If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Here are the upcoming WWK interviews for the month of July!

July 4th Christopher Huang, A Gentleman's Murder

July 11th V. M. Burns, The Plot Is Murder

July 18th Edith Maxwell (Maddie Day), Death Over Easy

July 25th Shari Randall, Against The Claw


Our July Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 7/7--Mary Feliz, 7/14--Annie Hogsett, 7/21--Margaret S. Hamilton, 7/28--Kait Carson.

Our special bloggers for the fifth Monday and Tuesday of July--Kaye George and Paula Gail Benson.


Please welcome two new members to WWK--Annette Dashofy, who will blog on alternative Sundays with Jim Jackson, and Nancy Eady, who will blog on every fourth Monday. Thanks for blogging with us Annette and Nancy!


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Carla Damron's quirky short story, "Subplot", was published in the Spring edition of The Offbeat Literary Journal. You can find it here: http://offbeat.msu.edu/volume-18-spring-2018/


Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), was published on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here. He's working on Seamus McCree #6 (False Bottom)


Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:


Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in July 31, 2018.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mea Culpa & Breaking Rules


Based on the discussions of Gloria’s blog this week, it’s clear I need to fess up and tell the truth: I messed up. I thought I had someone lined up for today’s blog, but I didn’t, and so I am confessing the errors of my ways.

Although I’m retired from traditional employment, I think of writing as my work. (I’ve convinced the IRS of that for quite a few years with periodic dollops of income.) I took on scheduling the Salad Bowl Saturdays as part of that work, and so my most recent screw-up got me thinking about how I handled earlier work mess-ups. And that got me thinking about rule-breaking.

Throughout my career people periodically asked what I thought the secret to my relatively quick series of promotions was. Three things, I answered. First I worked 25+% more hours than most of my peers, so I had more actual experience for the same time in position. Second, if I made a commitment, I tried my darnedest to meet it, regardless of the inconvenience I caused myself. Bosses learned they could trust me. Third, I made more mistakes than other people, so I knew more.

Invariably people believed the first two points and ignored the third, although the third may be a key ingredient to my success. Frankly, I don’t learn much from doing something right the first time, especially if I am “following instructions.” If it is too easy, I may not even remember the steps I took the next time I need to perform the same task.

When I mess up, the problem and eventual solution are usually memorable. The bigger the error, the more memorable it and its resolution are. Many of my errors arise because I try something a bit different from the “tried and true.” I think I see a short cut or a “brilliant” new line of thinking and try it out. Mostly, I rediscover why people have standardized their methods the way they have. However, even “failed” experimentation allows me to better understand the reasons behind the current approach. Sometimes, I do discover a better way and both my employer and I benefit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly like screwing up. But if I were afraid of being wrong, I would never take any risks. Had I not taken risks, I couldn’t have improved the systems.

But it is also important to know when you can experiment and when it is imperative to follow guidelines. Exploring in the woods you come across a mushroom that is new to you. The rules say to only eat what you know is safe. Ignoring the rules can be a Darwin event. (I.e. you remove yourself from the gene pool.) I am not going to eat that mushroom. The risks are too high and the rewards too skimpy.

In writing there are very few Darwin events, but breaking rules can still kill a manuscript—or make it an award winner. I’m only a decade into this writing thing, but I’ve learned that always following the rules is boring, but ignoring them wholesale will likely mean no one will read my opus. Consequently, I toe the line with only an occasional transgression when I think it really serves my purpose.

I read that in Michael Chabon’s most recent work he has a 4,000 word sentence. I guarantee I will not read it. I will admit to dabbling with the occasional conversation not including quotes. I’m not a fan of the final comma in a series, unless it is required for clarity, but when the editor for Bad Policy relied on the Chicago Manual of Style for guidance, I was stuck inserting a ton of commas I had left out.

My current favorite “error” that I keep hoping will take hold is to use “their” as third person possessive when the individual’s sex is unknown or ambiguous. Historically one uses “his” for the unknown. (Legal documents often include the phrase that “the masculine includes the feminine and the singular the plural” – unless it is a pension plan I once worked on for Visiting Nurse of New York which said that “the feminine includes the masculine…” – I digress.) But whether or not that deviation from the standard works is something which each person will have to make up their own mind about.

What’s your take on rule-breaking?

~ Jim

6 comments:

Shalanna said...

Jim! The screw-up is all mine! I thought I had until 6AM this morning to get the blog post text that I had promised over to you. Of course I conveniently "forgot" that you wanted to get it on the 23rd. Many mini-crises (that would be a great song title, BTW) cropped up, and I kept thinking that I'd just send it in the middle of the night tonight and it would be OK. I did, in fact, send you my text in an e-mail. You can use it, or not, as you see fit. It is MY BAD and NOT YOUR MESS-UP. Do not count it on your own scoresheet!

In my defense, it has been kinda crazy here. Generally, when I'm going to do a guest post, I get it out at the last moment. This is not good. Y'all do as I say and not as I do: be early!

So rule-breaking is bad. I broke the rule.

On the other hand, if you know the rules and knowingly break them for effect--such as in fiction writing--that can work very well. If the rules are not working, they may get broken so often that everyone just starts ignoring them. I hate it when writers break and ignore the punctuation rules, though. Clarity before all, I say, and thus we should be prescriptive rather than descriptive writers when it comes to punctuation. Do it the way the stylebooks say. There's a good reason for it.

Anyhow . . . mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa!

(Something is wrong with a verification system that asks me to type "21 tiiitie" to prove I'm not a robot.)

Shalanna said...

Oh, and about "THEIR" as a non-sexist sort of singular pronoun substituted for "his" or "her" but not used as a plural. That is actually a practice with some historical support. Fowler in his tome on English usage (not the abomination they've reissued now under some new upstart editor, but the old original one) pointed out that Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had used it. Paul Brians covers it in his Web of English usage stuff: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/they.html
But the LONG version is here:
http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html
So it's not such an error after all, but a return to old ways, "apostolic example," if you will.

E. B. Davis said...

I used to break rules more than I do now. Yes, I learned from my mistakes too, but I didn't always like the consequences. My fear of making mistakes hasn't stopped me from rule-breaking. But I often have a backup plan in place to correct the situation if I blunder, or I choose to deviate in situations where the effects aren't dire. I'm a chicken risk-taker.

Your mistake allows me to mess up on Welcome Wednesday interviews. Thanks, Jim. You're forgiven.

Warren Bull said...

Risk-taking is an essential part of writing. It takes guts to expose something you've created to the world knowing with certainty that someone will not love your "baby." I think it is important to know the rules and use them well before you start breaking them. A conscious act reads very differently than a mistake, Once I foolishly pointed out to a two-year-old that his shoes were on the wring foot. After checking it out he said, "I like them that way." In my latest novel I change POV half way through because. "I like it that way."

E. B. Davis said...

Why didn't I notice Dr. Peabody? I loved him, and his boy, Sherman too!

Gloria Alden said...

Nice post, Jim. Especially since it was a last minute one.

I think I've a split personality. On the one hand, I'm most content at home in my own little world, but I also have taken off to go to conferences I've never been to and knowing no one. Once I took off to take a spinning class in West Va. because it sounded like fun. I even tackled getting a skunk out of a Have-A-Heart trap - successfully, I might add. Generally, I'm rather fearless. Although I hope a tiger or grizzley bear never turns up in my woods.

As for breaking rules, I almost always go 5 mph over the speed limit. Hey, I've got places to go and things to do. Life is too short to dawdle.