I had a wake up call last week that I would like to share. And I need to thank Martha Rogers and Lori Vanden Bosch for providing it.
Because I majored in English in university and have written novels, plays, articles, and songs for over thirty years, I thought I had a fairly good feel for sentence structure. What a surprise I received when Martha kindly looked over my most recent manuscript and pointed out a grammatical error I consistently made throughout the book. Lori, my editor, confirmed the error, and I had to do some fast editing to correct it.
The error involved participial phrases (or “ing” sentences as Martha describes them). For example, Tiptoeing down the hallway, she went into the bedroom. In my mind this sentence showed a transition from one place to another. First she tiptoed down the hallway and then she went into the bedroom.
Martha accurately pointed out that the sentence is chronologically impossible. You can’t tiptoe down the hallway and, at the same time, go into the bedroom. A simple fix would be to rewrite the sentence: She tiptoed down the hallway and went into the bedroom.
Lori sent me an article entitled “Participial Phrase Abuse.” I swallowed hard when I realized just how I was abusing participial phrases. The article stated:
“Participial phrases lend themselves to a host of grammatical ills, including dangling participles and chronological impossibilities. The most common problem associated with participial phrases is the dangling participle. Swimming in the ocean, the cool water refreshed him. The sentence, as written, tells us that the water is swimming in the ocean. Let’s fix it. Swimming the ocean, he felt refreshed.
“Chronological impossibilities are also common. Consider the following sentence: Walking down the hallway, he stopped to tie his shoe. Someone cannot walk down the hallway and stop to tie his shoe simultaneously, so this sentence needs revision. A possible fix: Walking down the hallway, he noticed his shoe was untied and stopped to tie it.
“When you come across one of these phrases, ask yourself two key questions: (1) Does the action expressed in the participle link up with the main clause correctly? And (2) Can these two things happen simultaneously?”
Well, that’s the grammar lesson for today. A giant thanks to Martha and Lori. I am a schoolteacher by profession, but in this area I am clearly the student—a student who had to hit the books and brush up on basic sentence structure. What did I learn? I need to be on the watch for those tricky participial phrases continually. I need to use them with care and use them sparingly. And, most of all, I need to review the basics regularly. Perhaps we all do.
Funny how seemingly small things can make such a big difference in the end.
I had spent several years writing a novel and had contacted dozens upon dozens of agents regarding representation. To no avail. Rejection slips piled up in quantities sufficient to wallpaper our living room. I decided to shelve the manuscript and chalk it up to the fact that it just wasn’t meant to be.
Shortly after this decision, my wife and I visited our son and his family, who live in in Salt Lake City, Utah. He mentioned that he had recorded a Glen Beck interview with Richard Paul Evans. My son knew I had read all of Mr. Evans’s books and would be interested in the interview.
During the interview, I was impressed by Mr. Evans’s account of the adversities he had faced in his own life and how he was working through them. No one is free from challenges, he explained. As the interview continued, a determination came over me not to give up. Not to shelve the manuscript and chalk it up to a “learning experience.” I decided right then and there to rework the manuscript once more and try again.
When I returned to our home in Alberta, Canada, I did just that. I spent six months rewriting the manuscript and trying to instill in my characters the courage and determination that inspired me that day as I watched the interview.
After completing the manuscript, I sent out another batch of letters of inquiry to agents. Within two hours, an agent contacted me to say she loved the story and wanted to sign me to a contract.
After a journey of years, The Anniversary Waltz was finally published in May of 2012 and is receiving encouraging reviews. My second novel is scheduled to come out in the spring of 2013, and I am negotiating another two-novel contract at this time.
And to think it almost didn’t come about.
Thank you, Richard Paul Evans. If not for your interview, my manuscripts would be sitting on the shelf, collecting dust—a shelf labeled “What Might Have Been.”
I held my first official book signing on Saturday, June 23, at Chapters in Lethbridge, Alberta. I was naturally a little nervous about it, but once things got going, it was a lot of fun. We had put an article in the local newspaper in advance, and quite a few friends and acquaintances came out specifically to see me. The sales went better than the store manager expected, which was encouraging. He invited me back to hold as many book signings as I want. I'll definitely do it again.
I had a banner printed and then wrapped it around a frame to simulate the novel. I'm going to put it on a float for our community parade in July and hold a book signing afterward.
I’m a schoolteacher by profession and a writer at heart. I’ve always loved to write, be it stories, poems, songs, plays, or novels.
I started writing stories before I was old enough to realize I was writing stories. It seemed a natural thing to pick up a pencil and paper and create a world simply by using words—worlds of adventure in steaming jungles (Tarzan was an early influence on me) or realms of adventure in outer space (Buck Rogers).
In high school, I discovered an interest in songwriting. I’ve written hundreds of songs and snatches of song since then (maybe I’ll put a few on my blog sometime) and have even had two songs professionally produced and played on local radio. That was a thrill. I think I made a grand total of $13 in royalties!
After university, I began teaching high school. I discovered an interest in writing one-act plays and musicals for the drama club. It was a thrill to direct my plays and have them presented to the public. We took several plays to provincial drama festivals and had a lot of fun.
I moved from teaching high school to teaching elementary school and discovered a love of writing juvenile novels. I’ve written four such novels, and I read them to my Grade Four students annually. It’s something personal I share with them, and I appreciate my students’ support and encouragement to write more.
The Anniversary Waltz is my first novel to be published. It’s intended for the adult readers’ market. I’m excited to think that after years of writing stories, plays, songs, and juvenile novels, a publisher is willing to produce one of my works. And who knows? Maybe I’ll do better than $13 in royalties!
I am a schoolteacher by profession and a writer at heart. I have always loved to write, be it stories, poems, songs, or novels.