Friday, October 17, 2014

Toward or Towards?

Oh, no! According to David Foster Wallace, "towards" is British. It's like writing the word "colour."
But I like to say "towards." I don't even know why. Is it a regionalism? Does it have to do with having read lots of British literature?

I suspect it also might be a regionalism?

Read Wallace's explanation here.

What do you say? Do you notice if people say it the "other" way, whichever way that is?

As both a writer and a writing teacher, I have to pay attention to these details!
To read about my novels, (spotlessly edited!), please visit

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Agree!

I was intrigued by a recent blog by "Mr. Valentine." He asked his paranormal club what they hated most as readers.

When I started reading the post, I assumed the worst thing would be something like a weak ending or the murder of their favorite character.

Although Mr. Valentine clearly explains that his survey wasn't scientific, I was delighted by the readers' pet peeves. Can you guess what they hated the most about reading a book?

They hated typos and other grammar errors!

In other words, his readers are just me! (No, that last sentence might not be termed grammatical, but
"his readers are just as I am" didn't quite cut it.)

I've talked with lots of other readers lately, and they all agree that editing has gone downhill lately. It's easy to understand why. Publishing companies are shortstaffed. They don't have the resources to work on editing, so they often just skip it.

Some readers probably don't care. They might be so engrossed in the material that they skip right over these flaws; after all, when I'm reading my students' essays, I have to read past the flaws as well in order to decipher content. I've learned to do that. But I've always seen novels as models, and models ought to be right.

And so I'm ruthless. The first mistake I find I shrug off. The second I ignore. But if there are three grammar/language/typos within the first pages, I get angry. And then I throw away the book. I don't even try to take it to the used bookstore.

Anyway, it's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who gets irritated by carelessness!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Psychos Beware

This is another fun comma thing to remember! (Who says grammar isn't way fun?)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Horror Story for Teens

Couldn't pass this one up without passing it along! Actually at this time of year, it's the students I most want to cut and paste!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grammar Fun: The Elusive Double Positive

Yesterday George Takei shared a cute anecdote about the MIT professor who was explaining about double negatives. In most languages, such as Spanish, a double negative simply makes things more negative: No tengo nada que decir. (Literally, I don't have nothing to say.) In English, however, a double negative makes a positive. In Standard English they're not allowed. "Nobody has no idea" would become "Nobody has any idea."

The professor tried to argue that there was no language in which a double positive meant a negative.

From the back of the room, a student who was at least paying attention yelled out, "Yeah, right."

Moral: Be careful when making grammatical proclamations. There is almost always an exception somehow!

For more fun with D.R. Ransdell's writing, please visit:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Is Editing?

Last week I went to our monthly Sisters-in-Crime meeting, but my attitude was half hearted. The morning speaker was going to talk about editing.

I'm a writing teacher--I grade lots of "college-level" essays each semester. I'm constantly thinking about grammar and straightening out the grammar of my students. Since I'm also an author, I'm always vigiliant when it comes to my own writing. I spend a lot of time working with grammar. This is a normal part of my job both as a teacher and as a writer.

Hence I didn't feel that the speaker from the local community college would be able to teach me anything about grammar. Indeed Terry Filipowicz didn't teach me a single thing about grammar. Instead what she taught me was that in the world of writing and publishing, "editing" means something very different to most people than what it normally means to me.

Terry asked us a rhetorical question at the beginning of her talk. "Would you rather have someone who's good in your field or good as an editor?" she asked the gathering of mystery writers. Then she started talking about some of the "editing" she'd done. She'd toned down scenes that were too explicit, for example. She'd realized that "Danny Boy" had been written after the turn of the century, but the author had placed it in a story that took place a couple of decades earlier.

Master editor having grammar discussion, photo by DRR
To me, toning down a scene is a kind of rewriting. It's re-seeing the text, re-working the text. It's understanding the audience and responding to that audience's needs. Getting a song with the right date is a kind of fact-checking. To me, neither of those actions, while important, would be considered editing.

For me "editing" is always grammar/language/mechanics. I expected the speaker to help us with tricky subjunctive clauses or difficult punctuation cases, not to speak about broader matters.

What ensued was a lively discussion among the authors. Some had hired "editors" to help them work with storylines or character development. They didn't have any complaints about the people they'd engaged for such activities.

When it came to grammar, they had a lot to say because only one had found a good grammar editor (line editor). They were frustrated that they hadn't been able to find someone reliable. They also complained (I was the loudest) about all the flaws they'd seen in recent books, as if current authors simply couldn't be bothered to either proofread their work or pay someone worthwhile to look at it for them.

The point was made that there's no exam to be an "editor." Anyone might call herself an "editor" until not proven guilty. But this meant another painful truth was evident: most people don't know how to edit, especially so-called editors. Instead the onus is on the writer to get it right.Maybe that's where it should be. That's also why I always use my mom and a colleague--both former English teachers--as my primary line editors. Between the three of us, I'm confident we can produce a manuscript with few errors. 

What does editing mean to you? Who do you turn to when you need line editing?

For my recent novels, both of which were carefully line edited, please see

Monday, September 30, 2013

Free Help, Not So Free

Last week a high school English teacher contacted me. She'd noticed that A Merchant of Venice was on my website for a summer abroad course I teach in Italy. She wanted help creating assignments because "you have so much more experience than me."

I should have been nice. I should have spent lots of time helping her do her work. But, the snark in me won out.  Dear X, I started, "more experience than I...."

I did assure her that her own assignment was just fine.

So far she hasn't contacted me again.

Will she know what was wrong?