Tuesday, June 21, 2022

What We're Writing: Hank Solves the Case of the Missing Bug


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: 

The House Guest is arriving in February! And she’s almost ready to read. I’m calling it Gaslight meets Thelma and Louise. What do you think about that?   (I hope you are saying "oooh!")

But what I’m writing… is copy edits. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process, No, truly it is. Copy editing.
 I had not looked at my book for a month, while the copy editor had it, so looking at it again, after four whole weeks, made me see it in a different way. I love that. 
Of course, there are going to be the obligatory battles about hyphens. Is it face up or faceup or face-up? They insisted on faceup, which I say is NOT a word, so I just cut it altogether. How about pre-nup? They insisted it was prenup, which I say is NOT a word,  no matter what any style manual tries to force me to do, and I stetted.  Thirty-something or thirtysomething? They insisted no hyphen, and I reluctantly relented.
And of course, happily, copy editing brings some hilarious realizations of the words we use, lazily and without thinking. I had used the word “something” 37 times. And it was quite the exercise in specificity as I took them out. Wonderful and book-changing in every way. And I am writing a blog about that which you will see someday.
The other thing you catch, if you’re lucky, are the problems with continuity. Not just that someone has a maroon tie in paragraph one and a navy tie in paragraph 10. Those things are inevitable, and fun to find. Like a treasure hunt. Even that I had spelled my main character's last name two different ways. Fix fix fix.  
But sometimes I find jaw-dropping mistakes. Shocking mistakes.

Here is a cautionary tale.
In the first version of the book, the main character is driving home, and begins to suspect, (and it all makes sense), that someone has put a bug in her car. And that someone is following her, and that the bug is transmitting to that person’s car. So she does some things, which you will have to read about, to find out if that’s true. And it seems to be true. 
Then she goes home, and new "friends" come to dinner, and many things are discussed. But. Not the bug in the car! She never mentions the bug in the car. Not to her mysterious dinner guests, not to her lawyer, not to anyone. Not even to herself.  
The next day, she and the two friends get into the same car and drive to her summer house. She never thinks about the bug. She never does anything about the bug. The bug is never mentioned again. Until the very last chapter, when somebody admits something about it.
But she’s been driving around with the stupid maybe-bug! Talking! Saying things! I sat and stared at my screen, wondering if I had completely lost my mind. How could I have dropped that thread?
And more important, how do I fix it? There was no time for her to have her car checked for a bug, and she has no idea what a bug looks like, and there’s no one to ask, and there’s no time to do anything, and what would she do if she knew, anyway?  I thought and thought and thought. And then the solution appeared! She just…takes her other car! Which could not have a bug in it. Brilliant brilliant brilliant, Hank, I thought, patting myself on the back, you are so smart.  

(If that solution seems obvious to you, good for you. It took me a good fifteen frantic minutes.)
But then, the dominoes started to fall. Earlier in the book, she talks about how her garage is half empty, now that her husband’s car is gone. Oops. Now there has to be room in the garage for the “other” car! Okay, now her garage is "emptier," without her husband's car. 
But, yikes, this "other" car is an SUV. So it doesn’t have a trunk. Okay! I will fix that.
And the “other” car does not have the same stuff in the glove compartment that the first car did. Okay! I will fix that, too.  But here's the thing. This all made me so happy. 

Because as long as it all gets fixed before the book goes to print, that's all part of the process. And I love the process.

So Reds and readers, let's vote on hyphens, okay? Pre-nup or prenup? (Did she have a pre-nup?) Faceup or face up or face-up? (It was face up on the drainboard.)  Thirty-something or thirtysomething? (She was the only thirtysomething in the room.) 

I'm sure there's some sort of rule about this.

And Reds and writers, have you ever found a gasp-worthy continuity problem in a manuscript?









106 comments:

  1. I am so looking forward to reading this book, Hank!

    I’m with you on the hyphens: pre-nup and thirty-something. But I’d leave “face up” on the drainboard as two words. I’m always a bit frustrated when words that used to be hyphenated suddenly become words without hyphens . . . .

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    1. Hank Phillippi RyanJune 21, 2022 at 12:50 AM

      Thank you, dear Joan! A hyphen-user after my own heart! I know there’s got to be some rule about it, but I have to admit, I’m not sure what it is. And thank you so much for the kind words about THE HOUSE GUEST! I am completely nervous. :-) Xxx

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    2. I completely agree. Give me back my hyphens!

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    3. I’m with Joan plus with my English sort of education so many years ago trying to write American is a lost cause. Plus who has permission to change these rules?

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    4. I keep on forgetting to add my name. Celia agrees with Joan.

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    5. I know you're supposed to go by some rules, whether it's the noun-or-adjective thing, or the certain manual of style. But I insist on the Hank-style Manual, which is, apparently, not all that popular. :-) The basic rule of that is--what looks right, and is clear. Imagine that!

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    6. Word mash is what it looks like, not proper language at all! Give me the well placed hyphen any day!

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    7. OOps The above is from me, Libby Dodd

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  2. I'll give you a pass on taking so long to figure out she should just use her other car. I've only ever owned one car at a time, so I NEVER would have come up with that solution.

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    1. Give me a pass? And yes, of course, happily it's fiction.

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  3. I love hearing the behind the scenes of book writing! English was not my favorite subject so I can’t help with the hyphens but whatever you chose will be the right way. Some people may have picked the other way and you would both be right. That is why English is such a fun language 😀

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  4. Hank, congratulations on the new book!

    I'm with you on hyphens... "email" is the very rare word where I removed the hyphen before the curve. Normally I hyphenate stubbornly long after others have moved on. Ditto many other rules of punctuation. It will be an Oxford comma they pry from my cold, dead hands.

    Copy editing a book sounds both fun (when you see your writing after it's beautifully washed and combed) and brutal (when you disagree and others change your prose anyway). I'm glad the former outweighed the latter, and that they caught your "oops."

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    1. Yes, well, I'm pretty clear on what I'll keep--and they won't change things unless I approve. ANd I so agree on the joy of finding the glitches--it's truly exhilarating. Even when they try to change all my conversational uses of "who" to "whom." I just change 'em right back. :-)

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  5. I absolutely loved this post. Best wishes for all to go smoothly with the House Guest

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  6. And I'm saying, but why does she have two cars? LOL. Did your copyeditor point out the thing about the bug, Hank, or did you see it as you went back through? That's a lot to fix, and as you point out, one fix entails another and then another.

    Earlier in my writing career, when I was in a critique group, one member often pointed out the same flaw. "This really big thing happened to protag in the last scene. Shouldn't she react to it in this scene, even a little? The reader doesn't know how she's thinking or feeling about it." And I would slap my head and say, "Of course she should." Because I knew exactly how she'd reacted. I just forgot to write it down. Now I have internalized that comment (which is good, because that group disbanded).

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    1. Edith, it's fascinating what someone outside our heads can spot instantly! I had the same question for Hank--did you discover the car problem or the copyeditor?

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    2. As for hyphens, the rule I learned is hyphenate when it's an adjective, don't when it's a noun. But face up is face up. No question. Drives me nuts when people write, "Login to the system." No! Log in. Imperative verb, preposition. No glue, no hyphen.

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    3. I'm with you, Edith, on the hyphens!

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    4. Nope, I found it. Not the copy editor, and not my regular editor or my agent, either. It takes a village, I guess. I had to decide whether to be annoyed or relived--and I chose relieved, because it's MY responsibility, right?

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    5. And LOL, Edith, they're very well off, and have a Boston car and a Cape car. See?

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    6. And how about "sign-up here"? Nope nope nope. It's a sign-up sheet (maybe) but you sign up.

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  7. I would have used face up, pre-nup, and thirty-something. But, then, I am also an Oxford comma fan. A second car is a brilliant solution. I am glad you thought of it as I would be reading the whole book with, “what about the bug?” screaming in my head.

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    1. Yes, prenup looks like PREN-up on prenoop to me, and now I can't unsee that. And you MIGHT have wondered that. I had, however, put in an explanation of who (might have) put the bug in the car, and that it had stopped working . But thing was--the character could not have known that it stoped working. AHHHHH.

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  8. To err is human, and boy do we all prove our humanity when writing, right?

    The biggest mistake I have ever seen in a book was when they placed the state of Maine on the Pacific Ocean. Yep, seriously. Worse yet, other than that rather large error the book was actually really enjoyable.

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    1. Jay, I gasped at that tiny geographical error.

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    2. Oh, yikes. That's--almost impossibly weird.

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  9. HANK: Does your copy editor use an official grammar reference guide to make these edits?

    Personally? I think thirty-something and face up should be two words, not one. Prenup should be one word since it's the informal noun for prenuptial. But don't trust my judgment. My knowledge about the proper use of hyphens and semi-colons is lacking since my junior high English teacher was not a stickler for teaching us English grammar. Much later, I was introduced to The Chicago Manual of Style at the University of Waterloo. This was the same guide we used at Environment Canada for writing technical reports and journal articles.

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    1. That makes sense, Grace. I wanted the hyphen for prenup, but when you consider the word it's short for, I can live without it. ;) I definitely feel face up should be two words and thirty-something should have a hyphen.

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    2. Yes, Chicago. And prenuptial doesn't have a hyphen, of course. But it's clear what that word is. Prenup :-) is confusing. To me, at least!

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  10. I'm with those who said face up, pre-nup, and thirty-something. What on earth is wrong with hyphens, especially if it makes more sense to the reader? My general rule: if it stops me from smoothly continuing to read, and takes me out of the story, it's wrong.

    Style manuals are for journalism, and I think fiction has different rules, or it should. And even journalism these days has shockingly high levels of poor grammar and egregious misspellings.

    Hank, I'm also looking forward to reading The House Guest!

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    1. Because of others' comments that "prenup" is short for "prenuptial", I'm amending my choice to no hyphen of that particular word.

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    2. But you're never seeing "prenuptial." SO to me, it's all about what you see. And yes, fiction must have some different rules, because of dialogue, and how people really talk, and the writers' voices.

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  11. Congratulations on the new book! I agree with you about the use of hyphens and "face up" looks better to me. When I first read the bug problem, I read it as. . . "a bug in her ear." So I was wondering how she could not feel it moving in her ear. Then I reread the sentence--and laughed at myself!

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    1. Oh, thats a TOTALLY different problem all right! xxx

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  12. Sounds like a treasunt!

    I would agree with you on face up and thirty-something. "Prenup" though? Would you hyphenate "prenuptial?" I think it has probably entered the lexicon as one word by now.

    I finished a book about a month ago. After about Chapter 5 I kept asking, "What happened to the horse?" Was still hoping to hear about it in book 2.

    I also was amused to discover a very particular young woman who measured a haystack in meters and climbed it in feet.

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    1. edit: treasure hunt. typing on the tablet...

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    2. HA! Nope, no hyphen in prenuptial, but that's a different word! Meters and feet, that's hilarious. And should not have gotten by a CE. I once read a book where the character arrived at a place in an Uber, and left in her own car. :-)

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    3. I hate when that happens, Hank. Sometimes, I will look back to see how a character arrived somewhere, but usually it's me, not the book.

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    4. It's so unpredictable, what we do or don't happen to notice...xx

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  13. I'm generally a fan of hyphens as well. I agree with Karen -- the litmus test should be ease of reading. That said, I actually would go with face up, no hyphen, and I can't articulate why.

    I recently re-read Still Life by Louise Penny because my book club is going to discuss it next month. It was as much of a delight as it was the first time I read it, all those years ago. But in one of the last chapters, I encountered this abomination that had somehow slipped through more than one printing: her's. It absolutely stopped me and pulled me completely out of the book. Ouch!

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    1. Well, typos. As my dad used to say: There's always another typo.AHHHHHHHHH

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  14. Thirty-something or thirtysomething? Is it weird that I read those as different parts of speech? As in "she is a thirty-something woman" vs. "she's a thirtysomething." Adjective vs. noun. It made sense in my head but less so now that I've written it down.

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    1. That's the rule I learned. Hyphenate when it's an adjective, don't when it's a noun.

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    2. Huh, there's a rule like that? Truly, my English teacher taught us none of these grammar rules.

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    3. Edith, I must have learned that rule somewhere along the line without realizing it.

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    4. I didn't learn it until I worked as a technical writer!

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    5. Grace, at least in my case, I didn't learn these rules of grammar in school because "thirty-something" and "pre-nup" were not expressions then. :)

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    6. wow. thanks. Grammar rules are good to know.

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    7. Yes, those are the rules! But sometimes it looks wrong, and if it stops the reader, then I say make it easy to read.

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    8. After reading these comments, my junior high school English teacher does not seem as negligent as I first thought. In comparison, the grammar textbooks I used for French (8 years) and German (1 year) were huge!

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    9. Oh, Grace, you are hilarious! xxxx

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  15. In the book that came out last summer, HEAVEN HAS NO RAGE, I received an email from my proofreader. "I hate to tell you this, but I found a problem. A big problem." Turns out, I'd bribed a dead person. After panicking (much like you, Hank) I realized the solution was easy: the bribe was bigger at the front end and the person had asked for more money, which is why the killer was going to see this person. Problem solved.

    I am currently reading a book where "canister" is spelled "cannister" every...darn...time.

    My humble opinions:
    "Faceup" - it's an adverb that modifies the verb "lay."
    Prenup (because it's short for prenuptial agreement)
    Thirty-something (because something is standing in for a number and that number would be hyphenated, as in thirty-one)

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    1. You know, in my experience, there's that first moment of OH NO! when you find a problem, Which should be quickly followed by THANK YOU AND THANK GOODNESS, and then you fix it .If it hasn't gone to print, lucky you, you can ALWAYS fix it, and in my experience, how you fix it is always an even better story.

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    2. Oh yes. Fortunately, while the proofreader was in a tizzy, I realized after a few minutes that the fix would be fairly quick. Of course, there are those ripples, but I got it done.

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    3. The proofreader in a tizzy! Oh, such a vision.... And yes, the ripples. But..fun, though, right?

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  16. Hi, Hank. We know that you love this part of the process and your fellow Reds, not so much! Have fun doing what you love!

    My solution to the "bug" problem was different from yours. A car can follow another without there being a bug. So, couldn't you have just exterminated the "bug" from the book? Did you need that bug in the end?

    When all the JRW blog followers finally get our hands on this book, you know we'll be looking for the solution to your "bug" problem.

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    1. Oh, well, not in this story...she's said something, and the point is not the following, but the hearing of what she said.

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  17. This post gave me great pleasure, Hank, since I, too, hyphenate all over the place, including when it's definitely wrong (at least according to dictionaries, if not according to ME.) And your "what happened to the bug?" story is a comfort to me; so is c. d.'s example of an author mixing meters and feet. As an American who has been living in meter/gram land for thirty-four years, I have to do document searches to find all the European measures that have crept into my manuscripts, so I can get rid of them. One typical mistakes of mine is forgetting to take out the last one or two references to a character I have otherwise completely cut out of the book. I imagine the reader saying, "What? The hero has a sister? Why is she only being mentioned on page 208?" Whoops! Luckily, these errors have so far been found and removed in time, if not by me then by the copy-editor.

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  18. This was a really fun glimpse behind the scenes. I'm excited to read the final product.

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    1. Crossing fingers you love it! And aw, thank you! xx

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  19. pre-nup, face-up, thirty-something seems right to me

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    1. All those work for me..although I think face up is two words. Although, for some weird reason, facedown isn't. Hmmm... xx

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  20. hank, I really enjoyed helping you with your copy edits but all the time I was thinking face up as in face up to the problem, so it threw me when you were actually talking about something that landed face up. I say no hypen, but what do I know. Pre-nup and thirtysomething. I loved the idea of the spare car, like Julia Child's spare turkey!

    What book did I read recently where the character took her cat to the vet and explained she was worried because the kitty wasn't eating. The vet asks, among other things, how is his appetite. The next line our character answers with "fine."

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    1. HA!!! Good one. And yikes. And oh, I think of the "spare turkey" every time!

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  21. Congratulations on your upcoming release! I do whatever the copy editor tells me to do. She has the final word. What have I found in my manuscripts? Unless I use a daily calendar for both the main character and her antagonist, I tend to pack too many events in a day. And I need to know their locations, so they don't bump into each other at the farm stand. Have you ever used an air tag in your books? I see them advertised for suitcases. Hmm....what if someone switched the air tags on identical bags?

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    1. What is an air tag? And yes, actually, my book AIR TIME is definitely in that realm! LOVE you to read that! And ooh, my CE does not have the final word, I do. I adore her suggestions, and all the things she finds, but in the end, it's mine.

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  22. Hank, your post shows how every stage of the writing process is an opportunity to be creative. It's so nice that you enjoy the challenges. Looking forward to The House Guest.

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    1. Aw, thank you! And you are SO right! And yes, happily I enjoy it...it's better to find the things now, when I can still fix them! xx

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  23. Face-up and face up are both okay for me. What I don’t like is faceup as one word, no hyphen.

    When I got to college, my English Composition instructor disapproved of all the grammar rules I learned in high school. Quite the learning experience!

    DebRo

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    1. Yes, because it looks like fac-e-up. FASOOP. FACOOP. Gah. xxx

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    2. Like the word 'mishap' which I always want to mispronounce when I see it!

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    3. Yes, the dreaded mizzled!

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    4. I still remember the first time I heard someone say "banal." (It was the actor Colin Firth, in a movie.) This was a word I'd read a zillion times, but never heard in conversation. I was taken aback. I asked myself, "Really? It doesn't rhyme with "anal"?

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    5. Ha! I always thought it was muncipal. Not municipal. :-)

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  24. And why is it face up but facedown? And front yard but backyard?

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  25. I'm late to this delightful post and the conversation, so I'll just jump in and say this: Language evolves over time, and hyphens are useful to show how words come to be joined in the early stages of their relationship with each other and, then, over time, we come to expect that relationship, so the hyphen can disappear. It's endlessly fascinating -- and frustrating, isn't it!? Because "they" who make the rules...just make them. And the rest of us run to catch up...or choose to ignore them.

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    1. Also: I think that some errors -- major or minor -- slip through the copy editing (copy-editing? copyediting?) process because the person doing that task is doing so on the screen rather than on paper. It's SO much more complicated to check back and double check further back in the MS on screen than on paper...and I think our brain/eye coordination is better on paper than the screen -- we can put a ruler below each line and use a pencil to keep track of each word we read so that we are reading what is ACTUALLY there rather than what our brain/mind knows SHOULD be there...

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    2. Yes, SO interesting! I now use the "read aloud" function of my Word, and wow, it's great. I follow along, and it really illustrates repetition, and dropped words, and incorrect words.

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  26. Another thought on using your spare car, which is a great idea. If questioned you would reply that it is not good for a car to sit for too long so every once in a while you take it out and drive it. Or you might even say this has become a monthly habit or whatever.

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    1. True! Good thoughts! But she just...has it. They're wealthy, they have cars. xxx

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  27. Hyphens drive me crazy, Hank! Whichever way I decide, the copy editor always says it's wrong. I'd go with face up, prenup, and thirty-something when it's an adjective. Good catch on the bug!

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  28. As a woman with TWO last names that are hyphenated, I declare myself the official Queen of Hyphens and put 'em everywhere I want. The copyeditor will just have to STET it up.

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  29. I don't understand what the bloodshed is all about with hyphens. Copy editors always key in on them and no two copy editors have the same view point. Seriously, I've had two copy editors from the same publishing house read the same book and one put 'em in, the other took 'em out! Funny, and confusing.

    Big continuity issues in a book. Yep - one I read this year had the body drop in one venue while further on in the story references are made to the body being found someplace totally different. Oops. The book was so well written and the story so enjoyable that I blinked at the error.

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  30. I love copyedits, too! It's the first time you really get an objective (painfully objective at times) read of your work and I love that. I'm a hypehnator! Pre-nup, thirty-something, and face-up. Period. Full stop. This book sounds thrilling, Hank! I can't wait!

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    1. LOVE you. Yes yes yes. Hyphen city. So agree. Because it's clearer! xxxxx (Oh, which reminds me of another thing. I had written-- "He seemed even more awkward than before." And CE changed it to "He seemed even awkwarder than before."
      AWKWARDER?? AWKWARDER? Okay, it may be a word, but it's--what that word that means it means itself?--awkward. Stet stet stet. )

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    2. Awkwarder???? Dear heavens. I can't imagine what style manual they are using...

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    3. Oh, I am so glad to hear this. I looked it up, and it's apparently a word. Not in my book, it ain't. xxx

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    4. NO to "awkwarder!" Methinks somebody's paying too much attention to MS Word's misguided spelling and grammar dictionary.

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    5. Well, apparently it's a fine and acceptable word, according to the Forge CE, and it's in the Scrabble dictionary. But I say it's spinach ;-) , and I am not using it!

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  31. I'm with you on all three, Hank. Faceup looks totally wrong, and so does prenup. Can't wait to read the new one. Sounds delicious!

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    1. Oh, thank you! "Looks wrong" is so powerful. And if it stops the reader, then I say--it IS wrong. xxxx

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  32. Currently reading a book where a car is in two different locations at the same time

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  33. Hank Phillippi RyanJune 22, 2022 at 10:39 PM

    What? Tell us more!

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