Not hard to figure out that my Open Carry was written not long after the November election. I’d begun to fear it wouldn’t find a home, but then a Canadian humor magazine accepted it. Read it now in The Dirty Pool.
An online flash-fiction literary magazine that hopes to Knock Your Socks Off has just published the shortest story I’ve tried yet. Read it here. (PS: The Attenborough video was real; the rest, imagined. And I’ve never even considered MENSA membership)
I this month read – and happily clipped – a New Yorker article explaining and defending, among other niceties of punctuation, the magazine’s insistence on the “serial” comma (following the last and of a series).
A kindred soul! I’ve seen recently too many defenses of sloppy editing, punctuation and word choice. In an era of compressed texts and tweets, it is argued, the finer points of communication are for old fuddy-duddies; the younger generation intuits fine distinctions from context.
Nonsense. Language must be rigorously used to be precisely understood, whether in novels or short stories or news articles.
I remember fondly learning the difference between rebut and refute from a grizzled copy editor at The Hartford Times, a WWII veteran who lacked my B.A. but was a better wordsmith. To be an objective journalist, he explained, I shouldn’t imply who might have won an argument: I could report that A rebutted – countered – B’s argument, but not that A had refuted – disproven – it.
Alas, such niceties fade. Dictionary.com nowadays agrees that refute means “to prove to be false or erroneous,” but allows rebut to mean not only “to oppose by contrary proof,” but also (as a third choice) “to refute by evidence or argument.” !!! Another loss of verbal precision, and with it the ability to guard the journalist’s impartiality.
My copy editor mentor taught me not to use other verbs. A shouldn’t point out B’s error, for instance: That implies there’s something there to be pointed out; use claim or charge. Similarly don’t use call attention to. You can probably think of other examples yourself.
Sadly, newspapers can’t afford to hire as many copy editors as I remember. Even the New York Times is eliminating one of six routine stops on a typical article’s review before publication. We can expect to see more imprecise or misleading phrasing in print — and even more online, where precision too succumbs to haste.
And don’t get me started on the disappearing subjunctive mood, to express doubt, conditionality or improbability. In the right context, I think anyone can still understand the difference between “Tom may have broken Joe’s jaw; they headed to the ER” and “Tom might have broken Joe’s jaw had not Charlie intervened.” But there are far more instances where was/were, may/might, can/could, will/would express subtleties that are too often lost by a generation that didn’t spend much school time studying grammar or parsing sentences.
Going back to the serial comma, sometimes called the Oxford or Harvard comma: The New York Times reported this month on a labor case that turned on the ambiguity of a Maine state law that failed to use a final comma. Read it here.
The New Yorker’s Daniel Wenger, the kindred soul I mentioned initially, offers several amusing illustrations of ambiguity when the serial comma is omitted. Among them, my favorite: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
Texters and tweeters, en garde! You may be missing something, or failing to convey your full meaning. Let’s hear it for grammar, punctuation and punctilious use of words.
The owner of an old-fashioned hardware store has a last look around before anything unsold in his going-out-of-business sale will go to the highest bidder at auction. Published now at the online Canadian literary magazine (click here==>), Literary Heist.
Yellow Chair Review liked my “Customer Service” so well they accepted it before their deadline for submissions — another thank-you to Bartleby Snopes.
BTW: brings my count of accepted short stories up to sixteen. Now if I could find a publisher who liked one of the novellas or the novel . . . .
Get a taste of “Customer Service” here — and pay attention to the agent’s name.
The rules were absolute: every word within quotes, not even a he-said/she-said.
That was the challenge offered in October by Bartleby Snopes, an online-and-print literary magazine founded in Minneapolis eight years ago. Not an entirely unique idea: Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants is almost entirely dialogue. Nonetheless, a challenge that might be fun.
And Snopes did what I wish every litmag editor would do: Kept what it thought were its best five submissions at any point, promising to report within a few days whether my submission had or had not made it into that probably-publish pile. And if the answer was no, authors were invited to try again, for no additional submission fee.
My first effort, Tattoos, didn’t make the cut — but I kinda liked it, and promptly sent it out to a few others. It was almost as promptly accepted and is now published online by Dime Show Review.
Meantime, I was having fun with the Snopes challenge, so whipped up another, Customer Service. Rejected. Tried again with The Whole Truth. Also rejected. Both have likewise been sent out to others. I especially like the last of the three, and am confident it, too, will find a home. You can get a taste of them (and give me reaction) from Works in Progress on the grey menu bar.
You can read the five Barnaby Snopes winners in January, in its Issue 15. Sad to say, that will apparently be the last issue; editor/founder Nathaniel Tower announced on his blog that he want to put more time and effort into his own writing. A pity.
Meanwhile, you can read my Tattoos online at Dime Show Review — and I’ll keep you posted on the fate of the other two that I wrote to meet Tower’s challenge.