The Importance of Syntax

Way back in the nineteen-mumbles, I took a programming class. I was in the very last class at my university that started Fortran programming on punch cards. Yes, punch cards. You can buy them on Etsy as antiques. The professor thought we should know how bad his generation had it so we would appreciate dumb terminals (insert eye-roll here).

At any rate, the mini-mainframe system was so amazingly primitive that your program output might be a single sheet of paper (with tractor-feed margins still attached, of course) that bore the message “Syntax Error”. Which meant you had screwed up in punching one or more of your cards and the resulting code would not compile correctly, let alone run and give you the results you had to turn in for a grade.

It’s an excellent catch-all message that can be used to describe so many grammatical errors in English:
“Try and do it” = syntax error
“Graduated college” = syntax error
“Happened on accident” = syntax error
“Your so right” = syntax error
“I could care less” = syntax error

Luckily, English is extremely redundant and the human brain is highly resilient (unlike computers). We can interpret statements full of syntax errors, although a personal opinion of the speaker/writer’s intelligence might be revised down in the process. Unless English is not his or her first language, of course; syntax can be tricky to port between different grammatical systems.

For example, French uses postpositions, positional-descriptive words that are placed after a noun phrase, as well as prepositions. When French is transliterated to English, you sometimes get sentences that sound like Yoda came up with them — full of syntax errors…in English.

Genre fiction publishers are reluctant to include semicolons in books, because they believe (or so my editors have said) readers can’t understand them. Not fair, really, to either readers or the semicolon, but there it is. The result, if the writer is using the punctuation correctly, is unnecessarily choppy prose or (shudder) comma splices without appropriate conjunctions. In other words, syntax errors.

Many syntax errors are so common they’ve become idiom (a nice way of saying everybody does it so grammarians have given up), which is why idiom is almost untranslatable — it didn’t actually make sense in the first place, so moving it into a different language is tricky at best.

Study your syntax, be aware when you’re using idiom. Control it; use it for effect and not just because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right, or good, or readable twenty years from now when idiom and syntax have moved on.

If you do that, you’re less likely to include the word “hassle” (origin in the late 19th century, rarely used before 1950) six times in a Regency romance novel.

Back to the word mine….

Val

So, Breast Cancer Came Back

Ductile carcinoma in situ calcifications turned up on a mammogram in February, looking like someone got dust on the negative. Only it was a digital picture. Sigh.

One closeup mammogram, one needle biopsy and three doctor appointments later, the left tata became medical waste. It had thought about killing me twice, so it had to go. And on April 8, it went.

Luckily, it was just starting to think about it (ductile carcinoma is sometimes called Stage 0 cancer, because the body is walling it off with calcium so it hasn’t started to spread yet), which means no chemo. Since chemo is nasty no matter how you look at it, this is A Good Thing.

Right now I’m an Amazon who isn’t good with a bow, and my pendant watch keeps hanging funny, so I’m starting reconstruction on August 18. They’re going to sneak a little muscle from my left shoulder blade area, along with some skin, and put in a tissue expander, which is like an adjustable breast implant. The muscle is to help hold it in place.

The tissue expander starts out kind of flat and they add fluid once a week until you get the size you want — in my case, to match the other side. Then they take it out and put in the permanent implant. And I go buy a t-shirt that says, “One of them’s fake, because the real one was thinking about killing me.”

It’s nice, living in the future. Cancer is annoying and expensive, but it’s nowhere near a death sentence anymore. Also, after the initial wave of terror passes, it’s boring. As a result, this is probably the last you’ll hear about it from me, unless I’m complaining about surgical drains.

So do your exams and get your mammos done. It’s a lot cheaper and less awful if you catch things early. :-)

Val

Quick update – still alive here, just busy writing

Just wanted to put up a quick note to mention that I’m still alive (although temporarily short a breast that was thinking about killing me again—I’ll tell you about it later).

I’m deep into the middle of the story of Tasha Ocasek’s half-brother Stephan, who—ten years after The Valmont Contingency—is busy saving the universe from an Ancient Horror (yes, that’s their official name) while trying not to fall for the intriguing Ekaterina Avondale. And failing, at least in the not-falling-for Kat department.

Kat was raised in a society of dragons. In this particular instance, “dragon” is the slang term for an alien species formally known as Saurians because they come from a parallel line of evolution where the “dinosaurs” became sentient rather than extinct. So they are part velociraptoroid, part parrotoid, and, like T-Rex, the girls are bigger and stronger than the boys.

So Kat scares the bejeebers out of most men, but Stephan is a little different from most men. His big problem is that she’s the result of a union between to major cartel families, and after the way his father died, he’s extremely allergic to cartel families.

It’s going to take both of them to destroy the group-mind insectoidal colony ship that uses carbon-based life forms to incubate its eggs and larvae. I know, right? It creeps me right out, so Stephan and Kat had better get it together and destroy these things for good, and they only have another 30,000-40,000 words to do it.

For anyone waiting impatiently for Talyn’s story, I’ll be doing the final edit on it just as soon as I get this first draft finished. My goal is to get it published by the end of the summer.

Back to the story now,
Val

Getting Lucky is For Sale

This is just a quick note to let anyone interested know that Getting Lucky, the second novella in the Ganymede incident super-novel, is out in ebook, available at your favorite store:  Amazon, Nook (right now the author is listed as Valerie Robertson; I’ve fixed it once), Kobo, and iBooks.

Kanaxa’s rocking cover now has a story to go with it.

GettingLucky_Web

Back to editing Unique…which doesn’t yet have a cover.

Braggin’ on a Friend or Two

Just as an FYI, my writing buddy Sharon Joss ( @JossWrites ) won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition.

Sharon writes delightful stories; her first novel, Destiny Blues, has magic, fate and a touch of horror (although I’ve also laughed out loud while reading her stuff). The L. Ron Hubbard win is a well-deserved honor and I’m so happy for her.

And she has a substantial backlist, so you won’t run out of her work much too soon. I’m just sayin’.

Another buddy, Ken McConnell ( @KenMcConnell ), is giving away — yes, for FREE — the first novel of his Star Saga series. You can get it from Kobo as an epub or from his website in a format of your choice.

A note about Ken: He makes the spaceship models, then photographs them, and then has his graphic artist (who happens to be his brother) make his book covers from the photos. That’s the kind of work he puts into his novels.

Thanks,
Val

Unique – the sequel to Blade’s Edge

Where have I been for the last five or six months? Writing! Well, fighting with a story.

This is the book that has been fighting me for five years and counting. But I’m 10,000 words shy of a first draft and I hope to have it finished this month (if I can’t write the last 10K in two weeks, I deserve ridicule). Then I can let my first-readers look at it and start poking it into something coherent. So I’m finally winning this fight. Bwah-hah-hah-hah.

Remember Crown Prince Talyn, the evil twin from Blade’s Edge? Yes, this is her book; where she goes and what she does after the psychotic break / nervous breakdown when she wakes up…wait for it…in a spaceship, on her way to a society of clones — where she is unique (yes, I loved the irony too much not to do it).

All I can really tell you right now is that she has an epiphany, gets a few things out of her system, truly falls in love, and learns to use her powers for good rather than eee-vill. The rest, well, it’s complicated and not completely settled yet.

If you want a ping when Unique is published, sign up for my newsletter, over on the right side of this page. I can assure you that you will not get a gazillion things from me in your inbox. I’m too busy and much too lazy go newsletter-nuts. Shoot, I can’t even manage a blog post more than three or four times a year.

Thanks for bearing with me,
Val

Best-Laid Plans

I am the president of my local chapter of Romance Writers of America this year (and probably next year, unless someone wants to mount a write-in campaign). As part of my administration, I started a new project, which I call Finish the Damn Book–having shamelessly stolen the name from Cherry Adair’s much spiffier program at the Greater Seattle chapter of RWA.

Actually, I started it because I needed motivation to produce more output this year. Last year I finished a 70,000-word manuscript. The year before, only a 35,000-word novella. This vexed me, so I decided to do something about it, and drag the chapter along with me, or at least those members willing to be dragged.

This morning I did a progress check on myself; thus far this year I have written approximately 73,000 words of fiction. That’s not bad, but….that was spread over four different titles.

Sigh.

The book I wanted to finish is only half done, and I have only three months left in the year.

Granted, I’ve published two titles (the novel and novella finished last year and the year before), and I had to write blurbs and an author bio for those. I also finished the first draft of another novella. And I’ve written probably another 5,000 words of workshops, essays and articles about writing fiction.

But I need to get my behind in gear, or I’m not going to earn my romance writer’s sparkly tiara. I might have to make do with a coffee-cup full of chocolates and a purple feather boa, our consolation prizes. Quelle horreurs!

I’m off to, you know, Finish the Damn Book.

 

 

 

I am The Nexus of All Great Fictional Starship Captain Families

Not really, but… a couple of days ago, I got to thinking about my dad’s sister. She married a man named Kirk and they had two children before she died tragically (there was a crib death and a suicide; it’s all very sad and it happened before I was born), so I never got to know my cousins.

But I know I have cousins named Kirk. As far as I know, they’re Montanans, not from the Midwest, but they could move in the next few hundred years.

One of my mother’s sisters married a man named Pike and they had two sons. So I have cousins named Pike. They live in Arizona. Lovely people.

Have I ever mentioned that my mother’s maiden name was Reynolds? Yup, all kinds of relatives named Reynolds, including a bunch of cousins; Mom had nine brothers and sisters, so it’s not all that surprising.

So that’s two famous Star Fleet captains and the iconoclastic head of the Serenity crew that could possibly carry some of the same DNA I do. That is, if they weren’t, you know, made-up characters.

As far as I know, though, I don’t have any relatives with the surname Khan or Adama.

Yet (she typed with an evil grin).  And now, back to editing Getting Lucky.

 

Cover Reveal for ‘Getting Lucky’

Ta-dah! Cover by Kanaxa (the awesome). This is the third cover she’s designed for my stories — the first one was Blade’s Edge.

GettingLucky_Web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story is in editing right now, but it will be out before Christmas.  The third in this trilogy of novellas is the story of Strike Force Colonel Ramsin Singh rediscovers his humanity, with a little help from some asteroid miners and — no, no spoilers. Yet.  Bwah-hah-hah-hah!

Second in a Series of Firsts–My First Second Book in a Series

The Nobinata Gambit is officially out among the virtual bookshelves, which marks another turning point for me; it’s the first story I’ve written about a character that had already appeared in a story, making it the second book in a series. What’s the name of the series? Beats me. It all started with a novella called “Finding the Briar Rose” which is a Sleeping Beauty retelling that I’m going to rewrite and publish as a freebie next year (early next year, I hope), because I like the characters and they should live somewhere besides my dead-manuscript file. The first published story in the series is The Valmont Contingency.

The Nobinata Gambit is the story of Shak and “Lilo” (her real name is Yuki) after the end of Valmont; they save the emperor of the Empire of Nippon and Allied Cultures from an assassination attempt by one of his distant cousins, with assorted tragedies, murders and goings on, a love story, and more sequel bait thrown in because life never lets you do one thing at a time.

The universe for this series is the area of space colonized by humans after Earth’s magnetic field fails–it doesn’t actually FAIL fail, but it flops poles (again, it’s done it before), so it effectively fails for a few thousand years. Geologically, that’s an eyeblink, but for humans it’s a real problem since the magnetic field keeps out lethal high-energy particles from the Solar wind. Privately, I’m calling these books the Diaspora series. Let me know if that works and I’ll put it on the books I control.

My next title will be Getting Lucky, also the second in a series (my second second book, so to speak); it’s the story of Sasha from Open Mike at Club Bebop and the personage he finds lurking in the sealed archive he’s searching for more information on that tantalizing piece of video Colonel Singh turned up in Bebop. Yes, Sasha is smitten by someone as sneaky as he is, and…Martians, although not live ones. I know, right? More on that when it gets beaten into shape.

However, The Nobinata Gambit has an excellent cover, created by the talented and beautiful Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs (The Killion Group):

The Nobinata Gambit - Cover

  In case you were wondering, you can
buy it here:

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Kobo

 Sorry, Apple readers, I can’t figure out how to get a direct link to the book in iTunes.

If you know, leave a comment with directions.

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