Michael Haskins

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The AP Stylebook and language

I am up early each morning, to the chagrin of Celine, and usually switch the TV news shows between the local ABC and Fox news programs. I am most interested in the expected weather conditions and both stations give predictions for Key West, even though the stations are in Miami or thereabouts.

I’ve been involved in journalism most of my life and, unlike fiction, journalists have stylebooks that give rules on writing. I used the AP Style Book in Boston and, again, years later, in Key West.

What does early morning TV and AP Stylebooks have to do with one another? I’m glad you asked. On both TV stations, the weather person and traffic reports use the word “towards.”

“The storm is moving towards Miami.”

“The traffic has stalled north bound towards the 95 from the interchange.”

Wondering what’s wrong? I think most people would because, more and more, I hear people using “towards” in conversations.

I wrote a business story a long time ago and the editor at the Key West Citizen, Bernie Hunt, pointed out to me that in American English there ain’t no such word as “towards.”

“It’s a British usage,” he told me and, being an Irishman who grew up outside London, Bernie would know. He also was part of the news team in San Diego, California, who won the Pulitzer for newspaper coverage of a commercial airliner that crashed at the city’s airport.

Since then, whenever I hear someone on the TV news use “towards,” I cringe. Shouldn’t the electric media know better?

It doesn’t end there. The word “over” is another misused word that drives me crazy and this one, I admit, I regularly abused. That is, until copy editor Van Trotter explained the correct used of “over” and “more than.” We were at the Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street, a couple of blocks from Ernest Hemingway’s home. A journalism background didn’t hurt Hemingway’s writing and, some would say, it helped him form his unique style.

Somehow, Van and I got to talking about work and he told me every time he drives by a MacDonald’s he goes crazy when he sees the golden arches and the words: over a billion sold (maybe it says 10 billion, but you get my point).

“Over!” Van said, or maybe even yelled and scared some of the late-night drinkers (this was after we put the paper to bed at 11 p.m.). “The cat jumped over the moon, is right, but over a billion sold, is wrong!”

So, what’s the right way? “More than a billion sold,” he said. “If it involves math, numbers, comparison, it’s ‘more than’ not over. Numbers don’t jump over things.”

The AP Stylebook has pages and pages of correct usages for newspapers. So why, as mystery writers should this interest us? I think it is important that we get it right in our stories. And, getting it right might be having a character use the wrong “towards.” It is also a good idea not to have someone educated in England use “toward.”

Idioms change by locations. Sayings that make sense to someone in Boston may confuse the hell of a person in Mississippi. For example, in N. Quincy, where I grew up we called soft drinks “tonic.” When I moved to California, it took me a good year to stop asking for tonic when I wanted a Coke or Pepsi. Tonic, in most other states is just that, tonic water. Gin and tonic, please.

So, if I was reading your story and the character was from Massachusetts, maybe Quincy, and he or she asked for a “soda pop,” I would notice your mistake.

Mystery writers don’t usually kill people or blow up buildings, or do the crimes they writer about, but they do have to research guns and bombs and violent death. It shouldn’t stop there. Maybe Hemingway was not entirely wrong when he said, “writer what you know.”

I would be hard pressed to write a Faulkner story, since I have never traveled through, or lived in the Deep South. Remember, from Key West you have to travel north to reach the South! Honest.

So, know your characters and where they are from. If they are from somewhere you ain’t been, rethink them. Because there are readers out there that will write you every time you make a mistake with a weapon, locale, boat, airplane, or accent!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Signings for Chasin' the Wind & radio interview

Here are some of my planned signings for Chasin' the Wind. I hope, if you are near any of them, you will stop in and say hi. I have been unable to figure out how to get an audio of my radio interview linked to my blog, but, if you want, you can listen to it on my website, http://www.michaelhaskins.net/.
· Book Signing at Murder on the Beach
· April 10, 2008 7:00 pm
· Delray Beach, Florida

· Book Signing at Bookstore in the Grove
· April 12, 2008 1:00 pm
· Coconut Grove, Florida

· Book Signing at Books-A-Million
· May 10, 2008 1:00 pm
· Fort Myers, Florida

· Book Signing at Mysteries to Die For
· July 12, Time TBA
· Thousand Oaks, California

Book Signing at Flintrdige Bookstore & Coffee Shop
· July 17, 2008 7:00 pm
· LaCanada Flintrdige, California

· Book Signing at the Mystery Bookstore
· July 19, 2008 3:00 pm
· Westwood Village/Los Angeles, California

I look forward to meeting those of you who stop in to a signing. Also, I would be interested in your comments on how I did on the radio. This is all new, so I appreciate the input.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SleuthFest Reviewed

Celine and I left Key West at 5 a.m. on Feb. 29, and arrived at the Deerfield Beach Hilton at 9:30 a.m. I missed the 9 a.m. panel, but got there in time for “The Devil Made Me Do It” panel, with Bob Morris, Don Bruns, and Philip Cioffari. The panel discussed the whys of evil doings in their characters. Or why sometimes good characters have to do bad things, like kill. Bob is a friend who wrote a blurb for my novel, Chasin’ the Wind, and last year I met Don at SleuthFest. Google them, you might just like their books as much as I do. I am glad I caught the panel.

Celine worked the registration desk, because we couldn’t check in to our room at the Embassy Suites until after 3 p.m. I hung out with her after the 10 a.m. panel, because by the time I finished talking with Bob and Don, it was too late to get into a panel discussion; or at least I felt it would be disrespectful to walk in halfway through.

Lunch was good and the guest speaker was Douglas P. Lyle, M.D. Doug is a forensic doctor and has a number of books out on forensic science and a couple of mystery novels; Forensic for Dummies being in my library. He also helps writers, via his website, with simple forensic questions. I know he has responded to my questions a few times. He is another one you should Google and check out.

His talk was interesting and funny! I don’t know why the funny part surprised me. I guess I expected him to be more dour. Anything but!

After lunch, 2:15 p.m., Sun-Sentinel writer/columnist Oline Cogdill and I were the panel for “Write a Better Blog.” Oline blogs for her paper. Let’s see, if I say the room was half-full, I am what? An optimist, right? So, it was half-full. Oline talked about how papers are using blogging, especially, for our concerns, for book reviews. Papers are also cutting back the size, and, in some cases, getting rid of book review sections, so we all agreed that the blogs were important. Maybe they are the future of book reviews.

I talked about blogs I liked and why, and asked the audience what blogs they liked and why. Some people were hesitant to begin a blog, but as writers, a blog, we decided, is a good way to get readers to your website. Group blogs seemed like the best idea, I pointed out, because writers who take time daily to blog, are taking time from their writing.

After the panel, Celine and I checked into the Embassy Suites, napped for an hour, and then went back to the Hilton to meet a few other writers from Five Star, my publisher.

Around 7 p.m., my friend Emily Roach and her husband, Ernie Dick, came by. Emily and I worked on the Key West Citizen together. She has left for a bigger and better position and recently moved to the Boca Raton area. It was nice seeing them and catching up on old times. I sure miss her professionalism.

Saturday began with a big, free breakfast at the Embassy Suites and then back to the Hilton.

Agents and editors held a morning panel on “From Publishing’s Front Lines: A Look Ahead.” For a new writer, or someone wanting to be published, it was not good news. It keeps getting tougher to get an agent, as well as a publisher! Tell me something I don’t know.

James O. Born, and ex DEA agent, now a FDLE agent, hosted the “Exotic Lethal Weapons” program, before lunch. Jim is great and tells it like it is. His novels are well written and, yeah, Google him, too. He always brings along weapons (unloaded, he likes to point out) and displays their uses.

Lee Child was the luncheon speaker and did a good job. Before he spoke, the MWA held an auction and sold off lunches with writers, you can buy your name into a writer’s next novel and/or get a critique for a published writer. I don’t remember how much was raised, but it all goes toward an MWA sponsored charity.

Lee Child and Charles Todd were on the panel discussing “Writing Dynamic Dialogue.” It was worth the trip. Lee’s Reacher’s books are a good read.

The agents & editors cocktail party was fun and by the pool. This year the food was outrageous! Celine and I grabbed a table by one of the serving stations and were soon joined by Jerry Healy, Sandy Balzo, and then by Lee Child, Don Bruns, and Jim Born. It made for some interesting conversation.

A few years ago, the ladies of SleuthFest over heard the men in the bar (where else?) talking about the babes, so they came up with their version of a hot male of SleuthFest award. It’s done with a lot tongue-in-cheek and good humor. Doug Lyle beat out Lee Child and Jim Born! It was a fun way to end the evening. Doug is wearing the pink boa in the photo above! Leave it to the ladies, a pink boa and bottle of Jack Daniels!

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