Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Announcement and Catching Up

Okay, it’s been a while, and I have a couple of things to talk about today.

The first is an announcement:

August 1-3 2014 are the dates for the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference, taking place at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, Two Albany Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Deadly Ink 1                                                                      Deadly Ink 2

The conference promises to be an interesting one, with Donald Bain and Renée Paley-Bain, who wrote the Murder, She Wrote mystery books as Guests of Honor, and Donna Andrews as Toastmaster. Whether you are just a mystery fan, or you want to write a mystery of your own, this is a great opportunity to mix with the writers and other publishing professionals who feed our mystery cravings, be they hard-boiled, police procedurals, cozies, or humorous. There will be panels, a “Writers’ Academy,” special presentations, a desserts party, a luncheon, a Sunday brunch, an Awards dinner, book signings, and a book room.

Information about the conference can be found at WWW.DEADLYINK.COM, or by emailing


Here is a small literary gem for those of you who live in New York City. 41st Street, between Park and Fifth Avenues has been deemed “Library Way.”  Both north and south sidewalks have embedded plaques, designed by Gregg LeFevre of Andrews/LeFevreStudios, with library and book-inspired quotations. Two blocks, four sidewalks, and free! Bring a camera (I forgot mine, but plan to bring it next time.)


I am continuing to recover from the open-heart surgery I had in March. I am now able to get out of the house for brief periods of time. This has done wonders for my moods. I am also in cardiac rehab, which is a lot like going to a gym, except that they constantly monitor your heart rate and take your blood pressure between each exercise. It has recently been increased from twice a week to three times a week, a sign that I am getting stronger and they believe I can do more.

Anyway, that’s the short  version of where things are at currently. I’ll have more to say soon.




Quick Note

Your grammarian is still here, and still grouchy. She has, however, been recovering from open heart surgery, specifically a septal myectomy, on March 26th.

She apologizes for the delay, and for any inconvenience, and hopes to be grousing regularly again in the near future.

Lawrence Block and Bernie Rhodenbarr

One Good Thing that happened at the end of 2013 was that Lawrence Block, one of my favorite writers, independently published The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, the latest installment in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series, on Christmas Day. Since I am on Block’s mailing list, I had pre-ordered the book, so I knew I would have an enjoyable read waiting when my Christmas company went home.

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Bernie has barely changed a hair since I first met him (while, Mr. Block and I have both grown a good bit older) back in 1992 or so. That was the year that Mr. Block and I were both on the bill to read from our work at the now defunct Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More bookshop in downtown Manhattan. Mr. Block read his Bernie short story, “Like a Thief in the Night,” and I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve read all the Bernie books (not to mention anything else by Mr Block that I can get my little paws on), and have loved them all. I was even part of the conspiracy to buy Bernie a bench in Bryant Park, and was there for the reading/ribbon cutting.

That all disclosed, let me just say the new book is a joy.  From the mystery of “Juneau Lock,” to treating on how used bookstores are being affected by the advent of Kindles and the like, to tie-ins between historical figures,writers, and several manuscripts, to Bernie and his friends and colleagues, along with the requisite murder for Bernie to solve, this has all the elements of a good Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. The important thing for me, however, is – as always – the writing. I have read all of Mr. Block’s series, and the writing is different in all of them (and even moreso in his books on writing, race-walking, and stamp collecting). In this series the writing sparkles. Yes, Bernie is witty and mordant, and all that good stuff, but more than that, the writing pretty much skips lightly across the page, creating exactly the kind f atmosphere you would expect to be around a sophisticated, gentleman burglar. The other thing that makes Bernie stand out for me – although this is also true about his other anti-hero, Keller, to a lesser degree – is that Bernie is so darned likeable. This is important, since most of us do not normally root for a burglar (or a hitman), and Mr. Block easily gets us to do so.

Yes, to some degree the Bernie books have a formula, but they never come across as formulaic. For me, the formula is more like a clothesmaker’s frame, waiting for new fabric to be draped on it in different and interesting ways.

Picking up any of Mr. Block’s series books always feels to me like catching up with an old friend, but this is even more true with Bernie than the others, since he is the first of Mr. Block’s characters that I met. Mr. Block wrote this book after announcing his retirement, and has now declared that it seems he doesn’t do very well at being retired. I, as I am sure many other readers are, am delighted at this, and I hope it means more books (and more Bernie books) in future.


I Love My Library…Sometimes!

Many of you who know me in real life know that I am generally an advocate of the public library. You also know that I live in a city that supports three public library systems: The Queens Borough Public Library, which is the one I grew up using; the New York Public Library, which I used extensively when I was more mobile; and the Brooklyn Public Library, which I have become a huge fan of since moving to Brooklyn in 2000.

However, as time has gone on, I have had reason to become a bit less enamored of Brooklyn Public Library. I had no problem when they switched to a library card that could be read by computers, or when they added a feature to add money to your card, then made it impossible to pay overdue fines online unless they were over a certain amount, and only allowed you to pay them by placing money on your library card. I have had an ongoing issue with them over notification. They are supposed to let me know by either email or text message when a book I have put a hold on is ready for pickup. I have not, in the eight years I have lived at my present home, been able to get them to reliably do this. I have, in fact, given up on it, and just check my account every few days when I have a book on hold. I can even live with missing a lecture I would have very much liked to attend on December 10th because their newsletter announcing it didn’t arrive until the 11th.

However, I was recently subject to some of the worst service I have received from a library – and that includes all the college libraries and private libraries I have been involved with over the years. At some point the Brooklyn Pubic Library seems to have decided that their library cards would come with an expiration date. Not something I had ever encountered outside of one private library and a few college libraries, but not the end of the world. EXCEPT…Brooklyn Public never notified me of this change. I recently went to renew my library books online and got a message that my card was no longer valid. I headed to the “Ask a Librarian” section of their website, where I was informed that my card had expired, and I would have to go to an actual branch, with actual ID, in order to renew it. When I noted to the librarian that I am currently an invalid, without asking my age or anything, she asked if  I wanted to sign up for Service to the Aging, with no explanation of what it was. When I pointed out that since I had no idea what it was, so I would not sign up for it, I was very rudely told that it would provide me books by mail, and that it would be the only option available to me once my card was renewed to make sure my card did not expire without notice.

After a few choice words to the librarian, I ended the chat and spoke to the roomie, who had – after all – been a librarian before she retired. She noted that yes, the library had changed to cards with expiration dates, and yes they were supposed to notify me before the card expired. We ended up schlepping to the local library and getting my card renewed, but I am still feeling unhappy with my library. While it’s true that I am certainly old enough to qualify for Service to the Aging, it was incredibly rude for the librarian to assume that without checking my age first. Nor am I happy that I missed a lecture I very much would have loved (about the Allan Sherman bio I recently read, by the author of said bio) simply because the library couldn’t be bothered to mail their newsletter in a timely manner (and – I note – this is far from the first time this has happened). Nor was I happy when they trashed their beautiful card catalog — without transferring all the books to the computer system first (in fact, various librarians I know have informed me that that task will never be finished, because there is not enough manpower to do so).

Will this stop me from being a fan of libraries in general? Not gonna happen. I love many aspects of my library, including the tremendous amount of e-books they have that can be borrowed (although I would like it a lot better if I didn’t need two different kinds of reader applications – 3M Cloud and Overdrive – in order to be sure I can read e-books from the library). Further, I think libraries are an important part of building strong communities. Also, as a deep and wide reader, I surely could not afford all the books the library gives me access to, and that is one of the most important reasons to support the library.

However, I have – as many of you know – a long-standing propensity for pointing out when the emperor is fooling himself as to his coverage; a propensity which seems to grow as I get older. Therefore, while I love my library, I find myself calling it out on its shortfalls.

Yes, Words Matter, a Guest Post by David Gerrold.

Note from Deb: David Gerrold posted this on Facebook early this morning, and I felt it was important, so I asked him if I could reproduce it as a guest post, giving him full credit, of course. He was kind enough to say yes, so here it is.  For those of you not familiar with David Gerrold, he is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes, including Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

And now, I turn the floor over to Mr. Gerrold:


Yes, words matter.

The trick is to not let them matter very much.

Ask an African-American what he or she has been called. There’s a whole song in the musical HAIR which lists some of those. Ask a Jew what he or she has been called. You can go back to Shakespeare’s MERCHANT OF VENICE to understand the tradition of Jew-baiting. And women — there’s no shortage of derogatory words for women, many of them based on female genitals. And gay men and women? Hooboy! Someone was working overtime on that linguistic smörgåsbord.

But guess what? Along about the fiftieth time someone calls you a faggot (or any of the other joyous epithets), the words begin to lose all power to hurt. After a while, it’s just amusing. After a while, it’s just an invitation to snap out a great punch line. A woman shouted at me, “Are you a faggot?” I looked at her and said, “Are YOU the alternative?”

Yes, words matter — but that doesn’t mean we have to be victimized them. We can own them.

Somebody on an online forum once thought to shame me. He called me a “homo.” Oh, heavens. My response? “You think I should be ashamed of my capacity to love? Every time someone calls me that, they’re reminding me of how much love I’ve experienced in my life. You really think I’m going to wither away?”

I’m a writer. There’s a lesson that the great writers have mastered: own the language. Ride it like a bronco. Hang on for the ride. Steer it where you need it to go. OWN THE LANGUAGE.

Yes, words matter — but I refuse to be a victim of language, I intend to be one of the owners.

A Punctuation Poem

Sadly, it’s not by me.  A writer calling herself blueslite published this on a site called Bubblews.

It’s called “Can I Interest You in a Punctuation Mark?”

Bubblews is an interesting little site for generating residual income.  You can post short articles, long articles, reviews, recipes, pictures – just about anything, and you get paid for likes, clicks, views, etc.  Social networking that pays you to play!  I can live with that.

Of course, as a freelancer already, I don’t have as much time to spend there as I’d like, but it’s been fun so far!

Just a Few Links to Interesting Things

First, I would like to point folks to an article about dictionaries in today’s New York Times:

Next I want to remind readers about a couple of websites I love:

Bookmooch: A site for trading books. You make a list of books you want to get rid of, and others choose from your list. You send the books to them, paying the postage.  You can also browse for books you want, and ask for them.  The owners send them to you and they pay the postage.

FictFact: A great website for letting you track your series reading.  Since I read over 100 series, it makes following what I’ve read, what will be coming out soon, etc., easy to track.  And since I can use it on my phone’s web browser, it makes it easy to take to the library with me. You can also email them if a series you want to follow is not listed and have it added to the ones they track.

Goodreads: allows you to track all of the books you read, even the ones not in series.  Has a number of other great features, too: blogs by writers, contests for winning books and ereaders, and discussion groups.

Anyway, that’s about it for today’s version. Happy reading, and I’ll see you all next week!

The Dying Art of Conversation

Picture of three friends conversing by Mickalene Thomas. Photo ©2012 Deborah J. Wunder

Picture of three friends conversing by Mickalene Thomas. Photo ©2012 Deborah J. Wunder

Barrie Davenport, of Live Bold and Bloom, has an excellent article on the art of conversation. What caught my attention wasn’t so much the tips on conversation, but the assertion that we are increasingly becoming convinced that conversation doesn’t matter:

“We’ve forgotten the power the spoken word has both for good and ill. And we’ve been duped into believing it doesn’t matter that much.

But it does matter. It matters because in spite of the accessibility of cyber-communication and our reliance upon it, we still need real interaction. We crave it — it’s genetically coded in our DNA. Humans are social beings who want to connect and engage with others.”

I think she is correct on several levels. First, I do think that many of us are relying more and more on our electronic devices to do our communicating. Heck, I note that I am a phone freak – mostly because it’s often just easier to reach out to someone by phone than for both me and the person I want to talk with to find time in our schedules to actually – you know – get together, especially since doing so often involves an hour or mor each way on public transit for us to be able to do so.

But, yeah, no matter how well I know my friends it is often harder to pick up conversational nuances over the phone. The body language just isn’t visible to me.

Mind, I have no problem with using texts and email to get information to someone quickly. I just used it yesterday, in fact, to get information about software for converting 78 rpm records into files that can be put on a cd or a computer, and then to let a different friend know that I had that information, and have someone who can walk me through the process if/when he wants to leave the old 78s he found at my house for a few weeks. In this case, email was the optimal solution — I was able to get the information to my friend without a long, drawn-out conversation about his current situation. (It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to his predicament, but I had a lot of work to accomplish, and couldn’t really spare the time to hear the whole story rehashed.) On the whole, though, I enjoy a good phone chat.

However, I do prefer getting together with someone for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it gets me away from my computer and phone for a bit. Besides, I never know what interesting things will occur when I am hanging out with friends, and that’s generally fun to discover.  An acquaintance of mine mentioned liking tea of Facebook recently, and I messaged him back that we should have lunch at my favorite tea shop. We set up the lunch, and it turns out that he is inviting a third person — the owner of the shop, who is a friend of his! So my world will get a little bigger because my acquaintance and I decided that some real life conversation over a cup of tea (and one of their excellent salads, maybe) was a good idea.

And that’s what conversation is really about — reinforcing the connection between us. And no matter how good our webcams are, no matter how personal our blog posts, there are few things better than a long, thoughtful conversation between friends (with all the body language, facial expressions, vocal cues, and – if we are lucky – hugs and physical contact) for reaffirming our humanity, and our joy in connecting with another person.

Your Grammarian is Proud to Announce…

…that she is starting, which will be the website for her writing and editing endeavors. She has a rudimentary website up:, and will be working on getting her content onto it over the next few weeks.

Feedback is welcome, but I ask that you email it to me at otherdeb (at) gmail (dot) com, or leave it as a comment to this post, rather than leaving it on the website itself.

Thanks in advance!

Sometimes, I Don’t Understand People.

Your grammarian was asked this evening to plug a site collecting funds for victims of the West Texas thing.

I looked at the website, and — if this guy is honest — it’s nowhere near ready to be plugged. It has a couple of articles, but no information on who the fund it, what its mission is, who the principals are, etc.

Given all the scammers who arise after these sort of catastrophic things, you’d think he’d know better.  Especially after complaining to me that he suspects another site to be that of a scammer because it only has one page.

I offered him feedback instead, and offered to look at the site again when it was complete, and he got kind of huffy about it.

The thing is, while I’m sure he’s sincere I cannot in good conscience plug something asking people for money unless I know exactly who is collecting that money, where and how it will be disbursed, who is behind the collection, and all the other stuff you want to know before giving to charity. It would be irresponsible of me to to do so.

If I ask my readers to click on something, it is something I can totally endorse. And, if I try to ascertain that your site is something on the up and up, I don’t expect huffiness as a response.

The guy tried to backtrack and say that the site was not complete, but he wants linkbacks to start coming in now. He may want that, and he may find others who will do that, but I won’t. He claims to be working with the mayor of the town affected. Why not have the mayor write a testimonial for him, then? All I see on the site are some uncredited articles about the incident.

To me, that’s a warning that this guy is not going to be doing what he says he is. Especially since his response to being asked to provide more information to his visitors is to get huffy.

Anyway, you guys can rest assured that I will never steer you towards something that I do not believe to be totally on the up and up.

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