete, so that others would be able to read my words and gain some pleasure from them. I remembered that I still had friends who were walking this earth, who make me smile just by coming into view. And I knew that if the grief was getting to be too much, I had a place to escape for a while, there in the pages of a book.
Next time you’re having a truly horrific day, tell someone you care about how you feel, and then give yourself a book. It does wonders for lightening the burdens we all carry.
** For those of you who might be in the area, we’re having a group signing event for The Big Bad II this Saturday at Barnes & Noble at Richland Fashion Mall, 3400 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC 29204! We’ll be there from 2 pm to 4 pm, and we would love to sign books for you! Come see us! **