Category Archives: Wednesday is Prince SPaGhetti Night!

Prince SPaGhetti Day – Faramir, Son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien

This week’s prince is the character I crushed on most in The Lord of the Rings.  Yes, Aragorn was the ultimate alpha male, but he wanted a trophy wife.  He couldn’t see past Arwen to recognize the value of Eowyn.

And Eowyn almost made the same mistake.  She couldn’t see past Aragorn to recognize the value of Faramir.

But we – the readers – were more fortunate than she.  Rather than encountering Faramir injured, drained, grieving the twin losses of his father and his brother, we met him at his strongest.  And he was a man to admire.  Fair, virtuous, courageous, loyal, a leader of men… all those things that marked Aragorn were present in Faramir, as well.  And he was wise – a man of honor.  His encounter with the hobbits showed us so much of his character that we were stricken with terror when it appeared he might fall victim to Denethor’s madness.

I don’t know whether you remember meeting him, on your first reading.  I do… he was mysterious.  I feared for Frodo and Sam, when they fell into his hands.  And yet he was a man of honor, with more strength of will than his brother.

Here is what Tolkien said of him:

I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien.

There are characters like that.  Essential characters who insert themselves into the story because they’re needed.  The men of the hour.

Faramir is not the star of the trilogy.  He’s not even a main character.  But he is a character without whom all would have been lost.  And, because of him, we see for ourselves that Men are worth all the trouble the hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards are put to in their defense.  They are not merely easily corrupted (Boromir), jealous (Denethor), or easily broken (the Theoden we meet initially), but noble to the end.

My kind of man.

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Prince SPaGhetti Day – The Common Comma

People are funny about commas.  They either love them or hate them.

Some have been so confused by English teachers through the ages that they’ve completely given up on the rules, which seemed to vary from teacher to teacher.  Others cling with desperation to what their fourth-grade (or fifth, sixth, etc.) teachers told them, and nobody can dissuade them.  Not even the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White, or any other so-called experts.

Of course, I believe that I’m an expert in commas.  Which means that I have a few rules of my own to impart.  (What follows is by no means an exhaustive list.  I shall not go into depth, for example, on the Holy Oxford Comma; I’ll save that for another post.  But these are some handy rules that, if they’re followed, will ensure that you won’t run afoul of obsessive people like me who find commas and their proper use worth thinking about.)

  1. If you have a list of items, you should separate them with commas.  Example:  Joe, Bob, Joe Bob, and Bobby Jo all went to the fair.  Now, some of you will look at that list and say that the comma before “and Bobby Jo” is unnecessary.  Indeed, I was also taught that this was an incorrect usage.  That comma, also known as the Holy Oxford Comma, is a miracle of clarity.  And that’s why we use these lovely little curlycues in lists:  to make things clearer.  (By the way, I’m the only person who refers to the Oxford Comma as Holy.  But if you would like to join me in my comma crusade, feel free!)  I’m sure you can see why the other commas are necessary, even if the HOC is under dispute.  Without them, the sentence would read:  Joe Bob Joe Bob and Bobby Jo all went to the fair.  And that’s just plain silly.
  2. If you have two independent clauses in a sentence, you should insert a comma before the conjunction.  (Conjunctions are words like and, but, or, for, nor, yet, and so.)  (Independent clauses have a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence.)  Example:  Joe, Bob, Joe Bob, and Bobby Jo all went to the fair, and Joe Bob and Bobbie Jo rode through the Tunnel of Love.
  3. When you have something called a parenthetical, which are phrases and words that aren’t necessary to the meaning of the sentence.  These can occur anywhere in a sentence, and they’re always set apart by commas.  Here’s an example of one at the beginning of the sentence:  Because they’re engaged, Joe Bob and Bobbie Jo rode through the Tunnel of Love.  Here’s one at the end:  Joe Bob and Bobbie Jo rode through the Tunnel of Love, LOL!  And here’s one in the middle:  Joe Bob and Bobbie Jo, who are engaged, rode through the Tunnel of Love.
  4. In dialogue, if a “dialogue tag” is used.  I know, I know.  What’s a dialogue tag?  Well, a dialogue tag is a phrase used to identify the speaker in dialogue.  The most common of these is “said”.  Example:  Joe Bob said, “Let’s go to the fair!”  Or, if the dialogue tag occurs in the middle of the spoken sentence, it’s completely set off by commas.  Example:  “Let’s go to the fair,” Joe Bob said, “so that Bobbie Jo and I can ride through the Tunnel of Love!”  (Yes, there are exceptions, which will be addressed in a later, even more fascinating post on dialogue tags.  I know you can hardly wait.)

No matter what your English teacher told you, DO NOT add a comma every time you’d pause when speaking.  If your English teacher told you to do that, your English teacher was wrong.

Re-read whatever you’ve written before you send it out.  Check specifically for commas; do you have too many?  Too few?  (True Fact:  When I write, the comma fairy follows behind me, sprinkling those pesky little bits of punctuation throughout my text, whether they’re needed or not.  By the time anyone sees what I’ve written, I’ve gone through with an M-16, slaying those bad boys.)

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, find a Beta Reader who is obsessive about commas.  She may be a little strange, but she’s worth the trouble.  I promise.

(By the way, if anyone wants to write the love story of Joe Bob and Bobby Jo, feel free.  OR of Joe, Bob, Joe Bob, and Bobby Jo, if that’s how you roll.  We’re all open-minded here.)

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Prince SPaGhetti Day – The Prince’s Tale

Today’s man is someone I’ve had a secret passion for since I was around eleven years old.

I was at home, sick, and I picked up a copy of The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey.  In it, Inspector Alan Grant is dying of boredom and driving his friends crazy, as a result.  He has a broken leg, you see, and – as with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window – it lesds him to all sorts of curiosities.  A friend of his (Alan Grant’s, not Jimmy Stewart’s) gives him a hodgepodge of items, one of which is a copy of a portrait of Richard III.

Only Grant, who felt he could make accurate judgments of a person’s character simply by looking at their faces, can’t believe that Richard was the monster that English schoolchildren had been raised to believe he was.  The Richard of the portrait, according to Grant, was kind and generous.

In order to prove his point, he sets his friends to researching contemporary writings about Richard and his poor, murdered nephews.  And in so doing, he proves that Richard has been wronged by History.  (And by Shakespeare, which probably amounts to the same thing.)

The tragic tale of the misjudged king touched my preadolescent heart (and ignited my always-overactive desire to see justice done, nearly 500 years later).  It also led to my predilection for tortured heroes, most recently finding expression in my Snape obsession.  But we won’t go there.

One completely bizarre coincidence… many years later, my mother was doing the family tree.  And she traced my dad’s family back way beyond the 15th century, but it’s what she found there that is pertinent.  I’m descended from Thomas Stanley, later Earl of Derby, who betrayed Richard on the field of battle in favor of his stepson, Henry Tudor.  In so doing, he turned the tide of the battle against Richard, leading to the king’s death and the rise of the Tudors to the throne of England.

Yes, I do feel guilty.  How did you guess?

P.S.  If you can get your hands on The Daughter of Time, read it!  It’s widely held to be one of the best mystery stories ever written, and I concur!

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Prince SPaGhetti Day – Homonymophobia

So, my second post on Prince Spaghetti Day is going to be about the dreaded SPaG Monster.  In my many years as a reader, a writer, and an editor, I’ve seen the wide variety of things that people just can’t seem to get a handle on, writing-wise.

Today, I’d like to tackle homonyms.

Homonyms are divided into two groups:  homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) and homographs (words that are spelled the same, but sound or mean different things).  For writers, it’s not the homographs that present the problems, it’s the homophones.  And they don’t just challenge those of us swimming around in the muck, trying to get experience; bestselling authors (and their copyeditors) have trouble with them, too!

So, what are examples of these pesky creatures?

  • its and it’s – Guess what!  The apostrophe signals the contraction, not possession.  So, “it’s” = it + is, while “its” means “belonging to it”.  Used in a sentence, they would be:  It’s always fun to watch the kitten playing with its ball.

Right.  Clear as mud, I’m sure.  Let’s try another one!

  • there, their, and they’re – Again, the apostrophe is telling us that we’re dealing with a contraction.  So “they’re” = they + are.  “There” is has the virtue of being both a homophone and a homograph.  It can mean “that place” (Put it “there”.); it can be an introductory word in a declarative sentence in which the verb precedes the noun (“There” is no hope.).  And then “their” is the possessive of “they”.  Used in a sentence, we’d say:  There is no way they’re going to get their work done before the deadline.

Ugh.  It’s worse!

Other really common ones include:

  • affect/effect
  • stationary/stationery
  • eminent/immanent/imminent
  • principal/principle
  • altar/alter
  • site/sight/cite
  • discreet/discrete
  • forward/foreward
  • hear/here
  • bear/bare
  • lead/led (Just a word here… “led” is the past tense of the verb “to lead”.  It’s an entirely different word from “lead”, the element. Necessity led Paul to lead the group to the safety of the lead mine.
  • passed/past

Anyway, there are a lot of these little suckers.  And it’s easy to get tripped up!  Spellcheck generally doesn’t help you with homonyms; if you’ve spelled the right word the wrong way, you’re screwed!  So, keep in mind that there are a lot of words that sound the same and look different.  And, if it’s not your strong suit, make sure that one of your beta readers or critique partners is a fantastic speller!

Do you have any favorite homonyms?

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Prince SPaGhetti Day – The Prince’s Tale

Perhaps you recall the old Prince Spaghetti commercial:  Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day in Boston.  I’ve decided to revive the old custom, but with a twist.

On Wednesdays, I’ll post twice.  First, I’ll post The Prince’s Tale (with a nod to J.K. Rowling), in which I post photos of interesting men.  Sometimes because they’re brilliant, sometimes because they’re hot, and sometimes because they’re both at once!

This week’s man is my mental picture of the hero of my current WIP, a paranormal romance set during the Napoleonic wars.  The character is named Fletcher Cunningham, and his specialty is magical cryptography.

Yes, I know that’s a modern picture, and the story’s set during the late Georgian/Regency period.  Yet that’s how I think of him!  However, for the purists among you, I’ll admit that he has done Regency.  He appeared in the BBC’s mostly excellent production of Persuasion (it was good up until the last ten minutes).  So here he is in period garb.

Lovely, isn’t he?  Sophia (my heroine) doesn’t stand a chance!

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