Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tarot: Passion's Journey

After spending most of my life traveling, I still balk a little when it's time to set off, often leaving some things until the last minute just in case I change my mind. Once I do make up my mind and take that first step, there is no hesitation and everything is done quickly and efficiently. Sometimes I think I need that moment of doubt, a chance to change my mind or wait just a little while to be sure I know what I'm doing and why. It's impulse control of a sort.

I am a spontaneous person about many things, at least on the surface. When it comes down to it, the spontaneity has an element of careful thought, weighing and measuring the options and the effects of what I am about to do -- or not do. Even with passion, I think about what I will and won't do before I lose myself in the moment. No one sees it, but it is there. I am always aware of it. And I have learned not to let my careful thoughts derail the passion or rein it in too much when I finally let go. It's like making sure there is a net or the safety harness really is adequate for the task.

Knight of Wands

The Knight of Wands is ready for battle: armor polished, lance sharpened and ready, horse and knight both rested and anxious for the next adventure. The Knight of Wands is confident and sure of his purpose and his stance and colors denote passion and bravery. He is an accomplished knight ready for whatever adventures he finds and his passions move him quickly onto the path because he's excited about what he's facing. He has no fear and the adrenaline sings in his blood as it does in his fiery steed's blood as the horse prances toward the next grand adventure. If adventure doesn't find the Knight of Wands, he will find adventure.

Our Knight is a dark-haired romantic who is witty and can be quite flirtatious. He also tends to be fierce, short-tempered, impulsive and often impetuous. He is a spiritual wander, a traveler and adventurer who needs to learn that the prize he seeks is not always the goal. Sometimes the mission provides nothing more than change and transformation of who he was and will be.

The Knight of Wands' Achilles heel is his passion. He needs to be aware of a tendency toward recklessness and keep it reined as closely as he reins his horse during a charge. Passion and bravery are fine attributes, but like a nocked arrow or a couched lance must be aimed. It pays to be careful.

3 of Wands

The man on the shore in the Three of Wands is a man of substance and wealth, a man who has succeeded in nearly every endeavor. He watched the ship in the bay sail away on the tide and now he must wait. He has invested well in the past, but there is no telling whether or not his current venture will be a success. He can only trust to the winds, the weather and the competence of the sailing master to bring the ship back laden with riches. It is out of his hands and no amount of worry or second-guessing is going to change the future. He has no control over anything but what he has invested and what he carefully planned and put together.

This is a time of gestation, not action. The choice is made and nothing he does or feels or things will change the outcome of this venture. The situation will provide him with a good opportunity to learn patience and control and let the forces he has set into motion follow their own course.

He should rely on the strength of the venture he has put together and the insurance he has had to foresight to put in place. He has done his job to the best of his ability. Nothing else is required of him, but that he focus on the next task or venture.

8 of Cups

The richly clad young man facing the rising full moon at the start of a journal in the Eight of Cups has it all -- or at least looks like he has it all. He has tasted the fruits of his rich life and found them missing something. There is a void inside him that cannot and has not been filled by his present life and he feels empty, so empty that he needs to do something, go somewhere, find something to fill the void inside him. It can't be filled by what he already has, so it must be "out there" somewhere beyond the life he has created.

Looks can be deceiving. A man who looks like he has it all doesn't always have very much at all. Life is not all about houses, bank accounts, jobs, financial security and family, especially when the family is little more than a paper family. This man lives in a house, but it's not a home, no matter how much he does to make it comfortable and keep it well maintained.

The Eight of Cups is about temporary success, waning interest, troubled relationships, abandonment and fear of commitment and depends on the cards that precede or follow it. The mole in the lower right corner signifies blindness to the truth, to surroundings and to what really drives a man to abandon everything and look for more outside the life he lives.

It may well be that he has been blind and most likely has chosen to be blind to his surroundings and relationships. As he faces the rising of the full moon lighting up the darkness, he opens his eyes blinks and must acclimate to the brilliant light shining down on him. He feels something pulling him out of the darkness and into the light toward the dawn that colors the far horizon. Will he be able to face the full force of the sun or will he close his eyes again and retreat back into the darkness where it's safe?

He has a choice to make: follow the voice inside him that urges him to turn away from the shallow comfort and empty silence of his present life or remain willfully blind and unfulfilled. He must be careful. His restlessness may be no more than a desire to run away from his responsibilities or it may be the true calling of his soul. One thing he must do before he turns his back on his empty life is to clean up his mess and set things in order. The Eight of Cups does not tell him to run away from his problems or find temporary solace somewhere else, but to face up to his mistakes and past choices and walk into the light unencumbered by the past to follow the calling of his heart and soul, to fill the empty aching void inside himself.

* * *

A dark-haired man who has worked hard and become successful finds that he has lived a narrow and confined life. He has done everything he was supposed to do -- work, make money, marry and have children -- but something is still missing. Once upon a time he chose the safe path and now on the verge of retirement he wonders if he hasn't wasted his life and his resources.

He owns several homes and is financially secure and his neighbors and colleagues see him as a successful man with a happy life. It's all a sham. He has given up everything, including his self respect, to maintain the fiction that his life has become, spending his whole life providing for others instead of himself. Oh, he has done some of the things he wanted, but always at a high personal cost.

Inside he feels empty and hungry for something more. He is a passionate man who has curbed his passions to keep the peace, but what about what he wants? Can he turn his back on everything he has built and find happiness? Does he even deserve to be happy if he makes others miserable?

What do you think? How would you tell his story?

* * *

Until next time, pull out the tarot cards and see what they show about the motivations, dreams and possibilities for your characters.

Friday, October 09, 2009

He gave me music

Someone reminded me of how music connects us to each other and to the memories of the past, so I went back in time and pulled this from my memories.

"If music be the food of love, play on. Let me have surfeit of it that I may sicken and die." ~William Shakespeare - Twelfth Night

Music and love, interconnected. Informing and reforming. Music of the spheres -- celestial and human.

He gave me music.

Whenever our paths crossed he offered a new song, a new offering of love. We were in the moment, the heat of love and desire where it's hard to see or think. Thwarted desire clears the vision and let's you see the truth hidden in the lines.

Music swirls through your mind and heart, firing emotion and kindling desire. The meaning of the words are colored and distorted.

In disappointment you shed tears of loss and loneliness and sing the words while the music wraps you around with memories of thwarted love. Through the tears and pain the words take on a new meaning. You see the truth.

They weren't for you. They were words of his pain, his loneliness. They were meant for someone else. He offered them to you because he wanted to feel those emotions, feel that fire again. But it was a lie. You were a substitute. It was never meant to be.

The music was a gift, an offering of love, a remembrance and a plea to save him from loneliness, a dream of the past when love was innocent and young, new as the first crocus that pops its head above the snow with the first blush of color. A promise of the bright fire of living summer and the blazing death of autumn fighting for the last moment of sunshine and warmth.

Youth and innocence can be remembered. They cannot be recaptured. Experience and life change the color and music of innocence. Pain and loneliness mark innocence and youth. It is in the eyes, those deep windows to the soul. It's in the music when you listen. Desire and memories are in the music, too.

He offered me his heart, scarred by disappointment and loneliness, lost love and hope. It wasn't for me. We had changed too much. Innocence was gone. Time and tide battered our souls on the rocks. We needed understanding and were caught up in need and desire. It was an illusion, a mirage. An image of desire in the heated desert of loneliness. Reaching toward the soft shimmering shapes of our heart's deepest desire, we forget the desert, the relentless heat of the burning sun, the dry taste of defeat. It isn't in us to give up until we have been so battered by the pitiless sun and crushed by the waves of chance and circumstance all hope is gone.

Through the tears and pain I finally saw the truth. I was his first love. She was his last and still held his heart hostage. He didn't see it. He was caught in the mirage, the memory of innocent love past.

It's hard to forget your first love. Time softens the hard edges and mutes the glaring colors. It's harder to forget your last love because it's imprint is fresh and deep, hard and harsh and blinding. We look away from the glare toward the softer light of innocent love, first love. Last love, mature love leaves an indelible mark on our soul. It's there in the words wrapped around with pain and music.

He offered me music -- her music. He offered me love -- the love she spurned and he still carried like a torch in his heart. I kept the music and returned the love. It belongs to another. I still have the first love. She has the last. And I have my last love, mature love, the one I have waited for all my life.

Pain sweeps away innocence and leaves you scarred and raw. Pain also remodels your heart and makes you ready for the future. Pain opens the deep places where true love will take root and flourish. You can't plant the seed until the earth is wounded. Raw and bleeding it accepts the seed, nourishes it and gives birth to life, a flush of color that deepens and blazes with time until it produces seeds and roots to bring it life again and again until there is no more nourishment in the soil or the life giving sun of regard.

I remember the innocent love. I cherish the last love...mature everlasting strong and resilient true love.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The quality of literature is strained

So that was fairly painful. I've never had to revise an article so many times and all to include keywords and links and keyword phrases. How do I avoid using the same phrases too many times when the article is about punctuation and quotation marks. It's not like I can use a euphemism or marks of quotations to make my point and avoid being snuffed by the web-bots that grade key word and phrases. This whole Suite 101 idea may not be a good one. I can't be personal and I can't use the words you, I, we, they, them or your, so all my cute titles are out the door. Definitely need to rethink this. All I wanted was a wider forum and not a job writing keywords and phrases. And I have to search out and upload clip art for each article. Yeah, that's really possible for punctuation and grammar. Could it get more complex? Wait. Forget I asked because as sure as I ask, it will get more complicated.

I finished my urban alien story and submitted it for the Apex Halloween Contest. I've considered sending it in for the annual Writer's Digest short shorts fiction contest, but I have to cut about 400 words first. I have time since I don't have to submit the story to WD until December and the Apex contest will be decided before then.

There are a few more stories kicking around in my head begging to be let out to run and play amongst the other fiction floating out in cyberspace and in print and I at last feel like I have a fairly good handle on the fiction for a change. I do believe I've broken the fiction barrier that kept my work from being published. My romance novel helped, but having two more lining up to be published made me feel a lot better about writing fiction.

Nonfiction has always come easily, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of words that I've regurgitated onto these cyberpages over the past seven or eight years, but fiction was more difficult. I don't know if it's because I tried to hard or because I spent too much time getting into the characters' ways by being literary. From what I've read recently, it's not an uncommon problem and one that has the science fiction community in an uproar.

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaiden's Tale and Oryx and Crake, undoubtedly science fiction novels by everyone but Ms. Atwood, says that science fiction is "fiction in which things happen that are not possible today". Ursula K. LeGuin calls the definition "...arbitrarily restrictive definition . . .designed to protect [Atwood's] novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. In short, if it looks like science fiction, acts like science fiction, and happens to be good, it's not science fiction, but something higher and more elevated. It must be Literature.

Before having thoroughly alienated and tweaked the noses of the science fiction community, Atwood said science fiction is needed, although she called it speculative fiction. Of course that was in 2005 and this is four years later when the term science fiction is guaranteed to keep good literature from being awarded prizes and lauded, and that is the point -- getting awards.

By the current definition, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne were not a writers of science fiction. In their day it was called scientific romance, but words change and so do the meanings. Invaders from Mars and submarines powered by atomic energy are not science fiction, at least in modern day terminology.

According to Princeton's web site, science fiction is literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society.. Notice the use of the word literary, as in literature.

I was taught, and most publishers agree, that a story in which the science does not play an integral part is not science fiction. For instance, take the atomic sub out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and everything falls apart, and the same happens to beings that turn blue when they are sexually aroused, as in Oryx and Crake, not to mention the whole genetic engineering that lies at the very heart of the story and makes it all possible. Take away Victor Frankenstein's experimentation with electricity and animating dead flesh and there is no story. Even in The Handmaiden's Tale, a dystopian story that is definitely science fiction, if there had been no nuclear war, there would be no need for the handmaidens, and thus the whole story falls apart. No, it's not science fiction, it's Literature.

What myopic idiots people have become, throwing away perfectly wonderful books and refusing to acknowledge them because they belong to that niche called popular and commercial fiction. Anyone who has read Stephen King's The Stand can immediately bring to mind the images of the "sweet treat" and Larry's personality like "biting tin foil." That, my friends, is literature, not because it's popular or sells millions of books, because it's unforgettable.

Literature doesn't have to be tortured prose stylings and stories that have no easily understandable context or meaning. Literature can be enjoyable and clear. Literature doesn't need to feature convoluted plots that jump forward and backward and sideways until the reader's not sure exactly what happens when. Literature can simply be good. That's what makes it popular.

I've enjoyed Margaret Atwood's stories, but sometimes come away with a feeling of having been through a mental ringer. Given a choice, I'd rather read Andre Norton or Brian Aldiss or Frank Herbert or Ursula K. LeGuin or Robert A. Heinlein. Give me a great story with memorable characters and good writing and to me that is Literature, and the judges who give out awards be damned. Come to that, give me any writer in any genre (even romance) who does all that, and that is Literature.

As a reviewer, I have had to review Booker and Pulitzer prize winners and I have to say I wasn't always impressed. If I didn't have to read the whole book to review it, I would've stopped after the first chapter or two. It's a good thing I didn't have to eat it as well or I'd have been sick for a few days. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed some award winning authors, like Salman Rushdie, who has a thing for the movie The Wizard of Oz; rainbow imagery and sometimes the movie feature in several of his books. He tells a good tale and I admire the way he writes.

When it comes right down to it, according to the definition in Wikipedia, which goes on at some length, In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot. ...The term literary fiction is considered hard to define very precisely but is commonly associated with the criteria used in literary awards and marketing of certain kinds of novels, since literary prizes usually concern themselves with literary fiction, and their short lists can give a working definition.

In short, the term literary novel is not a concrete term because there are numerous books of commercial fiction that focus just as much on "style, psychological depth, and character" as the award winners. You don't get much more descriptive, stylistic or deep than a person who is like "biting tin foil" or the loneliness of a girl far from home who eases the loneliness by writing poems on leaves and casting them to the winds (Andre Norton, Imperial lady. We need a better term, but I doubt it will come from the literary novel judges who hand out awards, so it must come from the people. You know, the people who actually buy the books and read them, not buy them and stick them on a shelf to impress friends and visitors. A good book is one that is read and reread and, like the velveteen rabbit, loved to pieces.

That is all. Disperse.

A tangled, twisted review

Google Alerts (if you don't have it, get it) sent me a message about Past Imperfect. I didn't get an email from the reviewer, but Google Alerts let me know a new review was posted, and I was surprised.

Read it for yourself. Hibiscus, the reviewer, gave Past Imperfect 3.5/5. I can definitely live with that.

And the money shot: Past Imperfect, in my humble opinion, was not a perfect story but it was a very good story with many twists and turns. The twisted minds and manipulations of some of the characters made Past Imperfect a darker romance than what I was expecting but I still had fun yelling at them in my mind. I enjoyed reading it and think if you enjoy a romance with lots of surprises, you will too.

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bits and pieces of memory

Just in case anyone is interested, here is an excerpt of a story written this week. All comments are welcome.

Theft of the Seventh Chakra

Verna said it all began with pulsing purple lights. That's when her husband Irwin started forgetting things and ended up with Alzheimer’s; no one believed her.

It was strange to hear her talk about it in such a matter of fact way. She didn’t believe in anything she couldn’t touch or control, like her house. It was always so neat and tidy without as much as a speck of dust anywhere. The furniture looked as new as the day it was bought in the 1970s. With hand-carved wooden accents and riotous velveteen floral fabric in autumn shades of green, brown, gold and burnt orange, the sofa and club chair were likely every bit of forty years old and maybe more. And yet there was something in her eyes, a glint of fear mixed with pleading that was so out of character I almost believed her.

An air of sadness hung about her when Irwin died, as if some essential part of her died with him. Verna was a matter-of-fact kind of woman who was as precise in her gestures and speech as she was particular about her one-bedroom apartment. She continued to keep everything picture perfect even though I never saw her wash a dish or heard her vacuum. She wasted nothing, especially not words.

It all started one night when Verna began sleeping in the living room sitting upright on the sofa. She couldn’t breathe lying down; her heart was enlarged and often filled with fluid. Not even the thought of sleeping apart from Irwin for the first time in sixty years kept her by his side.

“That’s when it started. It was my fault.” Tears gathered in her red-rimmed eyes, her voice steady and no-nonsense. “I shouldn’t oughta left him alone.” The tears disappeared as her lips tightened, her fluttering hands clasped, white-knuckled in her lap. “A wife shouldn’t oughta leave her husband’s side. If I had just stayed in the bedroom, the lights wouldn’t have taken Irwin’s mind away. Those awful purple lights going off and on, regular as a beating heart.”

Verna tried to find a comfortable spot in the corner between the winged back and arm of the sofa, feet tucked beneath the flowered flannel robe. Dozing off and on,her congested heart struggled against its own boggy weight. Lights out and curtains drawn, the living room was dark and silent. Not even the sound of a rare car shushing by in the slushy street got through the thick, heavy drapes.

A pulse beat of purple light flashed on and off against her closed eyelids, faint at first and growing stronger, until it roused Verna from a fretful doze.

“Irwin,” she called without opening her eyes, “the light bulb needs changing. Please turn it out.” Irwin didn’t answer. “Irwin, did you fall in?” No answer. She opened her eyes, uncurled her feet and put them on the floor, leaning forward a little until the feeling returned in cold prickles and then hot pins and needles. Slipping cold feet into carpet slippers, she inched forward and slowly stood, swaying a little until her galloping heart slowed and the dizziness cleared. It was easy to navigate the small apartment in the darkness, but the strobing purple light made her so dizzy she had to feel her way inch by inch, eyes shut, along the wall to the bedroom doorway.

Lying as still and stiff as death, Irwin’s eyes were wide open, head bathed in purple. Unable to tell whether or not her husband breathed, she entered the room and dropped to the bed beside him, grabbing his shoulders and laying her ear against his chest. His heart, stronger and steadier than hers, thudded against his rib cage. She shook his shoulders, but couldn’t move him; he was stiff as a board, frozen in the glare of the purple beam. “Irwin, wake up. Irwin.” He didn’t move.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Of Aliens and Alzheimer's

There's no feeling like getting a story out of the file, writing and finishing it and being able to sleep again, not that I'll be sleeping any time soon since it's Monday and I have to work -- again.

I managed to work chakras, the color purple and Alzheimer's into the story fairly well. Don't know how the two readers feel about the story yet, but I'm hopeful. I thought I had everything written in and just needed to do a little polishing later today, but, no, details nibbled at my dreams. I ignored them and they decided to poke gaping holes in my dreams until all I could see or think about was the pulsing purple heartbeat of the light. Let's just say it involved a bathroom mirror and a relative dead of what was described as senile dementia but turned out to be the purple light. Things started to make sense in that scary, alternate universe way that would make a person certifiable if she wasn't a writer. Still, I am happy with the results and I fulfilled an old promise to Verna.

Back in Columbus when I lived on the west side, after getting rid of Nick and changing jobs so he couldn't sue me for alimony, I met this woman who claimed that her husband's Alzheimer's was brought on by a purple light that shone on him every night. Verna wasn't the kind of person who was good at lying or ever considered lying since the truth was so handy and she didn't like fantasy. Verna was the kind of person who has both feet firmly planted on the ground and seldom looks up. She's the only person of her advanced years I've ever known who didn't clutter up her home with knick-knacks and pictures and junk. Her home was immaculate like a TV series set. Her only personal item was an anniversary clock, one of those marble and metal clocks under glass, her husband gave her on their fifth anniversary. There were a few tasteful and original paintings on the walls and hand-crocheted doilies on the tables and console television set, but not enough to be fussy. Considering the apartment she and her husband shared for over sixty years was about 900 square feet and the closet space was negligible, I always wondered on what they spent their income.

Vernon was an engineer who worked for the federal government out at the Depot. He made really good money, but it wasn't evident anywhere in that little apartment. Knowing Verna, she probably saved every penny for her old age and the state ended up with it since she had no children and no living relatives, unless she willed it to Clyde's mother who was her best friend.

Verna dressed nicely, but not ostentatiously and she didn't have a full length mink to wear in the winter. She always wore a sensible camel hair overcoat. Maybe the money got beamed up with Vernon's mind, but Verna can't tell me because she died several years ago in the middle of the night several years after Vernon died. Verna's death was expected. She had congestive heart disease and slept sitting upright on the living room sofa.

Ah, well, at least now her story has been told and expanded just a bit. After all, writers get paid to weave fantastical tales.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Quick flash news

Because I obviously don't have enough to do and too much free time, I have decided to move my weekly grammar column to Suite 101. I'll post a notice when a new column is up and running, just in case you'd like to follow me and read the latest rehash of the grammar you learned in school and have forgotten. The idea is to attract a wider audience and maybe make a little money on the side.

As for things here in Casa Cornwell, it has been quiet this weekend, except for the voices in my head. It's okay. I'm not schizophrenic or about to go postal and I don't get radio stations in my fillings; characters are invading my dreams and my mind when I'm working and that makes for very erratic sleep, and a cranky fixnwrtr.

I had the chance to read 's short story, Silence is Moldy, once again and enjoyed it very much. I don't care much for zombie stories, too boring, but her story is wonderful: short, full of background and detail and pithy, very pithy. She assured me, and all of those watching on Facebook that she was going to submit this one and I know it will find a home, preferably a paying home so that she can finally join the ranks of the underpaid and talented writers that haunt the cyberworld. It's just one more step to publishing her novel, and I can hardly wait for that day.

Since I received a notice about a Halloween themed anthology and contest, , I decided to join you and submit a story that has been kicking around in the back room for a while. Urban myth and aliens. Who knew I actually had a story that might fit with a few minor revisions? I hope you don't mind too much.

The dishes are all clean, except for the ones that held my dinner and the laundry is about to be caught up and put away. It will be strange not living with dishes piled in the sink and the basket overflowing with laundry. I guess that means the next thing on the list is getting rid of boxes and vacuuming. It could be worse. I don't know how, but I'm sure it could be.

Beanie, I'm finally caught up with Fringe and now I want more. It's not fair that I have to wait a whole week for an episode when I've had three or six or even twelve episodes to watch whenever I wanted. Oh, well, back in the real world.

Beanie kept telling me that I'd like Fringe, but I said I didn't have the time and didn't want to add another show to my very short list of seasonal shows. I finally broke down and ordered season one from Netflix and watched the first episode. I was immediately hooked. It wasn't just the science aspect of the show, a much more modern and less alien infested version of X-Files, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching, but the characters, especially Dr. Walter Bishop, played by John Noble. Walter has been institutionalized for 17 years because he had a mental breakdown after his assistant was killed in a laboratory accident and Walter's a bit weird. He's a mixture of genius, childlike curiosity and innocence with a hint of regret and confusion. Walter's frank delight over the possibility of bodies to examine is infectious and is mind, which works on an oblique circuit to the rest of humanity, is fascinating.

Walter's son Peter is a con-man and nearly as brilliant as his father, but has lots of shady ties to the underworld that he doesn't hesitate to offer whenever FBI agent Olivia Dunham needs something tracked down. Peter always knows "a guy" that can help. The cast is wonderful and the shows brilliant in their diversity. They are mining completely new territory in the fringe sciences and hitting pay dirt every week. I don't think Fringe will end up as lame as Heroes did when I quit watching it.

The rest of my list includes Merlin, Dexter, Castle and Sanctuary, although I'm still waiting for the new Doctor Who and Lost to surface. I've given up on finding anything new for Torchwood. I think it's pretty much done and over. The promised several movies turned out to be just one and nothing new is slated now that Jack has beamed up to his ship and out into the Universe to become the Face of Bo.

I guess that's it for now. The voices in my head are clamoring for attention and I have a short story to write tonight before I can sleep without intruders.

That is all. Disperse.

Grammar: Hi-ho hyphens

Whether you call them hyphens or dashes, the way you use them can make a difference. I hyphenate some words and add dashes between others, but it's all the same to me, and sometimes it seems like Greek.

Compound words can be written separately, combined into a single word or separated by a dash, which actually brings them together into a hyphenated word.

song stylist

In a word like hair stylist some dictionaries list it as hair stylist and some dictionaries list it as hairstylist. It depends on which dictionary you use as to which is right, so the final word on compounds words isn't in and changes will likely be made. Isn't that usually the way with some parts of grammar? Just when you think you know how it goes, someone comes along and changes it.

In the following examples, the use of hyphens is set in stone -- for now.

  1. Hyphens are used to join two or more words that act as a single adjective before a noun.

  2. three-way Foley catheter
    tow-haired boy
    three-toed sloth

    When the compound adjectives used as a modifier comes after a noun, they are not hyphenated.

    The boy was tow haired.
    The sloth was three toed.

  3. Of course, everyone knows about compound numbers and few people get this one wrong.

  4. sixty-nine
    The eighty-eight zombies formed a sixty-nine.

  5. If a word will look confusing or be awkward, especially in the case of a prefix that ends with a vowel when the word following begins with a vowel, use a hyphen. This one happens a lot in medicine. Doctors have the idea that just because they can cut open people, they know about grammar and stick prefixes on everything, whether it sounds right or not. They can be so lazy--and wrong.

  6. You resign from a job, but you re-sign your pink slip.
    semi-infantile (but semi-boyfriend)
    bell-like (but sylphlike)

  7. Some prefixes automatically get a hyphen: ex-, all-, and self- (although I think it is an affection to use self- with some words, like self-protect instead of protect yourself); with the suffix -elect; between capitalized words and prefixes, and with figures or letters.

  8. ex-husband (one of my favorites)
    pre-Civil War

  9. Use a hyphen to divide words at the end of lines and make the break only between syllables. This rule is for all of us who remember typing on a machine that didn't automatically hyphenate words at the ends of lines, and for those still using archaic programs that don't change the spacing between letters to make words fit so neatly when there's room for only part of the word.

  10. anti-dis-establish-ment-arian-ism

  11. When breaking an already-hyphenated word, break at the hyphen.

  12. mass-

  13. If a word ends in -ing, or with double consonants in a root word before the suffix (-ing), split the double consonants and hyphenate; otherwise, use a hyphen in front of the suffix.

  14. plot-ting

  15. The exception to example #5 (and you knew there'd be an exception) is that you never separate the first or last letter of a word at the end or beginning of a new line and don't use two-letter suffixes at the beginning of a new line.

  16. quarterly (no break for the -ly)
    e-lim-i-nate (separate either before or after the middle -i-; don't leave the e- hanging out by itself.

So far, so fairly painless. When you get right down to it, hyphens are all about making words easier to read and your thoughts easier to understand. It's basically common sense.

Although there's no place for it elsewhere, I thought I'd mention em dashes. Those are the long hyphens/dashes between phrases in a sentence that have come into such widespread use and take the place of the parentheses.

When using an em dash, it should begin at the end of one word and end at the beginning of the next word with no space in between.

There was no place I could go—if I actually wanted to leave—no one really wants a woman with sixteen cats.

Because it's a little difficult (and I'm lazy) to use in blogs like these, I usually use a space before and after double dashes to denote an em dash. I suppose I could code it, but this is a blog after all and I tend to be a little loose with fussy details like em dashes. However, I do my best to make sure the grammar goofs are few because it just makes me look better, sets me apart from the rabble, so to speak, and because I never know when a publisher or editor will decide to cruise over to my blog to check out how I do things when I think no one's looking. It's like keeping the house clean even when no company is expected. It's just easier and prevents rushing around at the last minute to throw all the dishes in the dishwasher and the unfolded and unwashed laundry in the stove, praying all the time that no one expects to be fed anything that must be cooked in the oven. A door on the kitchen is best for those occasions.

Until next time (whenever I get a few minutes free from research, work and writing), may all your grammar goofs be easy to find and fix before a publisher reads your submission.