You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2012.

Woah instead of whoa. Drives me crazy.

Baited breath instead of bated breath. Bait is for fish! “Bated breath” refers to deliberately controlled breathing in a circumstance of high emotion, especially anticipation. (Think “abate.”)

Ball (round bouncy toy) when you mean bawl (cry vigorously), especially in the past tense. “Balled” is not a good image!

Hysterical when you mean hilarious. Hilarious means “really funny.” Hysterical means “out of control and panicked.” Laughter can be hysterical; a joke cannot.


I got a free pen at a hotel last year. I don’t mean to be a jerk about this; it was free, after all. But, dude, the design of this thing is inexplicable.

To make the nib come out, you *twist* the top half of the pen. Why? WHY? I clicked on the top of that thing ten times before stumbling on this twisty business. There’s no reason to innovate unless you’re actually improving.

And it is NOT an improvement. Because of the repeated twisting, the clip has finally been shoved clear off. Without a clip, instead of clinging to my notebook, the pen falls into the depths of my bag.

Note to hotels and other conference-hosting places: OF COURSE the pens will be cheap. But they shouldn’t be *weird*.

PS These are the first worst.

I have reviewed the proofs for The Start of Everything, so my work here is done. That was my last chance to have any effect on the text at all, and only small effect at that. (At proofs stage the text has been laid out so anything that would affect pagination is a no-no.)

These are a couple of things that stood out to me from this stage in the process:

1) I woke up in a dead panic over whether Iceland has duck ponds. See, I research the heck out of things that are significant to the story, but the small things can be overlooked. I have a tiny mention of a character not wanting to go stay with an aunt “in Iceland” who treats her childishly, like taking her to “feed the ducks” as a supposedly persuasive treat. None of these details impact the plot in any way and it could have been any location at all. I chose “Iceland” at complete random and never thought about it again, until I shook my husband awake and quizzed him on whether Iceland does, in fact, have duck ponds. To my relief, it does.

2) Typesetters do a special thing to the letter f when it is near certain other letters, like “i”. Apparently, they need to be shoved closer together to look right, and they become their own little new compound character. This makes searching a PDF very difficult! In fact, you *can’t* search for the word “difficult” in a typeset PDF. It comes up “no match found.” So you have to search for pieces of the word. When I search “cult,” for example, I find many examples of “diffi cult” with a space.

Another problem is that where words have been split at the end of a line (“hy-
phenated”) the PDF sees them as two words. So you would miss any instances of a word that have been split. I kept my last Word doc of the book open beside the typeset PDF and had to search them both.

3) Facebook can be really, really useful.

I had two instances of the word “underpants” that were problematic. The British (and my narrators are British characters) say “pants” to mean underpants, and it ONLY means underpants. Americans (and my publisher and thus my readership is American) mean “trousers” when they say pants. An adult commenting on a teenager’s “pants,” for example, is perfectly fine in American and utterly creepy in British.

In the copyedit, I had given in to “underpants” for simple clarity to the primary audience. But it bugged me. It wasn’t what the characters would say! Facebook to the rescue. I posted my need for character-appropriate alternatives to the word, ones that would be unambiguous to Americans and accurate to the voice of a Brit. By chance I chose a moment that many of my British friends were online, and lively debate ensued.

I also found out that my friend Dave knows a LOT of words that mean “women’s underwear.” 😉

4) My production editor is an amazing, thorough person. Out of the seventy or so small tweaks I made to the first pass pages, she questioned seven of them, and made her case with eloquent and detailed explanations of, to me, obscure points of grammar. I had not before heard the phrase “coordinate adjectives” nor considered the subjunctive v. the indicative in the case of a phrase beginning with “if.” That email was a work of art.

So that’s that–off The Start of Everything goes. I’ve also been sent a draft of the cover, which is exciting(!!), but I can’t share it yet. Now back to work on the next book. I’m 30,000 words in, and much more conscious of coordinate adjectives, underpants, words with “fi” letters pairs, and any references to Iceland.

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."