Monday, February 28, 2011

What's Grammar Good For?

I have always felt that a writer should know all the rules of grammar, not in order to slavishly follow them, but in order to recognize what purpose they serve and when it is effective to break them. Today I read a humorous article by Daniel Silliman entitled "The other thing grammar is good for" that reinforced my opinion ever so eloquently. 

Grammar didn’t come natural to me. The first time, when I learned there was such a thing as grammar, when we were introduced — like, “Daniel, meet grammar,” “Grammar, Daniel” — things did not go smoothly. It was more like sliding bare-bottomed down a sandpaper hill.
As soon as I read the simile in that last sentence, I knew that Silliman's essay was going to be a good one. He goes on to describe a childhood effort at story writing that came back with the teacher's blood red markings all over it, and the angry word "GRAMMAR" scrawled across the top. The next part of the essay is too delicious to paraphrase:

The whole idea that there were rules, out there somewhere, was a little disturbing. How was I supposed to know what they were? Who decided the rules were the rules? Also, they seemed kind of arbitrary.... Was I the only one who was starting sentences with conjunctions and I just never noticed that no one else did it?

This is a little like wondering if you are retarded, and everyone’s just been too nice to tell you. Or maybe they tried to tell you, and you were just too slow to actually get what they were saying.

But wait — I wasn’t the only one who started sentences with “but” or “and.” The Bible has sentences that stat with “but” and “and,” which meant that my grammar was like the same as God’s.

I tried that defense with Miss Lane, but she said I was still wrong. She didn’t say so, but apparently she would’ve marked up God’s writing too.
Silliman uses this anecdote to explain why many people have negative perceptions of grammar. It's just a bunch of rules that they don't understand and that teachers mark them down for breaking. To Silliman, however, the "rules" of grammar are more like Newton's "Laws." They describe the way things generally work. "[G]rammar is not, for me, about being right, but about breaking down the language and taking it apart, so that one can know how it works and can make it work most effectively." To explain the importance of learning grammar, Silliman uses the analogy of auto mechanics: the best way to find out how the engine works is to take it apart.

The ability to analyze how sentences fit together gives a writer the ability to control those sentences. That is a claim commonly made when defending the study of grammar. Interestingly, Silliman goes a step beyond this and claims that knowledge of grammar gives readers a better ability to understand what they are reading. He looks at various writings, both prose and poetry and shows how the reader can better connect with the author's intention by analyzing the sentence structures involved.

Silliman sums up his essay with these two insightful paragraphs:

For most of us, I think, grammar is a brutal, brutal thing.... We’re afraid of grammar because “grammar” means making stupid mistakes — there, their or they’re, or something like that — and we imagine stupid mistakes being taken as evidence of our real intelligence and value. That’s too bad, though, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Grammar can be empowering. It can be about being a better writer and a better reader. It was, eventually, for me. I now know that it can be about knowing how the language works, instead of just driving along, listening to the rattle and choke under the hood, waiting, clenched up tense inside and waiting, until the whole thing breaks down.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

HF Virtual Book Tours

"It's a fact that in this modern world virtual book tours are fast replacing physical book tours and that more often than not authors are expected to be responsible for their own marketing."

To help historical fiction authors shoulder this responsibility Amy, author of the blog Passages to the Past, has developed a new service at a website called Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. The website hopes to aid authors by "finding quality bloggers to review your book, setting up interviews and guest posts, as well as coordinating giveaways."

Yesterday marked the beginning of the virtual blog tour for Amy's "guinea pig" client Jules Watson. Her book The Raven Queen will be making the circuit of over a dozen blogs in the next several weeks with reviews and author interviews.   

It's a great concept for a business, and I can't wait to see if Amy is able to pull it off and make a profit out of this service. I might be interested in purchasing a "tour package"of my own sometime this summer when Road from the West (my current work in progress) is ready to be published.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Black Prince of Darkness?

It's been a busy week for I Serve. Not only did we update the Kindle cover to make it more eye-catching and set up a new printing account with Create Space -- we also received another five star review and some free advertising.

In January, make that last January, my husband contacted Red Adept Reviews to see if they would be interested in reviewing I Serve. We went them a review copy, waited a long time, and then forgot about the whole thing. Early this week I received an e-mail saying that Red Adept Reviews was finally ready to feature the book. The good news about the review is that I Serve garnered five stars from a tough critic. The other good news about the review is that it made me laugh -- a lot.

Why the laughter? The reviewer spends a paragraph explaining why it took so long for her to review I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince.

I received this novel well over a year ago; it languished on my Kindle until recently when I decided to make an attempt at reading my ‘backlist.’ I’m certain that when I received it, I must have read the description. Not being a big fan of historical novels, I put it on a back burner. Later, I can remember coming across it on my Kindle, but upon reading the title, I thought it was some novel about devil worshipping or something similar. I guess that will teach me to judge a book by its title, huh?
I never thought that anyone would take the title in that way! But I guess there is a certain amount of logic behind the misunderstanding.

After overcoming her initial reluctance to begin reading I Serve, the reviewer ended up enjoying it.
[T]his novel was an absorbing read that immersed me in the world of knights and ladies. I was thoroughly engrossed as I followed the life of John Potenhale. Intriguing me with a book of this type was no mean feat as I am far from a history buff.... This was not your usual “knight in shining armor” tale. Potenhale, while a more than adequate knight, did not rescue any damsels in distress. (Although, there was a quaint romantic side plot that I truly enjoyed.) I think the novel’s charm lay in its realism.
I Serve earned top marks (five stars) from Red Adept Reviews, proving that sometimes good things are worth the wait.

In other news, Daily Cheap Reads promoted I Serve as one of its featured titles today. This website tries to provide Kindle readers with smokin' deals on excellent e-books. Anything under five dollars is fair game to be featured, and at $2.99, I Serve is definitely a cheap read that won't break your budget.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Time to Create Space

Yesterday I read a very compelling article on "Why Create Space is better than Lightning Source." My husband and I had already determined that we should switch printers for the paperback copies of I Serve, and the financial data in this article was the cherry on the sundae.

When I independently published I Serve a year and a half ago, I will confess that I had very little idea what I was doing. In the last eighteen months, however, I have become much more familiar with the publishing world, and thanks to my husband's unflagging interest in the subject, have been able to stay abreast of the continual changes within it.

I originally went with a company called Lightning Source to print the paperback copies of I Serve. This printer is associated with Ingram, a book distributor who will make your book available in its catalog to all major book stores. With a retail price of $16.95 and a 372 page book, I receive $1.89 in royalties for each book sold. Throughout the past year and a half, I've sold approximately 300 paperback copies of I Serve, and it's been interesting to note that ALL the copies have been sold through Amazon.com.

Another quirky fact about I Serve is that since July of last year, I actually make more money on each Kindle sale than I do on a paperback sale. With a retail price of $2.99, a Kindle copy of I Serve gives me a royalty of $2.03 per book (except for copies sold outside the U.S. or U.K. which garner $1.04). I had never thought much before about how low the paperback royalty from Lightning Source was, but when the Kindle royalty climbed above it, I began to wonder if there were a cheaper way to get the paperback printed.

As the publishing arm of Amazon.com, Create Space looks like it will be a much better printing avenue for us to use. Create Space offers high royalties for books sold through Amazon and low royalties for books sold elsewhere in the "Expanded Distribution Channel." Since all of our paperback sales are through Amazon, choosing Create Space seems like a no-brainer. To better serve our readers, we are planning to lower the retail price to $13.95, and even with that price drop, the per-book royalty will still be $3.06 (which, in case you don't want to do the math yourself, is $1.17 more per book than we were getting from Lightning Source).

Tomorrow I'm meeting with our technical expert Masha Shubin (who designed the cover and layout for I Serve) to get the files reformatted for submission to Create Space. Since she has the know-how and the software to create the PDF's according to Create Space's specifications, it is FREE to begin printing the book on Create Space. (Well, OK, there is a $39 fee to join the optional Create Space Pro Program, but that's peanuts, right?)

If you have published a book on Create Space, I'd love to hear some feedback from you. It seems like a great way to go, and as long as it delivers what it promises, I think we'll be happy with it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fifty-fifty

Yesterday was our two-week appointment with the surgeon to evaluate Adam's progress after the operation. Originally, he had told us the odds of the Kasai procedure solving the problem of Adam's biliary artresia were one out of three. One third of the time it works without a hitch. Another third of the time the bile starts flowing initially, but then a few months or years down the road, it stops working. Another third of the time it doesn't work at all.

Praise God, we don't have to worry about the last of those scenarios. Adam's bile is now flowing from his liver into his intestines. His color is getting better--there's just a little yellow tinge to his skin instead of the fake tan orange he was before the operation. As the surgeon put it, "We've got a fifty-fifty chance now that this will keep working and he won't have to have a liver transplant. But even if the procedure does fail eventually, at least this will give him time to grow bigger and to be a more viable candidate for the transplant should he need it."

This is a recent picture of Adam. Looking at the picture, you may notice several things. (1) He is wearing a "designer" onesie made by Rebecca Spears. (2) His cheeks are all puffy from the steroids he is taking. (3) He is screaming his head off. This behavior has been very typical for him over the last week. His medication has made him very, very cranky and David and I are starting to go a wee bit crazy from lack of sleep. It's kind of like the first few weeks after the twins were born, or maybe even a little bit worse.

If you would like to continue to keep us in your prayers, our short term prayer request is that Adam will sleep more and cry less. Our long term prayer request (for the rest of Adam's life) is that the Kasai procedure will continue to work.

Thanks for reading and praying! And just to give the twins equal opportunity with the pictures, here's one more photo before I sign out.

Oliver, chilling in his track suit.
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