The Definitive Infinitive

I thought I was on to something when I read works from seasoned authors which included split infinitives and thought, “Ah ha! I know something you don’t, split infinitives are wrong.” Turns out I was the wrong one.

An infinitive is a two-part verb form such as ‘to walk’ or ‘to see’ or ‘to work’.  A split infinitive is when another word, usually an adverb, appears between the two words. The most well-known example is the line from Star Trek, “To boldly go.”  It could just as easily have been written “To go boldly” and the split infinitive would be avoided. For years, I thought using split infinitives was incorrect English. I was certain there was a rule against them. However, I have discovered recently this rule apparently has never been very firm.

Whenever I’m uncertain about something having to do with writing, I go to my Chicago Manual of Style. The footnote below the fourteenth edition paragraph 2.98 says the thirteenth edition regarded split infinitives under “errors and infelicities” but also called their use a “debatable error.” However, the fourteenth edition now refers to their use as a “legitimate form of expression.” It appears the split infinitive is becoming more ‘proper’ as time goes by.

So there. With regard to split infinitives, it seems I was wr–  wro–  ahm, wrong. If you are going to keep up with proper writing practices, you have to be willing to eat a little humble pie every now and then.

If Only They Knew They Were Not Alone

One of the pleasures of writing is you can affect the lives of others for the better. When I began my current novel WIP, I thought I’d make it about the grittier side of growing up. My character grew up in an alcoholic home, is a survivor of sexual abuse, and suffers from bullying and suicidal thoughts. What I did not appreciate when I started this is how many of our young people experience these things.

There are scores of studies on what percentage of high school students are victims of sexual and physical abuse, substance abuse, bullying, and depression and suicidal thoughts. While statistics have their value to researchers, I think we need to remember people are not statistics. Whether the number of victims is one out of seven, one out of six, or one out of four, the point is a very large percentage of our young people deal with these issues every day.

What surprised me the most is when I started showing the manuscript to other people, so many of them said they had similar experiences to my character or knew someone who had. Much of this activity is hidden.  And I think the number is much higher than we are popularly aware of.  It’s my hope that by writing about these things, I can help bring these experiences to light so those who are struggling with these issues will realize they are not alone.

Should We Bar The Stars And Bars *

The Confederate flag is a symbol of a society of hate, that regarded African Americans as inferior and not worthy of the rights white Americans enjoy. After the defeat of the Confederacy, it remains as a symbol for those who cling to that mentality and is flown today by the KKK and other haters. Its mere display perpetuates a stain America has fought hard to remove from its society.

After the Civil War, the Southen infrastructure was destroyed, Southern property was snatched up by carpet baggers, and many Southerners were on the brink of starvation. From this despair, the South did indeed rise again, stronger, better, and has shaken off the collar of slavery and segregation. It’s an achievement Southerners can be proud of, and displaying a form of the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of this pride.

Both images of what we now call the Confederate flag can’t be right, can they?  I say they can.

The crux of the issue is the flag represents different things to different people. To a civil rights leader, it certainly represents centuries of oppression. But to someone others would brand a redneck, it represents a tradition of self-reliance and simple but honest living. To a Civil War buff like me, it’s a historical symbol. Rather than to force one consensus on everyone, I believe it’s entirely possible to come up with a policy regarding its display that, while not necessarily pleasing every American, the greatest number of Americans can live with.

I would agree with those who say it should not fly above state houses or public buildings. It’s not that I believe the flag is necessarily evil in all contexts, but I acknowledge it is an offensive symbol to a large percentage of our population and it would be wrong to subject them to it only for the sake of those who have the opposite interpretation.  I also believe it is ridiculous to try to remove it from Confederate cemeteries, entertainment acts popular with a lot of people who believe in Southern pride, and it is most ridiculous to remove it from the General Lee. (Those who grew up in the 80s will know what I mean by that.)

To me, it’s a waste of time to obsess over the interpretation of a symbol which has multiple meanings when we could be focusing on more substantive issues such as equal rights and educational opportunities, things that have a measurable impact. If we concentrate on a posture that acknowledges the legitimacy of both viewpoints of the Confederate flag, we can spend our remaining energy focusing on matters of greater substance.

*By the way, what we popularly call the Confederate Flag is based on a Confederate battle flag called the Southern Cross. I used the term Stars and Bars so I could play on the word “bar”.

As If You Want to Use Like

So many people use like and as if interchangeably, you’d think they mean the same thing. I even see good writers doing it. He ran like a ghost was chasing him, for instance.  The problem is, this is not correct English.

Like is a preposition. It shows the relationship between two nouns. As is a conjunction. It joins two phrases together. Saying “He ran like a ghost was chasing him” is incorrect because “He ran” and “a ghost was chasing him” are phrases. However, “He ran as if a ghost was chasing him” is correct because we are linking two phrases, “He ran” with “A ghost was chasing him.”  If you want to use like, it would be more correct to say something similar to “He ran like a man chased by a ghost.”  The preposition like is used to compare “He” with “A man chased by a ghost.” .There’s a good quick and dirty tip on how to know which is correct. If no verb follows, like is the correct choice. Otherwise, consider using as if.

There is one slight qualification to this. People are using “Like” in place of “As if” so often, it is tending to become standard use. The rule makers appear to be giving up.  In my opinion, it’s best to not allow bad writing to take the place of good writing, but you’re the writer and you can write anyway you like. If you use the correct choice, however, you will have a better chance of impressing writing professionals.

Good enough is good enough

A fellow writer I met on the internet and I submitted our novels to a writing contest. Her manuscript was advanced to the next level while all I got was a form rejection notice. It led me to ask myself, “What did I do wrong?”

Like every other writer, I get lots of rejections from agents and editors. Many of those rejections leave me asking myself, “What did I do wrong?” From a rational standpoint, I know it’s a very dysfunctional way to think, but I still catch myself doing it sometimes. Such thinking has led me to overwrite my piece, actually making it worse than before. I’m trying to write something so well, no one will be able to reject it. That only leads to neurosis.

Interestingly, an agent she previously submitted the same work to sent her a rejection letter detailing the reasons her manuscript was not ready for publication, and even told her she needed to develop her writing skills further. In a similar experience, I submitted a short story to one publisher and they responded with a detailed explanation of how my main character did not work.  The next market I submitted it to accepted the piece. My story even got a call out from a reviewer.

The lesson: It’s impossible to write a piece so perfect it will please everyone. Writing is subjective. There are a couple novel series circulating that are as well known for being written poorly as they are for making millions. Go figure. There’s only one reasonable thing to do. Make sure your writing is good rather than perfect, then send it out. If you wait for a perfect manuscript, you will never get done.

The Kindertransport: Humanity in the Darkest of Times

I’ve been reading a book I picked up in a used book store about a month ago called The Children of Willesden Lane. It’s a novelized account of a fourteen-year-old Jew named Lisa Jura, who escapes Nazi-controlled territory through what was known as the Kindertransport.

In the years leading up to World War Two, citizens from the British Empire and other parts of the world took in Jewish children from Nazi occupied parts of Europe and paid for their passage.  This route to freedom was named the Kindertransport (Kinder is German for children.) A total of fifteen thousand children were rescued. Although it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the Jewry that was destroyed, just for interest I invite you to read the Wikipedia article on the Kindertransport. Near the end is a list of prominent people who were saved and their contributions to the world. It’s quite long and makes you wonder what was lost in all the humanity that was not saved.

The Children of Willesden Lane is not the best-written of books, but I love it for the story. It gives the reader a ground-level perspective of what it was like for these children to be separated from their families and sent to a foreign land. In many cases, the children on the Kindertransport were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust. The story is also an account of the British resolve and resistance during the Battle of Britain. It’s uplifting to know that even in one of the darkest chapters in Human history, people found the civility to open their homes to these children, and contribute money to pay for their transportation. Even in the worst of times, there are still people who still manage to react with humanity.

The Minds of Your Children…

I’ve been researching for yet another of my Historical novel ideas and came up with this chilling information on the Hitler Youth.

The Hitler Youth was actually four organizations: one for boys ages ten to fourteen, one for boys ages fourteen to eighteen, one for girls ages ten to fourteen and one for girls ages fourteen to eighteen. The purpose was to indoctrinate young people to Nazi dogma and make them into “Proper Germans.”

What you may not be aware of is membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory for all qualified young people. Parents of children who were not members could be prosecuted. Also, all other youth organizations were banned.  This gave the Nazis a virtual monopoly on the thought that went into their young people’s minds and they emerged into adulthood fully prepared to be “good Nazis.”

To the young people, the Hitler Youth was thought of as a social organization. Many youth considered the lectures boring and something they had to sit through until they could get to a more fun activity. The government had exactly the opposite view. Fun activities were to get the youths’ attention so they could begin the indoctrination.

To me, the lesson is clear. What goes into the minds of children will determine what kind of adults they become. Someone will determine what your children will think, and they do not all have the best interest of your children at heart. Make sure the person putting ideas into your children’s heads is you.