MICHAEL J. BARRINGTON – Whatever Happened to Punctuation?

Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.

The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.

 I have just finished reading my third novel by Sally Rooney, followed by Cormac McCarthy’s latest,  Stella Maris, and I’d like to report the speech marks are missing! Punctuation goes in and out of fashion, and the marking of text with inverted commas to signify direct speech seems, in the current moment, is decidedly going out of fashion.

Cormac McCarthy called punctuation, “Weird little marks. I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” Since this was his first novel after a 16-year hiatus, I started reading it because I was intrigued by the subject matter, dedicated solely to a dialogue between two people, a woman who self-committed to a mental institution and a psychiatrist. It was a disaster. After twelve pages, I’d had enough and just couldn’t handle page after page with no italics. However, I was sufficiently intrigued to purchase the audiobook. And oh, my goodness, what a difference. I didn’t want to stop listening. I was enthralled by the female and male voices that gave color and texture to a dynamic, intriguing, and labyrinthine script.

But with Sally Rooney, not so. Why she has chosen to use this technique in her novels, only she can say. I found it gimmicky at best since her lack of italics didn’t enhance the flow of the story or blend with the rest of the text. But a greater irritant for me was her use in all three novels of another technique, the way she attributes the spoken word. No writer wants their characters to become disembodied, but attribution, clarifying for the reader who’s saying what, is key to maintaining good order in dialogue. It sustains the novel’s pace and orients and relieves the reader from unnecessary guesswork. As writers we shouldn’t have to send the reader window-shopping in search of a speaker to “assign” the script to! Distractions of that sort break the spell of the interactive flow, and are really an earmark of the inexperienced writer.

I’m speaking here, of course, of “she said” and “he said” the most common attributions, and their host of variants. When it’s evident who’s talking, the reader can readily do without them. Often enough, in a brisk exchange between two people once the talk gets rolling, it takes nothing more than a paragraph change, the customary tool for differentiating speakers, to make clear to the reader who’s saying what. Repeated attributions can serve to heighten the intent of the exchange two people are having. Beginning writers in particular are prone to suppose that “she said” and “he said” become too humdrum, are used too frequently, and need to be replaced by such alternatives as “she replied,” “he explained,” “he responded,” “she murmured,” “she protested,” and so on… all of which, when used judiciously, are useful.

Repeated indications as to who’s doing the talking can also be used for dramatic effect. And this is where Sally Rooney drives me crazy. A creative writing teacher advised, not to labor too much about attributions, “Go ahead and use “she said” and “he said” with little fear of over-use! They soon enough become mere transparencies for the reader, barely noted in passing as the reading proceeds.” If this is the case, why does it irritate and distract me from the story line making me want to stop reading? In Rooney’s Normal People on just one page I counted thirteen times her use of “he said, she said.”

An additional curiosity is Rooney’s point of view as she described her characters. In Beautiful World Where Are You much of its tension comes from the disconnect between the spare prose of the third-person sections, (I can’t remember seeing a semi colon in any of her books) with sometimes one paragraph filling an entire page, and the rambling soliloquies of the emails. Once they have been named, she ghosts her characters through page after page by simply referring to them as ‘she’ and ‘he,’ and given that she rarely fully develops them, I found it annoying and my attention flagging.

But there is a reason her books are bestsellers. In addition to her famous sex scenes, described as “the best in modern literary fiction,” she captures with unembellished, often plaintive prose, the angst of her millennium audience, albeit, her sometimes meandering chapters while reflecting the time and milieu, can be perplexing to those of us north of 40. But be that as it may, I still need my punctuation.

Michael’s latest book is No Room for Heroes: A novel of the French Resistance 1942-44.

Contact: majb7016@gmail.com

Books on website: www.mbwriter.net

3 Comments

  1. Harlan Hague

    Enjoyed the post and will welcome a discussion about the topic one of these days.

    Reply
  2. Mihael A. Black

    I totally agree. I refuse to read McCarthy’s books for exactly the reason you listed. I haven’t thought about an audio version, but I think I’ll pass. I remember struggling to get used to the James Joyce’s use of a dash instead of quotation marks in Dubliners. And what about the current “woke” trend of using the plural pronoun “they” in place of “he” or “she?’ It makes my blood boil. Writers like McCarthy corrupt the language by not following the basic rules of grammar, not that these rule can’t occasionally be ignored. Faulkner did the same thing in the long version of “The Bear,” but given his proclivity to tip the bottle, this was probably not totally intentional. Anyway, thank you for an entertaining and thoughtful blog posting. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This post got me thinking, Michael. Very thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Reply

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JIM GUIGLI – Author and Man of Many Talents

A student of many interests, Jim Guigli, has been a SCUBA diver, auto-mechanic, and gunsmith . . .toured Quantico as an FBI Citizens Academy graduate and earned BFA and MA degrees in Art/Photography. Jim is an active member of SMFS, PSWA, & Sacramento CWC.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. Start pants, finish with structure.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Real with fictional subparts.

Tell us about your writing process: I get an idea, a title, or one sentence, and then I write.

For example, my short story, Blood on the Stairs, was an idea and a title.

I like the old Dell Map Back mysteries and follow them on eBay. One title, Blood on the Stars, by Brett Halliday (pen name of Davis Dresser) appeared often, but I always read it as, Blood on the Stairs (touch of dyslexia). I put that new title with an idea that came to me after I attended a Left Coast Crime Conference:

What would happen if the attendees at a writers’ conference were encouraged to visit (bother) real local private investigators during the conference?

I already had my PI, Bart Lasiter, and my setting, Old Town Sacramento, with Bart’s fictional building and office. Then I added a murder and some what-ifs to get:

Bart attends a Crime Writers Conference and pencils in a murder.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. Start pants, finish with structure.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Real with fictional subparts.

Tell us about your writing process: I get an idea, a title, or one sentence, and then I write. For example, my short story, Blood on the Stairs, was an idea and a title.

Blood on the Stairs is available from Amazon in the fine anthology Murderous Ink:

Crimeucopia – We’ll Be Right Back – After This!

https://www.amazon.com/Crimeucopia-Well-Right-Back-After/dp/1909498424/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1701815141&sr=1-3

How do our readers contact you? jimguigli@sbcglobal.net
Website: https://www.jimguigli.com/

4 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Hi, Jim, nice to see you again. I’ve enjoyed your writing too.

    Reply
    • Jim Guigli

      Thank you, Marilyn’ I always appreciate your support.

      Reply
  2. Jim Guigli

    Thank you George and Mike. Keep writing.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Jim Guigli is the real deal. He’s an excellent writer and one of the modern masters of the short story. Rumor has it, and I hope it’s true, that he’s working on a novel. I’ve enjoyed his Bart Lasiter stories and just picked up the anthology, Crimeucopia Strictly Business with Jim’s new story, “Just a Dream.” And on top of all that, he’s one hell of a nice guy too.

    Reply

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GEORGE CRAMER – Shares His Latest Work

The first book in the Hector Miguel Navarro Series, New Liberty,  is available from many sources. I’m taking this opportunity to share a teaser and Chapter 1.

 

 

 

Outside Phoenix, two gangs rule…

…and one police officer is caught in the middle.

How will he stop them?

Hector’s parents, wealthy east coast college professors, raised him to work towards making the world a better place. In New Liberty, Arizona, gangs have ravaged the city. As a young police officer who lost his mentor, he struggles with the question.

Why did his partner kill himself?

Across town, a small sickly-looking man approaching fifty is about to make a move. DeShawn “The Knife” Galloway has a reputation as a contract assassin who prefers to kill with the Japanese Tanto. And It’s time to take control.

The war will start on his terms.

In a world of human trafficking, drugs, and violence, two people’s lives are about to be intertwined in a way where only one can survive.

But this story isn’t all black and white.

This dark urban crime novel will grab you as it reveals far more than just greed and power. This one will keep you turning the pages.

NEW LIBERTY
A Hector Miguel Navarro Novel

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and
Hades followed him. And they were given authority . . . to kill with sword
and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Rev. 6:8

CHAPTER ONE

They were alive moments ago.

“I told you to use the GPS. Why’d you buy a Lexus if you aren’t going to use the gadgets?” The old woman chides her even older husband.

“The map program takes too long. Besides, the boy’s graduation isn’t until tomorrow.”

“I know, but we’re not even in Phoenix. We should have been there an hour ago. Admit it. We’re lost.”

“Okay. I’ll pull over and set the GPS. Will that make you happy?” The man was tired from the long drive. Even breaking the drive into two days from Oakland to the Arizona city was more than he should have undertaken at seventy. His wife had suggested they spend a few days in Los Angeles, maybe even visit Disneyland, but the old man had insisted. She had been right. I should have skipped poker with the boys this time.

“Now we’re lost, exhausted, and you finally agree with me. That doesn’t help much.” She was younger by a decade and had offered to help with the driving. The old man was always stubborn and refused to give up the wheel. “This neighborhood looks pretty sketchy. I don’t think we should stop here?”

“We’ll be fine. Besides, there’s no one around.”

A minute later, absorbed in entering the address in the GPS, it’s difficult for the old man with his arthritic hands and new trifocals. Hearing a banging on his side window, and without thinking, he hits the down switch.

“Hey, old brother, whatcha doing?” Standing next to the car door is a skinny kid, fifteen or sixteen. It’s hard to see his face. He’s wearing a dark hoodie with the front cinched down. His hands are jammed deep into the pockets.

“I’m checking my map. We’ll be going.”
“I don’t think so,” the kid says as his right hand appears. He’s holding a small pistol, barely visible in his large hand.

“He’s got a gun,” screams the woman.

“That’s right, Bro. You and the sister get out and walk away.”

The man may be in his seventies, but he’s not about to let a teenage punk rob him. Reaching to put the car in gear, he says, “No.”

The old man doesn’t hear the shot or feel the twenty-five-caliber bullet that passes through his skull and into his brain. The small lead slug comes to rest against the right side of his skull, ending his life. His wife screams as another teenager opens the passenger door and drags her out of the car. Drawing her head back exposes her neck. She sees the Ka-Bar. The blade, dull and heavy, is meant for work, not slicing throats. As the boy saws her neck open, cutting the carotid arteries, blood gurgles until she is dead.

“Don’t get blood on the seat,”

“That’s why I pulled her out. What about the old dude?”

“He didn’t bleed much.”
* * *
Now that they have killed the old couple, they aren’t sure whether to run or take the Lexus. Their problem worsens when three men emerge from Ernesto’s Pool Hall.

“What’re you doing?” demands Jerome. “Geronimo” Dixon. The easily recognized president of the 4-Aces. Even at fifty, he is an imposing figure towering over the men behind him. The man stands six feet five and carries three-hundred pounds—no fat—packed on a muscular frame.

The frightened shooter’s answer is a whisper, almost apologetic. “We jacked them for the Lexus. The old man gave us shit. We had to off him and the old lady.”

“Who the hell gave you permission to jack a car in 4-Aces territory?”

“No one, we didn’t. . .”

“Shut up and gimme the piece. What else you got?”

The boy hands over the small pistol and the other gives up the K-Bar, “All we got.”

Geronimo turns to one of the men standing behind him. “Get DeShawn.”
Within minutes, DeShawn “The Knife” Galloway is at his side—Geronimo motions for the young killers to stand behind the Lexus. Out of earshot, he hands their weapons to Galloway. “This’s going to bring a load of shit our way. Make the idiots disappear.”

“Forever?”

“Forever.” The tone of Geronimo’s voice leaves no doubt.

“The old couple?”

“I ought to. If they weren’t innocent civilians, I would.” Geronimo lets out a sigh. “Leave them.

“Don’t nobody touch da bodies, nothing. No DNA to tie the Aces to this shit.”

Galloway calls the other men over and tells the first, “You drive. We gotta clean this up.” To the second, “Put the fools in my Escalade. You ride with me.”

Showing false bravado, the shooter speaks up. “Why?” Stepping close to Galloway, he looks down at the much older and shorter man and repeats, “Why?” adding, “I ain’t no fool, old man.”

Galloway raises his head and gazes into the face of the shooter. His expression is as lifeless as his eyes. The shooter does his best to maintain a defiant pose and succeeds for perhaps three seconds. His body begins to shake. The shivers betray the boy’s fear; without another word, he walks to the Escalade and death.

Here’s the link to the trailer created by Lisa Towles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvrdESP4jTI

 

 

13 Comments

  1. MARIJO MOORE

    Draws the reader right in…arresting dialogue.

    Kudos to you, George!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thank you Marijo. Glad we got your attention.

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    George, your dialogue is gripping! The trailer spooks the hell out of me and the bible quote under the picture of the tiny book in your hand spooks down into the bones. Truly, well done. Best of Luck with NEW LIBERTY.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    This has my interest, George! I’ll be buying it so I can find out what happens.

    Reply
  4. Donnell

    Intriguing George! And of course fearless creating. Congratulations!!!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Intriguing and fearless are not words I would use to describe my work. WOW!! Thanks

      Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    I was privileged to be able to read an ARC of this one and enjoyed it immensely. i’d certainly recommend it, and enjoyed it so much I bought a copy at the PSWA Conference last month in Las Vegas. It’s the first book in what will no doubt be a great new series.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Mike. This is indeed high praise coming from you. Take Care & Stay Strong.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Mizushima

    Plenty of action in the opening chapter, George! Great beginning! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Margaret. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  7. Shelley Lee Riley

    What a great idea, a look inside. This first chapter showcases the depth of evil that lies in waiting for the most innocent among us. I was gripped by the sheer horror depicted on these pages. Explosive and compelling. I’m hooked.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Shelley. I wish I could take credit for the idea. A great friend suggested I make the post. But, thanks again.

      Reply

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DONNA DARLING – Mystery in Puerto Rico

Donna Darling writes short stories and novels for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, an historical fiction titled The Three Marias, is inspired by her Puerto Rican roots. When not writing, she enjoys sketching her characters or drawing a scene from her story.

She is a member of the California Writers Club and belongs to a writer’s group of published authors who meet weekly.

Donna lives in Northern California with her family. She enjoys traveling and weaving stories with history.

Puerto Rico, 1895. Three sisters are embroiled in rebellion, betrayal, and lost love. A secret threatens their bond when caught in a web of murder during the Spanish American War. After the massive hurricane of 1899, the three Marias are faced with the difficult choice to stay and rebuild or leave their home and their land.

Answering a few of George’s questions:

I write short stories, flash fiction, and novels. I’ve tried poems and children’s, but it’s not my “thing.” I started writing when my children were small. I remember writing a story for each one to match their personality and age.

My son cried when he heard The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein, then saw a gray hair on my head. He thought it was all over. I wrote an additional page for him, with an illustration at the end. Sorry Mr. Silverstein—Then I started coloring my hair.

Subplots are fun for me, and I think they keep the reader interested. Too many, and you lose them. It’s a balance, and you do have to keep the thread going. Remember to tie it all together at the end for a satisfying finish, and it’s a winner in my mind.

Although I do steal ideas from real life, I do not use real people in my stories. In The Three Marias, the characters are fictional, set against a backdrop of actual historical events in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War.

Research is important, and sometimes I get lost in it. I’m fascinated by history and envision my characters living through historical events. I place them in the setting. What is going on around them? What trees or plants are native to their area? Wildlife? I think about my character’s daily life. What do they eat? What music do they listen to? How do they hear it? Live, or is there a phonograph, radio, or other? How do they speak? Formal or slang? Is there an accent? I research fashion, hair, and anything that might influence my character. What is happening in the world during that time? It takes time, but everything adds to the story.

It took me about ten years to write The Three Marias. Life happened. I took breaks and returned to the project that captured my heart. I hope you enjoy reading The Three Marias, available on Amazon.

Here’s a link to my book, available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0BKXRZH4J/ref=cm_cr_arp_mb_bdcrb_top?ie=UTF8
Link to my Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/
Instagram: www.donna.d.darling@instagram.com

7 Comments

  1. Brian

    Has all the elements – Machetes and pistols, strong women in a patriarchy that tests them, civil war and a love story to boot! Telemundo are you listening?
    Congratulations Donna. Now onto the sequel. 😆

    Reply
  2. Josephine E Mele

    Donna bring life on the plantation to life. We feel the loss her family suffers both emotionally and financially during the revolution. It’s a story of family, determination, and courage. We cheer on the three Marias and hope for the best.

    Reply
  3. Camille Minichino

    Highly recommended! Donna’s family is so well characterized you’ll think they’re your neighbors. A great story.

    Reply
  4. Alexandra Gomes

    Thank you Donna for taking the time over the years to write your book. I didn’t really know much about the history of PR but with all the details page by page it really transported you to that time. You can definitely tell alot of research went into Three Maria’s. Can’t wait for more to come!

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    It is so easy to get lost in research. Love the hair dye story!!

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Good for you for amending The Giving Tree for your son. I hope you gave it a happy ending. You sound like you do a lot of research for your books. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply
  7. Karen A Phillips

    I feel so good when I hear another author say their novel took many years to write. My first novel took ten years, also! And very good point about too many subplots and you lose the reader. And about the importance of tying it all together at the end for a satisfying finish.

    Reply

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B. LYNN GOODWIN – Some Thoughts About the How and Why of Writing

B. Lynn Goodwin wrote two award-winning books, a YA called Talent, and a memoir titled Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, plus author interviews, and book reviews, for WriterAdvice, www.writeradvice.com and Story Circle Network. She writes flash pieces, is an editor and blogger for the San Francisco Writers Conference, and loves helping writers improve.

Some people say that writing restores sanity—not that I’ve ever been insane—but when life’s detritus makes me think crazy thoughts, I use journaling to figure out what’s bothering me. Combine that with fictitious people, made up from bits and pieces of my life, and some high stakes and seemingly insurmountable issues, and I have stories to play with.

I’ve had the privilege of being connected with several groups, from the California Writers Club to Story Circle Network, to Amherst Writers and Artists, to the International Women’s Writing Group (IWWG). In 1997 I wanted to learn from “real” writers, who I defined as published writers. I wanted to ask them questions and give them a reason to share their work, so I published their interviews in a new e-zine I invented before blogs existed. It still exists today, is called Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com, and it has expanded a great deal over the years.

In addition to keeping Writer Advice going and offering a Manuscript Consultation Service there, I’ve published three books, won some awards, have a fourth book coming out in 2023, and am drafting a fifth one.

My writing process keeps evolving. Most of my stories are character-based. Characters face obstacles, and as soon as they’re resolved, new ones appear. They change as their stories evolve. They also change as I edit over and over, striving for perfection, even though I’ll never achieve it.

My writing process for Writer Advice involves a lot of reading, reviewing, interviewing, researching, and sharing materials so readers have many resources in one place. Being an editor for others helps me find additional flaws to look for in my own work. I usually tell authors what I love and what trips me up. I often suggest edits to make sentences flow better. Because I was raised by an English teacher and taught English and drama in high school and college, correcting grammar and word choice are second nature to me. Of course, the final decision on every suggestion rests with the author.

Disrupted, the YA that will be out in 2023 has subplots. We deal with the impact of an earthquake, a best friend leaving town, a new boy who’s alternately evasive and flirty, a missing father, and the narrator’s need to find a new place to perform the show she’s stage managing. The plots and relationships intensify as opening night gets closer. For this book, the demands of the rehearsal schedule and life weave the elements together.

The future will be whatever it is supposed to be. I plan to keep writing, reading, reviewing, editing, and looking for the right publishers. The future may also include some Op-Eds, and I hope there’ll be more and more Flash Fiction and Flash Memoir in it.

I just completed an interview with a flash writer named Francine Witte, who said it takes a writer a long time to find her voice. I agree. Journalists do it quicker than fiction writers. So do certain non-fiction writers who spend as much time researching as they do writing. Of course, their voice is heavily influenced by the facts and their point of view. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I think it would be easier. So maybe my future will involve more writing where the story comes from life as I see it. My crystal ball is being repaired, so I just can’t be sure.

Having said that, here’s my advice to new writers:

  1. Find your voice or voices.
  2. Write daily—at least five days a week.
  3. Edit freely.
  4. If you break grammar rules, have a reason for it.
  5. Write what you want to write.
  6. Share what you write with supportive fellow authors.
  7. Be aware that there is a difference between advice and judging.
  8. Keep looking at the world and the people in it with fresh ideas.
  9. Fill your life with light and love.
  10. When you need new topics, go to Writer Advice’s Writing Advice page and scroll down to find new prompts. Pick one and see where it takes you. Always remember that no one can tell your story but you.

Thank you, George, for the opportunity to share my experience and ideas with your readers. I appreciate it.

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Marisa

    Hi Lynn!

    I can completely relate to this:

    “… when life’s detritus makes me think crazy thoughts, I use journaling to figure out what’s bothering me.”

    I’ve always found writing to be a great way to escape the trials and tribulations of life or as a way to examine them in a safe setting, without the pressure of others around. I also get a huge kick out of writing, even when it’s hard, and it’s fun to do something one loves.

    I love your list, too. It has some great advice on it. Looking forward to checking out your website! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    This is full of some great advice for writers, Lynn. Thanks for sharing your tips and best of luck on your new book. Thanks, too, for all you do for other writers.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Lewis

    This is an inspiring piece from B. LG. I especially liked her thought about combining bits of life with fiction. My books are full of such bits. It’s so much fun. Kudos for all she does for writers. Lots of good advice. Nice interview, George.

    Reply

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