Monday, December 31, 2012


Today there will be a trip to the post office to mail out 23 packages containing one advance reading copy of Hang Fire, one promotional sheet and one cover letter. These are intended for bookstores and libraries in Upper Michigan, northern Lower Michigan, and northern Wisconsin, and they propose a reading and autographing of the book. (A mailing of about 30 copies went out a month ago to review media.)

As I've mentioned, these tasks, once the sole province of publishers, are increasingly falling to the writer as publishing houses cut back on staff and expenses.

Now there is nothing to do but sit and wait. And, oh yes, produce an illustrated Keynote (PowerPoint) presentation. There will be one of about 20 minutes for bookstores, and another of about 40 minutes for libraries. Bookstores want presentations to be short and sweet in order to maximize foot traffic and sell books, and libraries want their patrons to be entertained for up to an hour.

The tasks of an author never end. Oh, yes, there's writing novels to be done . . .

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi (c. 1495-1505), by Andrea Mantegna (Italian, 1431-1506). Distemper on linen. 19 1/8 in. by 25 13/16 in.  Getty Center, Los Angeles.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Toy train time

Yesterday I hauled the big box of toy trains up from the basement and set it up on the carpeted floor of my office for the holidays.

For a child of my generation, there was no greater marvel than a model train rattling endlessly round and round a loop of track. In time with the clickety-clack of wheels over rail joints, our minds would project flickering dreams onto a screen of wonder that included Santas and candy canes and evergreen trees and fathers coming home from Manhattan behind a massive black Ten-Wheeler, chuffing coal smoke, on the Erie Railroad.

These became the elusive memories of Christmases past, the ones we try to rekindle in our old age and sometimes manage to recapture.

It has been a long time since the pastime of model trains captivated entire generations. Mighty locomotives gave way to mightier airliners and rockets, then Playstations and Wiis. Youthful obsessions change as technology advances. This is a kind of human progress, although nobody believes in the perfectibility of mankind anymore.

Yet I doubt that the latest clever electronic game can match toy trains for the thrilling sense of history they once instilled into children. They showed us how in the nineteenth century the young United States broad-shouldered its way on steel rails from Atlantic to Pacific, the grandest flowering of the Industrial Revolution. "Westward the course of empire takes its way," wrote the Irish poet George Berkeley in that simpler and more hopeful time.

Pardon me while I get down on the rug and govern my little empire.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

False titles run amok

One of the enduring irritations of clumsy journalese and one we are seeing more often these days is the "false title," a loose string of adjectives preceding a proper name. As in:

"Boston University College of Communication graduate student and aspiring photojournalist Christopher Weigl was killed Thursday when his bicycle collided with a tractor-trailer."

That's a ten-worder, not a world record for a false title but not far from one, either. It is from, of all places, the Jim Romenesko journalism blog, popular with newsies everywhere. He should have known better.

A real title is an official one, such as "Army Pvt. Joe Smith," or "Sen. Dick Durbin." False titles (known by grammarians as an "anarthrous nominal premodifier") are just bogus strings of adjectives, and when they're piled on, as in the foregoing example, the result is decidedly inelegant.

It is much better to begin with the name of the person, then add the descriptive phrase or phrases. As in:

"Christopher Weigl, a Boston University College of Communication graduate student and aspiring photojournalist, was killed . . ."

Better. But there's still a bit of clumsy false-title construction in the improved sentence. Let's try:

"Christopher Weigl, a graduate student in the College of Communication at Boston University and an aspiring photojournalist, was killed . . ."

Much more polished, wouldn't you say?

The false title does have its defenders among journalists. They say it saves space and is OK in newspapers although not in more elevated prose one finds in magazines and novels. That may be so, but a couple of commas don't add much fat to a sentence.

Am I turning into "hateful old grammar Nazi Henry Kisor" in my geezerhood? Not really. I've been one for 47 years, beginning with an apprenticeship on the nightside copy desk at the old Chicago Daily News. There we would get whacked with steel pica poles if we let howlers slide through.

I would not, however, berate uneducated folks for grammatical bloopers. They don't know no better and couldn't hardly care less. They're not professional writers and editors who must serve sophisticated readers. Why insult ordinary Joes with linguistic loftiness?

But if professionals commit such solecisms, they deserve to be steamrollered by a blitzkrieg of contempt. And those who deliver the contumely always should merit the Grammarian's Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


. . . stands for "National Vacation from Writing Month," which I'm observing instead of NaNoWriMo, a k a National Novel Writing Month.


Because our house is an unholy mess, and it is a devil of a lot of work to put it back together. We decided to renew several rooms, mostly decor, but also add some structural things. In order to do that we had to move stuff out of several rooms into other rooms, and in true incipient-hoarder fashion, there is too much stuff to move back to their original spots. Therefore we are having to pitch stuff. (It is easier to part with possessions if you think of it as "stuff.")

For the last couple of weeks our dining room has been the town dump for the Lady Friend's office. To reassemble all the remaining stuff in her newly repainted lair will be like putting together a Lego spaceship without an instruction sheet. And have you ever tried to wash metal Venetian blinds that haven't been cleaned for 30 years? Or shred 45 years' worth of useless documents?

That is why I have not been updating this blog, or taking new photographs for the other one. Have patience. I shall return, he said stuffily.