Tag Archives: language

My name is Inigo Montoya

My name is Inigo Montoya…

Oh, wait, wrong quote.  Instead:  I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I ran across this in a review in The Stranger, the Seattle weekly:  [Y]ou walk down a long corridor before countenancing the 1300 square foot main dance floor…

???  I don’t understand what this sentence means.  Countenance a dance floor?  The transitive verb means to extend tolerance or approval to; one definition of the noun is face or visage.  But the definitions of the parts of speech are not interchangeable.  It’s disappointing but not hugely surprising to see sloppy word usage like that from a legitimate news weekly.  (I assume legitimacy since the paper won a Pulitzer this year.)

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Word selection

Reading random selections and samples from my Kindle this evening, trying to settle on something new to read, I had a random thought:  there are some words that have a disproportionate impact on me as a reader.  It’s utterly irrational.

  • Vital — Nora Roberts especially likes to use “vital” as an adjective to describe goals, objects, ideas that are extremely important to her characters.  There’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about the usage, but she’s used it enough that I notice the usage.  It’s a Thing that I associate with her now.
  • Lavish — Many, many authors like this word, especially during love scenes, when attention is lavished on one body part or another.  Usually  a body part that is not a particular erogenous zone for me, so I roll my eyes and move on.
  • Lave — Again with the laving during love scenes.  Or the “lathing”, which seems to be a common substitution…probably by people who have never used a lathe?
  • Moist — This is not used by any particular author or in a specific context, it’s just a word whose sound and mouth-feel during pronunciation bothers me; I get a visceral image of spittle, damp, and mold, which is not always the intended image.

Like I said:  utterly irrational reader association and reaction to perfectly innocent words.  Well, except for that lathe, which can do a lot of damage to tender body parts if used in lieu of laving.


Filed under language generally, malaprop


Some additional thoughts on yesterday’s post about the need for editing in self-publishing.

First, I think I made clear within the body of my post that “affording” editing is not necessarily a monetary issue.

Second, there are exceptions to every rule:  I’m sure there are self-published authors with rigorous editing processes whose work is better than the best of what NY publishing has to offer.  The problem for me as a reader and consumer is that the exceptions are thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of poorly produced self-published books for sale via any number of outlets.

Third, issuing new editions or uploading new versions of a book does not resolve the editing problem or close the gap.  As a reader, it is not my job to keep track of if/when an author decides to fix things in their book or to seek out new versions. The version I bought/borrowed/obtained-in-whatever-legal-manner is what I have to evaluate and either enjoy or discard. The book that is published (and bought) is the author/publisher’s opportunity to make a first impression; fixing it after the fact is too late.  If an author/publisher needs to keep fixing problems, perhaps they should not have made it available prematurely. Frankly, the whole “do over” atmosphere engendered by uploading new versions strikes me as beyond unprofessional.

Fourth, pointing fingers at NY publishing and claiming that their editing standards are declining is in no way a defense to an e-publisher or self-publisher’s lack of quality control.  In fact, that defense leaves a bad impression on me, as if a self-publisher is saying that since external standards are low, they have nothing to live up to or measure themselves by.  It’s like the whole “everybody’s doing it” defense.

The choices an author makes, in terms of pursuing a contract with a Big Six publisher, going with a smaller e-only imprint, or self-publishing, they are business decisions that she needs to evaluate.  Self and e-only publishing may net a larger immediate return, but pretty uniformly offers less production assistance.  When the author chooses to self-publish, s/he is exchanging institutional support (for better or for worse) for immediacy; that is her/his option.  But that doesn’t change my expectations as a reader and consumer that there be some minimum standard of literacy in the book published.

Is it elitist to [be] complaining about the lack of quality control in self-publishing rather than criticizing other publishers first?  I suppose you could say that, although I think that’s obfuscation as I mention above.  But since the vast majority of ebooks I sample, purchase, and reject are either self-published or e-published by small pubs rather than the Big Six/NY publishers, my criticism was directed to where I am personally seeing the problem.  Do I think Big Six publishers are blameless?  No, I don’t.  And I’ve posted here complaining about continuity errors and content and copy editing blips in books by Nora Roberts/JD Robb and Ilona Andrews.  But I’ve never opened a NY published book and found a complete lack of direct address commas in dialogue, a misunderstanding of the difference between loose and lose and loss, etc.  Errors, yes, but not in the same volume or even order of magnitude.

I’m sorry that some self-published authors feel that criticism of lack of copy editing, both here and in reviews generally, is a personal attack.  Certainly I could have been more tactful in my title yesterday, but I’m not sorry to have published that post.  Because I’m even sorrier when I spend hard-earned money on ebooks that make my brain hurt with their clunky writing and poor editing.  (And I’ve only written about copy editing, not content editing, which is an entirely different can of worms.)

ETA:  The elitism label is somewhat ironic IMO, since my preferences in genre fiction are so utterly ghetto-ized by mainstream publishing and fiction venues:  genre romance…and gay romance.


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If you can’t afford an editor, you shouldn’t be publishing

This review of R.L. Mathewson’s book over at Dear Author and the comment thread made me want to pound my head on my keyboard.  Especially the fangrrls who seem to think that commenting on abysmal copy editing is an attack on an author.  Not long after reading that head-scratcher, my daily browsing led me to this article at Galley Cat on the need for editing in self-published work; in the comments an author noted that many authors (presumably herself included?) cannot afford an editor.

An author cannot afford an editor?  I cannot take that claim seriously.  In fact, I call foul on it:  even if a wannabe author can’t pony up the cash for a professional editor, he or she can and should have a circle of partners/readers who are capable of catching at minimum problems like punctuation misuse, homophone errors, etc.  An aspiring author who has made no effort to acquire something like a critique group or professional support network has bigger problems than a bad review, and probably should be questioning their professional strategy.  An author who “cannot afford” an editor is an author who is saying that she is not interested in investing in her work and should not be attempting to publish.

Look, I know some authors think of their books as their children, meaning they believe them to be utterly perfect and beyond criticism.  But to the extent authors are looking to make a living writing, i.e., by selling their books, they need to be business people.  And self-publishers more than any other authors need to understand that producing a book requires quality control; their adoration for their own words doesn’t absolve them of that necessity, especially if they want others to pay to read those words.

I’ve complained before, here and on Twitter, about how poor copy editing in books will cause me to DNF them, and poor copy editing in samples will cause a lost sale.  It’s demoralizing to realize that readers are becoming inured to crappy production values in books, self-published and otherwise, as noted in the comment thread at Dear Author.

I haven’t read anything by Mathewson, and I’m unlikely to, especially in light of the fact that s/he seems to think that editing on the fly AFTER publishing a book is acceptable.  It isn’t a defense to an author that they edit or fix poor production values after publication; it’s an admission that they were too cheap/sloppy/lazy/interested-in-making-a-quick-buck-without-quality-control to do it the first time around.

Frankly, I’ve reached the point where I’m reluctant to purchase any self-published book by any author based on the sloppy copy editing.  Why waste my time and money on wannabe authors who don’t respect their work or my time and money?


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SBD: Devil’s Punch

Warning:  SPOILER AHEAD!  If you don’t want to be completely spoiled for what is almost the end of this book, then STOP READING NOW!

My copy of the new Corine Solomon series book, Devil’s Punch, arrived early last week.  After a couple of false starts, I buckled down to read.  [That perhaps makes reading sound like a chore. It isn’t. I just was busy, and wound up trying to read but falling asleep with the book in my hands.]

Here’s the blurb:

As a handler, Corine Solomon can touch any object and learn its history. Her power is a gift, but one that’s thrown her life off track. The magical inheritance she received from her mother is dangerously powerful, and Corine has managed to mark herself as a black witch by dealing with demons to solve her problems.

Back home, Corine is trying to rebuild her pawnshop and her life with her ex Chance, despite the target on her back. But when the demons she provoked kidnap her best friend in retaliation, Corine puts everything on hold to save her. It’s undoubtedly a trap, but Corine would do anything to save those she loves, even if it means sacrificing herself…

My notes about the last book, Shady Lady, were:  Enjoyed it as I read. Feels a little Anita Blakish – everyone loves/wants her. Increasing power is disconcerting. Power was also weakness earlier, but now not so much. Ending predictable (foresaw when spell was cast). At the end, Corinne seemed a little adrift to me, and she grasped at Chance like driftwood. 

Devil’s Punch picks up shortly after Shady Lady left off.  Corine and Chance are rebuilding her life and business in Mexico, along with their relationship.  Given only Corine’s POV, as I reader I felt somewhat sorry for Chance, who seems to have recognized the damage he did and to have genuinely changed.  Certainly he’s made the Big Sacrifice.  Corine subscribes to the “love the one you’re with” philosophy:  given a “better” option (Jesse, who has forgotten her because of a spell she worked, or Kel, a nephilim), she would not have taken Chance back.

Anyway, just as Corine and Chance are settling into life in Mexico, Corine learns that Shannon (her BFF who has forgotten her, also due to Corine’s inept but extremely powerful spellcasting) has been kidnapped by demons.  Thus they have to go to Hell (aka Sheol) in order to rescue Shannon.  Except journeying in the demonworld awakens something in Corine and plunges them into what is basically a demonic civil war, while Corine is overtaken by a Demon Queen who is part of her genetic/magic makeup.  There’s a lot of fighting and angst and political maneuvering.  Followed by the death of a new insta-loyal, red shirt sidekick.  And then by the sacrificial death of Chance.

What happened next?  I have no idea.  The end was near but the book hit the wall at that point.

Why?  What was the point?  The sacrifice of Chance almost immediately after the Red Shirt seemed pointless.  He’s a main character — he’s been in every book, and his presence or absence is significant.  Or was.

Is the purpose to give Corine the opportunity to bring him back from the dead in the next book?  I don’t know.  And I’m not going to find out, because killing off a main character in such a pointless way has knocked this series off my reading list.  And her bringing him back would require giving her even more powers and making her more Mary Sue-ish…which I thought would be impossible after Shady Lady but somehow managed to be done here.

Taking a step back from this specific book, authors who kill off major characters do something dangerous IMO.  While I appreciate authorial autonomy in terms of creating characters and storylines, I wonder about the alienation factor.  Yes, those characters are the author’s to do with as s/he will, but readers also feel invested in the characters, their story arcs and growth.  There’s a tension between what readers expect, given the conventions of the author’s genre of choice, and authorial control.  If the death or disposal of a major character feels cheap or purposeless, the reader’s trust in the author and willingness to follow where s/he leads is diminished.  (See also LKH’s character assassination of Richard.) Where is the line?  Or is there a line at all?


Completely unrelated:  when did “reference” become a verb?  When did the verb stop being “refer”?  Hate.

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Bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid

It’s an unhealthy compulsion, I’m sure, but I have to check out bookstores whenever I encounter them on vacation.  This trip, I justified my browsing by either reading or discarding the three books I packed, and also by finishing all the back issues of The Economist I took.  (Thank you, USAirways and Philadelphia International Airport, for the poor time and runway management! It caused missed connections, wasted 10+ hours of my time, delayed my luggage for two additional days, and cost a fair amount to reschedule other travel, but on the bright side I managed to get through the back issues while fuming in PHL, Heathrow, and Barajas.  I’m fairly confident that if I’d arrived on time, those hours would have been spent doing frivolous, fun touristy things instead.)

Barcelona has several nice independent bookstores located in the La Ribera neighborhood (near the cathedral), as well as Casa del Libro on the Passeig de Grácia (think high end retail like Fifth Avenue), the book section in the El Corte Inglés department store on the Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel, and FNAC (a French media chain) on the Plaça de Catalunya.   Altaïr on Gran Via specializes in travel books and materials, ranging from maps and guides to fiction about travel.  There’s also an English language bookstore up on Carrer de Roger de Lluria, but I didn’t have time to check it out. (And really, English language books for ex-pats wasn’t really what I was looking for.)  Madrid has a fair number of independent booksellers, too, along with the same chain bookshops.

At Altaïr I bought Andalus by Jason Webster, which I read and then left for another reader at the hotel.  I lusted for several books on the history of southern Spain and planning guides for doing all or parts of the camino de Santiago (on my bucket list) but managed to restrain myself.  The other purchase I made at Altaïr was the in-house travel magazine featuring Peru.  Twin and The Chemist are tentatively planning a trip there (Machu Picchu! The Camino Inca!), and I thought they’d appreciate the photography and information…forgetting that they don’t read Spanish.  I’m an idiot.  The plan is to translate all the captions and articles between now and when I see them next (late March).  Just need to be careful about damaging the magazine as I do so.

Meant to go back to the independent near the city museum for a book on Barcelona’s Roman history but got distracted and never made it back.  Was tempted by children’s books, which I thought might suit some children of my acquaintance.  Popping in to the El Corte Inglés, I intended just to see what the popular fiction available in Catalan and/or Castilian might be but ended up leaving with a translation of Naked in Death (Desnuda antes la muerte).  Did manage to avoid the temptation of Ferran Adria’s El Bulli cookbook.

FNAC had a *huge* graphic novel section, as well as manga.  The YA, unsurprisingly, was also fairly large and dominated by paranormal fiction.  Saw stacks of translations of the Hunger Games series, and of Amanda Hocking’s books (are they YA? that’s where they were shelved).  Lots of fantasy, urban and otherwise, and I was sorry to see zombie/classic mashups prominently shelved. (Meh.) In terms of general fiction, Nordic mystery writers appear to be as popular in Barcelona and Madrid as they are in the US.  Translations into Spanish, Catalan, and English were available for many of the authors Keishon has reviewed.  I was tempted to buy a translation of Ilona Andrews’ Magic Strikes (La magia golpea) but it was ridiculously expensive at €17.50.  Instead, I left with a copy of Camilla Lackberg’s The Stone Cutter and Peter Ackroyd’s translation into modern English of The Canterbury Tales.

Other books on my wishlist now:  El vasco que no comía demasiado by Óscar Terol; Las siete llaves de Balabad by Paul Haven; and Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia.  I’ll probably regret not buying them when I had the chance and wind up paying some insane amount of money to have a copy shipped from Europe if/when I can’t find a copy in the US, which is what happened with Yo, Juan de Austria.


ETA:  Bought a little book about the Palau de Música Catalana from the Palau’s giftshop.  And was seriously tempted by books about the art of Velazquez and Goya and the history of the Prado while browsing there.


Filed under Book related, language generally, spain, spanish, travel

SBD: primrose?

I probably ought to title this post "Lather, Rinse, Repeat" because I feel like I’ve SBD‘d about this a million times.  And yet I’m doing it again.

Copy editing.

Or content editing.

Whichever it is.  

Dear NY Publishers, please pay attention to the words appearing in the books you want me to buy.  

In one recent European historical, really a historical fantasy (kudos to Growly Cub, who gave me that label) novel, the heroine contemplates buying a new pink dress in the shade of primrose, rather than ruby or poppy.  *sigh*  Although there are pink primroses (Asian), the commonly accepted usage is that primrose (as color) is yellow, like the European primrose.  This is like the usage of "rose" as a color — there are a lot of different colored roses, but rose (color) is generally thought/used as a reddish pink.  Also, the pale pink implied is kind of inconsistent with ruby and poppy.  (My twitter complaint resulted in a long conversation about this yesterday, if you’re interested.)

In an urban fantasy novel I read last week, a character howled.  Which is not a big deal…except in the last book of the series, readers were told that his vocal chords were so damaged that he would never howl again.  And that is NOT the first consistency error scattered in this author’s books (hello, percentages that add up to more than 100% and clothing that switches from a sleeveless shirt to a sweatshirt within a single scene).

One of these authors is a Big Name Author, who presumably gets pretty good treatment from her publisher — she’s made them a lot of money.  The other author has a pretty well-respected editor in the industry.
I get that little things can slip through the editing process.  But if I noticed these things at first glance without even spending time *thinking* about them, then how much time did the editors spend actually thinking about the way sentences were constructed or the plot built?
Part of the problem is that I read for detail and my internal proofreader is always on the look-out — it’s a piece of my brain that I cannot turn off — and can be easily distracted by minutiae.  
Both of these books were good, although I enjoyed one much more than the other.  Yet I still finished both feeling as if I’d been walking with pebbles in my shoes.


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