English grammar 101 for professionals
I've been publishing a weekly blog on LinkedIn for the usual reasons any freelancer posts a regular blog. The articles basically comprise basic grammar lessons for all those professionals who have forgotten the lessons they learned in grade school.
Grammatically correct writing is a matter of professionalism. I find myself frequently puzzled and surprised by the genuinely awful writing coming from those who pride themselves on their professionalism and communication abilities.
I suppose language is like mathematics: either you get it or you don't. Mathematics was never my language. I can analyze and interpret statistics, but I certainly can't calculate them.
I still wonder, though, why people, especially those who are white collar professionals with high corporate status, are satisfied with poorly written content. This goes beyond the occasional typographical error into consistent misuse of apostrophes, improper capitalization, confusion as to using who and whom, and so forth--all those little things I consider basics.
Good writing distinguishes the professional from the amateur, especially for authors. The sheer prevalence of poor writing and poor grammar of indie books reveals the following:
If that's what gets the big bucks, then the expectations of modern readers are pathetically low.
So, if good writing distinguishes the professional from the amateur, then what distinguishes success from failure? Revenue.
For any businessmen or businesswomen out there reading this: Does your business produce any written content that goes to potential investors or customers or to the public at large? If your business produces proposals, manuals, press releases, blog articles, newsletters, or other materials that are seen by anyone outside the walls of your own office, then it's best to have a fresh set of eyes connected to a professional skill set to review and edit and maybe even write those documents.
You do want to come across as professional, right?
I can help.
Every word counts.
Book appeal for boys
I'm headed in a serious direction today that really has nothing to do with the stories I write, but is of concern: boys and reading. This is a long one, so bear with me.
Along about the third or fourth grade, boys begin expressing a dislike of reading that endures through their teen years. A lot of professorial research has gone into the why of this decline in male readership, but it’s not that difficult to figure out.
Boys will read if they’re interested in what they’re reading.
I have always enjoyed reading, but I did not necessarily enjoy reading what I was assigned to read, which was normally dry old novels written by chauvinistic, old men long since dead. But--and we’re going back decades now--put a Barbara Cartland bodice-ripper in my hands and my teenaged eyes were glued to the page.
Boys really aren’t that different. I should know; I have two sons.
When they were beginning that “chapter book” stage, our bookshelves were loaded with Magic Tree House series books by Mary Pope Osborne, Goosebumps books by R. L. Stine, and, a little later, the 39 Clues series.
My studious elder son preferred books of adventure, particularly the Alex Rider series by British author Anthony Horowitz. Immersing himself in the dangerous adventures of a teenaged spy sparked his own imagination, particularly with regard to the amazing gadgets that such fictional spies get to use. Dreaming of high tech machines and the capacity for destruction, he purchased and read magazines on firearms and supercars. Now a college student majoring in mechanical engineering, my elder son maintains an enduring fascination with high-end sports cars and modern weapons.
My younger son’s interests veered in a different direction. This is the boy who watched Phantom of the Opera and Auntie Mame with me. He enjoys fantastic tales of derring-do. The Redwall series by Brian Jacques, the award-winning Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo, and the Percy Jackson & the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, the Heroes of Olympus series written by Rick Riordan occupied him for many hours.
I attempted to steer their book selections, but my suggestions were nearly always declined. That could have been because Mom’s an idiot--an attitude many children develop and maintain until they’re about 30 years old--or because I completely misunderstood their interest.
What puzzles me, though, is that my two boys showed no real interest in comic books. I’ve read articles proclaiming that, although they might be castigated as garbage and totally devoid of socially redeeming qualities, comic books often serve as the preferred reading material for boys. Comic books include all those features that modern psychology claims fascinates boys: vividly colored pictures, pictures of revealingly clad women with exaggerated thigh and mammary proportions, high adventure with often gratuitous violence, and concise text that still tells a full story. Perhaps modern video games have taken the place of comic books.
My sons bucked the trend in having no interest in reading J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, either.
Regardless of the age, boys like adventure. They like monsters, dangerous situations, and clever heroes who still fight like mixed martial arts masters. Some appreciate fantastic technology and futuristic science while others prefer science fiction and sword and sorcery. They also like authors that don’t “talk down” to them. Children eight to 18 may still be children, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
I have learned, though, that the surest and quickest way to shut down a boy’s--or girl’s--interest in reading is to tell him (or her) what to read and to turn reading into a loathsome chore. That practical observation is bolstered by testimony from high school boys and the researchers who actually talk to them.
That said, it’s a centuries-documented observation that boys lose interest in reading by a far greater margin than girls. In this digital age, males whose reading skills are lagging find their academic success hindered and their job prospects limited. In her article “Why Boys Don’t Read,” writer Linda Jacobson reports that boys and girls “approach reading in fundamentally different ways.” Girls read for pleasure; boys read for purpose. Put simply, boys want to learn something from what they read and be able to apply that knowledge immediately, whether it’s choosing the right skateboard or learning how to perform magic tricks or figuring out how to fix a transmission.
Other experts, Jacobson says, theorize that, because most teachers are women who assign reading that appeals primarily to girls, boys are further turned off by reading. That can be compounded if the boy’s father doesn’t read much, if at all, and his mother reads avidly. Boys then perceive reading as a feminine activity. I'll have ask my kids about that one.
The final nail in the coffin was been pounded into place by the lure of video games. A 2010 study titled “Effects of Video-Game Ownership on Young Boys’ Academic and Behavioral Functioning: A Randomized, Controlled Study” by Robert Weis and Brittany C. Cerankosky and published in Psychological Science showed a strong link between video game use and lower reading and writing scores.
Child psychologist and syndicated columnist John D. Rosemond isn’t surprised. In his February 2016 column, he observes: “Over the past five years or so, hundreds of parents have complained to me about teenage children who have difficulty getting out of bed on school mornings. Two observations are pertinent: first, at least 90 percent of these tales concern boys; second, nearly all of the boys in question have a problem self-limiting when it comes to video games and cell phones.” He firmly states that video games and other electronic devices are not only distracting, but addictive, and foment addictive behaviors.
The rationale that boys experience video games, especially role playing games, as immersive stories sounds good on the surface. Role playing game devotees state that the social storytelling aspect of the activity stimulates their brains “to process language, the cause and effect of events, and also relate it to our own pre-existing experiences,” according to Patrick Allan, writing for Lifehacker. Generally acknowledged, role playing games arose from literature, much of it very poorly written and drenched in heroic fantasy.
There’s a great deal of writing involved in role playing games. Role playing games require storytelling and, the boutique game developers especially require good storytellers. The interactive narrative offers an outlet for boys who have come to dislike reading and but haven’t outgrown their love of adventure and danger. Many of these boutique games involve lush, detailed graphics that further capture interest. Boys are visual creatures, you know. These stories can be set in times and places that may or may not exist, just like books. The interactive aspect involves the player and engages the emotions, just like a good book should.
Perhaps just as important as what boys read is why they read. If we can’t get them to read, then the what becomes irrelevant.
Whew! Mop my brow and hoist a drink.
Three months overdue and I've finally released Tiger in the Snow. It's a good feeling. I had some great beta readers help me beat the story into shape. This is the sequel to The Barbary Lion; this is Dmitry's story.
I have another story--and novella--also being released this week: Russian Lullaby. This is a mafia romance, no paranormal, magical woo-woo going on in this story. If you like Roxie Rivera, then you ought to enjoy this little book. Again, a great beta reader helped with whipping this book into shape.
Releasing two books the same week might imply that I do nothing but write, edit, and rewrite all day long every day. Far from it. Well, I do write every day, just not my stuff. I've been busy lately with job hunting and freelance work.
It's every freelancer's goal to develop a stable of corporate clients because 1) they usually have ongoing assignments and multiple projects to ensure steady occupation (and income); and, 2) they pay better than the one-off person who has a one-time project. I've already ranted about the ridiculously low value placed on writing (and editing), so I'll spare you that this time around.
Now that I've got Tiger in the Snow and Russian Lullaby out of the way--and, please, do buy a copy of each and leave a (positive) review--it's time to get back in the proverbial saddle of creating content rather than editing.
So, what's in the hopper? More paranormal romances, certainly. And a handful of contemporary romances, too. It all depends upon my mood, really. Several manuscripts were started years ago and I just haven't gotten very far with them. Perhaps that means they suck. Or maybe I just need to focus. Regardless, celebrate the release of two new books with me and support your local author.