Ella’s B-a-a-c-k! For the nonce…

Ella’s Story, Chapter 32

Okay, so I finally stumble to the end of the current chapter. Never did recover the last scene that Word so kindly disappeared for me. However, what doesn’t make you crazy…makes you crazier, I guess.

So this is actually chapter 32, not chapter 30 as I remarked in yesterday’s grutch. You may want to catch up or refresh your memory by visiting chapter 31, or simply go to the site’s search bar (in the right-hand sidebar) and enter “Ella’s story,” which should bring up all the chapters. And then some, probably.

Ella’s Story follows 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.

Chapter 32

Sigi, lithe but tall and substantially built, walked around the perimeter of the room. Here and there she put a hand on a countertop, tested a weak-looking spot in a wall, ran her fingers over the grain of an old window’s trim. Ella and Dorin, the new doctor Darl in tow, stood by and watched quietly while she explored.

“This room is a lot bigger than I thought,” she remarked, mostly in Dorin’s direction.

“It was chuckablock full of junk,” he replied. “You couldn’t see the back wall from the front door.”

She glanced up from pacing off the length of the far interior wall. “What did you do with it all?”

“It was a challenge.” Her quizzical look elicited a chuckle. “Threw most of it out.”

“Good riddance, then,” she replied, a little distracted as she thumped a fist along a suspect wall. Ella expected she must be pleased to find she didn’t have to clean house before she could start working. “So, Darl: how do you want to lay out this place? What do you need, and where do you want it to go?”

Seeming to study the space, he looked flummoxed. “Not sure. I’ve never tried to do any such thing before.”

Sigi paused in her inspection. She could, Ella reflected, be a little intense once she got focused on something. “Well,” Sigi said, “it’s not so hard, brother. Let’s think about what you’ll be doing here. You would have people coming to talk with you, no?”

“Yeah. I expect.”

“Where will you want them to be? And what else would you be doing in here, besides talking to people?”

He paced stiffly across the room and stood looking around. “We’d want a waiting area over there, near the door, I expect.”

“All right. We can move the doorway, if you’d like. Or you can have more than one door.”

“In one and out the other?”

“I guess. This wall,” she indicated the long stretch of dirt-gray paneling that held a bank of cabinets and shelves, “backs onto the men’s quarters. If we had an entrance somewhere along about here,” she waved vaguely toward one end, “some people could come in without having to go out into the weather. Or…hmmm…” She stepped over to the door and looked out. “We could build a covered breezeway along the front. It would shade the front wall—that would be good—and people could come out through the servant house’s east entrance and pass along here, under cover if it was raining.”

A master of ambition, Sigi was, Ella reflected. The more elaborate she could make this project, the longer it would take to build it and the longer she would be able to stay on the estate instead of having to go into the city to work. Before long they’d have a hospital with half a dozen wards, no mere in-and-out clinic. Ella waited for Dorin to have something to say. Not a word, though, was forthcoming.

“So we have a kind of entry, greeting, and waiting area. Near a door. You’d need a room to talk to a person in private, yes?”

“An examination room, yes. And a separate consultation room would be good. So we can talk and they don’t feel so…vulnerable, hm?”

“Makes sense.

“And if I could have a small office or study space?”

“We can work that. What kind of storage do you need? How much stuff will you need to keep in here?”

“We have other storage space for things you don’t need right at hand,” Dorin said.

“Right,” Sigi said. “So we’ll just need to build space for things you use day-to-day. Plus of course the electronic gear.”

“So…that would mean bandages and dressings, a fairly standard set of medications. Products for tests. Some things I can do myself, some of it would have to be sent to a laboratory.”

“That would be in the city. E’o Cinorra.”

“There’s no chemist in the village?”

“I dunno. Dorin?”

Dorin shrugged. “I don’t think so. But the midwife there would know.;”

“She probably does whatever she needs herself,” Sigi remarked.


“Well. Yeah. They’re trained for that kind of thing.”

Darl gave her a dubious glance, then after an instant’s thought said, “That could be useful.”

“Do we have a water line in here?” Sigi peered under the rickety, time-worn cabinet.

“Nope,” said Dorin. “You can run a line off the service to the men’s showers.”

These people from the upper classes of Samdela, the rich ones of the remote south, were almost as alien as…aliens. Did he think midwives had no training? Had he ever even met a midwife? Possibly not, Ella speculated. She herself had never seen a doctor, one who had specialized training from a special center, until she was sent to Zaitaf. And that one was no Samdi. She was a Varn. An employee of the Company. And there for good reason: the equipment in those mine shafts could create some pretty spectacular injuries.

That woman—the Company medic—had three assistants, all of them prepared to help in the event of the next little disaster. They also dispensed all the routine health care required for a population living in low gravity.

But why, Ella persisted in wondering, did the kaïna imagine such a person was needed here? True, occasionally one of the estates had some kind of agricultural accident, usually involving heavy machinery. But the victims would be carried into Cinorra by air-car. That took time…but she’d never heard of anyone dying because of it.

A figure passed in front of the door, blocking much of the outside light that shone in through the open frame. Speaking of aliens, she thought. Chadzar, the kaïna’s Michaian head of guard, struck her as about as exotic as they come, with his snow-colored hair and the emerald-green eyes traced by white lashes, the long fingers, and those wide feet seemingly made for balance on ice and snow.

Yet somehow he seemed less…what?…less foreign to her than this new creature from the other side of her own world. More like her own: worker, brother in service. Unmonied, unpolished, unsheltered. Not that Chadzar wasn’t highly polished. He was, indeed, having been brought up in Haddam’s service to be some aristocrat’s valet. But in Ella’s opinion that was surface buffing.

He smiled and nodded respectfully in her direction. She returned the silent greeting, unnoticed (she thought) as his face lit up at the sight of Sigi.

“Hello,” he said to the new man, who looked up uncertainly. “We met in the mess hall a couple of nights ago. I’m Chadzar, one of the guard. Mr. Darl, no?”

“Eyah,” a Southern Samdi term. Would he ever fit in? “Mr. Chadzar, I recall…but I’m having a hard time with the names.” It would be hard not to recall one that looks like this one, she thought.

“There are a few of us,” Chad agreed. “It comes to you eventually.

Eventually. This Michaian was a quick enough study, she reflected. True, Merren had been grooming Chad for awhile to stand in for him, in the months before the assassin’s bomb took his life and the Kai’s. But still…in a matter of seconds he’d found himself at the head of the remaining crew, and also pretty much constantly at the Kaïna’s side.

He’d taken things in hand, though, without a blink. Appropriately enough, since Michaian eyes seemed never to blink… An army of blacksuits had descended on the estate – they would have been there before he could have taken Rysha home even had she not insisted on going straight to the Central High Ministry. There she learned that her father was dead and his personal guard Merren mortally wounded.

Ella recalled her own astonishment at seeing her young mistress, barely more than a child, address the crowds of citizens who already had gathered below the ministry’s façade. That day…that day: it was hard for her to think about that day, though every minute remained vivid in her memory. Everyone on the staff had been called in off their jobs and confined to the servants’ house, though it had taken awhile for some who were working in the city to get back out to Skyhill. A few of those had been detained by blacksuits as they were trying to make their way home, but most got back inside the gates within an hour or two.

Varn kais and kaïnas did not speak to the people. They sang to them. And though Ella had heard her practicing voice and elocution, Rysha had never had a chance – or a reason – to stand on a balcony over the people, out in the open air with the vidsound equipment broadcasting her words and song. She was, after all, just short of eighteen years old. Chadzar, too, was very young. Tall and blue-suited, he stood behind her, his ice-white hair glowing in Varnis’s hot gold sunlight, seeming to co-opt the five menacing armed blacksuits who looked more interested in staring down the crowd than in heiress to a galaxy-wide realm.

To this day, Ella could remember most all of what the Kaīna Rysha had sung, the words she sang with perfection, sounding—impossibly—as though she were rehearsed. How did she do that? In the blood, so people said, as though one who was born to power were born with all it takes to wield it.

She sang to the people the same message, first in Varn and then in five other tongues. The Samdi came across to Ella as strong, clear, and plain. It was the language of the people. Surely not the [inflection] of this fancy doctor man, nor, for that matter, of her own lowly northern dialect.

Best, Ella imagined, to converse with this one in Varn, as much as possible. That would limit the annoyance factor.

Where’s Ella?

Lost in space, of course… 😉

Seriously: it’s been one frustration after another in the Creative Department. I’ve been cranking my way through chapter 30 of Ella’s Story, verrryyy slowlyyy, as one interruption after another falls from the heavens, like meteors upon the dinosaurs. Some of those interruptions have been paying work, which you may be sure supersedes all other demands and cravings. Others have been various little personal crises — surgery for skin cancer that turned out (surprise!) not to be skin cancer (please, can we max out the stress and drama a little more?); the dog at death’s door but refusing to go through; one unholy doggy reaction to one unholy medication after another (three times, I thought that dog would die before day’s end); friends dying right and left; a week or ten days’ worth of pool renovation going on in the back yard; editorial jobs flying in over the transom; and of course the unceasing sideshow that is our national politics, a constant and constantly amazing distraction.

Last week as I was trying to wrap up the chapter, in came not one but two new assignments within a few hours of each other, both from Chinese authors. One was a doctoral dissertation in, of all things, accountancy.

Who knew accountants did Ph.D. dissertations?

This, while not especially lengthy, was difficult to read because of the annoyance factor: they were making the kid emit an elaborate covariance analysis to prove…the obvious. The thing went on and on and on, essentially saying the same damn thing 15 ways from Sunday and demonstrating…nothing, really. Other than the obvious. It was an exercise in pointlessness.

By the time you removed all the tables and the references section, you ended up with a magnificent 29 pages of narrative. I mean…say what?

This, from my point of view, added another layer of annoyance. My dissertation was a full-length book that contributed a whole lot of new information based on months of archival research and that was published by a major academic press in its field. And you may be sure that my first full-time academic job did not start in the five figures, as his will.

So I leave Ella up in Word as I plod through this thing.

Then as soon as I shovel that back into the ether, I have to turn to the other author’s project: Chinese math. Transmission of HIV through certain high-risk groups in Guangzhou…don’t ask. Turns out to have been quite short, adding another layer of annoyance: I should’ve done this writer’s project first, because I was able to move it off my desk in a day. Better to have returned it promptly than to have made this person wait while I plowed through 28 pages of pointless palaver.

Math papers sent to American editors from China are commonly written in a program called LaTex, then converted in a crude way to Word with the equations stripped out. This, as you can imagine, occasionally creates an unstable file. And yea, verily…

The minute I wrapped that damn thing up and hit “save” for one last goddamn time, it crashed Word! Everything went down, including the Ella’s Story file I’d left open.

And yes, even though I’d saved, saved, and re-saved that file as I was working on it, and yes, even though I’d hit Command-S before I turned to the paying work, Word lost the new stuff I’d written in it.

Infuriatingly, Wyrd is set to save every five minutes on this computer, because of its propensity to crash at the most impossible times. So even if I hadn’t manually saved to disk, it should have auto-saved…many times over, during the several days I was working on the customers’ papers.

Wyrd is supposed to back up to what is called an “autorecover” file. If you know how to get at it, you can find the most recent autorecover and that will contain most of what you’ve done. In my case, it would retrieve everything done up until the previous 5 minutes.

But n-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooooooo, No chance. I can NOT find an autorecover file with the passage I wrote and felt so smug about.

Shit, Hell, and Damn!

I brought the computer down to the church office, which normally is quiet as the tomb, figuring I could sit here in the silence and, if not reconstruct what I’d written, come up with something new.

At the risk of repeating myself: n-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooooooo! The phone has been jangling nonstop. People have been wandering in and out the door, most of them wanting nothing more than to chat. EVERYBODY on the clergy and the staff is here this afternoon, meaning they’re all here to receive calls and try to dodge time-sucking visitors.

An hour and ten minutes to go. Then I have to fly home, bolt down a few bites of food, feed and wring out the dogs, and then turn around and fly back down to the church for choir rehearsal.

I’ve done almost nothing on the Ella opus — certainly not try to reconstruct the lost passage, except to realize I can’t remember any of it — and obviously there will be no time for any of that this evening.

Just hope my dog is still alive. That’s about the best I’m up to…hoping the dog hasn’t croaked over yet.

What’s Your Favorite Dog Breed?

Just for you: a chapter from If You’d Asked Me…the ultimate collection of bathroom or waiting room reading, A new chapter appears here every three weeks, usually by Friday. You can get a complete copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

6. What is your favorite breed of dog?

My favorite breed is extinct.

Back in the day, we had German shepherd dogs that were loyal, intelligent, healthy, and (mark this one) sane.

Today, you would be very challenged, indeed, to find a Gershep that fills all these bills. In fact, I would venture to say healthy, mentally sound German shepherds no longer exist.

The dog has been overbred to the point that any individual will develop one or more serious chronic ailments: hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, pannus, megaesophagus, DM (degenerative myelopathy), osteoarthritis, several types of cancer including bone cancer and lymphoma . . . it goes on and on. Additionally, many are dog-aversive—meaning they are unsafe around other people’s animals. And some suffer a kind of mental illness—this is how a vet described it to me—in which the dog will unpredictably go in for the attack. And no, we’re not talking about dogs that have been abused.

I’ve had a lot of German shepherds and loved them all, but after the last one passed on to her furry fathers, I gave up on the breed. Right now I have two corgis. For the nonce, the Pembroke Welsh corgi is pretty healthy. Don’t expect that to be a permanent state of affairs, though: unfortunately the breed is fast becoming popular, which means it also will be destroyed by irresponsible breeders.

Next dog will be a Heinz-57. Preferably more than 57.

Less is not more…

…Nor does “less” mean the same as “fewer.”

Saith our honored headline writer at AZ Family News:

Despite storms, less tax dollars spent on potholes

Lordie! Where do people learn to write like that? Leaving aside the ambiguity created by the passive voice (the dollars have a checkbook, maybe, allowing them to spend on potholes?), consider:

“Less” is for things that cohere, or that we perceive in general. It means “a smaller quantity” of stuff that we think of in the aggregate, as it were.

Less sugar
Less water
Less time
Less canine company
Less computer trouble
Less money

“Fewer” is for things that can be counted. It means a “smaller number” of things that we think of as a collection of individual things.

Fewer grains of sugar
Fewer gallons of water
Fewer hours, fewer minutes, fewer seconds
Fewer dogs
Fewer computer crashes
Fewer dollars

Less stuff. Fewer things. See?  It’s not that hard. Really. 😀


Self-Publishing: REALLY? The Complete Writer *Free Reads*

The Complete Writer
Part VI. Ethics and Legality: Rights, Obligations, and Risks

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays.  You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section VII: Publishing and Self-Publishing


Self-Publishing: Really?

Know how to get a small fortune?

Start with a large fortune and publish a book.

(Cue laugh track)

 That old chestnut wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. As a practical matter, most people make nothing on self-published books. They soon find their magnum opus interests no one but themselves, and the whole project turns into an expensive hobby.

At this writing, I have a pricey Facebook Ads campaign plus several other efforts under way, by way of peddling one of the forty-eight books and bookoids my two imprints have put online at Amazon. It’s been going on for several months. So far we’ve sold a few copies of the cookbook in Kindle—and far more of them in hard-copy through face-to-face marketing—three copies of Slave Labor, an occasional copy here or there of the erotic shorties. And we have sold a few copies of the beloved novel. Not for lack of trying: serial versions of the thing have earned five-star reviews.

The books that do sell with a little regularity—the “racy books” published through Camptown Races Press—do not even come within shouting distance of breaking even on ad investment.

The cookbook sold smartly to a group of friends but in the wide world is barely noticeable on Amazon.

Yesterday as I took a break from hour after hour after crushing, unpaid hour of recovering a 325-page book our software had corrupted for reasons unknown, I reflected on the causes for this.

Books have never been easy to sell.

Unless you have a platform from which to market them—a business with a broad reputation or one that does something relevant to the book’s subject matter—you will have to hustle madly to bring your book to anyone’s attention. That has ever been so, yea verily since long before the Amazon disruption.

Digital publishing amplifies that difficulty

Amazon has made the marketing challenge infinitely more difficult. Without literary agents and publishing houses as gatekeepers, the market is now flooded with dreck and chaff. Not just flooded: we’re talkin’ tsunami here.

Readers know that about 80 to 90 percent of books offered on Amazon and waypoints are junk or self-serving marketing tools. They also know, if they’re at all savvy, that they can acquire most of the stuff—and even some readable books—for free. So of course they’re not about to pay you enough to cover your time and skills. Not when they think they shouldn’t have to pay you anything at all.

So, the nature of the market has changed: not for the better, where people who write for a living are concerned.

A fly-by-night enterprise from the git-go

Then we have the issues inherent to self-publishing that have always worked against independent writers: publishing a book or periodical and getting people to buy it requires a full staff of workers. It’s not something one little person working alone is likely to succeed with.

Every time I’ve published a book through a mainline publishing house—and I’ve published three of them, not counting the ones I’ve worked on for my employers or the ones my business has packaged for other publishers—I’ve worked with an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a layout artist, a proofreader, a marketer, and various secretaries and admins.

The first magazine I worked for, which published the occasional easy-to-market book, had five editors, three graphic designers, four or five ad space sales staff, and a publisher whose job was to market the publication. The next magazine had three high-powered editors, a fact-checker, a photo editor, four graphic artists, a production director, and a marketing department. It also had a book division with its own editor and designers.

To make a self-published book fly, you need to do the work of all those specialists.

And you’re not a specialist. If you are, it’s as a writer, not as an artist, a marketer, a sales rep, an acquisitions editor, a production manager, a copyeditor, or a proofreader.

The likely upshot

Because you’re an amateur at seven in eight of the jobs that need to be done to write, produce, and sell a book, your chances of success are almost nil. But even if you were expert in all those lines of work, you’re only one person: there’s no way you can do the work of eight people and do it well.

That’s why you’re better off trying to sell your book idea or manuscript to a mainstream publisher. And it’s why, if you have a lot of money to start with and are willing to subsidize your book by hiring the talent needed to put it together and sell it, self-publishing means you’re likely to end up with a lot less money.

All is not irredeemable gloom and doom, though. In fact, there are some good reasons to self-publish. In some circumstances, self-publishing can be the most reasonable, most economical, and most successful way to reach a targeted, interested audience. Stay tuned for chapter 33 to learn when and why to publish your own book.

At Last: Back in the Saddle. More or Less…

Okay, as proposed a while ago, today I’ll publish this week’s one chapter from the three books in progress. The Book of the Week: The Complete Writer.

Putting this stuff on line is surprisingly time-consuming, because of the amount of formatting and dorking around that has to be done to make it more or less readable. So, as I’ve explained elsewhere, the idea of publishing a chapter a week from each of three books in progress is going away.

I think, too, that trying to put each of the books online in a single place, slowly building each book’s WordPress “Page” into something that holds the entire book’s content, is another lost cause. For one thing, it makes pages that are unmanageably large and difficult for the reader to navigate. For another, it’s redundant: these things exist in PDF format and if you want one, all you have to do is ask. Click on the P&S contact page to do so. And in sum, compiling this stuff into one page is brain-bangingly time-consuming: a fair amount of ditzy behind-the-scenes formatting has to be done, which may be grand if you like that kind of thing…but I don’t.

Instead, I’ll post each book’s table of contents in those pages. Whenever I get around to it, which may or may not be today. Or this week. Or as the next chapter of each book is published. One (1) a week.

Bêtises of the Day…

Officials say witnesses reported seeing a black Chevy Cavalier driving at a high speed when the vehicle lost control and collided head-on into a mini van stopped at the red light. (“Phoenix Fire: 9 people hurt following head-on collision,” Fox 10 News, October 19, 2018.)

The vehicle didn’t lose control of anything. The idiot driver lost control.

When officials arrived on scene they found two adults with gun shot wounds and transported to the hospital. (“1 person killed, 1 hospitalized after a shooting in Mesa Saturday morrning,” Fox 10 News, October 20, 2018).

They found two adults transported to the hospital? By teleportation, no doubt.

That’s a “minivan,” by the way. One word. 🙄

“Gunshot,” too, come to think of it. When we say “words of one syllable” around that newsroom, we’re not kidding!

Destiny the cat is recovering with her new foster dad after being shot in the eye with a dart. ( “Valley cat shot in eye with dart recovering,” 12 News, October 20, 2018).

Kseniya Schminke first saw Destiny last Saturday, as she darted into a bush near 32nd Street and Thomas.

Snark! Nice pun there. Did you do that on purpose, dear reporter, or were you high on something? And why was Kseniya darting around in the shrubbery, anyway? The story stumbles on…

“I saw, what I originally thought was a screw driver, but later figured out it was a dart. You could see it’s eye was basically about to fall out. It was sad,” Schminke said.

Is there a reason for the comma between the verb and the object? Apparently not. “It’s eye”? Really, no one ever taught you to proofread? And if you meant “its,” are we talking about the dart’s eye or the screwdriver’s eye? “Basically”? Does this overused and pointless adverb have any meaning here? Don’t make your interviewee sound like a moron unless you intend to do so. Speaking of moronic quotes…

“It’s heartbreaking to realize that a human would do this to a defenseless animal and repeatedly. This person is a serial abuser and this neighborhood needs to be on the lookout and we need to find this person,” Sloan said.

Well, yeah. But what’s really heartbreaking is that people let their cats roam loose to be victimized by other cats, dogs, coyotes, automobiles, and lunatics. This cat would never have been injured if its owners had done the responsible thing and kept it inside or in their own yard. If it’s a feral cat, it would never have been injured if its predeceessors’ owners had spayed them.

Study: Arizona in the middle for politically-engaged states (KTAR News: October 21, 2018)

“A recent study from Wallet Hub found that Arizona was in the middle for states and their respective political engagement.”

Huh? What on earth is meant by “respective political engagement”?

No hyphen after an -ly word, by the way: politically engaged.

 Here are the differences among iPhone map programs (KTAR News, October 20, 2018)

“Anyone that was using an iPhone when they initially launched the Apple app remembers the widespread reports of incorrect directions along with lots of bugs and errors.”

We should know about bugs and errors…we certainly sprinkle our copy with plenty of them. 😀

Possibly the reporter meant “anyone who”? Who is a perfectly innocent non-gendered pronoun, and it works well to suggest you’re writing about a human being, not a one-eyed cat or a speeding Chevrolet.

“They”…the users launched the Apple app? Well, obviously the writer intended to refer to the Apple Corporation with the misbegotten “they.” But a corporation is an “it,” not a “they.”

You have to give KTAR credit, though: as infotainment goes, this bêtise-laden passage takes the cake! Not bad. Not bad at-tall…in the not good department, that is.

Too hilarious!

Capital Letters Do NOT Make Something Important!

A-n-n-d here’s another in my large zoo of pet peeves: the habit of capitalizing every third word to emphasize how neat, wowzery, and whiz-bangerish it is. Academics are very good at this. They are Professors who teach Cultural Studies courses. They have  “their” Doctorate in Women’s History and Subversive Practices. After they were promoted to Associate Professor they became a Dean.

No. None of these capital letters can make you, your job title, your educational status, your subject matter, or your department any more important than they were before you came along with your word processor.

Lissen up, folks:

Things that are not capitalized

Your college major, unless it’s a word that would be capitalized in any other context:

I’m a history major.
I’m an English major
I’m a business management major.
I’m a Spanish major.

A job title, unless used as though it were part of the person’s name:

No caps:
Georgina Mountebank is a professor of cultural studies.

Yes caps:
We met with Professor Georgina Mountebank yesterday.

No caps:
Oliver Boxankle is chief of the city’s fire department.

Yes caps:
We saw Chief Oliver Boxankle speaking at the Chamber of Commerce.

President, Queen, King are capitalized for US presidents and UK kings and queens

Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when that happened.
We met President Eisenhower after he came back from Spain.

Elizabeth Windsor was Queen at the time England entered World War II.
We were thrilled to meet the Queen of England in person.

Mr. Bodley is president of Mountebank Widgets, Inc.

The formal name of an academic department is capitalized, but the name of the discipline is not, unless it’s a word that would be capitalized in normal usage.

No cap:
The mailroom delivered a set of books on Chinese history.
Letitia is a history major.

Yes caps:
The Department of History offers a graduate certificate in scholarly editing.
Yes caps/No caps:
She specializes in European history.

No caps:
Georgina Mountebank is a professor of history.
Yes caps:
Professor Mountebank completed a Ph.D. in the Public History Program at Yale University.

No caps:
I’m a business management major.
Yes caps:
She is a graduate assistant in the Department of Business Management.

See the difference? In the “no caps” department, the word or phrase in question is generic. In the “yes caps” department, the word or phrase is specific, a proper noun, or a proper adjective.

This would not be difficult if your grade school, high school, or college had bothered to teach its students basic grammar and style. If yours did not, I suggest you get together with other alumni, hire a lawyer, and file a fat class action suit.

Andrew Jackson appears on the $20 bill. The man seems to have had a premonition about the state of American higher education.

“Gifted”: Another Piece of Baleful Jargon

And this morning from a local news station we have this:

The 200 pound metal cross was gifted to the church when it was built 15 years ago.

Ugh, ugh, ugh, and UGH! Please don’t do that.

The word gift is what is called a “noun.” A noun is a word that denotes a person, a place, or a thing. In this case, the thing we’re talking about was a noun: in means the cross-shaped metal object that someone gave a local church some 15 y ears ago. Flipping that term over and forcing it to act as a verb (“to gift”) is simply grating. Obnoxious. Makes the writer sound like a ninny.

The verb form of the word gift is to give. Its past tense is gave and its past participle (a form you can use in this descrlptive context) is given:

She gave the cross to the church.
The cross was given to the church.

NOT the idiotic-sounding “was gifted to the church.”

“Gifted” can be used in an adjectival sense when referring to people — especially children — who have some special talent or extra smarts.

Johnny is a gifted child.
Jeanine is a gifted mathematician.

In this context, it’s an adjective (what kind of child? a gifted child). It is not a verb distorted to make like it’s the passive voice, as in “was gifted to the church.”

Note, in passing, two other annoyances in the newswriter’s sentence:

When you run two words (or a number and a word) together to form an adjective, they’re hyphenated. 200 + pound, meaning “something that weighs 200 pounds,” is 200-pound.

When you use a pronoun, you should be very clear about what the pronoun refers to. “It” is a pronoun that refers to…something. Was the cross built 15 years ago? Or was the church built 15 years ago?

It doesn’t take a special gift to figure this stuff out. Soooo…please stop doing that.

There’ll be some changes…

…maaade today! There’ll be some changes made! 😀

So distracted have I been by the various harassments and stresses of the past month or two that I haven’t had the remotest chance of keeping up with the ambitious schedule I posited for this site: posting a chapter a week from each of three books, one of them a work in progress. This required me to post three chapters a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

😀 Not a CHANCE, not when your life goes s-p-r-r-o-o-i-i-i-n-g-g!!!

Okayyy…if the Plain & Simple Press blog is to stay alive, we’ll have to rejigger that scheme, by quite a bit. The new plan: Post a chapter from one book once a week, preferably on Monday or Wednesday (the day’s TBA…too busy right this instant to set that in stone). So — say — one week, a chapter from The Complete Writer, the next week one from If You’d Asked Me…, and the next week from Ella’s Story, cycling along in that order from month to month, now and evermore.

This would give three weeks to write a chapter for Ella — I’ve been so fully knocked for a loop that I haven’t been able to struggle through to the end of the chapter that supposedly has been under way for…how long? A month or so, for sure.

It would mean a slower pace for readers, but it would give me more time to cope with some of the ongoing, apparently never-ending crises and catastrophes. And I could also post on writing and editing topics occasionally…which is what I started this blog for in the first place.

What might these little dramas be, you wonder? Here ya go: the chapter outline of the soap opera that is my life, Dispatches from Hell: