A Missed Opportunity

I read a book the other day that had me feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry, and quite sad all the way through. It was romantic suspense and, as such, slightly predictable, but the storyline was interesting enough that it kept me reading. However, several other factors made me want to delete this book so as not to contaminate the rest of my TBR list.

Still, I wanted to see how the story would end, so I hung in there.

Let me tell you about my sufferings.

  1. Almost immediately I noticed that the verb tense jumped around wildly. I assume that the author was trying to write in first person, present.

Past and present tenses in the same sentence are not unusual when used correctly. You might say, “Every day I see the ruins from the day the building collapsed.” But to say, “I see the ruins. I took a picture of them, and move on to investigate further,” simply does not work.

Do you see the problem there? If she wanted to stay in first person present POV, she could have said, “I see the ruins. I take a picture of them, and move on to investigate further.”

This mixing up of verb tenses went on throughout the whole book. At least she was consistent.

2. The quotation marks and punctuation were haphazard and meaningless. I had to admire the many ways the author  explored every possible way to present dialogue incorrectly.

3. Add to that, the scarcity of periods and capital letters. So much easier to string two thoughts together with a  comma. (Shudders).

4. Several times I noticed that paragraphs started with an “ing” word and phrase. (Turning towards the door, she picked up the telephone. Wiping the counter, she began to make dinner. Placing the cutlery on the table, she added a pair of candles. Opening the wine, she poured herself half a glass.)  You can see how quickly that would get tiring. But then I had to laugh and groan out loud. She had fallen into the usual trap: “Walking down the hall to the bathroom, the fragrance of lemons grew stronger.” WHAT? Did the fragrance walk down the hall?


I began to read with a different attitude. I told myself, “Okay, just ignore the lack of punctuation in the right places. Just ignore the fact that there was a switch of speakers in the middle of a conversation with no indication to let us know who is  speaking. Think of it as a puzzle; a challenge.”

Now I was humming right along, tuning out verb tenses, guessing who was speaking, and ignoring strings of non-sentences. Could anything else happen to make it worse?

Of course it could.

5. Throughout the book, always and frequently, lay/lie was misused (my pet peeve). I don’t think she ever got one right. I probably would have remembered.

So WHY did I finish this book? To be honest, I wanted to discard it on the first page, where the trouble started, but I was feeling generous that day. Then as I got into it, I thought, “What an interesting storyline.” But reading this book was torture.

This author has three books available on amazon, the first of which I have now read. I will never, ever read another of her books, no matter how good the storyline is.

On finishing the book, I felt that I had just read the first scribblings of an idea — whatever comes before a first draft — maybe something written quickly in order to get the words down, but completely unedited as yet.

This book would have benefited from more input from critiquing groups to sort out some character development issues, and then some intensive editing (if not basic grammar lessons for the author).

What is my point in griping about this unnamed novel?

The point is, I could have liked this book a lot, but I was so jarred by the many errors and poor writing in places (repeating the character’s name in back to back sentences) and overusing “ing” words (beginning many sentences with them),  that it ruined the book for me.

If this author, with her good ideas for moving the story along, had only hired a copy-editor, she could have spared herself complete ruin  as an author. Just because I am a copy-editor does not mean that I’m the only reader who will ever be horrified by this poor writing. But the sad thing is that the author could have  made that novel something special with some advice from professionals who offer help in writing. A copy-editor, especially, could have covered all of the factors that dragged her book down.

Authors should not expect to publish a book after one draft of writing. I don’t know how many times this author rewrote her work, but my guess would be zero. The manuscript that hovered on hopeless, could have been something worth reading, if it had been reworked and fine-tuned.  Sadly, a missed opportunity on the part of the author of a series I will now never finish reading.





A Couple OF Things

Just because you hear people saying “I should have went,” or, “I seen,” or “I’m gonna,” doesn’t make this kind of grammar correct. Yes, sometimes people do talk like that, but this is the reason these expressions should only be used in direct dialogue. If we accept these phrases as correct, our language will devolve into a disgusting mess. Some say it’s progress to let the language change to reflect the times. I’m not saying we have to stick with old-fashioned terms – I don’t want to be trying to speak or write Chaucer’s English – but we should be making an effort not to let the language go to the hot place in a handbasket either.

So today I’m going to pick on one more error that I see with alarming frequency, and that is the use of the term “a couple of.” Many would like to see the “of” dropped. To me it just looks wrong, and it is wrong if you are one of those who don’t want the language eroded.

Often, I see the “of” being dropped so that instead of “picking a couple of apples” I see “picking a couple apples.”

A couple means two, as in a pair. It doesn’t mean one or three or five (although I’ve seen it used to refer to three). Technically, it means two.

So just as you would say a pair of, you could say a couple of whatevers.

The word “couple” is usually preceded by “a” and followed by “of.”

I would like a couple of cookies please.

(It should not be I would like a couple  cookies please,”  or even “I would like couple of cookies please.”)

There is a case where you would leave out the “of.” An example would be if you add the word “more.”

I would like a couple more cookies, please.

After all this dry stuff, I think I’d like a couple of cups of coffee with my couple of cookies. (Ah, there you see that “a couple” can be replaced by “my couple.”)

And no, these are not a couple of fat caterpillars; they are Yule Logs (cookies made with dates and coconut and pecans).

Happy Holidays!

Sentence Order – Save the Best for Last

When I was in Baja, I wanted to learn Spanish. I listened as hard as I could when someone spoke Spanish to me, and tried to make out the words, but mainly I remembered the first and last words they said.

When someone is giving me directions, I can best remember the first and last things they said; mainly the last.

In reading, it is often the same. We remember the last thing we heard more easily than what we heard in the middle of a story or sentence.

In writing, if you want to emphasize something or have the reader think about your main point, save it for the end of the sentence. You can put it at the beginning for emphasis too, but the end is usually more effective. Definitely do not place the important words in the middle.

Consider these two sentences. Which one makes more of an impression?

The house was engulfed in flames ten minutes before the fire department arrived.

Ten minutes before the fire department arrived, the house was already engulfed in flames.

The last word demands more of our attention.

Here is another example.

She burned the stew when she was making lunch.

When she was making lunch, she burned the stew.

And another.

When the front tire blew out, she was talking on the phone.

She was talking on the phone when the front tire blew out .

And one more.

While the people were out, Emma brought six of their shoes onto her dog bed because she was lonely.

Emma the spaniel was so lonely while the people were out that she brought six of their shoes onto her dog bed.

Sometimes it’s a subtle difference, but consider what the important part is, and, as you would with a punch line, save the best for last.

Ever Had that Sinking Feeling?

I can’t stand it any longer. I have to talk about lay and lie, and then about sink, sank, sunk.

I was reading a novel the other day and, as usual, I was prepared to ignore the mistakes involving the misuse of lay and lie, but I was so bombarded by mistakes I  just felt sickened by the poor writing.

These hens are laying. Hens lay (eggs). They don’t lie (tell untruths). They lay. 

Today they lay (the eggs).

Right now they are laying (the eggs).

Yesterday, they laid (the eggs).

Tomorrow they will lay (the eggs) again.

When someone (or some animal like a chicken) places something, they lay it down. It is an action that needs an object that will be placed, like an egg.


People can lay things down too. Maybe you will lay the bill on the table and hope someone pays it. You place something in a spot.

If you are not placing something down, perhaps the word you want is “lie.”

Today I lie on the bed. (Not lay on it. That is the chicken’s job.)

Sometime in the future, I will lie on the bed.

I am lying on the bed. (Not laying eggs.)

Yesterday I lay on the bed. [Not laid (eggs) on the bed.]

So you can imagine my horror when I read that “On the sidewalk laid a pile of flowers.” I wondered what those flowers laid.

On the next page, “She would lay against his shoulder as they watched TV.” I can just imagine what a mess that was. Scrambled eggs all over the place.

But wait! Her partner then “laid on the bed.” A much better place to lay your eggs, I suppose.

Can you hear me screaming and groaning in pain as I read this book?

Ha ha! But the torture is not over yet. This same author could not be bothered to look up sink, sank, sunk.

After the flowers laid on the sidewalk, the character in the story came closer, and her heart sunk.

All of this happened within two pages. I was almost leaping up to find some pain medication.

So, the verb “to sink”:

Imagine a ship.

In the upcoming trip, we hope it will not sink.

Today it is not sinking.

Another ship just like it sank last week

I don’t know if it had sunk because it was old and rotten or if it was sunk by a torpedo.

Either way, it SANK!

So there you have it, everything but the kitchen sunk. No, the kitchen sank (it might in a bad flood). The kitchen sink!

Just ask the survivors of this ship if it sink, sank, or sunk. Actually, it didn’t sink very far … but the reputation of the author whose book I just read certainly has sunk in my estimation. Luckily, I couldn’t be bothered to remember his or her name.

Word Meanings

Sometimes we use words thinking we know their meaning, but in fact, we are saying something we don’t intend to say.

Here are some words many people confuse and misuse without knowing it.


If something is sickening or offensive, especially to the taste or smell, it is nauseous.

But if you feel like you might throw up, you probably feel nauseated (affected by nausea). If you say you are nauseous, you are really saying that you are a person who smells or tastes unpleasant. So be careful to say you are nauseated.


Here are two words that are misused a lot these days, probably because there is so much false information out there today. So what’s the difference? Well, misinformation is false information, that is unwittingly spread. Disinformation is the dissembling of misinformation, knowingly, with the intent to mislead others.


Both words come from “continue.” Continual starts and stops (like people who are continually arguing), but continuous is never-ending, like the rain in the Pacific Northwest (just kidding).

*** Do you like music? If you go to Spotify, do a search for the Birkenna Project and click on it for something different.

A Few Irky Things

With so many books being self-published these days, one vital step is often left out because it is a way to save money. Why spend money on a copy-editor when your best friend or your Aunt Mary has already read your book and said it was wonderful?

I can tell you why. It’s to save your reputation as a writer. Your best friend and your Aunt Mary will always tell you, “That’s a lovely book, dear,” but your copy-editor will tell you the truth and so spare you the humiliation of making countless small mistakes and maybe even some big ones.

I’ve frequently heard authors say, “I had my friend read it and she said it was great. She’s a teacher so she knows all about grammar and punctuation.”

Well, surprise, surprise, a lot of teachers make mistakes too. If you have a good copy-editor go through your manuscript, I can almost guarantee you’ll be shocked by the number of errors they find.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately; more than usual because of having a new Kindle. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve groaned over finding errors in the writing. One book I read recently had run-on sentences all over. It drove me crazy! Luckily the plot was interesting so I hung in there, even in spite of the many other mistakes I found, but you can be sure I won’t be reading a second book by that author.

If you’re a writer, this is exactly the reaction you want to avoid.

One of the common mistakes I’ve been finding is in the use of the past tense of certain words.

Here are some examples:

Today I lead my horse to water. Yesterday I lead my horse to water.

Unless the author meant the heavy metal, as in a lead pipe, the past tense of “lead” (leeeeeed) is “led,” not “lead.”


He sung a song as he hiked along. No. He sang a song.

He swum across the river. No. He swam across the river.


Another mistake I hear almost daily, especially in TV news reports and interviews, is “with regards to.”

This literally means that the person is sending his regards, his greetings, to someone.

The correct way is to say “with regard to,” or “as it regards” something.


Lately one of my pet peeves is the misuse of “amount.” This word is used when you are referring to something that is a mass, possibly something that could be weighed in a lump, or, at least, something that can’t be counted individually.

For example, you can have an amount of rain (tons of it coming down in rivers), or if you are referring to individual drops, you would say the number of drops (never the number of rain or the amount of drops). In last summer’s drought I remember saying, “We had about ten drops of rain, but no amount of rain would save my garden at this point.”

You could refer to the amount of garbage that has piled up in the alley, or the number of styrofoam cups in that garbage, but never the number of garbage or the amount of styrofoam cups.

In a crowd you can count the number of people, but not the amount of people, unless you are measuring them by poundage. I can imagine them on all a giant weighing platform.

These are just a few of the irky things I see in unedited or poorly edited books, and they all serve to lower the author in my esteem.

I have been copy-editing for a long time. If I have convinced you that you need me, just leave me a comment. If you don’t need a copy-editor just now, I’d still be happy to hear from you.