How Do You Solve a Punctuation Puzzle?

I recently had the chance to lurk during a heated debate about the use of the apostrophe– I know, I know, that may not count as “heated” where you come from, but among some English teachers and writing coaches, these things matter more than the Super Bowl and World Series combined.

I’ll add another post or two about apostrophes later; right now, I want to comment on the process that people used to try to argue their point and break the deadlock.

1. Some folks argued that one usage LOOKED BETTER than the other. That’s making usage decisions based on aesthetics.

2. Others said that when they googled a certain word, MOST PEOPLE did it a certain way. That’s making usage decisions based on consensus.

3. Then there were those who appealed to their fourth grade teacher, their best friend’s first cousin, or some HANDBOOK or style sheet they dug up somewhere. That’s making usage decisions based on authority.

4. Finally, there were a few stubborn stalwarts who insisted that whatever THEY HAD BEEN DOING for the last upteen hundred years or so had to be right because, after all, that’s what they’d always done. That’s making usage decisions based on habit.

Aesthetics? Consensus? Authority? Habit? When we are not sure what is correct when it comes to matters of punctuation or usage, what should we do? Or, more to the point in this post, what guiding principle do we use to make the decision?

This one:

5. The debate was broken when someone (dear old “anonymous”) pointed out that what is correct depends entirely on what MEANING you are trying to convey. That’s right. Punctuation, like other matters of usage, is intended first and foremost as a servant of meaning.

In short, it doesn’t make any sense to ask whether it is better to say students’ or student’s: the question is, how many students do you mean?

Commas, semi-colons, periods, all that stuff: it doesn’t have to do with needing to take a breath, to look good on the page, to pay attention to Ms. Turabian, to sound right, to fit in the the crowd, or do it again the way you’ve been doing it  for time out of mind. The first thing you gotta know is exactly what you are trying to say. Then you do your homework and get the best information possible to help you say exactly that.

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Mystery & Imagination Bookshop, Glendale, California

Catching up….

Andrew Lazo talks; Will Vaus and I listen

Andrew Lazo talks; Will Vaus and Diana Glyer listen

Josh Long (wearing glasses) and other notables crowded into the bookshop.

Josh Long, Mike Glyer, Lions, Tigers, and other notables crowded into the bookshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in October, Will Vaus and I were featured speakers at a book signing at the Mystery and Imagination Bookshop in Glendale, California. Local signings can be particularly energetic, and this event was no exception.

Josh Long, a Tolkien scholar and teacher at a near-by high school, had invited his class to attend the event, and he sweetened the deal by offering extra credit to his students if they came in Narnia costume. There is nothing quite like talking about C. S. Lewis with Prince Caspian, a White Witch, and a few assorted LIONS in the room!

Other not-so-fictional notables included Stan Mattson of the C. S. Lewis Foundation; Inklings scholar Andrew Lazo; authors Joseph Bentz and Tom Allbaugh; Hugo winner Mike Glyer; and musician Lynn Maudlin. (Lynn took all of the pictures featured in this post).

Will talked about The Professor of Narnia, I talked about The Company They Keep, and then we answered questions from the audience. Our hosts, Malcolm and Christine Bell, were an absolute pleasure to work with. They were well prepared, they communicated freely and frequently, they publicized well, and they provided a bright and spacious venue for a truly great evening. Kudos all around.

Takeaway: Local, special-interest bookshops provide an extremely important service when they connect readers with writers. It’s a great deal of fun, and everybody wins. Ask your local bookshop to provide time and space for authors and fans to connect face to face.

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Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Harrisonburg, Virginia

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On April 9th, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Harrisonburg C. S. Lewis Society at their local Barnes & Noble. The group, founded by Will Vaus, was attentive and lively– we had a terrific evening.

I enjoyed the fact that this Barnes & Noble did not shove the group off into a little side room, but provided comfortable chairs right in the store for my presentation and book signing. People could easily drift in and out of the conversation, and I appreciated the openness of the setting.

I was also glad that the first question following my talk wasn’t a request for more details about the Inklings, but a plea for advice: how can writers today do what the Inklings did?  Bring part of a writing group has so many advantages, but it can be difficult to start and sustain a group that really works. I reminded them that the Inklings started small, established rituals and routines, met every single week, balanced support with criticism and advice, and were choosy about adding new members. Those components seem to make a big difference in the health and longevity of a group.

The Company They Keep, stacked and ready for signing.

Copies of The Company They Keep, stacked and ready for signing.

 

Thanks to the Harrisonburg CSL Society for their warm hospitality. And kudos to Barnes & N oble for supporting writers, readers, and reading groups.

Writers Track at CSLF Conference

Plans are taking shape for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s Regional Retreat, October 30-November 1, in Navasota Texas. It will be a celebration of creativity and community, and this year for the first time it will feature a two- day writers track.  Watch the website for details:

http://www.cslewis.org/programs/regional/sw/2009/index.html

 

Where:

Camp Allen Retreat in Navasota, Texas

When:

Main Retreat: October 30 – November 1, 2009
Children’s Track: October 30 – November 1, 2009
Writer’s Workshop: October 29 – November 1, 2009

Who:

Featured Speaker: Dr. Diana Glyer, Professor of English, Azusa Pacific University, Author of The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis & the Inklings

Preacher
: Rev. Skip Ryan, Dallas, Texas                 Rev. Scott Irwin, Austin, Texas                

Artists
: Ad Deum Dance Company, Houston, Texas

Breakout Session Leaders
: Andrew Lazo, Don Wood, Joy Jordan Lake

Writer’s Workshop Leader
: Joy Jordan Lake, Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee

Chaplain:

Theme:
“The Company We Keep: Creativity & Community
with C.S. Lewis & the Inklings”
What to Expect:

Engaging lectures on C.S. Lewis, the Inklings, Christianity, and creativity.

Special Writers Track

Small group sessions on conference themes

Panel Discussion with leading Christian thinkers

Worship and fellowship with friends old and new

Children’s Track: Sailing the Dawn Treader (ages 7-12)

Bag End Cafe: after hours music and readings by speakers and conferees

Opportunities for recreation at the retreat center, including horseback riding, nature walking, skeet shooting, and canoeing.

Mind the Chicken

that's my chicken!

that's my chicken!

My friend and colleague Joseph Bentz  is an incredibly talented writer. He just did an online interview with Patricia Hickman, and in it, he mentions that when I have projects that are “on hold,” I file them “under the chicken.”  I actually have a plastic inbox for these items, and I actually have a large ceramic chicken that I set on top of them all.

When projects seem to be languishing (waiting for a response to a query, waiting for the publisher to take action, waiting to recover from the bruise of a wrong-headed review, waiting  for a vague idea to come into focus), I am tempted to get impatient, stomp my little foot, spit, fume, and complain. Instead, I look at the chicken, smile, and realize that sometimes things just take a little more time.

To read Joe’s interview, go to http://wordsunwired.blogspot.com/2009/03/lessons-learned-from-ceramic-chicken.html.

To find out more about Joe’s books, go to http://www.josephbentz.com/

Persistence, flexibility, and p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e.  That’s what makes Joseph Bentz a great writer.

Antelope Valley Writers’ Conference

Got a mailing about the Antelope Valley
Christian Writers’ Conference, scheduled for
May 15 – 16, 2009, in Lancaster, California. I don’t know anything about it, but you might want to check it out at http://www.avwriters.com/. If anybody wants to tell me more about it, I’d love to see your comments.

Type

tapping the keys of Warnie's typewriter

tapping the keys of Warnie's typewriter

 When I visited C.S. Lewis’s house, The Kilns, I was delighted to see that his brother’s typewriter was on display. Warnie typed up manuscripts, wrote letters, and drafted his own books on that sturdy machine. Something very satisfying in the patterns and textures and sounds of an old machine. Something very humbling to touch lightly on the keys of history.