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(Released May 2015)
By Vanessa Wells
Full disclosure: I have never been into murder mysteries. No early Nancy Drews, no later Agatha Christies—frankly, I just felt like I would never be able to figure the mystery out and would feel kinda dumb, so I never embraced the genre. The only reason I was interested in the Marjorie Trumaine books by Larry D. Sweazy was that I’d heard they were written by and about an indexer.
I was a little skeptical about how the second book of the mystery series, See Also Deception, could pick up with a new murder only months after those of the first, but this fell by the wayside once I cracked open the book. In a nutshell, our newbie-sleuth heroine cannot accept that her librarian friend has committed suicide, and her indexer-character tenacity leads her to work the details of the case that are missed by the police. Fortunately, foreshadowing is well handled and carries the reader’s interest rather than handing over the solution to the murder on a silver platter. This is perhaps due to Sweazy’s writing habit of working organically and without complete pre-outlining, which lets the story unfold for himself as much as for his audience.
In his acknowledgments, the author says, “Indexing, like writing, is a job best done in isolation.” In See Also Deception, he has again succeeded in creating an atmosphere that highlights the protagonist’s isolation, both physical and psychological, despite the constant presence of her invalid husband and her community of Dickinson, North Dakota. The bleak feeling also works for the character and plot development that he tantalizingly creates for the reader. (more…)
Wordplay is a regular column by editor and language writer James Harbeck in which he tastes and plays with English words and usages.
If you want to make something look, y’know, old and classy and stuff, what’s better than adding an e to the end of it? Think how much extra you pay to stay in a Crowne Plaza hotel than you would in a simple Crown Plaza. Cochrane, Alberta has a log-and-glass event space called Cochrane RancheHouse. And, of course, there are all these plain old olde things.
That’s where we crank up the antiquity another notch, with the word you have to blow the dust off every time you use it: ye. As in “ye olde candy shoppe.” And “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
Only not every ye has the same meaning, nor is every occurrence of it an actual word. The ye in ye olde isn’t ye at all. The y isn’t y. (more…)
By Ambrose Li
Is web accessibility for people with disabilities the responsibility of just web designers, web developers, or accessibility consultants? Editors Toronto certainly disagrees, or it wouldn’t have organized a seminar on web accessibility standards last November. But what if you missed that seminar?
Web accessibility in a nutshell
Ontario’s web accessibility standard is based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. It consists of four principles divided into 12 guidelines that together form the basis of more than 60 success criteria and over 400 techniques; it deals with not only web pages but also other kinds of content posted online, including PDFs. Its official guide, at 262 letter-sized pages, is more than five times longer than the standard itself.
This sounds intimidating, but the four principles of accessibility (perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust) and 12 guidelines that underpin the WCAG standard are surprisingly simple. And, as an editor, only two of those guidelines should catch your attention: readable and navigable. Readability is clearly the job of all editors, and navigability—organizing the site so that readers can easily glean its structure and find their way around—is central to what substantive editors do. Even when acting within traditional editorial roles, we are already qualified to meaningfully contribute to a site’s accessibility. (more…)
Book review: Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution, by Stuart Kells
(Released August 2015)
By Ana Trask
Penguin Books has been an international literary treasure—a cultural institution that remains a stronghold in the publishing market—since its inception in the 1930s. The 2013 merger with Random House further cemented its omnipresence in the literary scene. However, despite its decades-long prominence, accounts of Penguin’s history have been incomplete and erroneous. Stuart Kells seeks to set history straight in this meticulously researched, unbiased biography of the publishing behemoth and its founders.
When Kells wrote this book, Wikipedia listed Allen Lane as the sole founder of Penguin Books. In fact, all previous biographies of Penguin focus on Allen, whom the public hailed a publishing genius. So how did a man whose favourite book was The Culture of the Abdomen: The Cure of Obesity and Constipation establish a publishing empire? The answer is he didn’t.
Kells unearthed a vast array of sources to reveal that the lesser-known Lane brothers, Richard and John (who were co-founders with Allen and held equal ownership), were not only instrumental in the hatching of Penguin but also the wings that made this flightless bird soar. Richard in particular was the ongoing driving force, as John was killed during World War II. Richard rightfully takes centre stage in this story; this book might as well have been subtitled The Untold Story of Richard Lane. He was the true “architect” of Penguin. (more…)
Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.
Emily, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.
I think I’ve been an editor since I took red crayon to a classmate’s paper in first grade (true story!), but I’ve been at it professionally for about a decade now. I work mainly on corporate materials, and I’ve developed a reputation as the go-to person for web content (despite not getting online until I was in university, a decade after the World Wide Web was born).
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I can’t imagine editing a famous author—at least not once they were famous. I just can’t picture myself saying, “C’mon, Margaret [Atwood], that’s a weak sentence,” or “I think you need to develop this character more, Alice [Munro].” But I would love to work with Susan Musgrave, my favourite poet, just to get a sense of her process and a glimpse inside her wonderfully weird mind. I would probably be far too much of a fangirl to be any kind of decent editor to her, though. (more…)
Book review: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker
By Ana Trask
If you want a comprehensive, in-depth guide that answers questions about grammar, usage, and style, turn to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, which was just released in September (2014).
There are different types of styles—plain, practical, classical, and postmodern—and they can overlap. Pinker is a proponent of classic prose, which steers clear of abstractions in favour of concrete examples. Why is this method so effective? Because, as Pinker explains, readers’ comprehension levels skyrocket when their sensory cortices are stimulated. “Fresh wording and concrete images force us to keep updating the virtual reality display in our minds.” That’s why writers should be cinematographers, using as many tools as needed to draw lucid and coherent—not to mention beautiful—pictures for their audience. Among these tools are metaphors, parallel syntax, phonesthetics (“the feeling of sound”), and zeugma (“the intentional juxtaposition of different senses of a word”).
If you are using classical style, you are engaging readers in a conversation, not attempting to impress them with your authority on a subject. “Classic writing, with its assumption of equality between writer and reader, makes the reader feel like a genius.” (more…)
By Ana Trask
In Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman take readers on an exciting tour of a mythological etymological landscape. Prepare to have your illusions shattered. “You may kick and scream…when you find that many of your most cherished beliefs about English are as phony as a three-dollar bill,” the authors warn before they rip apart the veil.
If you think the British language is “purer” than the American version, you’re mistaken. If you think SOS stands for Save Our Souls or Save Our Ship, you are not alone…just horribly incorrect. But surely beginning sentences with a conjunction is a modern phenomenon, right? Wrong. Axe another question. Before you tell me that I made a mistake in the previous sentence, I must tell you that axe is the original spelling and pronunciation of ask.
At the risk of fanning the flames, I’m sorry to inform you that ain’t used to be a legitimate contraction of am not and are not; toupée is a fake French word; and the grammarian who first suggested we use he as a universal pronoun to refer to both men and women was—gasp!—a woman.