Monday, August 6, 2012

That Little Book

Recently I read Stylize: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. He writes that he may be obsessive about the book. I think that is an understatement. He is definitely obsessed with that little book. Obviously he was impressed with the book and must have done a lot of research, evident by the detailed history.

I was surprised to find myself continuing to read, and enjoy, this book about a book.  Garvey aroused my curiosity in the history of William Strunk Jr., a professor at Cornell University and his former student, E. B. White, writer for The New Yorker and author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

Information about the book written to help students and sold for 25 cents at Cornell and White’s involvement in the various editions with MacMillan editor Jack Case kept me reading. I was bored with some of the excerpts and quotes from other authors throughout the middle of the book.  There were just too many.

I’ve had my copy of Strunk & White, Third Edition, as long as I can remember, referring to it occasionally, but I didn’t realize it had such an interesting history, nor that it was so controversial. Writers seem to love it or hate it, praise it or bash it.

Arthur Plotnik’s book, Spunk & Bite: A writers guide to punchier, more engaging language & style, gives reasons why he thinks Strunk & White is too rigid for today’s changing world. Although he admits he does go back to The Elements of Style to review sensible rules, his opinions of strict rules comes through in the title of Chapter One, “E. B. Whitewashed.”

Spunk & Bite offers “A Little Light Unstrunktion,” discussing flexibility, freshness, texture, force and form. “With some ten million copies rooted on as many reference shelves, Strunk and White has become the ivy (if not the kudzu) on our great walls of clarity and correctness.”  Later in that chapter he writes that both Strunk and White knew that bending the rules “can give writing its distinction, its edge, its very style.” I agree.
I am enjoying the look at different approaches to writing offered by Plotnik. Although, I’m only half finished the book, I had to check out the last chapter, Contemporaneity.

Plotkin discusses excess and standing out from the crowd – to go for broke – whether you win or lose, you learn and can survive. I enjoyed this section: “What is it that the protagonist of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral declares about writing in general? ‘As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life.’ Spunky.”

Isn’t it great that we have access to such variety. We can refer to Strunk & White and then add some spunk and bite to our writing.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Local promotion

As writers, we are constantly reminded we also need to promote our works if we want people to buy and read them. We need to build a platform, have a website, use social media, send out press releases, etc. There are many other methods to promote our works. One person I noticed doing this very successfully is Lois Szymanski.
I saw Lois recently signing books at Constellation Books in Reisterstown. I’ve seen her signing at A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville and the Farm Museum’s Author Day and at a meeting of the Carroll County Maryland Writer’s Association. More than 90 people attended her recent talk, with a pony outside, at the Finksburg Library. She was even signing - and hopefully - selling books at the Union Mills Flower and Plant Show, an appropriate venue, since she has published seven Gettysburg Ghost Gang books with Shelley Sykes. She is available for school visits and critiques. She has a website, and an occasional blog.
 (Pictured above is Lois Szymanski, sitting, and Lauretta Nagel, of Constellation Books)
Lois is also a good example of “write what you know.” Her favorite book as a child was “Misty of Chincoteague” and she has loved horses ever since. She wrote a Charming Ponies series and  several non-fiction books: Chincoteague Ponies, Untold Tales and Out of the Sea: Today’s Chincoteague Pony and The True Story of Sea Feather. She is a key supporter of The Feather Fund, an organization that helps by Chincoteague ponies for children who can’t afford them.
Lois teaches about writing for children at Carroll Community College. She writes a regional column and feature stories for the Carroll County Times and is active in SCBWI (the Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators).
Another local writer, Laura Bowers had a successful signing of her newest book, Just Flirt, at a Flirting Tea Time from 3:00 to 5:00 pm July 21, at Constellation Books in Reisterstown, MD. I was there to support one of our local writers. Laura also wrote the hilarious Beauty Shop for Rent. You can find out more about her at
In the September 2012 issue of The Writer Erika Dreifus writes about “5 free and easy ways to promote your book” in addition to the “tried-and-true techniques.”  There is no question that authors need to promote their books. Books, magazines, writers’ groups and blogs give us ideas, but the methods we use can differ greatly.