Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons from Dead Matter

I recently received the dead matter for On the Road to Mr.
Mineo's, so I figured I might as well continue my traditional "Lessons from Dead Matter" blog post.

[Note: "Dead matter" is the term used by the publisher for the stacks and stacks of the manuscript during various stages of production. It is, indeed, very dead.]

I wrote about my Lessons from Dead Matter for Greetings from Nowhere here.

And for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis here.

And The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester here.

It's a little depressing to see that after writing lots of books, I'm still making the same stupid mistakes. But, hey, that's what copyeditors are for, right? Or is it copy editors? I can never remember.

So, here are some of my lessons from dead matter:

1. Why can I never, ever remember that the following words are one word? (I think I need an editor for that sentence.)
  • backyard
  • flowerpot
  • shirttail
  • cornfield
  • toolbox
  • pigsty
  • streetlight

And the following are hyphenated:
  • flip-flop
  • hickory-nut
  • chicken-wire
  • run-down
 And that lawn mower is two words.

And it's screened porch, not screen porch.

For this book, it was suggested that we hyphenate gol-dern so as not to confuse it with the word "golden." (I know, I didn't get it either.)

It was also decided that this is the correct version of:
ding-dong doodlebrain

(And I am once again reminded of how good I am at insulting people.)

2. After much debate, diddly-squat won out over doodly-squat and hyphenation was required.

3. Sometimes you sit in a chair and sometimes you sit on a chair. 

For example:
"She plopped down in one of the lawn chairs" was changed to "on one of the lawn chairs."

But "How he longed to go back up there and sit in the lawn chair and play cards all day" was left as is. 

*scratches head and ponders this*

4. I'm forever disagreeing with decisions about commas - not because of correct punctuation, but because of the sound of the writing.

For example, there was a lot of discussion about the following sentence because of the doors of the van being left open (but that's a whole other thing....):

Luther took his fishing rod out of the back of the van, and he and Edsel went inside the restaurant to eat pork lo mein.

I don't like that comma there because I didn't want a pause in that spot. I wanted the sound of the words running on. But either I lost or I gave in, I don't remember which.

The same goes for the following, only it's the opposite situation:

But now, a little glimmer of sadness was starting to buzz around him like a pesky fly.

Copy editor took the comma out. I liked the pause it created, but I agreed to take it out. (See how agreeable I am?)

5. We had a great discussion about the phrase gold-ern criminy cripes.  Evidently, both criminy and cripes are euphemisms for Christ. (Who knew?) Would I get run out of town for using those words in a children's book? Well, the words are still there and I'm still in town, so there you go.

6. Some Southern expressions prove just too confusing for the average bear, so I give up and take them out. One of them is the expression pure-T, which means 100% or completely. Here's the original sentence from the manuscript:

I know she's pure-T red-hot mad at him.

The copy editor wrote in the margin, "purty?"

[Note: I think my Southern writer pal, Augusta Scattergood, says pure-D, instead of pure-T. The Dictionary of American Regional English actually has both. But it shows pure-T as being more prevalent in the Carolinas, which is where I'm from.]

7. Dear Copy Editor: Please leave the word hisself alone.

8. A giant hickory-nut tree casts shadows that move in the warm breeze, like fingers wiggling over the dandelions in the lawn.

Was changed to dandelions on the lawn.

I still don't like it.

9. Stamp her foot was always changed to stomp her foot.

10. And last, but this one is very, very important, there are no periods after:


So there you have it: Lessons from Dead Matter


Augusta Scattergood said...

Well, you know I just love the pure-D heck out of this post.

❀ Stacy DeKeyser said...

Never heard of pure-T and I would have been confused reading it, so I'm glad you were kind to the copyeditor/copy editor on that one.

If criminy and cripes are both substitutes for Christ, what about gol-dern??? Hmm? You subversive, you!

PS I'm always surprised that backseat is one word.

mckeer19 said...

Hi, Ms. O'Connor,

Do you write with pen and ink or on a computer? If on a computer, you might want to consider creating entries with those bits you consistently struggle with in the custom dictionary of your word-processing software (Word or whatever else you use). If you need help with the how-to's, I'd be happy to lend a hand. I've been an editor for almost 30 years (ack!) and I'm not looking for more work. Just trying to help - you and your editor(s). :-)

And if you'd like to moderate this comment so that it never shows up on your blog, I won't be offended.


Barbara O'Connor said...

rm...thanks for the suggestion. :-) But luckily, my publisher has great copy editors. Appreciate your offer, though

Lee Stokes Hilton said...

Not sure about Pure-D or Pure-T, but anyone who has had a yard -- esp in the South -- knows the dandelions are definitely IN the lawn, not on it. 'Cause you can't get 'em out, no matter how hard you try.

Portia Pennington said...

Lord help all folks from the South who try to get the way we really talk into their manuscripts....keep on keepin' on...cause you pure D (as I would say it!) get it gol-dern right!

Anonymous said...

I think I'd fight for the screen porch rather than screened porch. HGTV uses the screened porch identification, but way down South, screen porch was/is can pure D trust me on that one.

Eileen in Atlanta

Anonymous said...

My relatives, who are pure-T South Carolinians, have been known to stamp their feet when someone raises a question about one of their southern expressions!