The Electronic Write Stuff

Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System

North Florida Writers * Aug. 2007 * Editors: Howard Denson and Janet Vincent
In this issue: The Wrong Stuff in Working with Words -- Howard Denson August Meeting of NFW for Critiques Calendar of Events - Janet Vincent Quote from a Writer's Quill - Blaise Pascal Writers Born This Month: Herman Melville, James Baldwin, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Edna Ferber, William Saroyan, and many others ---------------------- THE WRONG STUFF IN WORKING WITH WORDS By HOWARD DENSON Our last issue primed the pump and got me to thinking about proofreading and editing, mainly because of my failure in those areas. If you write, you learn early on that you cannot effectively proofread your own copy. In the "hot metal days," a reporter on a daily newspaper pounded out his copy, which went through one or two editors before reaching the copy desk. Here those who really knew English and grammar went through the copy, giving it a final edit. The copy was generally sent through a pneumatic tube to the composing room, where a linotypist set the type and a Ludlow operator set the headline and perhaps any subheads. But that wasn't all. There was a chance that the two type-setters had made a mistake, so better newspapers then had a printer who would read aloud the actual story to a second proofer scanning the galley proofs. Supposedly, this system tracked down any misspelling of names or other problems. The crotchety Tobe Misseldein, perhaps the best page layout man at The Birmingham News, often commented on how newspapers were going to hell in a sidecar. "Let me tell you," he said with Old Testament authority. "It used to be that, if any mistake made its way into an edition, they'd track down the copy to find out who made the error and who let it go through." This was being said on the eve of the time that desktop-style programs helped to deep-six the linotype and Ludlow machine. When the reporters switched from their Royal and Remington typewriters to VDTs or PCs, management often eliminated other positions. Readers began to see errors that might not have appeared before. One stop-gap technology featured wire copy from the Associated Press or another service coming through with hard copy, but also with perforated holes on inch-wide rolls of pink paper. Strips of these rolls could be inserted into a linotype machine and, in theory, be like computer punch-cards and reduce the need of a person to type the text. It would produce a galley of type (about as long as your forearm), which printers would put into the pages and eventually send off to the press room. Except. . . About five minutes after the page had gone in, there would arrive a galley of corrections, often half or a third of the size of the original galley of type. I found it soul-deadening to visualize some poor reader trying to make sense of our earliest editions. However, if we go back before the perforated paper, we still see that the good old days shouldn't be placed on a pedestal because errors did occur back then. A printer might be working with a galley of type and reach for a handful and accidentally drop it. He would "pie" the type, and sometimes the lines of type weren't put back together properly. As happens today, a story back then might end in the middle of a sentence. Newspapers had stories, perhaps apocryphal, about horrors in the press. At the News during World War II, a headline was supposed to read "Ship Sinks." However, one letter was off, and the publishers sent newsboys out with dollar bills to snatch the early editions away from any citizens who had purchased the issue with the excremental faux pas. Sometimes reporters at various newspapers wrote satirical pieces that were only intended for the bulletin board or for passing around the news room. One newspaper legend claims that one story had been absent-mindedly placed on a copy spike but, thanks to the inattention of some editor, made its way into print, telling the state, "The first lady then arrived at the gubernatorial gala, stacked like a brick outhouse." Actually, I cleaned up the wording. Refer to the erroneous "Ship Sinks" headline to figure out what was said.

Our Pensacola Junior College student newspaper, The Corsair, came near to the WWII headline with a story whose head announced, "Alcohol Poses / Grave Enigma." Unfortunately, no one noticed that the headline setter had left out the "g" of "Enigma." Okay, it's not spelled right, but we still looked silly.

Someone once defined journalism as "literature in a hurry," and, when you have to meet a deadline in 30 minutes and produce a two-page story about the annual convention of the Statewide Poultry and Hubcap Association, you aim for accuracy and correct grammar.

For other stories you may have a chance to revise and polish. For my own stories, I always tried to track them to see that they stayed error free. I'd read the galley proofs to see what the copy editors had changed, and why. Often I nodded approvingly at their improvements. I'd also check to make sure the linotypist hadn't made any errors.

Many of the reporters and columnists that I respected did the same thing. The late Richard Pitner, a wicked punster, would spend his free time on the copy desk continually revising and polishing his "Pitner Patter" column for the Saturday entertainment section.

A couple of reporters seemed indifferent to what appeared in the paper and didn't bother to check their spelling or grammar. They might say, "That's the job of the copy desk." I kept a straight face, but my respect for them plummeted.

In the last Write Stuff issue, while fighting the clock and an electrical storm, we had a story about a book manuscript contest. Sue Riddle Cronkite of the Florida Panhandle pointed out that the article said entrants were to submit "50 pages." Did that mean any 50 pages? (If so, someone might submit such gibberish as, say, page 3, 7, 9-12, 27, and so on.) A sharper editor would have changed the copy to read "up to the first 50 pages."

Novelist-playwright Ruth C. Chambers of the Beaches had a laugh with a typo in the story "Queen Victoria's Scrapbook." A day of thunderstorms and the vagaries of computer publishing had inserted some unintended line breaks. While I hit "delete" to take out the line ending code, nothing happened. I repeated the action, hitting "delete" twice. Finally, like a stubborn Dachshund, the screen responded; the line ending disappeared, but I didn't spot that it had produced the word "crapbook" as one too many deletions occurred.

Leo Coughlin, now a retiree and a columnist for The Clearwater Gazette, pointed out that I had referred to "segway" instead of "segue." The clock made me settle on that word, even though I dislike it for being media jargon. "Progression" or "transition" would have been better.

I wound up working for Leo, when he was the assistant sports editor of the Pensacola News-Journal. (He later went on to a distinguished career, including working for The Baltimore Sun.) Leo and the Corsair advisor, Dr. George H. Goodwin, taught me how to edit -- which really is to teach one how to write.

I sat next to Dr. Goodwin as we went through everyone's copy for the next issue of The Corsair and noted what he was changing: errors in spelling and grammar, of course, but also parts that were wordy, vague, and awkward. It was agony at first to sit while my own copy was butchered until I learned that it was being improved.

Leo at the News would do the same thing, and my copy ended up being closely edited. When I covered a high school graduation for the news desk, I turned in what they wanted, a one-page story, then watched as they skimmed through the story, put in paragraph marks, and popped a head on the story. My copy appeared in the paper essentially unchanged, and I fumed to myself, "Hmmph! They didn't even read it."

A moment later, a voice inside would say, even today, "Leo would have found something."


The August 11 meeting of the North Florida Writers will focus on critiques. The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. at the Webb Wesconnett Library (corner of 103rd Street and Harlow Boulevard).

Diane Barton, a mystery writer, is scheduled to speak to the group on Sept. 8.


Every Tueday: Bard Society, Frank Green 398-5352; 1st Saturday: Sisters In Crime, 10:30 am, SE Library NOTE 2nd Saturday, Aug. 11: North Florida Writers, 2 p.m., Wesconnett Library;
2nd Saturday: 1st Coast Romance Writers

3rd Saturday: POW Mandarin Group

3rd Saturday, 21 POWer Lunch, 11 a.m., Gypsy Cab Co, St Augustine, 828 Anastasia Blvd, 3 speakers

3rd Saturday: Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators, 1 p.m., SE Library

4th Tuesday, POW Poetry Crits, 6:30 p.m., Borders Books, Southside Blvd; 4th Thursday, FWA Central Jax, 4 p.m., SE Library, crits; Other Conferences, Meetings, and Contests of Interest to Writers: 2nd Saturday, Aug. 11 1st Coast Romance Writers, 11 a.m.; Jax West Reg Library, Vic DiGenti speaker <>

3rd Friday, Aug. 17: POW Open Mic, Borders Books, Southside Blvd, 7:00pm, Oct. 4 - 7: Amelia Island Book Festival; speakers Claire Cook, Tim Dorsey; Nov. 9 - 11: POW Awards Weekend, Ramada Inn; info at Nov. 9 - 11: FWA Annual Conference, Walt Disney World Coronado Springs Resort; agents, editors, publishers, Richard Evans and William Nolan speakers; early registration 7/31; schedule and details at: <> Florida First Coast Writers' Festival's contests accepting entries for the Josiah W. Bancroft Sr. Novel Contest, the Page Edwards Short Fiction Contest, the Douglas Freels and the Robert Grimes "Good Earth" Poetry Contests and the Writers' Festival Playwriting Contest; <> for details. Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and St. Martin's Minotaur first annual St. Martin's Minotaur/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition for a previously unpublished writer an opportunity to launch his or her career with a major mystery imprint, St. Martin's Minotaur. The winner will receive a one-book, $10,000 contract; <> for guidelines. The Intergeneration Foundation announced its 2nd Storytelling Contest which seeks to reinforce and recognize the power of storytelling as a way to connect generations. Whether fiction or non-fiction, the story should illustrate intergeneration needs, connections and understanding, and feature characters from at least two generations. Top prize is $500 and is open to all writers; no entry fee. There's a limit of 600 words; <> for details. Janet Vincent has been a member of NFW since June 2005. She was recently appointed as co-editor of NFW newsletter, The Write Stuff, and writes authors interviews for e-zine, Eloquent Stories. An avid camper, she travels the USA searching for travel, inspiration, and human interest articles. Quote from a Writer's Quill When we read too fast or too slowly, we understand nothing. -- Blaise Pascal WRITERS BORN IN AUGUST 1--Herman Melville (1819) and Jim Carroll (1951); 2--Irving Babbitt (1865), James Baldwin (1924), and Isabel Allende (1942); 3--Rupert Brooke (1887), P. D. James (1920), Leon Uris (1924), and Diane Wakoski (1937); 4--Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), Knut Hamsun (1859), and Robert Hayden (1913); 5--Michael Banim (1796) and Conrad Aiken (1889); 6--Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809), Paul Claudel (1868), and Diane di Prima (1934); 7--Garrison Keillor (1942); 8--Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896) and Nina Berberova (1901); 9--Philip Larkin (1922); 11--Judah P. Benjamin (1811), Hugh MacDiarmid (C. M. Grieve) (1892), Louise Bogan (1897), Alex Haley (1921), and André Dubus (1936); 12--Katherine Lee Bates (1859), Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (1866), Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876), and Radclyffe Hall (1880); 14--Sir Walter Besant (1836), Danielle Steele (1947), and Gary Larson (1950); 15--Sir Walter Scott (1771), E. Nesbit (1858), Sri Aurobindo (1872), and Edna Ferber (1887); 16--William Maxwell (1908) and Charles Bukowski (1920); 17--Fredrika Bremer (1801), Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840), Evan Connell (1924), John Hawkes (1925), V. S. Naipaul (1932); 18--Robert Williams Buchanan (1841), Ahad Haam (1856), and Alaine Robbe-Grillet (1922); 19--Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780), Maurice BarrPs (1862), Ogden Nash (1902), and James Gould Cozzens (1903); 20--Shaul Chernikhovski (1875), H. P. Lovecraft (1890) and Jacqueline Susanne (1921); 21--Robert Stone (1937); 22--John Hill Burton (1809), Dorothy Parker (1893), Ray Bradbury (1920), E. Annie Proulx (1935); 23--Edgar Lee Masters (1868) and J. V. Cunningham (1911); 24--Sir Max Beerbohm (1872), Jean Rhys (1890), Malcolm Cowley (1898), Jorge Luis Borges (1899), and A.S. Byatt (1936); 25--Baron Bunsen (1791), Henrik Hertz (1797/98), Brett Harte (1836), Frederick Forsyth (1938), and Martin Amis (1949); 26--Guillaume Apollinaire (1880), Christopher Isherwood (1904), Julio Cortázar (1914); 27--Theodore Dreiser (1871), Norah Lofts (1904), Desmond O'Grady (1935), Lary Crews (1946), and Jeanette Winterson (1959); 28--John Betjeman (1906), Roger Tory Peterson (1908), Robertson Davies (1913), Janet Frame (1924), and Rita Dove (1952); 29--Giambattista Casti (1724), Edward Carpenter (1844), and Thom Gunn (1929); 30--Mary Shelley (1797); 31--DuBose Heyward (1885), William Shawn (1907), and William Saroyan (1908). HOW DOES CRITIQUING WORK? When you attend a meeting of the North Florida Writers, you eventually discover that NO ONE has ever died while his or her manuscript was being read and critiqued. You may be ready to face the ordeal yourself. . .or, reading this, you may wonder what exactly takes place during a critiquing. First, you pitch your manuscript into a stack with others' works-in-progress. Then one of the NFW members hands out each piece to volunteer readers, taking care NOT to give you back your own manuscript to read. Second, as the reading begins, each author is instructed NOT to identify himself or herself and especially NOT to explain or defend the work. The writer may never have heard the piece read aloud by another's voice, so the writer needs to focus on the sound of his or her sentences. Third, at the finish of each selection, the NFW members try to offer constructive advice about how to make the story better. If a section was confusing or boring, that information may be helpful to the author. The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double-spaced) of prose (usually a short story or a chapter). ------------------------- SUBSCRIBE If you think a friend would enjoy THE ELECTRONIC WRITE STUFF, e-mail us his or her e-mail address. You will notice that THE WRITE STUFF is not filled with links designed to solicit checks for the sun, moon, stars, and comets and everything else in the universe. If your friend doesn't want us, then he or she will be able to Unsubscribe. UNSUBSCRIBE If you are simplifying your internet life and can no longer handle us, then hit reply and type in UNSUBSCRIBE. If we inadvertently have you in the directory with two different e-mail addresses, let us know which one you want us to omit.