Saturday, January 25, 2014

I'm taking some time off

Gentle readers of this blog, thank you for giving me an audience to write for.

At this point I've decided to quite blogging every week. My obligations to my work as a publisher and editor (my day jobs) have grown greatly in recent weeks, and I seem to be running out of time and energy for posting blogs, at least on a regular basis.

I will still occasionally and sporadically post my two cents' worth when I feel I have something important or entertaining to say about the joy of story, and when I do I'll spread the word by Facebook and email; but don't expect to hear from me on a regular basis.

I wish all of you who are readers and/or writers continued joy in the discovery of story!

John M. Daniel

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Meet Vanessa Furse Jackson

This week I’m pleased and proud to introduce you to Vanessa Furse Jackson, a novelist and poet I very much admire. A few years back, I published Crane Creek—Two Voices, a poetry collection by Vanessa and her late husband, Robb.

This collection tells the story of the first year in a relationship between two poets. The antiphonal voices describe their adventures exploring the natural world of northern Ohio, specifically Crane Creek, on the shore of Lake Erie, and sometimes also on the banks of the nearby Maumee River. One poet, Robb grew up in and near this setting; the other, Vanessa, is from England, and hence experiences many of the natural wonders of New World for the first time. At the heart of the narrative lies the shared experience of falling in love, against and within the changing seasons, and among the wide, wild varieties of birds, mammals, insects, and plants. The poems form a nature guide, to an area and to the wild territory of new love.

For more information about Crane Creek—Two Voices, see:

Last month I read The Revolving Year, a new novel by Vanessa Furse Jackson. What a literary treat that was! Like Jane Austen, Vanessa sets her story in a small town in southern England, and her plot involves love, family, and property. But the novel takes place in modern times, on the brink of the millennium. I enjoyed The Revolving Year enormously and enthusiastically recommend it to you.

I asked Vanessa Furse Jackson to appear on my blog this week, and asked her to write about what “The Joy of Story” means to her. Her response is inspirational and beautifully written. See for yourself:

The joy of story is inseparable from the journey of story. The joy of story for writer and reader involves discovery – the pull of the unknown, the glimpse of unexpected vistas from a moving window, the mounting exhilaration of travel, and the eventual sigh of pleasure at the journey’s end. Or that’s the ideal that keeps writers writing and their readers (fingers crossed) reading.

When I begin to write a story, whether long or short, I’m excited but afraid at the same time. I have no clue where this character, this fleeting image, this setting, this not yet verbalized half-idea will lead me. I have a compulsion to sit down and begin to tell a story, a compulsion that grows within me often over several days, almost as a pleasurable illness might. But what story, I’m not yet sure. So I can only suppose that the compulsion is really a desire for exploration of new mind-country, even (a confession here) escape from the hitherto known. I want to venture into other people’s heads and hearts, other lives. I want to follow my characters through conflicts not my own to discover what revelations – what new understandings – they will lead me to. Paradoxically, of course, I must use my own understanding of human nature if my stories are to take off and fly, to touch and move others as I’d like to think they might.

So the joy of story to the teller is also a search to articulate what it means to be a human on this planet. To show others what it might mean to love, grieve, interact, hate, fail, make sacrifices, find redemption, and so on, hopefully ad infinitum. For this is an illimitable, elastic joy. It’s a polar exploration with no pole at the end, a quest for individual but also for universal experience, for the eternal ticking of life. To write is to discover what you had no idea you knew and, in revelatory, heart-stopping flashes, to discover truths you had never before perceived.

And the joy to the reader? It is, the writer must hope, a similar sense of revelation and discovery. “The reader,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge urged, “should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself.”


Vanessa Furse Jackson is English, coming from a family with deep roots in Devonshire. However, married to an Ohio native, she lived in the States for almost thirty years, the majority of them spent teaching literature and writing at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. A book about her great-grandfather, The Poetry of Henry Newbolt: Patriotism Is Not Enough, was published in 1994 by ELT Press. Her first collection of short stories, What I Cannot Say to You, came out from the University of Missouri Press in 2003. Her second collection, Small Displacements, was published by Livingston Press in 2010 and won the PEN Texas 2011 Southwest Award for Fiction. She also co-authored a book of poems with her husband, Robb Jackson, entitled Crane Creek, Two Voices, which was published by Fithian Press in 2011. Her first novel, The Revolving Year, came out in the fall of 2013 from Barking Rain Press. Vanessa returned to live in England in January 2014, following the unexpected death of her husband. 

For more information, visit

Devonshire, England—1999. It just might be the end of the world for 35-year-old Imogen Hearne. First, she learns that her beloved older sister has breast cancer, followed by the news that the lease on the small cottage that has been her home for the past ten years will be cancelled in January 2000. The only bright spot on the horizon seems to be an extended visit from her niece Celia, who has recently dropped out from university.

But Celia’s visit may turn out to be the cruelest blow of all. For in the midst of Millennium fever, Immy falls unexpectedly — and mutually — in love with Celia’s fiancĂ©. As the year 2000 looms ever closer, Immy will soon be forced to make a life-altering decision. Should she accept this once-in-a-lifetime gift of love, or deny it for the sake of holding together the small, fragile family she treasures?

The Revolving Year is published by Barking Rain Press. You can order the book from the publisher at

You can also order the book through your local independent bookseller or from

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joy of Copy Editing

I make my living by editing manuscripts, specializing in fiction and memoir. As readers of this blog have perhaps gathered, I am a plot junky, and I feel fortunate to work with words in pursuit of the Joy of Story. So I take pleasure in editing the stories written by other writers, be they freelance clients or the authors of the books we (Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, Inc.) publish under our Fithian Press imprint.
Editing—especially editing of memoir and fiction—comes in three varieties: developmental editing, which means big structural changes, major cuts or expansions, rearranging of elements, and the like; line editing, which involves rewriting the sentences and paragraphs for stronger, more effective phrasing; and copy editing, which is routine clean-up of grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc.

Developmental editing is a huge and complex subject, and there are volumes written about story construction and repair. I won’t attempt to tackle this subject in a blog post, although many of my blog posts have touched, and will continue to touch, on various aspects of what makes good stories work and play well.

As for line editing, yes there are lots of books about writing craft at the sentence level, too. But I have a few red flags to raise on the subject. I’ll do that in a future post.

This post will focus on copy editing. There are good reference books for copy editors, too, and the ultimate authority on my shelf is the Chicago Manual of Style, but to be honest I use it for only the thorniest, most convoluted issues. Far more accessible is Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. I believe every editor (and may I say every writer?) should own a copy of Strunk & White, and should dip into it for pleasure as well as for guidance.

But for a short-short list of copy editing fixes for what I’ve come to identify as the most common errors, I’ve come up with following rules. I share them with the authors of every book or story I edit, and also with the freelance proofreaders whom we hire for eagle-eyed repair work. Some of these rules reflect my own opinions on debatable questions, and others are rulings on matters of just plain right versus just plain wrong.


Our house style is to use a comma before the conjunction in series of three or more.

Our rule for ellipsis dots: When they follow a complete sentence, there are four dots, one of which is the period belonging to that sentence. The four dots are followed by a space. When the ellipses follow an incomplete sentence, there are only three dots.

When somebody’s speech is interrupted mid-sentence by another speaker, we use an em-dash (—), not ellipses.

“Mom” and “Mama” are capitalized when they work as names. They’re lower case as common nouns. Same rule applies for Father, Dad, etc.

It’s customary to use italics for foreign words and phrases. Also for names of newspapers, magazines, books, and ships.

Pay special attention to quotation marks. When a spoken passages carries over to a second paragraph, that second paragraph opens with another “open quote mark.

When you end a quoted passage, the punctuation mark (comma, question mark, or period) precedes the close-quote mark. (like this,”; not like this”.)

Beware the dreaded comma splice. That’s two independent clauses joined by a comma. Needs to be two sentences, or joined by a conjunction or a semicolon.

We spell out numbers under 100; use numerals for 100 and over. (Always spell numbers out in quoted dialogue, or when the number is the first word of a sentence.)

“anymore” (one word) for adverb. “any more” (two words) for adjective. “Don’t give me any more cookies. I don’t eat cookies anymore.”

“awhile” (one word) for adverb, as in “stay awhile.” “a while” (two words) for the object of a preposition, as in “stay for a while.”

“all right” is always two words. “alright” is not a word.

“under way” is always two words. “underway” is not a word.

“farther” for distance; “further” for degree: “I had to travel farther from home to be further educated.”

“blonde” means a blond-headed woman. It is always a noun. The adjective (male or female) is “blond.”

as a general rule, compound adjectives are hyphenated if they precede the noun they modify. “This is a red-hot poker. This poker is red hot.”

The possessive of a singular noun ending in s is ’s: “Tom Jones’s lady love.”

The only use for single quotes (‘,’) is to represent quotation marks with quotation marks.

And finally,

Learn by heart the conjugations for “to lie” and “to lay.” Mixing these verbs up will get you in trouble.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy 2014, from The Joy of Story

Happy New Year, and welcome to my blog, “The Joy of Story,” which I post almost every Saturday. Each month, I try to offer:
• one opinionated essay about the craft of good writing;
• one book review based on what I’ve been reading;
• one guest post by a writer colleague who has ideas to share and a book or two to promote;
• and one showcase of 99-word stories sent to me by writers who read  this blog.

If you’re a writer with ideas about “the joy of story,” and if you’d like to share those ideas and promote your published work, I invite you to contact me by email at

If you’re a writer who enjoys pleasure of turning out short-short fiction, I invite you to send me your 99-word stories. All writers are welcome to contribute. Please send me your stories, and please spread the word to make this monthly feature a notable showcase for talent! Complete and simple rules and procedures appear at the end of this post.

At the end of my post for December 2013, I asked folks to send me words to play with. I received five good ones: “Mystery” from Pat Gligor, “Imagine” from Pat Shevlin, “Students” from Eileen Obser, “Excellent” from Jerry Giammatteo, and “Enormity” from Joe Bonelli. I tossed these words onto my desk and came up with this dactylic ditty:

Imagine the mystery
In all its enormity
That students come forth with
Such excellent words!


And now allow me to present two 99-word stories sent to me by Jerry and Joe:


by Jerry Giammatteo

     The men exited the strange craft that looked like the Space Shuttle. They were good looking guys wearing nice polo shirts and khakis.
     “How’s it going fellas?” one asked, laughing at our amazed expressions.
     “We pictured you differently,” I said.
     “You earthlings always expect little green men,” one chided.
     “Nice clothes.”
     “Thanks. Got them at Brooks Brothers last year for Christmas.”
     “Wait till our friends see this,” I said.
     “We’ll be here.”
     Our friends thought us crazy, but returned with us the next day. The spacecraft was missing.
     “They’re gone,” I said.
     “Of course they’re gone,” our friends snickered.


by Joseph M. Bonelli

Carol and Laura spent their winter vacation in Miami Beach with husbands Alan and Bob.
Laura wore the crystal earrings Bob gave her for their fifteenth wedding anniversary.      
Alan packed his graded baseball cards to show Bob.
After check-in and dinner, the couples carried pastries back to their suite for morning coffee.
The foursome went out to walk around the Eden Rock complex. Meanwhile, housekeeping turned down the beds and placed mints on pillows.
When they returned, Laura called out, “Oh—they’re gone!”
“The earrings?” Carol inquired. 
“Not my cards?” Alan exclaimed.
“No,” said Laura, “someone took the pastries.”


Attention all writers—
Next month’s prompt: Write a story with the following title or first line: "I promised my parents I would never tell this to anyone."

Here are the rules:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot, characters, and conflict.
4. The deadline: the first of the month.
5. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: