Five online mistakes writers should never make

Clare’s post yesterday about social media has inspired me to add my own two cents about social media. Specifically, I’d like to discuss some of the language errors I see online at many sites (Fortunately, I don’t notice these mistakes here at TKZ, which reinforces my already high regard for this community). 

Anyone can make a typo or a mistake when they fat-finger something in haste or after consuming too many Singapore Slings. But there are a few gooflaws which seem to reflect a lack of understanding about the use of language. 

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the five language mistakes that have been driving me absolutely bat poop crazy lately, especially when they’re made by people who claim to be writers:

  1.  Loose/Lose: Perhaps because my series deals with body image issues, I lurk at a few sites where people discuss their need to lose weight. Too often, someone will say she needs to “loose” weight. Whenever I encounter this error, I have to control my itchy typing finger to keep from replying with a snarky correction. Nobody likes snark.
  2. Its/It’s: This is the mistake I see the most. People often use “it’s” when the correct form should be “its”. “It’s” is used as a replacement for “it is”. “Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in, “This post has got its dander up.” When unsure, try replacing the word with “it is”, and see if it makes sense,
  3. Your/You’re: Sigh. I don’t think I even have to explain this one to our readers. This offense seems to be committed mostly by Millennials, including some who claim to be writers. These people make me despair of the current state of English teaching in America. On the other hand, I don’t have to wonder how their literary ambitions will pan out.
  4. Their/There/They’re: These words seem to get misused on news sites a lot, mostly by online bloviators who use anonymous IDs and savagely attack the opinions of other people, no matter how benign those comments are. So, to recap: “Their” is used when you are referring to more than one person and something they possess. “There” is the word that is most often misused in place of the other forms. “They’re” is a contraction for “they are.”
  5. Compliment/Complement: “Compliment” is something nice you say to someone. “Complement” is something that adds to, enhances, or completes something else. It can also be used as a verb with an object.

 So that’s my rant for today. Do you have a pet peeve about language you’d care to add to my list?

Happy Holidays!

AWREATH3It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2013. From Clare, Boyd, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Michelle, Jordan, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 7.

Reader Friday: Meet our Muses

Last Tuesday we put out a request for pictures of your muses–we asked to see the people, spirits, or things that inspire you to keep filling the blank page with words.

We received some great results! Here they are, in no particular order:

Dave Williams: Twin Muses

Dave writes, “Besides my dog Merry Christmas, I can’t forget Davyn and Claira, our new twin grandbabies. I don’t get much writing done when they are here, but watching them study the world around them, stare wide-eyed at new things, and grin from ear to ear every time I see them inspires the heck out of me. Everything is new, everything is an adventure, and everything is grist for their little mills.And they make me want to write books that I can read to them as they grow up, so I can pass on my love of books and storytelling to them.”
Wait…you have two precious little angels to inspire you, and a dog named Merry Christmas? Major cuteness, Dave!
BK Jackson: Sunrise in the Desert 
BK sent us a spectacular photo of his desert-spirit muse. 

“My muse, Arizona, has many wonderful facets,” he wrote. “Here’s just one example of her splendor.  No wonder she inspires me.”
Donna Galanti: Star
Donna snapped a photo of her muse, Star the cat. 
“He must write with me every day,” she wrote us. “Star whips his tail at me to write if I stop typing. He even has the nerve to chew on my reference books as I write reminding me to write better. Plus he steals the best window view to stop me from daydreaming. But he keeps me here with my butt in the chair, where I should be. And that is a good muse. (plus see what good company he keeps next to my go-to writing resource as I fast draft a new novel!) 
Basil Sands: All in the Family

“Everyone joined in for the fun,” he wrote. “My wife Mia and my two younger boys.  The two lovely virtual muses settled their differences for long enough to smile for a snapshot, it’s slightly blurry but they are after all imaginary friends who primarily reside in my mind.” (For the back story on Basil’s virtual muses, see Tuesday’s comments!)  

Terri Lynn Coop: Scruffy

Terri sent us a picture of her canine muse, Scruffy. 
“This is Scruffy after a hard day of being my amusement, inspiration, first reader (he’s a great listener), and getting me out from behind the computer for walks,” she wrote. 
Sounds like Scruffy earned his nap, Terri!  
Clare Langley-Hawthorne: Hamish
Clare’s muse is her elegant collie, Hamish.
Joe Moore:  Patio the cat
Joe’s muse is Patio, who is “determined to sleep his life away,” according to Joe.
James Scott Bell: John D. MacDonald
Jim has an illustrious muse: the writer John D. MacDonald, shown here typing away at his desk.
Nancy Cohen: Items of Inspiration
Nancy sent a photo of her collection of things that inspire her. 
“There are troll dolls for my current series based on Norse mythology, a porcelain head of a lady supposed to look like my hairdresser sleuth, a Bad Hair Day mug, and assorted computer oriented knickknacks,” she wrote. “I keep CDs up there but don’t play music when I write. I like silence.”
Jordan Dane: Sancho 

“This is ONE of my rescues – Sancho,” she writes. “We have two dogs and two cats, all from shelters. But this guy makes me laugh every day. He loves sprawling on his belly and ‘snakes’ off the sofa.  Epic cuteness.”

Thanks everyone for sending in your pictures, and feel free to add more about them in the comments. And let us know if we missed anyone’s photo.

Reader Friday: Where do YOU write?

Last Friday we shared some pix of where the TKZ bloggers write. This week, it’s your turn. A number of readers responded to our request with some great photos of their writing spaces. Here we go!

Basil Sands:

Basil is a self-described “on the go, write-where-you-can” kind of guy.

“I have three primary butt parking spots where my literary juices tend to spike highest,” he says. 

I vote for #2, the comfy, cozy chair.

John Gilstrap:
Blogger Emeritus John Gilstrap sent in a view of his office as you come in from the front door. I have to say, John’s writing space comes closest to my ideal vision of a bestselling author’s writing space!

Mike Dennis:

OK, forget the office–just look at Mike Dennis’s place (I think it’s hidden behind the palm trees). It must be great to work in paradise! 

And here’s his office…
Mike Jecks
Mike from the UK accused us of cleaning up our desks for our photos last week. Guilty as charged, Mike! He included a photo of his office and canine muses.

“As you can see, British writers don’t tidy up the desk before wandering off to pointlessly take photos, even leaving both dogs in the shot to prove we’re not idly ambling around the lanes instead of working,” he said, with lovable British sarcasm. “No. We’re sitting indoors pretending to concentrate on the next book, while actually taking photos of the ‘workspace’ instead. Work displacement activities are a wonderful thing! Hope you like the way I took one photo, didn’t like it, so took a second while leaving the first on the screen … yeah, I forgot.” 

Oh, and the second dog? If you look under the desk, you’ll spot a nose.

Zoe Sharp:

Zoe gets her creative juices flowing in an unlikely spot–her car. 

“I get a lot of productive work done in the car on motorway journeys,” she says.

Seriously, Zoe? Be careful doing that in Southern California–they hand out tickets here for texting and using a cell phone, much less tapping out the Next Great American Novel! 

Michael Harling:

Michael is shown working in his office.  

“This is me, our dining table and, yes, that is my permanent ‘office.’  It is where I work when I am not writing on the bus or a train,” he says.

I’m a dining room table writer too, Michael. Thanks for sharing!

Richard Mabry:

Richard Mabry sent us a photo of his office from his iPhone. Very cool! 

Mark Terry:

“My office used to be in the basement… and my youngest son wanted to move down there so I switched with him,” Mark says. “I rather liked the solar system hanging from the ceiling, so I left it up.” 

The acoustic guitar provides an additional outlet for creative expression.

Terri Coop:
Terri describes her office as “very much my cocoon.”

“This is my little corner of the world where I write and run my business,” she says. “It is in a free-standing apartment built inside my warehouse. I rescued the desks and wall mount cabinets from the alley behind an insurance agency (there is another on just like it to the left holding all my graphic design printers). Then I decorated the office around the desks.”

I love the HOPE sign on top of the cabinet. Every writer needs one of these!

Thank you! 
Sending out a big thanks to everyone who shared their pictures and stories about their writing spots this week. Hope we didn’t overlook anyone. Please share your story today in the Comments!

Happy Holidays!

[image4.png]It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2012. From Clare, Kathryn, Kathleen, Joe M., Nancy, Michelle, Jordan, John G., Joe H., John M., and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone.
See you back here on Monday, January 2.

Happy Holidays!

imageIt’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2011. From Clare, Kathryn, Joe M., Nancy, Michelle, Jordan, John G., Joe H., John M., and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone.

See you back here on Monday, January 3.

In the writing kitchen, what kind of cook are you?

Clare’s post yesterday about NaNoWriMo reminded me of something I wrote awhile back when I was blogging over at Killer Hobbies (KH is a great blog about mysteries that incorporate crafts, by the way). Back then I’d never heard of NaNoWriMo (maybe the contest hadn’t even been invented yet), but I’ve always known I could never survive a rapid writing marathon. Here’s a recap:

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Top Chef on TV this week, but my two obsessions in life—writing and food—have started to converge.

Because I’m on a killer deadline right now, I’ve been doing some stressed-out musing about my personal writing practices. And I’ve decided that as a writing “chef,” I am a slow cooker. You could even call me a crock-pot.

My forward progress through the first draft of a novel is chunky and irregular, like an ice cutter breaking its way across a packed-solid river. There’s the occasional hang-up on the ice as I stall for a few days, working and reworking difficult sections. My average forward progress rarely exceeds a page a day. Barely tugboat speed, in other words.

On the plus side, I write every day. Every day, at the same time of day: before dawn. Over the past year, I’ve missed only two days of writing—once when I was stuck in an airplane (when I fly, I can’t concentrate on anything more challenging than a Danielle Steel novel). And once when I was retching my guts into the toilet from a bout of stomach flu.

As a writer who produces at this relatively stately pace, I reel in shock and awe when I read that some writers can tap out thousands of words a day. In the great writing kitchen of life, these people must be the flash fryers .

My best friend from college is a flash fryer. As a student she redefined the time-honored, collegiate art of procrastination. She’d wait until well past midnight to start a paper that was due at eight a.m. the next morning. Finally, in a Selectric burst of typing and crumpled pages, she’d bang out her essay. And receive an A. One time she procrastinated so long on a paper about Chaka, King of the Zulus, that it endangered her graduation status. We still call it “Chaka time” when one of us is desperately behind on a deadline. (These days, my friend is an uber-successful sitcom writer. And still procrastinating, but man her shows are funny!)

I admire the flash fryers, but I am resigned to chugging along at my crock-pot writing pace. I have to go back (and back, and back) over sections, layering in changes, rethinking descriptors, building connections, to make the prose sing. Or at least, warble.

I figure that no matter what our cooking style, all writers are heading toward the same goal: to serve up sizzling prose to the reader’s table.

What about you? Are you a slow cooker, fast fryer, or something in-between?

Your writer’s brain on the Internet

Recently there’s been a lot of research and discussion about the impact of the Internet on brain function.

The reviews have been mixed. Some studies indicate that surfing the Internet can enhance brain function in older people. That’s a good thing.

On the other side of the argument is a recent article by Nicolas Carr in the Atlantic Monthly, Is Google Making Us Stupid?. In the article, Carr said that his ability to concentrate is evaporating–he said that it has become more difficult to read books or lengthy articles, material that used to be easy for him to digest. “Deep reading” has become a struggle, and he blames the change on the Internet. Citing some research as well as anecdotal cases, he asserts that we are becoming a generation of word skimmers rather than true readers. We are power browsers, not researchers.

I have to say I partially agree with Carr. I’m finding it harder to battle my way through lengthy prose unless it’s so well written and dramatic that it keeps me riveted. In my case, I can pin some of the blame on hydrocephalus, because concentration is supposed to be an issue with that condition. (The brain shunt surgery I’m having later this month should fix that problem). For other people, though, the question remains: Is the Internet altering our  brain circuitry in the area that controls deep, sustained attention? Is it enhancing our ability to multitask and “info jump” at the expense of more intense levels of thought and concentration?

The debate makes me wonder what the Internet might be doing to writers. After all, we’re the ones who are supposed to be creating the “lengthy, rich prose” and books for other people to read. If our brains are being rewired somehow by the Internet, what impact will that have on  our writing? Has this change already begun to happen? How would we even know? 

As a random check, I just browsed over to the New York Times Bestseller List. Topping the list at #1 this week for nonfiction hardback is a book called SH*T MY DAD SAYS.

The book is supposed to be funny, and it’s had great reviews. I’m sure it’s written in lengthy, rich prose, filled with merit. I’ve heard it was developed from, or inspired by, the author’s Twitter postings, at 140 characters each.

Readers, meet your future.

— KL

p.s. And here’s a question–did you make it to the end of this blog post without skipping off to one of the hyperlinks? If so, God bless your un-rewired brain. If not, no worries. We all do it, more and more all the time.

Down the rabbit hole…and back

I’m ba-a-ack

First of all, thanks so much to Joe and the rest of the Killers (and our wonderful blog readers) for doing a great job during my absence by holding Open Tuesdays
I’ve been on “medical hiatus” for a couple of months. Here’s what happened: Back in May, I received an unexpected diagnosis of hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). When the MRI confirmed the disorder, I instantly reframed a number of gnarly symptoms that I’d been suffering for some time. Before the diagnosis, I thought I’d been going through a number of garden-variety ailments (mid-life malaise, vertigo, migraines, clumsy gait, plus being out of shape), so it was shocking to discover that many of the symptoms were being caused by a plumbing problem in the brain (well, except maybe for being out of shape). 
I reacted calmly at first, but then total panic set in. I froze. I stopped almost all activities–driving, the gym, reading, writing, walking the dog…you name it. I went into the hospital for tests, and surgery was indicated. Then a complication set in (the last thing you want to hear when it comes to your brain), and the next round of surgery has been postponed until late August.

So now, here it is late July, and I’ve decided to unfreeze. I can’t change the fact that recovery is going to be a long haul, but I’m now forcing myself to resume some regular activities. First and foremost, I have rededicated myself to writing every day. I went a long spell without writing a single word. Concentration and short term memory is an issue with hydrocephalus, and for a long time, even the weekly blog post seemed an overwhelming task.
But that changed slowly. Like tiny songbirds of spring returning to a tree, I began resuming certain interests and activities. The first bird to return was reading. After a while, for inspiration, I started doing “writer’s reading,” which is when a writer reads books of the type he or she would like to write. Then I started jotting down notes on index cards. Next, I started triangulating on the story I’d like to be writing. (What if this happened, and then that?). Then one day I opened up my laptop and typed an opening paragraph. And so it has gone from there. 
So things are getting somewhat back to normal. It’s been an interesting challenge, trying to recover both physical and creative equilibrium. On the physical side I still have a ways to go, but I’m holding my ground on the creative side, which for me means continuing to write.

So thanks again to you all, just for being here today. And I’m wondering: Has there ever been a time when you’ve had to really fight to keep writing, due to physical or mental challenges, or your circumstances?

Open Tuesdays

image It’s time for another Open Tuesday while our blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, is on medical hiatus. Bring us your questions, comments and discussions. If you have a question about writing, publishing or any other related topic, ask away in our comments section. We’ll do our best to get you an answer.

And don’t forget you can download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.