Keli Gwyn
Copyediting with Keli: Three Common Comma Conundrums Resolved

Welcome to the first edition of Copyediting with Keli.

In this session, I resolve three common comma conundrums.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh8nHx-USAY&feature=channel_video_title]

Here’s a quick recap of what I covered in the video:

1. Comma in a Series (CMOS 6.18)

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) advocates the use of the comma in a series, known as the Oxford comma.

Insert a comma between all elements in the series as well as the one preceded by a conjunction, which is often and.

Example: I went to the grocery store because I needed chocolate, ice cream, and cookies.

2) Comma with coordinate adjectives (CMOS 6.33)

When a noun is preceded by two or more adjectives that could—without affecting the meaning—be joined by and, the adjectives are normally separated by a comma.

Example: The tall, dark, and handsome hero rescued the heroine.

3) Independent clauses joined by a conjunction (CMOS 6.28)

A clause is a complete sentence; a phrase is part of a sentence. C = Complete, P = Part)

When two clauses—or complete sentences—are joined using a conjunction (and, but, or, so, yet) a comma is normally used before the conjunction, creating a compound sentence.

Example: Maria was falling in love with Captain von Trapp, but he was engaged to someone else.

The exception is when the clauses are very short and closely connected. In this case the comma can be omitted.

Example: Captain von Trapp gazed into Maria’s eyes and her heart raced.

Now you know how to deal with commas in a series, commas used with coordinating adjectives, and commas as they relate to independent clauses joined by a conjunction.

• • •

Thanks for watching my first video blog, or vlog. I hope you found the information helpful.

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Keli Gwyn
Visiting Graveyards to Add Life to Historical Fiction

People often shy away from graveyards, but I’m different. I’ve spent many an afternoon meandering through pioneer cemeteries in California’s Gold Country where I live.

Since I write historical romance novels set in the area, I find cemeteries to be a source of information as well as inspiration. Where else can you find so many poetic testimonies to love all in one place?

The moving inscription on the headstone above, written for 19-year-old Elizabeth by either her grieving husband or one of the many headstone verse writers of the time, reads:

There’s a void, a painfull void
That nothing here can fill
T’was God’s decree let me forbear
To murmur at his will.

As I amble through the oak-studded grounds of a pioneer cemetery, I’m transported to the past. The brave folk of yesteryear come to life in my fertile imagination. Through the words their loved ones had etched on their headstones, I learn about the hearts and souls of those who helped settle the Golden State. Story ideas run through my mind like the gentle breezes rustling the leaves overhead.

One of the things that strikes me when I stroll through the cemeteries is the fact that the pioneers didn’t just note how many years a person had lived on the headstones. Often they included the months and days as well, proving they valued each day greatly.

Being a member of the Weepy Women’s Club, I tear up when I read some of the poignant inscriptions. The hardest to bear are the ones written or commissioned by parents who lost a child at a young age. Without the benefit of the vaccines and medications we have today, disease often swept through towns, claiming the lives of many. It’s heartrending to come across headstones such as the one below, which marks the gravesite of two children from one family.

A headstone conveys several aspects of a person’s life. I’ve seen many that mention the deceased’s country of origin, such as the one for C. D. Augusta above. They pioneers survived long, arduous journeys to reach the West, but their ties to the countries or states from which they’d come were strong.

A person’s faith was often evidenced, both in the verses as well as the symbols. On Augusta’s headstone, a finger points heavenward as well as to the words, “Gone to rest.” The parents who lost their two sons had two lambs carved into the stone. Affiliations to the Masons or other fraternal organizations were noted at times, too.

Social status was also conveyed. Those with money could afford marble slabs or even obelisks, such as the one pictured above. Others opted for less expensive concrete. Saddest of all are the simple wood planks that have all but rotted away over the past century and a half. I imagine those to be graves of miners who died with little to nothing after having come to California in search of the fortunes that never materialized.

I took the photographs in this post during a trek through the cemetery in the Gold Rush-era town of El Dorado, California, in which my debut novel is set. I used facts gleaned that day in the story, which add to the emotional depth and authenticity.

Death was an inescapable part of life during the 1800s. Our ancestors dealt with it differently than we do. We tend to gloss over a loss and move on as quickly as possible. The Victorians didn’t. They mourned deeply and openly, having what we today would almost classify as obsessive and unhealthy methods for grieving. At times I think their ways of handling loss, although perhaps overdone by our thinking, might have helped them deal with the darker side of life, which they saw on a regular basis.

One thing is certain. Our ancestors loved deeply and left a tremendous legacy.

• • •

Have you ever gone “on location” to do research for a story?

Do you avoid cemeteries, or do you find them a fascinating tie to the past?

Do you have tales from your ancestors that you’d love to put into a story one day?

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Keli Gwyn
Three Tips for Writing When the Words Won’t Come

One of the first things I learned about life post-contract is that waiting is part of the publishing world no matter where we are in the process. Selling a book doesn’t magically change things. We still wait.

And we wonder. Since each step in the process is new, we deal with the unknown on a regular basis. Even though I have friends who’ve gone through the process before, each publisher does things differently. No two situations are alike.

I wish I could say I took the waiting in stride and forged ahead, but I didn’t. I battled a severe case of Second Book Syndrome.

I don’t like to admit it, but the truth is that I duke it out with doubt on a daily basis. Having a contract hasn’t changed that. If anything, the pressure I feel and the doubts I experience have intensified.

For more months than I like to admit, getting any words written was a struggle. The voices in my head shouted messages like, “So what if you sold one book. Do you really think you can write another one?” or “You’re nothing but a One Book Wonder.”

Three things helped me get through the tough time when I tweezed out words.

1. I wrote even when doubts plagued me.

Many days I sat at the computer, plunked words on the page, and felt sure they were lousy. I didn’t allow myself to edit them, though. Instead, I forced myself to finish the story. I told myself I could fix what was wrong once the story was done. Since I had to rewrite three-quarters of the book that sold, I learned that I can make a story better. I just have to get the first draft written.

2. I reported my daily word counts to my accountability partners.

My critique partners offered to serve as my accountability partners. Each evening I’d report my word count. Knowing that I’d be checking in with them gave me the push I needed to write even when the doubts messed with my head.

3. I asked the Lord to go before me and help me tell the story He’d given me.

Since I’m a Christian, I find prayer to be a tremendous source of encouragement. The Lord has been my writing partner from the day I wrote the first word of my first story, and I know He’s there for me. Admitting to Him how scared I was and seeking His comfort and guidance helped.

I’m happy to say I survived Second Book Syndrome and completed my new story. What makes me more excited is that I think it may even be better than my debut novel. In spite of my doubts, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did my best.

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If you’ve yet to sell a book, how do you envision life on the other side of the contract?

If you’ve sold a book, did you battle Second Book Syndrome?

How do you persevere in the face of debilitating doubts?

Image from istockphoto
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Keli Gwyn
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