Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

27 May 2008

Relics of a future fantasy writer

This week, I’m unpacking all the boxes from our move still sitting outside my office.

Not putting everything away, mind you; my office in the new house has such a different layout from my previous office that I need time to figure out how to organize it. I'm merely taking the first step of getting things out of boxes and onto the floor.

While unpacking, I found books on HTML and making Web sites I've been looking for since we moved. Thank goodness! My science-writing site is terribly out of date, both in its code and in its facts, and now I can update it. I also found my three-hole punch, which has been a drag to live without.

And I found my trolls.

One box contained treasures from my childhood. For decades, I’d moved this box from house to house without unpacking it. Yesterday, I opened it. Inside were my trolls, all eleven of them. How I loved creating a society and a social order for my trolls and those of my sister and friends!

What I had not remembered was how much time I spent sewing outfits and dressing the trolls for their roles. The male trolls got short shrift. Other than a Robin Hood outfit, I found I had made them only plain-jane shirts and pants.

The female trolls were luckier. All were wearing earrings, and one still had on the Play-Doh lipstick I’d applied 40 years ago as well as a rope of fake pearls. My trolls must have had quite the social life; I’d sewn them dozens of ballgowns, some of velvet, and almost all decorated with embroidery, rhinestones, or lace or other trims. They had two fur coats I made from a rabbit pelt. (Note: I disapprove of killing animals to make fur coats.)

Now that I’m grown, have I put away childish things? Definitely not. I’ve merely changed venues. My worldbuilding and costuming now occur on the pages of short story and book manuscripts, and sometimes, glory of glories, I actually get paid for it!

Thank you, trolls.

How about you? Did your choice of toys as a child prefigure your current vocation or avocation?


Odds and ends

1. My critique partner Farrah Rochon, who was interviewed on this blog on 16 May 2007, celebrated the release of her second book yesterday. Release Me, a contemporary romance novel set in New Orleans, is available from local bookstores and online from and Barnes and Noble. Hip hip hurrah for Farrah!

In a move sure to further annoy black writers already angry about segregation of their books in bookstores, lists Release Me with a subtitle not on the book itself: African American Romance. Don’t worry: No clerk will compare your inner arm to a Skin Reflectance Chart before allowing you to purchase it. Release Me is suitable and enjoyable for people of all colors.

2. On Wednesday, May 28, Ello at Random Acts of Unkindness has as her guest Dr. M. Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It.

If you are concerned by the trend of younger and younger children wearing make-up, dressing like prostitutes, and mimicking the sexy moves of pop stars, stop by Ello’s blog Wednesday and join in the discussion.

21 May 2008

Uses of the semicolon

A friend recently sent me a New York Times article that spent twenty paragraphs celebrating the correct use of the semicolon in an ad in a subway car.

Clearly, the semicolon has fallen on hard times.

Yet this punctuation mark has much to offer the writer: improved clarity, a pause between clauses shorter than a period, and variety in sentence style, length, rhythm, and formality. This post describes three proper uses of the semicolon.

1. To denote a wink in the emoticon ;-) (apparently now the most common use)

2. To prevent the dreaded comma splice. A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses (that is, a set of words that contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought) are jammed together with a comma. For example:

  • Do not meow at the writer, she has already fed you lunch. Danger, Will Robinson! Comma splice! Abort mission!
  • Do not meow at the writer. She has already fed you lunch. Correct!
  • Do not meow at the writer; she has already fed you lunch. Also correct!
  • Do not meow at the writer, because she has already fed you lunch. Correct as well!

Notice that the semicolon is less abrupt than the period but more abrupt than the conjunction. The semicolon is also more formal than either. Your choice between the three correct versions depends on the sentences around it, your audience, and your personal preference and style.

3. To make lists clear. Commas usually separate items in a list. But sometimes, the items themselves contain commas, potentially confusing the reader. In these cases, semicolons replace commas between the list items.

For example, take the sentence:

I went to the park with my dog, Harry, my cat, Ron, my sister, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore.
How many accompanied me to the park? As written, seven individuals did. But what if Harry is the name of my dog? Semicolons are needed. The sentences below show how replacing the commas with semicolons clarifies the list:

  • I went to the park with my dog, Harry; my cat, Ron; my sister, Hermione; and Professor Dumbledore. (four individuals)
  • I went to the park with my dog; Harry; my cat, Ron; my sister, Hermione; and Professor Dumbledore. (five individuals)
  • I went to the park with my dog; Harry; my cat; Ron; my sister, Hermione; and Professor Dumbledore. (six individuals)

If a sentence clunks along or calls attention to itself when you add semicolons between list items, it’s best to rewrite it. Possible rewrites of the above sentence, depending on the knowledge of your reader, include:

  • I went to the park with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore.
  • I went to the park with Hermione, Professor Dumbledore, and my pets, Harry and Ron.
  • My sister, Hermione, went to the park with Professor Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and me. Harry and Ron are my dog and cat.
Sometimes, a list item can contain commas yet be perfectly clear, so no semicolons are needed. Here is an example:

Yet this punctuation mark has much to offer the writer: improved clarity, a pause between clauses shorter than a period, and variety in sentence style, length, rhythm, and formality.
The reason this list does not need semicolons is that the words “period, and” signal that the last item of the list follows. The remaining commas in the sentence, therefore, do not confuse.

13 May 2008

Six Unremarkable Quirks meme

My friend Lisa at Eudaemonia tagged me for the Six Unremarkable Quirks meme. Here are the rules:
  • Link the person who tagged you.

  • Mention the rules in your blog.

  • Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours.

  • Tag six bloggers by linking them.

  • Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger's blogs letting them know they've been tagged.

Being on the eccentric side, I had a hard time narrowing my quirks down to six. Here are my picks.

1. I detest making phone calls. Sometimes, my furnace doesn’t get checked for the winter because I put off making the call until air-conditioner weather. I rarely do reporting anymore because I have such a hard time getting myself to call the interviewees. I’ll probably never get to travel with Dr. Who because I don’t voluntarily go into phone booths.

2. If no music is playing, I hum. Constantly. It drives me up a wall. My husband has never mentioned it, let alone complained—what a gem he is!

3. When I play music in 4/4 time, I play the fourth beat too early unless I’m playing with a metronome or an ensemble containing enough strong personalities that I follow their lead instead of vice versa. This habit, too, drives me crazy.

4. Television as background noise is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Whenever I check into a hospital, I always ask for a television-free room, but as yet have had no luck getting one. In doctor and car-repair shop waiting rooms, I sit as far as I can from the infernal thing and sometimes turn it off when no one is looking. In our bedroom, we have what my husband calls a “marital aid”—a set of TV headphones that allows him to watch television to his heart’s content without my hearing it.

5. I can write in reverse like Leonardo da Vinci. (But not in Italian.) I can also read upside-down text—a useful skill when one is sitting across the desk from someone. Probably not coincidentally, like Leonardo, I’m lefthanded.

6. I have to chew on something as I write. Agatha Christie was lucky; she had the same urge, but healthy, low-cal apples satisfied it. Before my mouth contained orthodontia, I chewed gum. Now, my mouth fixation of choice is chocolate. Warning: Do not try this at home unless you enjoy spending time in the dentist’s chair.

Now it’s someone else’s turn to reveal her or his quirks. I’m tagging:

07 May 2008

Interview with first-time mystery author June Shaw

June Shaw’s mystery Relative Danger features Cealie Gunther, a widow who interrupts her journey to rediscover herself when the murder of a janitor at her granddaughter’s high school threatens the teenager’s future.

June, thank you for visiting my blog, and congratulations on the publication of your first novel.

Thank you, Shauna. It was thrilling to finally sell a novel. And now I’ve also sold the sequel. That’s exiting, too.

Congratulations on the second sale as well! Your route to publication is one of the longest and most circuitous I've heard of. Could you briefly summarize the obstacles you encountered and how you eventually triumphed?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in ninth grade. None of my teachers had us do creative writing, and I kept busy throughout high school and married right afterward. During the next six years, I gave birth to five children. (Good Catholic or sex fiend? people asked. Both, I replied.) My husband died when they were young. Once my head cleared, I completed a college education and started teaching.

Some time after that, I realized I finally had a little time. I would become a writer. But I’d mainly read college textbooks and the backs of cereal boxes. I found time to read and try writing shorter pieces, and I sold a few essays. I progressed to plays and won a contest in Boston. A short screenplay I wrote aired on a channel for the arts in New Orleans. But I decided I’d write novels and stick to them.

I had become a grandmother by the time I sold a novel, which made the success especially fulfilling. My grandkids think it’s pretty cool that I’m writing books, although I tell them I’m writing PG13, and they can’t read them till they’re teenagers. (I’ve been surprised at how many teens are enjoying my book.)

Even though you are a lifelong resident of southern Louisiana, you chose to set your novel in Chicago. Why there and not the more colorful and interesting locale you're familiar with?

In my series of humorous mysteries, probably the fourth book will take place down here. I was tied down so long with five children and grading papers for English classes and didn’t get to travel much. My main character, Cealie Gunther, owns a successful copyediting agency that managers run, so she has all the time and money she needs to travel. I need to go with her to try to keep her out of trouble—a challenging task.

We enjoyed traveling to Chicago and love Gatlinburg, so she needed to go there. I’m working on the third book. A few gals that Cealie went to school with will be cruising in Alaska and want her to join them. Hey, somebody’s got to do lots of research, right? Although some of the people working on the ship looked at me funny when I asked, “Where would be a good place to find a body?”

Cealie embodies a stage of life that has been underrepresented in fiction: the stage of losses and new freedoms of the older retired woman. Cealie can now live out her dreams, but the benefits of aging come at a cost. Were editors leery of taking on a book with an older heroine?

I didn’t hear any complaints.

What was your favorite part of writing Relative Danger?

I love the humorous sections. And the suspenseful ones. And the sexy ones. I really enjoyed the whole thing. The book is fun. So are the characters. I love being with them, especially to find out what Cealie will do next.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I rise at 7:30, read my Daily Word, and bring coffee to the computer. My mom, who will be one hundred and two in June, lives with me now because of macular degeneration. When I hear her in the kitchen, I fix breakfast and we chat a little. Then I write, with breaks, till around noon. That’s enough creative time for my brain. At other periods during the day I check e-mail and read. I would only suggest my writing regimen if it works for someone else. Oh, and I leave the computer once a week so Mom and I can get to line dance classes.

Is your next book also a mystery featuring Cealie? What's up next for her?

Yes! Killer Cousins comes out in January. Cealie will detour from a planned exotic vacation to help another family member who appears to be in danger—or could be lying about her connection to a murderer. Of course Cealie will create even more trouble. And her hunky sometimes-ex-lover, Gil Thurman, might happen to drop in for the grand opening of another of his Cajun restaurants. And Cealie again might be tempted…

Thank you again for visiting my blog to talk about your book.

I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me, Shauna.

June Shaw's Website is at Her book, Relative Danger, published by Five Star, an imprint of Thomson Gale, is available online in hardback and large print from and Barnes & Noble.

01 May 2008

The winners!

[cue exciting music]

The Mitzvah Madness: Pay It Forward contest has ended, and the winners have been drawn from a hat. I am proud to announce that the winners are:

[cue fireworks]

  • Lana Gramlich
  • Leon Cohen
  • Billy Hammett
  • Charles Gramlich

Winners, please send your choice of prize (see post of 14 April for list of your choices) and your name and address to me at ShaunaRoberts [at]

Congratulations, and thank you for taking part! I look forward to seeing the spin you put on your own Pay-It-Forward contests!