Friday First Lines

Years and years ago I was given a First Line Challenge: Basically to identify the title and author of each of these books/stories. Some of them, I have to admit, I still haven’t identified.

So here are the first 10. If you know the book and author, leave it in the comments*

1. A column of smoke rose thin and straight from the cabin chimney.

2. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do…

3. It was a dark and stormy night.

4. 1801-I have just returned from a visit to my landlord…

5. Mr. Jones of Manor Farm had hocked the henhouses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.

6. Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

7. The Mole had been working hard all morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

8. He came into the world in the middle of the thicket…

9. When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me.

10. The primroses were over.

(FWIW, for two of these I don’t know the correct answer. Seriously. But I’m not going to tell you which two to keep you honest.)

Have fun. It’s Friday…

*I’m trying to think of some sort of prize for the person who gets the most first, but that would be really hard to judge, and I don’t have much to give away other than copies of my books, and I don’t know if you’d want that as a prize anyway….

Things my Copy Editor Taught Me (or tried to…)

Irregular verbs.  Not lie/lay.  I actually do that one pretty well.  But there are a few others that I’m still not sure of.

The Copy Editor’s JOB is to correct my grammar (so I won’t look like an idiot in front of the readers), and thus they’re generally far more cognizant of what correct grammar should look like. Therefore, when one of them dings me on something, I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong so we won’t have to go through it again on the next book.  Sometimes, however, I can’t wrap my head around the differences, and these are two of the verbs that still baffle me.


My second copy editor was the one who caught me on this. I don’t know the difference. After looking it up on-line, I -still- don’t think I know the difference. In fact, now I’m even more confused.

One source claimed that awake is an adjective, totally ignoring the verb awaken, some sites indicate that awaken is transitive while wake is not,  and other sites say that both can be transitive or intransitive.

I ran across an old Lutheran Hymn entitled “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” which does seem to use both as verbs  (for whatever that’s worth.)

Big Words 101 says:

“To sum it up, you can use pretty much whichever word you like, but in general, you will probably use wake more often than awake, except to use awake as an adjective (for example, I am awake now. )”


(Image Source: Big Words 101)

So my research didn’t give me much of an answer as to why that particular editor changed things (and since his changes didn’t change the meaning of anything, I just let them stay.)



Now this one was picked out by that same copy editor, and I know there’s a difference between the two words. Whether I can grasp the difference is still debatable.

Basically (And Grammar Girl explains this very well….across 2 pages) Might is for something that is unlikely, May is for something more likely to happen.

My problem with this stems from what might be a regional difference. For me, Might covers probabilities from 1% to about 90%, and May covers that slim area where you’re asking your mother for permission to go to the store. Seriously? If Mom says that you may after you’ve asked, then the probability that you’re going to go after going to the trouble to ask ‘May I’ is closer to 95%.

So for me it’s always been:

Might = 1 – 90% probability of occurrence

May = 91% +

(For me, May has always been more about permission, not possibility.)


What it’s really supposed to be is something closer to:

Might = 1 – 5%

May = 6% +


So in a lot of places in my manuscript I used Might when a more correct choice would have been May.

When you throw in that the past tense of May is Might (ACK!) and that there are some exceptions to the above standard (such as negatives, I might not is safer than I may not…which sounds like you’ve been denied permission) you end up with a bit of a mess.

Again, however, other sources say that Might/May is open to interpretation…


So I’m afraid that I don’t have a defined line in the sand for either verb. Therefore I’ll just suggest that writers continue to use the version that sounds right to them (and if their copy editor disagrees, it’s likely not worth fighting about!)


Publication Process: What’s a Proposal?

Currently I’m working on something called a proposal. Actually, two of them–one is for the sequel to Dreaming Death, and the other for an unrelated novel, which is currently called The Devil in the Details (a terrible title.)

So what that all about?

A proposal is a package that an agent will use to sell a novel (or group of novels) to an editor. Although the specifics will vary, the proposal is, in this case, a short synopsis (the difficult part) of the proposed novel and a sample of the beginning of the novel (I’m going with about 50 pages–the easy part.)

The first time my agent asked me for a proposal, I had to ask her what a proposal was. I had no clue.  But she patiently explained, and I got to work.

I dread writing synopses with a creeping sickness in my gut that tells me I’m leaving out all the good stuff and putting in all the boring. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.  But because I’m constantly second-guessing every sentence of the synopsis, it takes me far too long to write one. I tweak and tweak and want to cry. It takes me -days- to come up with 3 pages I find acceptable.

My agent looks them over and makes some suggestions, and I tweak them again.

The basic idea here is to convince my editor that I do have a good plan for a book, because a proposal is often for a book that’s not yet written.  (In housebuilding terms, this is showing potential homeowners a blueprint.  In clothing terms, it’s like looking at a jacket in a catalog.)  But by the time we get to doing proposals, the publisher knows I -can- write a book. That’s not in question. They just want an idea what it will look like….so I show them what I have, and they make a decision based on that and my previous work.

So this part of the process is a little bit different than it is for first-time writers being pitched to an editor.

First-time writers (in genre) have to have a completed book, and editors generally consider that. They don’t have a track record, so that’s why they want the finished product. They need to know that the writer can actually produce the book they claim they can…

(Now, admittedly, there are exceptions. This isn’t the -only- way this happens. But it’s how the process is working for me and my publisher.)



Do you have any questions about how this end of the process works? I’d be happy to answer, inasmuch as I can.

Do your proposals go differently? 













My agent has been looking them over and making some suggestions to tweak them, and when the editor’s ready, my agent will start pitching them to her.






Things My Copy Editor Taught Me (or tried to…)


My most recent copy editor was big on correcting which/that, and I can hardly blame him, since it’s one of those writing things that I just cannot seem to figure out. I don’t know if this is a regional issue, but I often use which in conversation (and writing) when I should be using that. (Don’t get me started on people who use that when they should use who!)

Because I speak that way, I write that way.  And thus I give my copy editor a lot of fodder for complaint.


Grammar Girl, as always, has a Quick and Dirty Tip on how which should be used.  If you read through the first page of the post, you’ll find that a nonrestrictive statement (one that could be left off and not change the meaning of the sentence) gets a which.

My problem was, and still is, that I cannot seem to figure out when you can eliminate a phrase yet not change the meaning of a sentence.  My brain refuses to accept that you can delete words without changing meaning.

Fortunately for me, over on, they finish up their article with this statement.

  • The distinction between that and which, though a useful guideline, is widely disregarded:Which is routinely used in place of that, even by great writers and journalists, perhaps because it sounds more elegant.





Whew! So, essentially, I won’t die if I don’t understand this one!

For the most part, when it came to my copy editor’s changes on this subject, I simply let them go. I didn’t feel like* I was on solid ground with this rule, so I assumed he was correct.  Not worth arguing over.

If you want to see whether you’re barking up the right tree on this topic, you can take this online quiz (which also includes the who option.) (( I figured I could use which there, since you would figure it out if you click over there anyway, and thus it’s not restricting the meaning of the sentence.))


(FWIW, I got 10/10 right…so perhaps I’m not so bad at this writing thing after all!)

I think that most of us have an instinctive grasp of this rule due to our reading, but there are still times that we get it wrong. The good part is, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get caught since other people seem to struggle with this one, too!




*We’ll get to that word some other week…


Tropes: The Chosen One (Love it or Hate it?)

Last weekend a new movie came out, and I’m still waffling over whether to go see it.
Image Source:
I have to admit, the main thing that has turned me away from this movie is not the over-the-top wackiness, it’s that whole “Chosen One” thing. A janitor who’s really the Queen of the Universe? Yeah, I’ve seen this trope a few times too many, and a lot of those times it was handled so clumsily that it made my teeth hurt.

This one was the worst for me (Let me specify that I’m talking about the movie, not the book. I haven’t read the book.)
Image source:
The whole idea of a young kid saving the world (kingdom) made me cringe.

But he’s the Chosen One, right?

Well, let’s look at that trope. Here’s a handy definition from–of all places–The Urban Dictionary.
A common cliche in sci-fi and fantasy. This individual, the “Chosen One” is the sole person chosen by destiny to stop an impending disaster that threatens all life, save the world from a super villian, stop corruption, etc. Basically, the only person who can save the day. Not their sidekick(s). Not mom. Not Dan. Only them. has a whole page of information about this trope…it’s that common.

My theory is that this trope is particularly popular with young adult readers (and younger). They would like to believe that they, too, can be snatched out of that horrible existence where they have a loving parent who gives them a nice safe place to live, a truck, and enough money that she doesn’t have to have a job but can still afford to go shopping with her friends….oh, the horror! Her life is so terrible! If only someone could make her life the magical life it should be….

Oh wait, that was a different rant altogether.

What I meant is that young people like to wonder if they could secretly be the Chosen One, too. It’s understandable. (It was not my thing, even then. I craved anonymity instead. If I had a superpower, it would be invisibleness.)

Handled well–or even overturned–this can be a great trope. My favorite example? Frodo.

Frodo’s not actually The Chosen One. It’s more a case that he’s stuck with the chore or getting rid of the one ring by the mere fact of possession. He keeps the ring only by the dint of Gandalf backing him up and, later, running from Boromir. And in the end? He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t destroy the ring. That falls, oddly enough, to Gollum.

Is he the Chosen One? We go through most of 3 books thinking he is. But in the end, he doesn’t carry out his task. Nor does he become a great leader. No, in the end he slips away quietly because he just can’t bear the weight of the world any longer.

Actually, in that story, I tend to think that Eowyn is the closest thing to a Chosen One…she even has a prophecy, and we seriously never saw it coming.  Boom, there she is, taking out the #2 bad guy.

But I almost feel like we’ve become overexposed to the Chosen One in the last few decades. Especially versions where the Chosen One is not quite believable.  (I am not going to list those here.)

Personally I prefer to see people working together to save the world.


What do you think?  Is there a version of The Chosen One that you particularly love? Or hate?



Things My Copy Editor Taught Me

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I recently worked through the copy edits for Book 3, The Shores of Spain. Now, a copy editor is essentially paid to correct my grammar. As such, going through the copy edits are often a strange and irritating process. No one likes to have their grammar corrected. But I’ve also found it an informative process.

I’ve worked with 3 different copy editors so far, easily differentiated because each one has different grammar pet peeves. What one corrected, the other two often didn’t notice.

One of the three dinged me on the word drapes, consistently changing it to draperies.

I found this bizarre, but when I looked into it, it was, technically, correct.

Like many of my other grammar foibles, this turns out to be geographic.

Image source.

I found this excellent explanation at
Chances are, if you live anywhere close to a major metropolitan area, you identify soft window treatments as draperies. If you live in the South or Midwest, you probably describe them as drapes. And if you live in the Northeast or on the West Coast, most likely you refer to them as curtains.

Yep, I grew up in the South (Southwest, actually.) Therefore, I call them drapes.

Fortunately, the site went on to give the topic a more in-depth treatment:
Regional differences aside, each of these terms has a historical claim to being a common expression for soft window coverings. Curtains and draperies have the oldest pedigree, with the word “curtains” cropping up numerous times in the Bible as a term referring to the fabric hangings that were used to veil the tabernacle in early religious temples. The word curtain is derived from the Latin word “cortina,” which means a partial veil or covering.

The word “drapery” is relatively newer and seems to have originated among the weavers of Great Britain in the 14th century. Drapery is based on the word “drab,” which at that time meant woolen cloth; weavers of that cloth were referred to as “drapers.” By the 17th century, the term drapery was the common usage for soft window coverings.

The word “drape” began its etymologic journey as a verb: to drape meant, very simply, the process of hanging draperies. However, we can thank retailer Montgomery Ward for turning the verb into a noun in an 1895 catalog, referring to drapery silk as being suitable for “sash curtains and mantle drapes.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. got into the verb-as-noun act in its 1908 catalog, calling a Nottingham lace curtain “one of the most stylish and attractive drapes one could possibly desire for the parlor window.”

Drape has had somewhat checkered history, however. Up until the 1950s, usage of the term “drapes” was considered fairly low-class—indeed, in the 1950 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, she calls the term drapes an “inexcusable vulgarism.” Politicians, never ones to shy away from a good vulgarism, use the phrase “measuring for drapes” as a way to ridicule their opponents: most recently, during the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain said his opponent Barack Obama was so sure that he would be moving into the White House that he was already “measuring the drapes.” Similarly, during the 1968 campaign, Hubert Humphrey said of Richard Nixon, “Why, he’s even been to Washington to look at the White House and measure for drapes.” (Interestingly, both Humphrey and McCain turned out to be right!)

So I learned something in trying to figure out why my copy editor objected to what was a perfectly normal usage where I come from….I now try to remember to use ‘draperies’ in my writing, hoping to spare the suffering of any future copy editors who might have this pet peeve.

Do you use drapes? Or is it draperies to you?


Once more into the breach (Reading, that is…)

So once again, I started off the new year with a promise to myself that I would read more. I’m trying to spend less time doing filler stuff, like endlessly checking FB or Twitter, or randomly watching TV shows that I don’t care about. And so far I have been able to read some.

I read 4 books in January
Rivers of London (AKA Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch (mystery/fantasy)
Quaternity by Kenneth Mark Hoover (western/horror)
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn (historical romance)
The Magician’s Mistake by Katherine Sparrow (urban fantasy)

So far this month I’ve managed to plow through the remaining 4 Aaronovitch books, which are so clever (I cannot write clever for the life of me!) and fun.

I also have one coming by E.L. Tettensor, 4 more research books, plus I need to dig out my copy of Heyer’s These Old Shades, since I’ve joined a Heyer group on-line, and need to try to keep up. Try.

Last year I fell off the wagon by March as writing became too frantic, which is one reason that I’ve already packed away 8 books this year….I’m worried that I won’t get any more done!

Anyhow, I’m hoping to keep up at least a couple of books per month and learn to manage my time better. Now, off to work on a proposal for another book.