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Commas, Semi-colons, and Novice Writers

English writers from earlier centuries peppered their work with commas as if they shook them out from a pepper shaker. They didn’t believe in reasonable length sentences and extended them by whatever means necessary. It’s symbolic of their time. A mark of higher learning from elite schools that divulged the lavish use of the comma, secrets of the semi-colon, and the elements for style in any era. They remain geniuses of their time and ours.

So, what’s changed since then–readers, writers, publishers, or the passage of time? I shy away from an extra clause, let alone risk it all by living on the edge with a wayward semicolon. Even the Oxford comma is now worthy of a scholarly debate and often settled with smarty-pants verbal fisticuffs. William Faulkner, an American from Oxford, Mississippi, didn’t mind long sentences either. However, this isn’t symbolic of our time–a troubling one at that. Short, clear, and crisp sentences are the new fashion. Continue reading

The Artist, The Agent, and The Business Plan

A gracious volunteer escorted me into a makeshift office. The only prominent features of the sparse cubicle were two chairs, a small table, and a timer set for ten minutes. She introduced me to a twenty-something literary agent and checked off my name from a long list of aspiring authors pitching their manuscripts at a writing conference. The agent was a gatekeeper and held the keys to the published writers’ kingdom. He leaned back and asked about my book. I leaned forward, smiled, and then tried to pry open those gargantuan invisible gates that fortified the world of traditional publishing.

I thought the pitch was going well until I paused to catch my breath. That’s when the agent said, “Hmmm, interesting perspective for a travel memoir considering your background and all …” but then paused before asking, “What about your business plan?” Continue reading