The Complete Writer: Chapter 6 *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 6
The Importance of Revising and Editing

Reviewing, revising, editing, and polishing your work form a huge part of the process of writing. In fact, revision and editing are key to successful writing. A glance at the steps in the writing process reveals the large part revision plays. Everything above the §§§ section break §§§ represents the initial drafting. Everything below it represents the steps successful writers take to produce good copy.

Fact and content gathering

  • May entail research, interviewing, exploring, observing, remembering, thinking, reflecting, imagining

Considering the facts

  • Checking your facts for accuracy
  • Organizing them, listing or placing them in some reasonably logical order
  • Considering the audience, debating what is of interest or importance to readers
  • Reflecting on the tone, organization, language appropriate to audience and subject


  • Organizing
  • Putting the material into words

§§§ Cooling-off Time §§§

  • Rereading the document
  • May involve discussion with an advisor or editor; may be interior discussion
  • Taking notes, marginal notations, etc.
  • You may want to do a “quick revision” here and then have a trustworthy reader review and comment on the draft at this point.


Returning to the draft: Revising

  • Rewriting the material with the reconsideration and discussion in mind.
  • Reorganizing
  • Recasting language to make it more understandable, more appropriate, or more engaging
  • Adding material
  • Deleting material
  • Fact-checking

Reconsideration and discussion II

  • Reviewing the draft again
  • Discussing it with a trusted reader, if you have not already done so
  • Revising the organization and making changes suggested by reader

Returning to the draft: Revising

  • Rereading and listening to the composition
  • Incorporating new ideas from discussion, reflection
  • Polishing language, style, organization
  • Editing
  • Polishing, getting grammar, spelling, punctuation right
  • Sometimes minor reorganizing

As you can see, gathering or inventing material for the content and drafting the basic composition amounts to about half—at the most—of the whole job of writing. In other words, at least half and often more than half of the job involves revision and polishing!

Most people find it easier and more workable to separate the revision and editing processes, since they require two different kinds of thinking. Let’s start with revising, then. I will share with you some of my techniques, and then I’ll offer some ideas described by Peter Elbow in his book, Writing with Power.¹ If you are seriously interested in writing, you should read this work.

¹Peter Elbow, Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Coming up: Six Steps to Revising and Polishing

So…How’s the FREE READS publishing scheme working out?

Not bad, thank you! I’ve now been slinging a chapter a day from one of three books — Ella’s Story, If You’d Asked Me…, and The Complete Writer — which has put up a fair amount of content over the past three weeks.


  • It’s kept me amused.
  • Readers have expressed enthusiasm.
  • It provides copy to post at the Facebook writers’ forum I frequent.
  • It seems to be attracting traffic to the P&S Press Facebook page.

That’s nice. It also is

  • …wearing me out!

Trying to get five of these things online every week while also operating a monetized blog and trying to write the rest of Ella’s Story and keeping up with client work and having a life (of all things) is a little much. Lately, because of a health issue, I’ve had to go so far as to get up off my duff and exercise every day, which consumes a couple hours of nonrefundable time.

So, instead of posting a chapter a day of each book, in rotation, I’ve decided to publish just one chapter of each book per week. In the case of a matched set, as it were, sometimes I’ll post two — as in today’s smart-ass offering of If You’d Asked Me. But most of the time: one chapter/week. Thus:

§ Monday: Ella’s Story
§ Wednesday: If You’d Asked Me
§ Friday: The Complete Writer

After just two postings this week, I can see that several benefits instantly kicked in.

  • Major de-complication! Trying to rotate three topics over five days in a seven-day week created a passing dizzy schedule. Now, instead of having to consult an involved calendar, I know that Monday is Ella, Wednesday is Asked, and Friday is Writer.
  • Slower, more manageable schedule. Not only is keeping track of this stuff a lot simpler, it also means the (formerly) frenetic posting has stopped impinging on the other tasks I have to do in any given day. Delaying the Ella’s Story publication schedule by about 30% takes the pressure off, since that story remains to be fully written.
  • More time to write. Even though two of the three MSS are easy to post, one is not: Writer contains a lot of graphics, meaning I have to chase down JPEGs in now-forgotten computer subdirectories and fool around with trying to translate a complicated design into HTML. Among the several things in life that I hate, coding ranks pretty high. So, getting five chapters online every week has consumed more time than I planned on. The three-post-a-week schedule frees many more hours to work on the Ella tale…and that is much needed.
  • More time to hustle up readers. I’ve been trying to post this blog on Kindle Blogs, as Barbara Grassey suggested at her site. But of course, nothing is ever simple: Amazon won’t let me just start a new account, as instructed. It demands that I sign in, because of course it recognizes my computer. It has forced me to create new passwords and then will not accept the new PWs. So that has created yet another damned techno-headache…and so now of course I need the time to disentangle that mess and try to get this stuff posted there.


So it goes. Watch this site, for much more is to come.


If You’d Asked Me… Chapters 9 & 10 *FREE READ!*

This book is a work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

9. If you could say one sentence to President Trump, what would you say?

“Please get psychological help, sir.”

10. If you could limit President Trump to four words tomorrow, what four words would you have him say?

“I resign. Good luck!”


Ella’s Story: Chapters 5 & 6 *FREE READ!*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


At this rate, she was never going to get to sleep. Leaving the light off – none was needed, after all, nor did she want to wake anyone – she slipped out from under the covers, pulled on a robe, and padded barefoot down the cool stone hallway to the side entry at the far end of the women’s quarters. The door was alarmed, but she had a key and a code, which she used to let herself outside.

Zaitaf cast her argentine glow across the landscape that spread out before Ella’s restless gaze. What a thing, she reflected. Who would have imagined she would ever see such a place, pastoral and only half-peopled, much less live in it? Monochromatic beneath the moon’s platinum mantle, the broad pastures, the sturdy manor house – conservative but large and commanding – the gardens, the domesticated woods, and off in the distance the low mountains from which Skyhill took its name glowed like a painting limned in ebony ink on silver. Lovely by daylight, this evening it took her breath away. It wanted to fill her with love for the place. But it also stole other things away from her: her self, her loves, her past.

She gazed up at Zaitaf and wondered which of those gray patches on its face was Ethra. Could a person see Ethra at all without a magnifying lens? And . . . how was it possible that she’d been here almost thirty years? That she’d spent almost ten on Zaitaf?

Djitti had died a couple years after Ella was brought to Skyhill, recruited as Dorin’s second in overseeing the estate’s staff. Her daughter, now the Kaïna, was ten at the time. Not quite twenty when her father was assassinated. Five years Kaïna now, Rysha was.

How did all that happen between yesterday and today?

Bhotil would be in his 90s now, if he’d lived. He had been good to her, helped her work her way up from the resort’s laundry to dispatching and then to supervising staff. She missed him.

Every now and again she missed Bhotil. Now and again. But she missed Vighdi—her lover, her boss—every day.

Vighdi, shining bright in the sky. What was she doing now? Was she still on Zaitaf? Hell, was she even still living at all? Ella had never heard, one way or the other.


She jumped, startled out of her reverie. At the door, watching her with a half-smile, stood Dorin.

“It’s after curfew. What are you doing out here?”

“Not much,” she said. “Just having a hard time getting to sleep. You, too?”

“Well, no. But opening the door sets off an alarm on my desk.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I thought my key would open it without waking you.”

“Well – at least it doesn’t wake the dead an all their kindred.”

“Can’t win, hm?”


He stepped outside onto the landing with her and stood gazing at the silver-plated landscape.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” he remarked.

“Oh, my, yes.”

Dorin stood quietly, his attention taken by the glowing scene. The moonlight picked up the silver in his hair and, to Ella’s eye, made him part of the show.

“So,” he said after a moment or two, “what’s keeping you awake tonight, Ella? Something on your mind?”

Ah. The talk-to-me gambit. She’d had the same steward’s training that he’d taken: social work and counseling. Maybe it was unkind of her, though, to suspect a “gambit.” Overseer, he was, but he’d also been a good enough friend to her.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Different things, I guess.”

He was quiet for a moment. The wait-’em-out gambit. She gave in. “The Darl business, I suppose. It’s just…a little much.”

“Upset you to see him suffering like that?”

“I suppose, yeah.” He waited some more. “No,” she added. “It’s not anything we haven’t all been through.”

“Most of us,” he agreed.

“When you think about it…well, hell. Dorin. You and I worked like animals to get where we are. This guy comes along, this guy, and he just drops out of the cooker into the dormitory at Skyhill? I mean…how does that happen?”

A dubious glance. “When did you start expecting life to be fair?” He actually sounded a little surprised. And yes. It probably was…out of character. The man could spot bullshit a mile away.

“Not recently,” she admitted. He smiled distantly, gazing at the silvered landscape. At length she spoke into his silence. “It’s just that it annoys me. This is Bintje’s doing. If she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with a new slave, and the paperwork and the damn blacksuits in our faces and the training and the headaches that go with someone fresh out of the cooker.”

“Well. It’s not Bintje’s fault she got pregnant. She had the shot. You saw her get it. And you know the stuff doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time.”

“Okay, so Bintje brings home a belly, and the mistress decides…what? She’s going to buy a doctor for her? Why? The place is crawling with perfectly fine midwives.”

“She’s right that there isn’t enough medical care for people in service. Certainly not out here.”

“That’s why we have aircars: to take people into a hospital in the city.”

Dorin assented with a subtle laugh.

“How many times have you had to do that? All of…what? Once!” She was getting on a roll now. “For heaven’s sake. A parlor maid turns up pregnant, so we provide some crazy new medical service for every estate on the north side of E’o Cinnora?

“And what are we going to do if the Kaïna finds out that the sire of this urchin is a free man? For the love of all the gods! You and I are the ones who’ll get the heat for that.”

“Well, she’s not going to find out.”

“All she has to do is look it up in the girl’s records.”

“Why would she do that, when she has us to push papers, Ella?”

Exasperated, she gave him a look. “Accidents happen.”

He shrugged.

“And the child is his,” she continued. “If he knows about it, he’ll send the blacksuits to come take the baby away. Won’t that be a fine little drama!”

“He does know,” Dorin said.


“A little talk was had with him. He agreed to sign the baby into the Kaīna’s possession. She’ll be born into Rysha’s service. She’s already inscribed in the state records and in ours as a slave. Belonging to Rysha Delamona, Kaïna of This, That, and the Other, not to Exclude the Whole Fucking Universe.”

She stared at him in astonishment. He smiled back at her and then returned to taking in the moonlit night.

“How the hell did you pull that off?”

“Well. It’s not what you know…”

“Uh huh. Some friend in high places?”

“Look. Far as I’m concerned, diddling a slave woman is rape – or it is, if you happen to be a free male. It is against the law. I know that, he knows that, we know that. It wasn’t very hard to track him down. He gave Bintje a fake name. But when he paid for his food at the dive where he picked her up, his financials went into the system. Along with a video of him coming on to her.

“After it occurred to him that he might not enjoy life on some asteroid, he got real interested the alternatives.”

She considered this for a minute.

“So…you had this ‘talk’ with the man?

“No, ma’am. Just happened to hear about it. From a guy I know.”

A guy I know. Once a Syndicato, always a Syndicato.

“Holy shit, Dorin! Do you know how much trouble we’ll get into if the Kaïna finds out about this and figures out we hid it from her?”

“Oh, no. It never entered my thick little skull.”


“She’s not going to find out. And even if she does, why should she care?”

“Why should she care that the father’s a free man and so the baby should be, too?”

“Not anymore. He signed the baby over to service. Permanently.”

“Seven Gods and All Their Cousins,” she swore softly.

He fell silent, as in this conversation ends here. Not so much luck, though. . .

“What if Bintje blabs to this doctor, this Darl? And what if he tells the mistress?”

“Well. We may have to have a little chat with him, too, before that can happen.”

“A secret’s not a secret when everybody and his little brother know about it.”

Dorin shrugged. “It’s not a secret. It’s public record.”

She sighed, annoyed beyond words.

“It’s too early to think about this stuff now, Ella,” he continued. “The guy’s in no shape to do any work, and he won’t be for four or five weeks. Bintje’s fine, and she’ll stay fine for that long. Mistress knows she’s pregnant and she thinks – correctly – that it was from a random encounter on a freeday. It hasn’t occurred to her to ask whether the sire was in service or in whose service, and I don’t think we should put that question into her mind. She’s busy. She doesn’t have time to worry about that kind of stuff. That’s our job – and we’re doing it. Right?”

“Oh, sure.”

She subsided. He made no rejoinder to this last jab. Knew it was pointless, she figured. The two stood quietly together, each returning to their private thoughts, gazing across the metallurgical landscape. A cool breeze was coming up, and the moonlit leaves began to shimmer as they whispered in the flowing air.

“Well, sister,” he said, about the time she felt it was growing cold, “we have to get up at dawn. Think we ought to go back to bed?”

“I suppose,” she said. “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“That’s all right. We probably needed to talk. Besides—what a fine evening!”

Inside, he bade her a good night before she headed down the corridor through the women’s quarters and he walked back to his own room.


A guy I know. Yeah. He was a Syndicato, all right.

Writers’ Scams: Keep Your Wits about You!

Long, very busy day: No time to mess with coding another book chapter. Nor, if there were any such time, do I have the energy left to do so. Ergo…the next installment in whichever book is coming up will have to wait till tomorrow. Instead, a brief warning to all of us who want to be writers: f’rgodsake, keep your wits about you.

Over at Facebook, writing consultant Barbara Grassey (one of my favorite FB friends) posts a cogent remark:

Ugh. Another $4,000 weekend seminar has come to an end and the attendees are posting pictures of their “book signing” — a staged photo with a mock-up of their book (which is not yet written). My eyes rolled so far back into my head they almost got stuck. Really people… you can hire 20 extras (or really just grab 20 people at the coffee shop or Barnes and Noble), have a friend snap a picture of you with your fake book, buy everyone a coffee and a danish and save yourself $3,900 plus travel expenses.

Got that? One of her followers was nonplussed. Said this benighted soul:

I was not aware this was a thing at conferences.

{sigh} No kidding? B’s response:

I know of this one weekend seminar where people go, they work out the title/subtitle of the book, there are people there who “design” the cover, then they take pics with the mock-ups as if they are doing a book signing. THEN… they put the books up on Kindle/Amazon as a pre-sell, get everyone in the room to buy each other’s books (at $0.99 each) and when the book launches, they have immediate sales, usually enough to get the book to bestseller status. That’s how they guarantee that a book will be a bestseller.

Folks. This is not a joke. Not a fluke. Not an odd one-off thing. It’s impossible to overstate the prevalence and number of scams out there targeting wannabe writers.

And you know…even those of us who are pretty well published (that would include yrs truly) are, all of us, wannabe writers. People who want to write…well, we WANT TO WRITE. We write because we want to write, and because we want to be read. It’s a deep-seated, heart-rending desire.

That craving, that ambition leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of predators.

Me, I started Wanting To Be a Writer when I was a kid. In grade school I’d write little “books” that I’d sew together and “publish” by handing them out to family and friends. (Yes, they did think I was crazy.) In high school, I was the darling of English teachers. In college, I wrote nonstop in and out of class.

Over time, I became a published, paid, “professional” writer…as much by serendipity as by design: first managing to get my dissertation published through a prestigious house, then drifting into public relations and journalism, passing through the editorial staff of the world’s largest regional magazine, publishing two more books, and finally ending up teaching writing and editing to upper-division students.

Over those years, I saw so many wack-sh!t schemes to prune money from would-be writers that we couldn’t even count them. The conferences that will get you nowhere. The online courses that will teach you nothing. The MFA programs guaranteed to render you unemployable (and probably unpublished). The outfits that promise to anthologize your (fill in the blank: article, story, poem, bio) in return for you buying their overpriced “book”. The contests that everyone (who pays) wins. The websites that will make your self-published book famous. The “publishers” that will take your unvetted magnum opus to press — for a hefty fee. Amazon.

Jayzus, but the woods are full of the bastards.

Please be careful. I don’t even know how many ways to tell you not to jump. But I can suggest to you that one excellent resource is Writer Beware. Otherwise: regard everything with a jaundiced eye. If it sounds good, it probably isn’t.

If you want to be a Writer with a Capital W, that’s fine. But just remember: you’re not going to get famous today. Or tomorrow. Or (probably) ever. Successful writers are the products of successful marketing campaigns, not of great writing.

If you want to make a living as a writer, get a job. Go to work on a periodical, in a publishing house, or for a paying website. You can make a living as a journalist (well: sort of a living), as a technical writer (decent pay!), as a public relations writer, as an in-house communications specialist, as an ad copy writer.

Consider: suppose you were a carpenter. What would you do?

Yeah: get a job.

Writing is a craft very much like carpentry. Like carpenters, writers build things. A table, an article; a house, a book: it’s all much of a kind. The carpenter builds skills over the years, meets other carpenters and employers and private customers while building those skills on the job.

Same with a writer. Exactly the same.

Want to be a writer? Get a job.

And remember: You don’t pay people for the privilege of writing. They pay you.


If You’d Asked Me… Chapter 8 *FREE READ*

This book is work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

8. Can my wife legally keep my parents from visiting our home due to simply disliking them?

And you married this because…?

We have children together, and she has repeated that they will not see them. What can I do legally? I want my parents to see their grandkids. There’s no abuse.

You need to talk to a lawyer or at least a marriage counselor. Why are you asking a question like this at an Internet hive mind when you need expert advice?

Why are you still having babies by this woman? From what you describe in your lengthy response (below, to another commenter) her behavior toward you is abusive. Stop getting her pregnant. And get a lawyer.

You also need to know why—the real reason—she doesn’t want the couple around her children . . . is it possible that there was some child abuse that she’s afraid to talk about? She could be afraid that the children will be taken away by CPS if a report of sexual abuse comes out.

There’s often friction between a wife and a mother-in-law. I didn’t care at all for my mother-in-law, but I certainly never demanded that she never see the children. My sister-in-law, however, disliked our MiL so much that she told her husband that MiL was not to stay in their home. Mil could stay in a motel but not at their house. If dear brother-in-law insisted that she stay at their home, then my sister-in-law would go to a motel. Other than being an annoying, arrogant fruitcake, our mother-in-law was not abusive. She was just so irritating it was difficult to be around her for more than a few hours. But neither my sister-in-law nor I thought “annoying, arrogant fruitcake” was a reason to deny her access to her grandchildren. Something more is going on here.

The Complete Writer: Chapter 5 *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 5
Dogged Clichés

The other day I had to apologize to blog readers for not posting regularly because, I explained feebly, I’d been sick as a dog. And of course, that brought to mind the issue of clichés. In specific, dog clichés!

In teaching, I often use the “raining cats and dogs” snoozer to help students figure out how to recognize a cliché: if you can say the first few words and the rest fall into line as the night the ____, you can be pretty sure it’s a cliché. So . . .

“It’s raining . . . “

“CATS AND DOGS,” they all chorus.

Harder it is to explain to them why we try to avoid cliché. They think of these bons mots as part of the language . . . and of course, when you’re eighteen a lot of old chestnuts are new to you, so you think they’re pretty catchy. Hard, too, at that age to know the difference is between cliché and jargon and between a literary allusion and a cliché (Death, where’s thy sting?).

In a larger context, the use of clichés in speaking or writing reflects a tendency to clichéd thinking. We see that in the political discourse of our time, and the effect has been exceptionally malign.

Politicians, business leaders, journalists, celebrities, and — most important — ordinary citizens no longer discern truth from lie, accident from plot, patriotism from cant, even crook from hero because we frame everything in Twittery, shallow clichés. These are short-cuts to thought: branding a statement, an idea, or a person a “lib” or a “repugnican,” “extremist” or “elitist,” “radical” or “ideologue” and on and on.

The problem with cliché is that it reflects lazy thought — or none at all.

Nothing is ever all cats or all dogs, all black or all white, all true or all false. We need to engage discourse to persuade our readers (or listeners) and to engage our audience in real, shared thought. To do that, you have to go the long way around: listen to the other side, and respond to the underlying, valid concerns that are expressed. Respond in depth, not with Tweet-lingo.

Cute turns of phrase quickly become superannuated metaphors and similes. Similarly, buzzy claims and thoughtless passion quickly turn into cant.

It’s thinking gone to the dogs…

If You’d Asked Me… Chapter 7 *FREE READ!*

This book is work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

7. Why are people so rude to cigarette smokers?

We love you, but…some of us are not happy about chronic health risks brought on by parents who smoked heavily throughout our childhood, and we resent having still more of that garbage shoved into our lungs by other addicts.

We love you, but…some of us don’t enjoy being reminded, in vivid detail, of the way a loved one died in hideous pain from the cancer brought on by smoking. The stink of a cigarette smells amazingly like the stink of a woman on her deathbed with cancerous fluids leaking out of her.

We love you, but…some of us resent the fact that corporations pushing a drug (nicotine) that is more addictive than heroin can enrich themselves legally on the suffering and death of millions of people. Including, to our despair, you.

And yeah: some of us don’t understand how people can be so effing stupid.

Should I go on, or do you have the idea yet?

Ella’s Story: Chapter 4 *FREE READ*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


She’d been on the sale floor about four days—seemed like four years to her. She never saw the blacksuit woman again. Not that she was surprised at that.

Sleep came only with exhaustion, for all the good it did. The lingering pain from the punishment inflicted in the cooker would wake her as often as it blocked her from dozing off. The only place to pee was a bidet in the floor, fully exposed to the glassy eyes of cameras in the ceilings and walls—and of the miserable souls around her. Food was just barely food, but she had no appetite anyway.

A couple sat on one of the four platforms nearest to hers, on display like herself to any and all prospective buyers, of whom there was an amazing dearth. The woman wept on and off – more on than off, really – for no reason that Ella could see. The man sat in surly silence, never making the smallest effort to quiet her or even to speak to her. Why they were being sold as a pair escaped Ella. Only later did she learn that separating a married couple for the purpose of selling one or both of them violated some Varn law of service.

Others around her tried to sleep or sat staring blankly, bored. Carrying on a conversation would have been next to impossible: the racket of children screaming, carts and robot observers rattling around, ventilator motors grumbling bounced off the windowless cavern’s flat, unadorned glow walls. Nor, for that matter, did Ella care to speak to anyone.


She saw, eventually – what time of the day or night it was, she had no idea — a blacksuit making his way up the aisles ahead of a visitor, obviously a free man. Tall and long in build and in face, he was; once no doubt slender but now, in silver-haired middle age, a little pot-bellied. From a distance, she could see the blacksuit chattering away while the other ma

n listened with little expression and less comment.

They were coming in her direction. As they approached, she heard the blacksuit going on, “…no track record…fresh out of the cooker. But other than that she pretty much fits your needs. You’ll need to train her, but she won’t cost you much.”

The man approached, stopped, and looked her over blandly. If he was interested, he wasn’t advertising so.

“Her health is excellent. She’s had all her inoculations, a year’s worth of contraceptive… She’s 26, still plenty young and strong but not a kid, and.…” The blacksuit barreled on in a sales pitch that quickly faded out of Ella’s consciousness. She looked at the gray-haired buyer and he looked at her. His expression, to the extent that he could be said to have an expression, was utterly unreadable.

But Varns. . . who could read anything about a Varn? Still seated, she backed away as far as the leash they’d tied around her ankle would allow.

“Hey, girlie!” The blacksuit reached for her. “Stand up and let us look at you.” She stared at him, unmoving.

“Get up!”

“Enough of that,” the other said. “Leave her alone.”

She turned her level gaze on him. He looked into her eyes, and a ghost of a smile crossed his long, sharp-planed face.

“Will you please back off?” he said to the blacksuited salesman. The guy fell resentfully silent.

He put a foot on the platform and hopped up onto it. But he didn’t move any closer. He just held a hand out toward her. “Let me help you up,” he said. His voice was calm and gentle. “C’mon.”

She hauled herself to her feet, declining to take his hand, and stood as far from him as she could get.

“That’s good,” he said. “It’s all right now: I promise not to bite.”

She wasn’t amused. Her expression said so, much as she tried to keep her face blank.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Her name is Ella,” the blacksuit said.

“I thought you were going to shut up?” the man replied. This elicited another surly silence.

“What do you call yourself?” he turned back to her.

“Eliyeh’llya,” she said, pronouncing her name in the Samdelan mode.

“Ah. Well,” he smiled a little ruefully, “do you mind if I call you Ella?”

She shrugged. Did she have a choice? “It’ll work.”

“All right. Ella. My name is Bhotil. I work for DOW Enterprises. We’re looking for someone we can train to help out in our offworld operations. And . . .” he leafed through a binder of papers he had in hand, “it looks like you’ve had some experience in managing some kind of shipping. Is that so?”

“You could put it that way,” she replied, wondering what he was talking about. She’d dealt with Distributed Off-World on Samdela, but not in ways one of its employees would want to know much about.

“What exactly did you do in your work? Can you describe it?”

What did I do . . . that I wouldn’t be arrested for? She grasped for something to say. “Well, I . . . scheduled deliveries and checked with customers to be sure they got made. On time. And just . . . sort of rode herd on things.” And kept the books for three under-the-table businesses, using coded math and my mother’s northern Samdi dialect that not very many cops were likely to understand, and reported any violations to the bosses, and did their bidding and kept their orders private, and forged government and financial documents as needed, and located girls when the bosses wanted a change or had cronies in town and saw to it that their wives didn’t find out and ran money through the “laundry” and . . . What do you want to know?

“Rode herd”?

“Did the bookkeeping and kept the records. And saw to it that anything that wasn’t about to get done did get done. Just…made sure everything got done, and got done right.”

“That can be quite a chore.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“Think you’re up for another job that’ll keep you busy?”

“If it’ll get me out of here. Sure.”

“Oh, it’s a long way from this place.”

The longer, the better, she thought.

“You’ll have to work pretty hard,” he added.

“I earn my way,” she said.

“We’ll see.” He glanced in the direction of the blacksuit, who was watching them in blessed silence. “I’ll take her. Set her loose, if you will, please.” He seemed, she thought, like a man who was accustomed to cooperation from those around him. She knew men like that. From before…

The blacksuit acted like his sun had just come out from behind a cloud as he moved to release her from the bond around her leg.

She could kick him in the face while he was kneeling by her foot…better not, though. Better not.

They followed him up to a set of offices on the building’s second floor, where they were parked in a waiting room.

“This will take awhile,” Bhotil said. “We have to fill out a lot of forms and then listen to enough lectures to fill your ears for the next week.”

“Fine. As long as it gets us to the door sooner or later.”

He smiled. “That it will.”

“That guy looked like you’d made his day,” she remarked after a moment of silence.

“Well, yeah. He gets a commission on whatever sales he makes.”

“Oh.” Follows. I’m a “sale” now. Well, she’d been a “sale” before…but that, she hoped, did not appear in her record. She imagined she’d find out soon enough…surely the blacksuits would go over all her sins with the prospective new master. Those they knew about.

The two sat in the silence for a more minutes, he staring into the distance and she covertly studying him. He must have been a handsome man in his younger years…she guessed he was pushing 60. Still good enough looking, his features distinctively masculine and his gray eyes thoughtful-looking, if absent with boredom. She wondered how often he’d been through this slave-purchasing process.

He spoke: “You look a little tired.”

Understatement. “It’s not easy to sleep here.”

“No. I’m sure not.” She having nothing to add to that, he continued, “When we get back to the ship, you can have a warm bath and something to eat, if you’re hungry. Then you can go to bed and sleep as long as you like. You’ll have your own quarters there, while we’re in transit.”

Ship? Transit? What “transit”? “What ‘ship,’ Mr. Bhotil?” she asked.

“They didn’t tell you? I’m sorry, I thought they had. We’re based on Zaitaf. We’ll be going back there tomorrow morning…that would be in about eighteen hours.”

Her breath stopped. Her chest wouldn’t pull in any air. “Zai… You mean the moon?”

“Well, the larger one. There are two.”

“No!” She couldn’t breathe. She jumped to her feet and managed to gasp in enough air to yell another NO! “I’m not going! You can’t take me there! No!” She stumbled away from him.

“Ella! Calm down!”

“No! No, I’m not going! No way!

He stood and reached for her. She dodged out of his grasp. “No! Leave me alone! You can’t take me there!” She started to sob, still trying to catch enough air.

A blacksuit approached, brandishing a billy club.

Bhotil glared him down. “Back off! She’s mine. I paid for her. I’ll handle this.”

The man paused, uncertain.

Now Ella was weeping uncontrollably. What was that he said? He already owned her? They already owned her? “No!”

In the instant she was distracted, Bhotil reached out and set his hands on her shoulders, exactly as the woman blacksuit had a few days before. He pulled her toward him.

“Ella,” he said. “Ella, will you please stop? Be quiet. No one’s going to hurt you.”

Sobs came in waves. She was beyond stopping them. All the fear and pain and anger and despair poured over her like a river of lava.

He held onto her and spoke something; what, she couldn’t make out over her own weeping, but he kept talking to her, low and gentle. How long this went on, she did not know. She felt the blacksuit nearby. She felt the eyes on her, other people in the waiting room staring. She felt Bhotil speaking. But what all that meant escaped her.

Then she was in his arms, weeping into the jacket covering his chest. He held her, for how long she couldn’t say. Finally, when she couldn’t draw another breath to sob, she stopped. He held her for a few seconds, a few minutes longer, she didn’t know.

“What in the Gods’ heavens is the matter, Ella?” he said. “Why are you carrying on like this?” He held her by the shoulders again, stroking the muscles between her shoulderblades.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life breaking rocks,” she wailed.


“Don’t send me to the mines. I haven’t done anything to deserve that.”

“Oh!” The light dawned across his face. “Is that what you think is happening?”

She tried to seek shelter against his chest again, but he held her in place. “No. Ella, woman. That’s not what’s going to happen at all.”

“What else would people do on some godforsaken moon?”

“Ella. Will you please pay attention to me?”

She nodded, but the tears flowing down her face gainsaid her.

He held her back away from him and then lifted her chin. “Listen to me.” She shook her head. “Yes.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “You’re not going to any mines. Are you an engineer? Is there anything you could do for us there?

“Mining is just a small part of what the colony does. Ethra…it has so many other jobs. Hardly any of us work at the mines.”

“What else is there to do?” If she choked out the words, still she could not help gainsaying him.

“Well… Freighting, for one. None of those big deepspace ships can land on the planet. They dock at Ethra, where they offload their cargo. Because the gravity’s lower. And we ship it all to the surface. Don’t you remember? That’s how you got here.”


“You were offloaded on Zaitaf and loaded onto a local surface lander.”

“I don’t think so. They just dumped us into some sort of…garage. Here. On the planet.”

“Well, you would have been in a pod. You couldn’t see out, could you?” She shook her head, no. “Your pod would have been moved over to a surface-bound ship – like the one that will carry us back to Ethra Port. You probably didn’t even know it. From Ethra Port you would have been carried down to Varnis, and from Cinorra Port they would have brought you here.

“Everything – and everyone, free or slave – that comes into the Varn system by deepspace carrier is laid off on Zaitaf and reloaded onto vessels that carry cargo to the surface. Same is true for whatever and whoever leaves the planet.”

“Oh.” She looked at him, amazed. With his fingers, he wiped the hot tears from her cheeks.

“And we have a research station there. More scientists and mathematicians than you can count. And a communications station. And a power station. And an agriculture pod that raises fresh fruits and vegetables and grain to feed us all. And a survey system studying the planet. And there’s a big, fancy resort. Believe it or not, rich people think it’s a fine place to go for vacations.”


“Yes. You want to see some famous Great One? Sooner or later they all show up on Zaitaf.”

“Seriously? Like the Kaïna?”

“I’ve seen the Kai and the Kaïna myself. In person.”

“She goes there?”

“She does. They all do.”


The Kaïna Djitti. No, Ella never saw her on Zaitaf, not in all the years she spent there. Who would have thought she’d end up in her service?

No one. Least of all Ella.


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The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 4

Not the corporate kind of overcapitalization! The writerly kind of overcapitalization.

This happens every time we at The Copyeditor’s Desk have to edit a set of author bios for an issue of one of our client scholarly journals. The journal’s senior editors ask contributors to toot their own horns in short squibs that are collected at the back of the book. And my, they do toot. In majuscule!

Olivia Boxankle is an Associate Professor of Cultural and Linguistic Studies in the Department of English at the Great Desert University. She earned her PhD in Postmodern Babble at Erewhon College, after which she spent ten years as Adjunct Instructor of Early Unemployability Studies at Podunk Community College, before joining GDU in 1999 as an Assistant Professor.

The tenure track does not confer divinity upon its members. Therefore, titles such as assistant professor, associate professor, or even full professor are not capitalized unless they are used as part of the person’s name.

  • Olivia Boxankle is an associate professor.
  • We saw Professor Olivia Boxankle’s outstanding presentation at last winter’s Modern Language Association conference.

Now let’s consider Prof. Harvey Wallbanger, who is president of the Great Desert University:

  • The newspaper mentioned the university President’s salary in an article reporting next semester’s 25 percent tuition increase.


The only person who gets to have his or her title as president capitalized is the President of the United States. Period. Well . . . unless you’re writing in and for some other country, in which case the title is lower-cased like those of other mortals.

  • Barack Obama was President of the United States.

Back to the bios: The name of an academic subject is lower-cased, unless it happens to be a proper name or place name.

  • She is a professor of geology.
  • She is a professor of ethnic studies.
  • She is a professor of Spanish.
  • She is a professor of English.

However, if we cite the name of an academic subject as part of a department’s name, it may be capitalized in that context:

  • She is a professor in the Department of Cultural and Linguistic Studies.
  • She teaches cultural and linguistic studies.
  • She teaches in the Ethnic Studies Department.
  • She teaches ethnic studies.

It seems so self-evident, no? Then why do people write things like a Professor of Ethnic Studies?

Because . . . in the corporate world, people’s titles are often capitalized because the boss said so. Or because the marketing department said so. Companies, like journals, magazines, and newspapers, have their own in-house style based on a standard style manual (Associated Press style, in the case of businesses) but with its own embellishments. One such embellishment is capitalization of the Honored Leaders’ titles, even though in the real world that would be . . . well, wrong:

  • Joe Blow is Chief Executive Officer of the Blowhard Corporation.

But books and scholarly journals generally follow Chicago style or the style manual appropriate to research articles for their discipline (such as the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association manuals). These tend to inveigh against pointless capitalization. You may have to glorify your current boss with capital letters. But once you’re no longer working at that company, knock it off!

And don’t do it at all for faculty members and their generic academic disciplines. It peeves the editor.