Self-driving Cars and Avocado Toast: Welcome to AP Stylebook 2017

angry alien

These are the days that we grammar freaks live for!* The Associated Press Stylebook 2017 is shaking things up with 200 changes, some of them major changes. The internet (lowercase i) is all abuzz as traditional grammarians duke it out against progressive grammarians, using well-written and carefully punctuated insults, while trolls stoke the fire with deliberate misspellings. It’s a maaaaaad house! 

Most of the new rules have to do with popular word usage, changing cultural mores, and the language of new technology. But, really, I think the AP folks toss in a few of these just to mess with us. Like their ruling on avocado toast. According to AP, the term now officially applies to toast that has been spread with smashed avocado. Why? Were editors storming the offices of the Associated Press, demanding clarity on the avocado toast issue? Just saying.

The ruling that seems to be generating the most hubbub is the limited acceptance of they, them, or their as gender-neutral, singular pronouns. AP says that when gender is unknown, or the person prefers not to identify as gender-specific, writers should use the person’s name instead. If a pronoun is unavoidable, use they, them, or their. But, AP warns, take care not to imply that they is more than one person. 🙂

Grammar Girl comments 3-27-2017

Comments from Grammar Girl’s blog at Quick and Dirty Tips.

Other AP Stylebook 2017 rulings include:

  • Clarification on the rule about serial (Oxford) commas. AP does not use them, but clarifies in the 2017 edition that understandability is the bottom line. If the sentence is unclear without a serial comma, use one.
  • We can now say MPH and MPG for miles per hour and miles per gallon in the first use of those terms, rather than defining them first, then abbreviating.
  • Avoid courtesy titles, like Mr., Mrs, Ms. Instead, write out the first and last name. Exceptions are allowed when needed for clarity, or within a direct quotation.
  • Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are to be called self-driving or partially self-driving, rather than driverless. Driverless is used only when the vehicle does not have a human driver.
  •  AP wants us to avoid using terms like “opposite sex,” “both sexes,” or “either sex,” so as not to impose roles on anyone. The 2017 Stylebook includes a comprehensive section addressing the issues that come up when writing about sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • March Madness is now capitalized when referring to the basketball tournament. That surprised me. I thought that was already a thing.
  • The term esports is all lowercase and not hyphenated, except when it’s part of a proper name. The same with email, but that’s not new. The words e-book, e-commerce, and e-business remain hyphenated.

Remember, not everyone uses AP style, so check with your publisher, and use the style guide they prefer. (See what I did there, with the singular they?)

You can get the AP Stylebook 2017 online now, or pre-order the print edition, scheduled to be released on July 11, 2017.

What do you think of the changes? Did AP get it right this year, or are you hopping mad? And what do you call avocado toast? Let us know in the comments. We’re all in this together.


* Regarding ending a sentence with a preposition: I write this blog (mostly) in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). According to CMOS 5.176:

The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. As Winston Churchill famously said, “That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” . . . The “rule” prohibiting terminal prepositions was an ill-founded superstition.



Winging It for St. Patrick’s Day

Mwwaaa angel-in-heaven from public domain pictures dot net
Original photo by Charles Rondeau via

It’s been a rough week for the Frazier fam, y’all. Between my kids, my husband, and me, we’ve visited the ER twice, endured lots of pain, and downed plenty of medicines. Sheesh! When it rains, it pours. I’m looking forward to the day when “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) It looks like we’re all on the mend now (yay!), but I didn’t write anything this week, so I’m winging it today.

In lieu of actually writing, I found a cool blog post Why Do We Pinch People Not Wearing Green on St. Patrick’s Day? I love fun, little factoids like this one by Brock Keeling.

Image may contain: 1 person

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m planning to go back to bed. What are you doing to celebrate?


Edited 4/24/2017 to cut out the drivel. –kf

Why did it take nine years to get serious about my own writing?

Elliot science dude meme
My son, the super science guy.

My son, always looking for ways to earn a few extra dollars to fund his science projects, emerged from his laboratory bedroom as I emerged from my Writing Zone. We met at the writing fuel coffee pot, and he began his proposal.

“I see you’re making money,” he started.

“I’m not making money,” I answered.

A sound caught in his throat, as if this unexpected answer threw off his pitch.”You’re writing, aren’t you? Why aren’t you making money?”

“I’m writing something that I hope to sell, but I don’t have a contract.”

“Wait. You’re really not getting paid?”

“Not anytime soon. Maybe not ever. We’ll see.”

He was genuinely perplexed. “Why would you do that?”

Why does any writer–or any other artist–do that? Because we must. It’s our gift, our calling, our passion, whatever you want to call it. The real question should be: Why did it take me nine years?

For nine years, I wrote other people’s stories, websites, workbooks, Bible studies, book studies, and more. I edited for newbie authors who appreciated my help, for college students who counted on proofreading as part of their grades, for companies that like someone who follows instructions, and even for a very few brilliant authors who honored me by allowing me to study their unpolished manuscripts. And I thanked God for the opportunity to stay home with my kids and do what I love while helping to provide for my family. Now everything seems different.

Truth be told, it’s scary in No Contract, Writing-as-Myself Land. It’s not just the lack of money, either. The thing is, I became accustom to regular positive feedback for ego boosting. I liked the chance to fix something when feedback wasn’t good. I worked faster with imposed deadlines. I grew comfortable with anonymity, letting the responsibility for my words fall onto someone else’s reputation.

Life slips away, and it’s been nine years since I published something with my own name on it (besides this blog). It’s time for me to gather up all those bits and pieces of information and the stories that I’ve scribbled over the years, “for when I have time,” and craft them into something comprehensible. Something that only I can write. Real, honest-to-goodness books. (Just typing that last sentence makes me nervous.) But this is where my journey is leading me.

Elliot looking off the side of the boat, cropped
We’re taking this journey together. Let’s see where it goes.

I’m sure other writers understand. So many of you bravely write your very own stories and ideas and dreams, without a contract, every day. And just as bravely, you send in queries and one sheets and synopses, and land those contracts. I salute every one of you.

Even though I’m not currently making money, I still wield the power over my son’s cashflow, as Mother Supreme, and I still support his love of science. We’re in this together.

Did you quit your day job to take on writing full time, with no promise of publication? How is that going for you? Did the lack of regular feedback rattle your self-esteem? Did the isolation drive you bonkers? I’d love to hear from y’all. I’m open to any and all advice and encouragement.








Purim? Lent? Must we choose?

purim play in poland march 2009 public domain
Henryk Kotowski photographer CC BY-SA 3.0

Costumes, dancing and feasting and giving food gifts. Purim is a joyous celebration of deliverance and survival, as recorded in the Biblical book of Esther. Purim is an absolute blast!

prayer public domain
Photo by George Hoden

The only problem is, Purim almost always falls during the Lenten season. Purim’s jovial mood doesn’t fit so well with the solemn via dolorosa (“the way of grief”) that Jesus walked toward crucifixion, which many Christians observe in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. Must we choose one tradition over the other?

Purim celebrates when God made a way for the Jews to be delivered from genocide through the bravery of Esther. Lent recalls the Crucifixion, when God made a way for us all to be delivered from spiritual death through the sacrifice of Jesus.

why not bothNeither celebration is commanded in Scripture. You don’t have to acknowledge either one. But neither one is forbidden, either. And neither contradicts the other. Since I’m an any-excuse-for-a-party kind of gal, I say, why not have both? Why not take the occasion of Lent to seriously consider the life and sacrifice of Jesus, and also take a night off to rejoice? Both celebrations, really, are a time for rejoicing!

One of the most important things on Jesus’s mind–the thing he prayed for just moments before his arrest and crucifixion–was unity among believers. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of all who believed in him, and all who would believe in him in the future (including us!).

Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you [the Father] gave me, that they [believers] may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (From the gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 22-23, NIV. I added the words in brackets and the bold letters for emphasis).

During this Holy Season, I choose to remember the whole Word of God. All of it. And I will rejoice without apology with anyone who wants to join me–costume and all. If you choose only Lent or only Purim, or neither one, I hope you will still stand together with me, as I will with you, in complete unity.

For more information on celebrating Purim, including a recipe for traditional Purim cookies, see the post, Celebrating Purim includes these 4 things.

For a look at the doctrine of drunkenness on Purim, check out Levity: It’s not just for Levites on Purim.

For a Jewish Catholic point of view on this subject, I recommend, Purim and Lent: Haman Hung, Christ Crucified

For a Messianic look at Purim, including its prophetic significance, I highly recommend Purim: Feast of Lots from

What about you? What are your plans for either Lent or Purim? Or neither? Or both? How do you express your faith during this season?

Hugs to you all,

When and When Not to Hyphenate

what-color-is-the-dressYoo-hoo, Writer Peeps!

Do you know why high-heeled shoes get a hyphen, but running shoes do not? Why the president-elect gets a hyphen, but the vice president elect does not? What if I told you that the white-and-gold dress was also blue and black? Some people think hyphenating is random, that whatever looks right is right. Sorry, but no. We have rules. We can’t just let people hyphenate all over the place, willy-nilly. But I’ve got your back. I’ll walk you through this.

The following guidelines are just a tip of the iceberg of hyphenation, but it’s a place to start. They’re in accordance with the current (16th) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS is the most commonly used American English style guide for fiction, and for social sciences and historical nonfiction. Now let’s get started.


  • To separate groups of numerals for easier reading and remembering.
    • My phone number is 813-555-7575.
  • To express age. Whether adjective or noun, numeral or written, use a hyphen.
    • The seven-year-old child jumped rope.
    • The 65-year-old asked for the senior discount.
  • For compound color names–only if the color is before the noun it describes.
    • He recreated the reddish-orange sunset on canvas.
    • Grandma showed us a black-and-white photo.
      • Exception: Do not hyphenate compound color names if the color comes after the noun it describes.
        • Though ripe, the mango remained yellowish green.
        • This old photo is black and white.
  • For numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine, when spelled out.
    • I counted up to thirty-four in attendance.
  • For a number that comes before a noun, whether spelled out or a numeral.
    • Our five-year mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations.
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an 870-page novel.
  • For in-laws. All forms are hyphenated.
    • Her new mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law welcomed her to the family.
  • Adjectives before a noun.
    • She’s a small-town girl at heart. (But: She lives in a small town.)
  • Gerund combinations used as adjectives.
    • Mark is a law-abiding citizen.
    • Ginny is a mud-slinging politician.


  • To break long words at the end of a line. It used to be standard practice to break a long word that falls at the end of a line with a hyphen, and continue it on the next line. This is no longer correct. Let the edges look ragged. Only use hyphens where they grammatically make sense.
  • For time, whether written out or in numerals.
    • The bus should get here by four o’clock.
    • I need to go home by 6:30 p.m.
      • Exception: Hyphenate time when used as an adjective before a noun.
        • The seven-fifteen class ends at eight fifteen.
  • To express percentages. Percentages are not hyphenated, whether spelled out or numerals.
    • The store is having a 20 percent off sale.
    • I paid only eighty percent.
  • For directions. Make compound words for compound directions.
    • The wind came from the northeast.
    • The store is located on the southwest corner.
      • Exception: When three directions are combined, use a hyphen between the first two. The wind came from the east-northeast.
  • For compound chemical names. Chemical compounds are not hyphenated, whether used as adjectives or nouns.
    • He drank a sodium bicarbonate solution for his upset stomach.
    • Mom disinfected the thermometer with isopropyl alcohol.
  • For compound proper nouns related to geography or  identification.
    • It looks like trouble in the Middle East.
    • The iconic work of Japanese American artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi is on display.
      • Exception: Hyphenate nouns related to geography or identification if the first part of the compound is an abbreviated prefix.
        • The focus group consisted of Cuban Americans, Anglo-Americans, and African Americans.
  • For adverbs ending in -ly, when coupled with a participle or adjective.
    • He wore a poorly made suit.
    • Did you think that joke was even slightly funny?
  • For gerunds that make up noun combinations.
    • I wear running shoes.
    • The children take swimming lessons.

As I said, these rules are just the tip of the iceberg. It would take many blogs to cover all of the hyphenation rules.  Your best bet is to get an up-to-date style guide, like CMOS. Remember words that are usually or always hyphenated will appear hyphenated in the dictionary, so look up words when you’re not sure. Merriam-Webster is the standard dictionary. And you can always ask me. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.

Did you figure out why president-elect is hyphenated, but vice president elect is not? Because the word elect is always hyphenated as part of a compound–unless the office it modifies is an open compound (vice president, lieutenant governor, etc.).  Okay, that one counts as one of the random rules of American English. But it’s a fun one.

How many of these rules did you already know? Do you have a question about a specific hyphenation rule? Just ask. We’re all in this together.


Avoiding Bias when Writing Descriptors

Hello Writer Peeps,

Original photo courtesy of George Hodan via

As a child, I called my nephew “mentally retarded.” I adored Ronnie, and would never make fun of him. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, mentally retarded was polite. In time, he went from retarded to special, from Mongoloid to Down’s. And now we say a person with an intellectual disability and a person with Down syndrome.

This illustrates one of the biggest changes to American English in recent years: an emphasis on the person first. That is, we no longer define human beings by their descriptors. I’m not talking about Political Correctness. I’m talking about grammar.

Language evolves and adapts to social experiences, and we writers need to stay up-to-date. We can’t hold onto the language of our childhood, or even of last year, if we expect to write for today’s readers (unless you write historical fiction). Did you know, for example, that the official, Merriam-Webster definition of literally  is now either “exactly,” “basically,” or “figuratively”? So if I said that the word means literally nothing, that is technically, but not exactly, correct.

It is no longer acceptable to call people names, even if no offense is intended. Do not refer to a person as autistic, a cripple, a gay, a deaf-mute, etc. Every publication uses a style guide, so check yours. Some of these labels are still in common usage, but are technically no longer correct.

Do not say: “He’s autistic.”
Say instead: “He has autism.”
(In the first sentence, He equals autistic, as if the label defines him. In the second sentence, autism is something he has, but it does not define him.)

Do not say: “The handicapped entrance is around the corner.”
Say instead: “The entrance for people using wheelchairs is around the corner.”
(The entrance is not handicapped. It is for people who have a specific need.)

Do not say: “A group of Catholics met in the park.”
Say instead: “A group of Catholic people met in the park.”
(In the first sentence, the group is defined only by their religion. In the second sentence, Catholic is used a descriptor for people.)

Do not say: “This wedding chapel welcomes gays.”
Say instead: “This wedding chapel welcomes gay couples.”
(Using gay as an adjective describing couples, rather than as a direct object, emphasizes people, rather than sexuality.)

Do not say: “Braille is a tool for the blind.”
Say instead: “Braille is a tool for blind people.” (or …people with visual impairment.)
(Same as above. Use the descriptor blind as an adjective, and emphasize people.)

Do not say: “the learning disabled
Say instead: “those who have been diagnosed with a learning disability” nana-hooker-meme

You get it, right? People come first–not necessarily in word order, but in importance. This applies to anybody who may be discriminated against or slighted because of stereotyping of their sex, gender, social status, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or physical characteristics, among others.


  • Descriptive job titles For example, it is acceptable to say, “Firefighters arrived at the scene just in time,” or “The server brought our food quickly.”
  • When bias is central to the writing  Especially in fiction, but sometimes in non-fiction, bias is central to the meaning. It is not grammatically incorrect to include biased language when you are specifically trying to convey bias.

One last word of advice comes from the Chicago Manual of Style. “What you should strive forif you want readers to focus on your ideas and not on the political subtextis a style that doesn’t even hint at the issue.” (CMOS 5.224)

Are you keeping up with America’s ever-changing English? What changes have you seen? What expressions do you wish had stayed the same? Are these changes literally blowing your mind? Let us know how you feel in the comments. We’re all in this together.


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Why “I’ll pray for you” is not always nice. What to say instead.

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Scott Dannemiller’s excellent post, The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying, about the misuse of the word blessing, got me thinking about other things that Christians say that we should probably re-think. One of these is, “I’ll pray for you.” We say it (usually) with good intentions. But to the unchurched, it can sound confusing or even divisive.

When to say it: Tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” if (1) you’re actually planning to pray for them (make sure you follow through), (2) you know they would be happy for you to pray for them, and (3) you think it will encourage them to know you’re praying.

If those three conditions are met, saying, “I’ll pray for you” makes perfect sense. Go for it. But here are some examples of inappropriate uses of “I’ll pray for you,” and what you can say instead. (You can still pray, even when you don’t say so.)

  • When you should be doing more to help. A friend tells you she and her husband are having marital problems, and really need to spend some time alone together. You say, “I’ll pray for you.”
    What to say instead: “Let me watch your kids over the weekend,” “Here’s a gift card to a restaurant,” etc. None of us has the resources to take on all the problems of the world, but when we see a need, and we have the means to help, we should help. (And pray, too.)Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)
  • When you don’t know what else to say. A woman in your office tells you that she just got fired. You don’t know how to respond to her teary-eyed news, so you say, “I’ll pray for you.” Truth be told, you’re just glad you weren’t fired. The words roll off your tongue only to fill the empty space.
    What to say instead: “I’m here,” “What can I do to help?” (If you offer help, give it.) If you can’t take that on, try a simple, “I’m sorry,” coupled with a physical gesture, like offering a drink of water or a tissue.
  • To bring the conversation around to spiritual issues. You heard that your brother’s new girlfriend is not a Christian, and you want to talk with her about that. She’s talking about her educational goals, and you answer, “I’ll pray for you.” Now you’re on topic to talk about Jesus, right? No. Unbelievers are not inherently stupid. Most people see through that manipulation, and realize that you’re not interested in them as a person, but only as a soul to be “won.”
    What to say instead: If you care about someone and take an interest in their life, you earn the right to talk about such an intimate subject as faith. The most natural and unoffensive way to bring the conversation around to Jesus is to talk about what He means in your life. Talk about your faith as a natural extension of your life.
  • matthew-6-memeTo someone you know is anti-Christian. Most non-Christians, whether or not they believe in prayer, accept “I’ll pray for you” as an expression of good will. They may even welcome your prayers. But not everyone. Imagine your Wiccan neighbor telling you, “I’ll cast a healing spell for you.” Though it’s an expression of kindness, it might rattle some Christians to know that a spell is cast on their behalf. That’s how “I’ll pray for you” feels to some non-Christians who have strong feelings about Christianity.
    What to say instead:May I pray for you?” And if they answer no, don’t do it. God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). Or just don’t say anything about prayer, and pray for them privately. God hears our secret prayers (Matthew 6:6).
  • To have the last word. As a Christian, I’m ashamed to even mention this, but too often, “I’ll pray for you” is Christianese for, “I disapprove of you and I will not listen to you.” Someone says you’re a simpleton for believing in the virgin birth or the Resurrection, and you come back with, “I’ll pray for you.” It’s smug and rude. Jesus said to pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44), not to have the last word. Pray for them in private.
    What to say instead: This is a two-part answer. (1) If the person is sincerely trying to have a discussion, discuss. Discussion involves listening. Hear them out. You don’t need to feel defensive. The truth holds up under scrutiny. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Use it as an opportunity to find an answer and strengthen your own faith. Try to find common beliefs that you can build a relationship on. (2) If they’re just arguing, berating you, or showing off, you don’t have to say anything. Humble yourself. Like Jesus. Let them have the last word. Show respect, but disengage.

As Christians, we believe that when we pray, we approach the throne of God and enter into His presence (Hebrews 4:16), so let’s not treat prayer so flippantly. Let’s give it the respect it deserves.

What other Christian expressions have you heard used in a confusing or divisive way? How did you handle it?



This post is for procrastinating writers.

Manahoana, Writer Peeps!

Photo by Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0

It’s been a week since I officially set aside copy writing and copy editing to focus on writing the words of my heart. My writing time seems more precious as my eyes grow out-of-focus and dimmer each day. My goal is to write my stories on days that I can see, for as long as I can see. It’s non-specific, but it’s still a goal, and I’m going for it.

We don’t say it, but we all kind of believe we’ll live forever, healthy, free, and with a sound mind, don’t we? So, with all the time in the world, we wait. Wait until the Muse plays nice. Until we get the perfect software. Until life gets easier.

Check out The Procrastination Rut by Flylady (Marla Cilley)
for inspiration on cutting procrastination and living the life you were meant to live.

I’m not used to budgeting my writing time if someone’s not paying me to do it, so I procrastinated came up with a couple of rules to stay on track. If you have any tips that work for you, please share. We’re all in this together.

  • Research first. Some writers get their stories out on the page, then fill in details with research later. As a procrastinator, I know I’ll be trying to bang out quality work as the deadline looms, so I put research first. I’ll check out stacks of library books, sit on my bed, and flip through each book. Index cards scribbled with questions or ideas go into the relevant passages. Because I procrastinate, more often than not, I slack on the task at hand and get lost in reading those passages. And I’ll read them whenever I get the urge to read for fun (often).With no conscious effort, my brain arranges and rearranges the information and considers various angles, essentially creating an outline while I hang out. By the time I have to start typing, the work is practically already written. Our brains can only work on information if we give it to them. So whenever you get the urge to procrastinate writing, just lean into it, and do your research right away.
  • Create accountability. As a procrastinator, I’m not good with self-imposed deadlines. When I work for clients, I can make their deadlines. With self-imposed deadlines, though, both the consequences of procrastination and the rewards for diligence are delayed and uncertain. It’s too easy to slack off.
    Original drawing from 1831 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    What’s missing is accountability. This is where a writing group comes in handy. You can encourage one another to keep self-imposed deadlines. If you don’t have a group, pick a friend or family member that you can trust to ask about your progress, hassle you when you fall behind, and reward you with a mini-celebration only when you reach a mini-deadline, and a big celebration only when you reach a big deadline. Your accountability partner doesn’t have to be a writer, but they do have to be tough. This is one of those ‘whatever-I-say-do-not-let-me-out-of-the-room-with-the-monster’ situations.

Imagine how much richer our writing would be if we let research mull around in our brains and didn’t have to cram it all in at the last minute. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we stopped procrastinating and moved forward.

The world needs your story. Get to it.


P.S. This song is very encouraging for us procrastinators. Lyrics in video or here.












Road Trip with Dad to Lincoln’s Birthplace

lincoln-log-cabin-replicaIn 1976, Dad and I took a road trip to Indianapolis. On the way, we detoured to Hodgenville, Kentucky, so we could visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. Dad’s ancestors, the Cradys, used to live next door to the Lincolns, and donated some of the land for that first Lincoln memorial. According to the history book, David Crady: Kentucky Pioneer by Evelyn Crady Adams, Thomas Lincoln summoned neighbor Sarah Crady one rainy night to help his wife Nancy as she struggled to give birth to baby Abraham. (I’m guessing he was a big boy.)

We’d visited the museum as a family when I was little, but I remember only disjointed images from that trip: Dad pointing out a plaque with the name Crady on it, a replica log cabin, like the one where a Crady helped her neighbor birth the future president, and a shiny log cabin made of Lincoln pennies, kept under glass.

Dad always started road trips around 3:00am, to get out of Florida and into cooler weather by the heat of the day. And also, I suspect, because I behaved only while sleeping. My older sister, Terry the Beloved, always behaved and always got carsick. In a transparent grab for attention, she’d throw up. But I aways wrestled the attention back. I’d feign car sickness too, so Mom would give me the concerned look, offer me sips of Shasta cola, and tell Dad to pull over and let me “get some air.”

On those trips, I slept curled around the hump of the carpeted backseat floor in our 1969 Buick Skylark, while the Beloved stretched out across the sticky vinyl benchseat. We didn’t use seatbelts. Mom and Dad would take turns driving. We’d stop long enough to use the restroom or eat breakfast, they’d switch places, and we’d get back on the road.

This time, though, it was just Dad and me. I was twelve. We started out from Tampa 1969-buick_skylark-public-domainaround 3:00am, as usual. I stayed awake as long as I could. Even though we were heading north, the car felt warm and the monotonous highway made me drowsy. Just about the time we reached Hodgenville, I was out. Dad woke me, but I refused to budge. I slept in the car while he visited the museum without me.

I used to wish that I’d taken an interest in the museum, and in my family’s fleeting connection to one of the greatest men of American history. I used to feel guilty for sleeping through what could have been a good father-daughter bonding time. But Dad just kept teasing me.

He teased me about that trip for the rest of his life. Every chance he got, he told people, “She ain’t interested. I drive miles out of my way to expose her to a little history, show her a little bit of her roots, but she don’t care. She’d rather sleep.” And he’d wink at me and laugh.

Parenting a twelve-year-old can be challenging. I’m so thankful that Dad gave it a try, and that he laughed at me about it for the next thirty-nine years. It was a good father-daughter bonding after all.

Happy President’s Day,






When and When Not to Write On Spec


Original photo by Karen Arnold


Kon’nichiwa, Writer Peeps!

On spec. As a writer, you’ll hear that a lot. It’s short for “on speculation,” and it means that you write an article, a short story, a screenplay, book, whatever, with no contract and no promise of publication. You send it in and hope the editor wants to publish it.

It’s a gamble, for sure. You can increase your odds of getting that contract, though, if you know when to roll the dice.


  • When you’re just breaking in. If you don’t have experience or prior publications, but you know you did a good job, your best bet is to let your work speak for itself. And I mean that. Do not (NO!), do not tell the editor that God wants your story to reach the world, that your manuscript is a great opportunity for them, or that you can see it made into a feature film. All those things might be true. Do not say them.
  • When an editor answers your query and asks for more. The first couple of articles that I ever got published were in Home School Enrichment magazine. I first queried the editor, expressing that my experience and philosophy matched the magazine’s focus, and that I’d been doing volunteer writing for my local homeschool group. I pitched a few ideas, and he asked to see specific finished articles on spec, which I then wrote furiously, because the editor was clearly interested. The magazine published a couple of my articles, and that led to re-publishing at And, just like that, I had publishing credits to list on my query letters to other publications.
  • When you have no samples to show. Are you seeing a theme? When you’re just breaking in, writing on spec can get your foot in the door. There’s no risk to the publisher, and you get the opportunity to show what you can do. Sometimes the editor even takes the time to comment on specifics about your manuscript, and that’s free professional advice.
  • When you already wrote what you’re selling. One of the articles that I’d written on spec for Home School Enrichment, and that was rejected, I sold to another homeschooling magazine that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. (If I remembered which one, I’d tell you, but I know it was a national glossy.) The thing is, once you’ve already written an article or short story, or even a screenplay or novel, you can pitch it without taking up a lot of time or effort. While you’re pitching it, keep writing the next piece.
  • When your piece is short. Most short pieces have to be on spec. An editor cannot tell how good or suitable your poem, short story, or essay will be by your credentials, even if they’re stellar.
  • When you haven’t gotten anywhere with queries. We’ve all heard stories about writers who were getting nowhere by following all the rules, so they just went for it, and sent unsolicited manuscripts. This is a Hail Mary pass. Your manuscript will most likely end up in the recycle bin, but if you write an enticing cover letter and a compelling hook, you just might get noticed.

    Original photo by George Hodin


  • It will take a long time. If you have an idea for an article, for example, that will take a lot of time and research, and you have not written any of it yet, it’s probably not worth it. There are exceptions. If the payoff is extraordinary, if the editor asked to see it, and if you can sell it to another publisher if this one declines, it might be worth it.
  • It cannot be sold in any other market. If you plan to write something that is based on copyrighted material (eg, writing a companion workbook for a specific textbook), or that fits only a small niche market, you probably should get a contract before writing, because you will not be able to sell or use the work if the publisher declines.
  • It’s time sensitive. If you’ve written something about current events, or a speculative work about a possible event that will come to pass quickly, you don’t have time to offer it to one publication after another on spec. Strike while the iron’s hot. Self-publish or send out query letters instead.
  • When the publication specifically says not to. If you’re looking at writer’s guidelines and you see the words Absolutely no unsolicited manuscripts! don’t send an unsolicited manuscript.


  • Always follow writer’s guidelines exactly. Something as simple as the wrong font can make the difference between an editor reading your manuscript and tossing it. Remember that editors are detail oriented. They notice.
  • Make sure you know what the publisher wants. Read recently published articles to tell you not only the subject, but the tone (friendly, emotional, factual, etc.) and the vocabulary (reading level, profanity, etc.).
  • Know the targeted reader to know if your submission is a good fit. Studying the publication’s advertising is useful for getting to know the reader. If what you’ve written is a close fit, but not quite right, tweak it to fit better before submitting.
  • Include a cover letter. Find out the name of the editor of the department to which you’re submitting, and address a cover letter to that specific editor. You can usually find the editor’s name and contact information on the publication’s website. If you’re not sure, call and ask the receptionist. If you don’t know the gender of the editor, or you don’t know how the editor wishes to be addressed, don’t guess. Don’t use slashes, like Mr./Ms./Mrs., or any variation of that. Instead, use the full name. For example, “Dear Robin Jones,” or “Dear E.S. Smith.” Under no circumstances should you address your cover letter to “To Whom it May Concern.” Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Boiling it down to its essense, the guideline is: Does the benefit outweigh the risk? If so, go with God. I’m in your corner, too.

Have you written anything on spec? How was that experience for you? Let’s talk about it in the comments. We’re all in this together.





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