Monday, November 30, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: List It Out

Black Friday may be a distant memory, three days in the past, but considering the month of December is already upon us, the list of things that must be done for the holiday season is only growing longer and longer. If for any reason your text requires you to make a list, don't forget to check it (twice) according to the rules of Chicago.

All items in a list should be syntactically alike, whether they utilize noun forms, phrases, full sentences, or whatever is required by the context. Numerals or letters do not have to be used unless they will serve a purpose (to indicate order, importance, or to more clearly separate items). Lists may be made in one of two ways: either run into the text or set vertically in outline style.

Shorter and simpler lists are better in-text, especially if the items form a complete grammatical sentence with their introduction. As in, In her letter to Santa she asked for a teddy bear, roller skates, and blue hair ribbons. In other cases, the items in a list may be separated by numerals or letters, and these divisional markings should be enclosed in parenthesis. "No punctuation precedes the first parenthesis if the last word of the introductory material is a verb or a preposition. If the introdcutory material is an independent clause, a colon should precede the first parenthesis. The department store used three signature items for gift-wrapping all items for their customers: (1) silver tissue paper, (2) blue wrapping paper with silver stars, and (3) silver curling ribbon. Items in the list should be separated by commas, with the comma preceding the following number or letter; however, if any of the items require internal commas, the items should be separated by semicolons.

If a list is extremely long or if each item in a list consists of a complete sentence or several sentences, then it is best to set the list vertically. These lists are still best introduced with a complete sentence, followed by a colon. Only use closing punctuation in each item if each item is numbered or requires multiple sentences. If items are longer than one line, indent the second line to align with the first word (following the number). Shorter and skinnier items can be divided into two columns to save space. Sometimes bullets may be used as clear markings for unnumbered lists, but if used too often, they lose their force. Either of the examples above could be set in a vertical list, especially if the list grew longer, or more explanation was necessary for each new item. Other examples of strong vertical lists include shopping lists or directions.

Lists are good ways of presenting information and reminding us of what needs to be done. But we all know the best part of making a list is getting to check items off!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Spotlighted Literary Events

Nov. 29th, 4 pm: Dozens of sci-fi writers, including Star Trek's Dean Wesley Smith, gather to sign as part of Sci-Fi Authorfest III at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (3415 SW Cedar Hills Crossing). Costumes encouraged.

Dec. 2nd, 7-9 pm: First Wednesdays @ Blackbird Wine Shop in Portland with readers Michael Shay, Ric Vrana, Roger Truax and David Matthews. 21 & over.

Dec. 2nd, 5:30 pm: Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune's new book, The Naked Pint, introduced at a beer pairing tasting, hosted at 23Hoyt in Portland. Call 503.445.7400 for required reservations. $20 a person.

Dec. 5th, 1 pm: Mini Sledgehammer Contest at the Cloud and Leaf Bookshop in Manzanita, OR. A reading from Sledgehammer winner Alan Dubinsky, and a 36 minute writing contest.

Dec. 6th, 1-5 pm: Writing Out the Holidays workshop, presented by Portland Women Writers. So many stories to tell of holidays past, present and future. Hosted by Jennifer Springsteen (4111 NE 109th Ave. Portland) $60, register by email:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Em, En, Oh Please

The story of ems and ens is one of the usual sibling rivalry. Different strokes for different folks; different rules for these two very different tools. Unfortunately, folks often want to misuse or replace one for the other. And while they may be siblings, the em and en dash are definitely not twins; therefore, they should be treated as individuals with their own unique personalities and abilities. In fact, an en is actually equal to half of an em (referring to their typographical measurements). But that doesn't mean an en isn't as good; ens and ems are just different. The basic distinguishing factor is how to type these elements. Think of it in terms of their similarity to the hyphen, their cousin; in this case, an en dash is one hyphen and an em dash is two hyphens.

Since they don't look identical, their purposes are different as well. We love the em dash because it has numerous uses and can be very versatile to the needs of a writer. Most frequently, an em dash is used to amplify or explain, much like commas, parentheses, or colons set apart other parts in a sentence. The influence of three impressionists--Monet, Sisley, and Degas--is obvious in her work.

Another use for the em dash is to separate a subject (or series of subjects) from the pronoun that introduces the main clause: Darkness, thunder, a sudden scream--nothing alarmed the child. Writers also need to sometimes indicate sudden breaks in the sentence structure, perhaps as interruptions in thoughts or dialogue, and an em dash is perfect for this purpose.

The en dash is a whole different story, most commonly called upon to connect numbers and occasionally to connect words as well. En dashes can stand in place of the words up to and including (or through). As in, Join us o Thursday, 11:30 am - 4:00 pm, to celebrate the New Year. To be consistent though, the en dash should not be used in place of to, if from precedes the first element. An en dash may also appear by itself after a date, indicating that something has not yet ended, like an event, a publication or a person's life.

Chicago also says that multiple em dashes can be used together. Oh please. But it's true! A 2-em dash would be used to omit or disguise something, possibly a name, an expletive, or other information that is missing. When a whole word is missing, space appears on both sides of the dash; no space will appear between the dash and the existing parts when only part of a word is missing. Now, for the really crazy part. A 3-em dash can also be used in a bibliography. Followed by a period, a 3-em dash represents that the same author or editor is named in the preceding entry.

Life lesson: These two typographical rules may be different from each other. But an em dash can't do the work of an en dash, and vice versa. So we'll keep them both, because, after all, they're family.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spotlighted Literary Events

Nov. 20th & 21st, 8:30 pm: Mortified at Portland's Someday Lounge (125 NW 5th Ave.). Portland writers share love letters, journals, home videos and sketches from adolescence. $12 at the door, $10 in advance.

Nov. 21st, 7 pm: Dynamic combo of literature, art and music in Arty Words Vol. III at Disjecta (8271 N. Interstate, Portland). Featuring American essayist Curtis White with David Biespiel. Music by Adrian Orange and the Child Slave Rebellion. 21 and over, $8.

Nov. 23rd, 7 pm: Oregon Writers Colony presents readings from the writing contest finalists and winners at the Looking Glass Bookstore in Portland (7983 SE 13th Ave.)

Nov. 24th, 7 pm: Celebrate the release of The Black Book: 35th Anniversary Edition. Includes writers Porscha Burke and Toure; editorial team led by Toni Morrison and Middleton A. Harris. New York Barnes & Noble at 33 East 17th St.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Photo Story Prompt: Barb Wire

Write whatever comes to you--short or long, fiction or truth.
We'd love to see what you come up with! Post your story in a comment below, or e-mail it to

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

Photo: "Burnt Out" by Mike Hardisty

Monday, November 16, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Money, Money, Money

In college, I always felt like a bad English major because my guilty pleasure was reading Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic series. I guess I found some common ground with the novels' protagonist, Rebecca Bloomwood. Mainly we share the same inability to understand and practice important financial matters. However, ironically enough, she wrote for a financial magazine. I've never been particularly good with money. But I figure that if one shopaholic can write about money, then so can another! So, besides understanding budgeting and financing and investing money, there is a correct way to actually write about money, and that requires investing oneself in the rules of Chicago.

The first rule follows the basic standard for either writing out or using numerals for numbers. Chicago states, "isolated references to amounts of money are spelled out or expressed with currency symbols and numerals" according to the basic rules of writing about numbers. Remember, spell out whole numbers from one to one hundred, round numbers (hundreds, thousands, millions), and any number that begins a sentence. Other numbers generally use numbers.

Another general rule is that of consistency. When a number that expresses an amount of money is spelled out, then the words representing currency should be spelled out as well; however, if a numeral is used to convey an amount of money, then the currency should be represented by a symbol. For example, use either fourteen dollars or $14; just stay consistent to avoid being edited (perhaps as miserable as being audited).

One last nitty-gritty detail. When decimals are used in a sentence (always expressed in numerals and symbols), any other reference to amounts of money should also be written in numerals, and then followed by .00, even if they are whole numbers. For example, The shoes were on sale for $29.99, but the original price was $55.00.

Throughout her Confessions, Rebecca Bloomwood learns a lot about handling money, including saving it and not maxing out multiple credit cards, even if it's at a sample sale. Though I may always struggle to understand financial planning and interest rates, at least I know how to basically express my thoughts when money is concerned. And now for one last popular culture lesson, to practice our skills in writing and money:

Buying the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, from Powell's in Portland: $55
Buying it used from Amazon: $30
Memorizing the rules, thanks to Indigo's editorial tips: priceless

On behalf of Rebecca Bloomwood and Mastercard, my advice is that your own personal copy is still a great investment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spotlighted Literary Events

Nov. 16th, 6:30 pm: "Querilous with Bryan Bliss," presented by Writer's on the River. Query letter practice and input from the pros. First Presbyterian Church (114 SW 8th St) in Corvallis.

Nov. 17th, 4:30 pm: Edward Channon, a.k.a. "piper to the stars," reads from his recent memoir, Ballad of a Bagpiper at Portland's Horse Brass Pub, 4534 SE Belmont St.

Nov. 18th, 7:30 pm: Roger Wendlick explains being a Lewis and Clark book collector and re-enactor in his memoir, Shotgun on My Chest. Part of the Mountain Writer's Series at Portland's The Press Club, 2621 SE Clinton St.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Photo Story Prompt: Central Park

Write whatever comes to you--short or long, fiction or truth.

We'd love to see what you come up with! Post your story in a comment below, or e-mail it to

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

Photo: "Central Park" by jlacy304

Monday, November 09, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Writing in Other Languages

Parlez-vous français? Yeah, me neither. Although I do own une caniche (a poodle), I traveled one summer during college à Paris, and j’adore le chocolat. Impressive, I know, so I will admit I studied French for three years in high school, but didn’t continue because the Madame who taught fourth year French was très frightening. But I love to hear other languages spoken and try to add a word or phrase to my vocabulary, here and there. Not to be partial, but French and Italian are probably my favorites. I have a strange tendency to read novels by Italian authors, who write about Italian characters, living in Italian places, and yes, incorporating the Italian language into their prose. There is a correct way to do this, though, according to the experts.

If you’re writing about the food at a Mexican fiesta, an encounter at a Parisian café, or the art and architecture of Rome, there may not be an English word that does it justice. As a reader, I enjoy when writers slip in a foreign word or two (when it fits, of course). If a foreign word is likely to be unfamiliar to readers, use italics on its first reference. In my little rant above, I used italics when writing une caniche because I figured it would be unfamiliar; let’s face it, who regularly talks about their poodle in French? In these cases, it is also appropriate to translate the foreign word in parentheses or quotation marks. According to Chicago, if a familiar foreign term (such as parlez-vous français, à Paris, and all the other French I spoke above) appears in the same context as an unfamiliar term, choose to italicize either both or neither to remain consistent.

On the other hand, if a foreign word is commonly used by English writers, there is no need to use italics or to translate. As a general rule, you may check Webster to see if the foreign word is listed, but this should not be the sole basis for deciding whether or not to italicize. Use your best judgment when deciding how familiar a word is to readers. Ciao!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Spotlighted Literary Events

Nov. 6th, 7:30 pm: Poet Robert Briggs performs "My Own Atom Bomb," accompanied by jazz musicians. Works based on his memoirs of the 1950s and the beat generation. Mt. Tabor Presbyterian in Portland. $10-15 at the door.

Nov. 9th, 7 pm: Uphook Press presents 29 poets from across the nation (including PDX) reading from the brand new "you say. say" at The Waypost Cafe, 3120 N. Williams, Portland.

Nov. 11th, 7 pm: VoiceCatcher 4, an anthology of over 40 diverse, new and emerging women's voices is released with prose and poetry readings from Constance Hall, Toni Partington, and others at the Lloyd Center Barnes and Noble, 1317 Lloyd Center, Portland.

**Also, November is National Novel Writing Month. That's NaNoWriMo, for short. The purpose: "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" The goal: write a 50,000 word (that's about 175 pages) novel by midnight November 30th. You won't be the only one undertaking the madness, either. Last year, as many as 119,000 writers across the world participated. And anyone who finishes (and uploads their novel online) is automatically a winner! Still need convincing? Visit the official website for further instructions on signing up and dozens of motivations for participating. Now get started on that novel; you have some catching up to do!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cabaret Meets Literature, with Bob Sterry

Everyone, mark your literary calendars for a musical and spoken journey with Bob Sterry, performing original works, as well as prose and poetry from British and American writers. Sterry shows audiences how cabaret can be a literary event!

Bob Sterry is an artist who consults other artists as well. Bob recently celebrated alongside his wife, Anne-Louise Sterry, with the release of her cookbook, Aunt Lena's Cucina, proudly edited by Indigo Editing. What a talented and highly entertaining duo!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Photo Story Prompt: Backyard

Write whatever comes to you--short or long, fiction or truth.

We'd love to see what you come up with! Post your story in a comment below, or e-mail it to

Feel free to comment on each other's stories and just generally enjoy the process of playing with the written word and the world it creates.

Happy writing!

Photo: "Backyard" by John Nyberg

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Over-Emphasizing

In speaking, the emphasis of our words comes across through inflection and intonation. In writing, we use italics and quotation marks. "Mom, when will my so-called dinner be ready?" asked Sally, may be written as "Mom, when will my 'so-called dinner' be ready?" asked Sally. Clearly, it's not an innocent question; Sally is yelling at her mother and she doesn't believe that what Mom really made should be categorized as dinner.

So how about those italics? According to Chicago, "good writers use italics for emphasis only as an occasional adjunct to efficient sentence structure." So, if you want to be a good writer, you better do what Chicago says. Using italics too often will cause them to lose their force. Rather, if the surrounding information in a sentence or paragraph, or the placement of a word or phrase in a sentence, gives the reader a clue about the overall tone, no additional mark of emphasis is necessary.

Quotation marks are all too often used for a similar purpose, hoping to spell out for the reader the irony or the emphasis of what they're saying. However, aren't we always told to show rather than tell? Mom's "so-called dinner" doesn't need quotation marks because there's already enough irony and doubt in the word choice. And once again, if the rest of the text hints that Sally is a bit hesitant about her mother's cooking, dinner doesn't need to be quoted either. Only use these if the emphasis would be completely lost without them.

Now, back to our example. None of these so-called emphatic distinctions would be necessary if the rest of the paragraph went something like this:
Sally came home from school absolutely famished. The minute she jumped off the school bus, she ran down her front path and clamored through the front door, heading straight for the kitchen. "Mom, when will my so-called dinner be ready?" Out of nowhere, the stench (a mixture of peas and gravy no doubt), of her mother's concoction hit her nose and pushed her stomach into a somersault.

As with the use of any device for suggesting emphasis, overuse will eventually strip the device of its power. Readers will become annoyed if they're bullied into reading too many sentences full of italics and quotation marks. Then when you really mean it (like I really meant it there), it will be like crying wolf. A word to the wise. Don't overuse devices for emphasis. And Sally, stop complaining about your dinner. Or pretty soon your mother will ask you when you're going to make your own dinner. (Read with emphasis, right?)