Stop Pushing Your Modifiers Around!

Stop Pushing Your Modifiers Around!

by Kathleen Watson

Modifiers are supposed to add meaning or clarification. A misplaced modifier can do just the opposite.

Consider these differing connotations of often:ONLY

College students who meet often with their advisers make better career choices.
College students who meet with their advisers often make better career choices.

Should you assume that students have to meet frequently with their advisers to make better career choices? Or should you conclude that just one meeting with an adviser is enough to help a student make better choices?

For clarity, a modifier should be placed closest to the word or phrase it is meant to influence or explain.

Consider these differing connotations of almost:

Sam has almost failed every test this semester.
Sam has failed almost every test this semester.

There’s a big difference between almost — but not quite — failing every test and failing almost every — the majority of — tests.

Consider these differing connotations of only:

You only can apply for health insurance online.
You can only apply for health insurance online.
You can apply for health insurance only online.

The first only could modify you, conveying that you are the only person who can apply for health insurance online. A reader probably would not draw that conclusion, but it’s open to that interpretation.

Or only could modify can apply, suggesting that you can apply for health insurance online, but you can do nothing else with it electronically. In other words, you can’t file a claim online, you can’t get responses to questions online, and you can’t set up online payments.

The third only example clearly communicates that online is the only way you can apply for health insurance.

Only is the most abused modifier ever!

Asian businessman singing to the microphone.Among everyday modifiers, I consider only the most abused. From bloggers to reporters, from texters to tweeters, from commentators to those who create headlines, writers and speakers in every medium keep pushing only around.

Consider how these examples show that modifier placement changes meaning:

Only Dan sang at the party. (No one else sang.)
Dan only sang at the party. (He didn’t dance or play the piano.)
Dan sang only at the party. (He didn’t sing elsewhere.)

Don’t push your modifiers around! Have some respect: Place them closest to the word or phrase whose meaning they influence.

kathleen-watsonKathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at:

Please Share

Posted in Kathleen Watson | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On Writers’ Critique Groups

On Writers’ Critique Groups

by Vaughn Treude

When novice writers ask their brethren for advice, we frequently recommend joining a writer’s group. Believe me, it can be very helpful. There are two kinds of fiction writers who resist this advice, and they usually happen to be the ones who need it most. The first type is supremely confident, convinced of their own genius. quillUnfortunately, it can be difficult to see one’s own mistakes and flaws, and that is where a constructive critique is essential. The second type of writer is shy and fearful, not wanting to show their work to anyone. For this person, the community of fellow writers is even more essential. If the thought of criticism from a fellow writer is daunting, how much more frightening will it be when your work goes before the public?

Where can a beginning writer locate a critique group? Since the advent of the internet, it’s become easy. Just search on sites like or It pays to be selective, however, because not all critique groups are created equal. It helps to look for like-minded folks who are interested in the same genre. Years ago I joined a group of fellow students from an ASU writing course, and I was the only sci-fi writer there. Though they did their best to give me feedback, it wasn’t nearly as useful as the critiques I’ve received from fellow sci-fi and fantasy writers.

Another very helpful aspect of the internet is that it enables the reading of everyone’s work in advance, which saves resources. I’ve been in groups that insisted on paper printouts and read them for the first time at the meeting. It’s much better to have some time to digest the writing ahead of time. I try to read all submissions at least twice, as subtle issues may not be apparent the first time through.

It’s important to approach critiquing, and being critiqued, with the proper attitude. Some people become defensive and argumentative. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, one should accept such advice gracefully. You can decide later whether or not you intend to follow it. There are times to stick to your guns and times to defer to consensus. My rule of thumb is that if three people ding my submission on a particular issue, they are most likely correct.

Critiquing is also a fine art. Novice group members are subject to two temptations. The first is to adhere blindly to arbitrary rule of style, such as “all adverbs are bad.” The second is to try to coax others into your own writing style. Some writers like terse, fast-paced prose while others lean toward the more descriptive and flowery. I liken these differences to musical genres, each of which has its time and place. Sometimes you may be in the mood for jazz, and at other times feel like metal.

Critiquers should catch grammatical errors, of course, but an experienced writer should have few of those. Courtesy dictates that we strive to give the group a polished submission. Besides my word processor’s spell and grammar checkers, I use the website as an additional resource. (So far I’m still using Grammarly’s free version.) As for critiquing others’ work, the most useful feedback concerns plot and substance. Does the dialog sound natural? Does the plot make sense? Will readers be interested or bored? Did the author change the spelling of a character’s name halfway through the story?

Writing may be a lonely pursuit, but it can benefit greatly from the advice of other writers. Though some may be able to produce first-rate fiction without help, most of us are not so brilliant. Writers’ groups come in as many types as writers do. It pays to be selective and find one that best fits your genre, personality, and writing style.

vaughntreudeVaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Find his works on, including two new steampunk novels co-written with this wife, Arlys Holloway.

Please Share

Posted in Vaughn Treude | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Anne

Dear Anne

by Beth Kozan

Note from the author: I wrote to an adoptee whose online column had raised issues about her early life.

foster care for days

Dear Anne,

I’m awake at 3 a.m., unable to sleep. I keep remembering your thoughts as an adoptee about the missing first 10 weeks of your life. “Was I just shoved aside and left to cry myself to sleep?” you wondered.

In 2015, when I wrote my first adoption book, this was the dedication:

This book is dedicated to the many foster homes and receiving home parents I worked with, in Tucson and metro Phoenix, Arizona. Their unsung devotion to the babies and toddlers they kept – for hours, days or months while important decisions were made – are appreciated.

A number of the adults placed as babies had no information about where they were until their parents received them at 10 days old or two months old or six weeks old; even their parents were not told. Without true information about where they were before placement, they conjured up reasons for the delay. They wondered, Did I cry too much? Was I ugly looking and she didn’t want me? What did I do wrong that she didn’t keep me?

I researched their cases, and almost always I learned their relinquishment to the agency was signed at the standard three days (72 hours), as determined by Arizona law. But why had they remained in foster care beyond the relinquishment? I wondered.

It was time to ask Delores Hartman, the foster mom in Tucson who had outlasted all other foster mothers from the olden days, what the reason was that babies placed in the 60s were asking why their placements may have taken differing amounts of time.

Mrs. Hartman told me: “We had to have a medical release from the pediatrician. The doctors wanted the issues with formula worked out. Babies who were ‘spitters’ might need to be on a different formula, so we would try another formula till the baby was satisfied and sleeping through the night. The doctors wanted the newborn baby rash gone, the pimples on their noses cleared up – then the new parents could love them more easily!”

I understood from my current cases that there were sometimes legal issues that delayed never-planneda placement: trying to find a birth father, give him notice that his child was going to be placed for adoption, and receive his input. But what about the children placed before 1979, the year of the Supreme Court case (Stanley v. Illinois) that gave unmarried fathers legal rights to their children?

Sometimes, because of the birth family’s religion, we needed to turn to another agency to find a family that “matched.” When I began adoption work in 1979, one of the relinquishment documents we had mothers sign was a Religious Waiver. Unless she signed this waiver, we had to place her baby with parents of the same religion as she professed: a Catholic baby with a Catholic family; a Protestant baby with a Protestant family; a Jewish baby with a Jewish family. (That was it for the faiths we worked with in 1979 in Arizona.)

Ethnicity was another reason we sometimes needed to reach outside of our pool of families. We thought it best if a Hispanic or Black baby, even mixed race, grew up within a family where they would look as if they “fit in.” We began looking for an ethnically matching family before the baby was born. There were quarterly meetings of all the agencies in Arizona; if we had an ethnically mixed baby, we would start looking for a family outside of the agency at an early stage.

Please don’t think you missed out on love during those 10 weeks!

You were probably in a foster family (also called a cradle family or receiving home). More than likely, there was a big sister who changed a diaper or a daddy who came home from work and took a turn rocking the newest addition to the family. You were taken to church when the family went, and the congregation knew you were the latest in the number of temporary children your receiving home family had. That family grieved when you left.

Another long-term foster family I worked with in the Phoenix area were Nancy and Gary, who spoke openly about the “baby hunger” that could only be filled when a new temporary placement came. Nancy had pictures of the more than 100 babies she raised for whatever time she was needed – a few hours, a few days, a few months – before the permanent family was found. I worked with a baby who had to have surgery for an inguinal hernia before he was discharged from the hospital. Nancy went to the hospital every day and night and fed him and soothed him while he slept. He stayed at their house until his stitches healed and there was less danger of infection.

It wasn’t anything wrong with you or with the agency that acted in (what was believed to be) your best interest. We just didn’t have all the information that we needed to help you grow.

Remember from psychology class the tabula rosa theory? The idea that each baby was a “blank slate” and didn’t know anything and wouldn’t remember? We know better now, but when I started my career in 1979, it was still believed that babies didn’t participate emotionally until they were old enough actively to respond to their environment.

happy children

Ask your agency for missing information. They might not give it to you, but a few details might be available to help you to find out where you were for those 10 ten weeks.


Beth Kozan, author of Adoption: More Than by Chance

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

Please Share

Posted in Beth Kozan | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Effective Author: 7 Ways to Coax Yourself to Sit Down and Write

The Effective Author: 7 Ways to Coax Yourself to Sit Down and Write

© 2017 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

Author workspace--How to Start

You know you can write, but sometimes, you can use coaxing. Here are seven ways to coax yourself to actually sit down and begin a writing session.

  1. Lighting. Seriously: How is the light in that area where you usually write? Do you have enough lighting and the right color for your mood? Today’s LED lights come in a whiter/cooler version and a yellower/amber version. You can buy the same stylish lamp with either color of LED chips or, if you have lamps with bulbs, the newest LED bulbs come in either cool or warm. The spectrum is shown on the side of the packaging. I prefer uplights: torchieres that wash the room with light. Some of my lamps have amber bulbs, for the times I want a candlelight effect while writing poetry. Some of the lamps have cooler or whiter bulbs, for when I’m writing nonfiction – especially materials that need focused research. Take a fresh look at your lighting to make your job easier.
  2. Noise. If you love background noise, put the right music on, or head for a busy coffee shop with lots of outlets. If you like quiet, home or a library may be the best place.
  3. View of Nature. Some of us are both calmed and inspired by looking out on trees, a garden, a birdbath, and our bird friends. That’s me. I have a feng shui garden with all those elements and a silent monk statue that reminds me of the principles of Peace Within. I can settle down quickly sitting at that computer station, and my productivity is supreme. If nature is too stimulating, close those blinds. However, if you like a little nature with less motion, a screensaver of a favorite park, golf course, or garden path may be just the thing for you.
  4. Clean and Clear Work Area. The feng shui of mess is …bad. Clutter around you supports mental clutter. Try straightening 3 inches’ more rim around your computer or pad, every time you sit down. You’ll be amazed at the uptick in your mental clarity.
  5. Sips and Snacks. Bribing oneself at the outset of a writing session can really help when you’re feeling resistant to sitting down and writing. Especially in the afternoon, if you must write something and are not in the mood, try a tasty beverage and/or a couple of cookies just as you’re sitting down. Miracles.
  6. Timer. Trick your brain into wanting to write by telling yourself that you can only write for 45 minutes. Then set a timer (hint: there’s one on your phone) and force yourself to get up when it goes off. Hit the restroom, refill your tasty beverage, and notice how you can’t wait to get back to your writing. Sit down and set the timer again.
  7. Use a Quote as a Prompt. If you are dithering about what to write during this session, pick any topic or person you enjoy, and go to your search bar. Enter: Quotes on (topic or name). Whatever the word you’ve picked, you will see a wild array of quotes and quote posters. Your brain cells will be righteously jiggled and you will find a starting point.

Try these ways of coaxing out your inner creative genius, and you’re on your way to faster starts and greater productivity. Now you’re operating as The Effective Author. I would love to hear from you. Please let me know which jumpstarts have worked best in your writing world.

Kebba Buckley Button
is a stress management expert. She also has a natural healing Kebba books 2017practice and is an ordained minister. She is the author of the award-winning book, Discover The Secret Energized You, plus Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, available through her office. Just email Kebba’s newest book is the full-color Inspirations for Peace Within: Quotes and Images to Uplift and Inspire, also available through her office. For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group:

Please Share

Posted in Kebba Buckley Button | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

by Rita Goldner

Today I am chillin’ among the cool mountain pines at Lake Tahoe. This is a short Lake Tahoe 2017retreat I take with my husband Dave every year. For him, it’s various water sports; for me, plein air painting and lately, writing/illustrating picture books. I couldn’t have a better place for it, and that’s not just because I’m getting away from the heat. Among all the wildly populated tourist destinations in the country, this is the only one I’ve found where I can, without much effort, find an isolated spot to commune with nature. Someday I may write a picture book about Lake Tahoe, and I could really go nuts with the illustrations.

This clear, cobalt blue gem tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is the nation’s second deepest lake, scoured out by glaciers and filled about two million years ago. Until the nineteenth century, only Native American tribes knew about this treasure hidden high in the mountains. They fished, hunted and collected medicinal plants, undisturbed by outsiders.

John C. Fremont found Lake Tahoe in February 1844, while traveling west, and designated it as a good mountain crossing-over point for explorers and settlers. The harsh winters hindered development at first, but that changed when silver was discovered in nearby Virginia City in the 1860s. The mines were quickly followed by a prosperous lumber community, cutting timber, milling it at the lake, and then transporting it to Virginia City. As roads improved in the early 1900s, the area became a destination for outdoor enthusiasts: skiers in the winter and boaters in the summer.

The beauty of the lake caused mushrooming hotels, lodges, casinos, guided tour excursions, motorboat races, and the presence of the rich and famous. Visitors like Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. flocked to the area, and soon private mansions sprang up around the shore, blocking access to the beach for the not-so-famous locals. Today there is a constant struggle between developers and those wanting to slow the growth, and accompanying pollution.

Sixty-three streams flow into the lake, but only one flows out. The outlet is the head of the Truckee River, where the flow is carefully controlled by gates. Sometimes it’s only a trickle, but when water is plentiful, all the gates are open and the gushing roar is witnessed by tourists standing on the bridge. The best view is achieved by leaning over the cement barrier, backsides to the street traffic. The view from the street is a row of derrieres lined up along the barrier, thus the name, “Fanny Bridge.”

The water in Lake Tahoe is very cold. One day while I was landscape painting at the river just below Fanny Bridge, I met an enterprising young man who took advantage of this. He had been laid off from his job and couldn’t find another one. Desperate to take care of his family, he bought a metal detector and swept the water every day. There is a busy river raft rental business there, and throngs of rafters starting their trek down the river drag their hands in the cold water, often losing their rings.

I talked to the wading man for a while, as I painted, and he reported that he had made over $30,000 the first year, but his findings were slacking off. He figured that he had over-fished the area, and was now getting mostly bottle caps. This was an unusual way to reap the benefits of this beautiful lake. As for me, I found my treasure in painting, hiking, and creating new story books in my head.

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

Please Share

Posted in Rita Goldner, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Researching for Nonfiction and Fiction Projects

Researching for Nonfiction and Fiction Projects

by Marcus A. Nannini

Research can make, break, or cast doubt on the validity of your effort. A recent example is the movie Hidden Figures, a movie based on some excellent real-life characters and events.

1961 1964 Ford Galaxie

I am waiting for it to be available on cable for one simple reason. In the trailer I viewed at a movie theatre, the filmmakers made a really stupid mistake which cued me into the likelihood there might well be more serious factual errors to come. The trailer depicted a scene in the year 1961 during which the female leads were being pulled over by a squad car. The squad car was a 1964 Ford. Sorry, but for me it said a great deal about the research the moviemakers did not perform. I know it is nit-picky, but so are your readers.

Point being, no detail is too small, yet you cannot let your storyline be bogged down by the details. I learned this fact in the eighth grade when I turned in a 10-page book report on the Fall of Constantinople. I was so proud of it, and when Miss Chamberlain deemed it only worthy of a B, I took up my case with her. She explained I had become so bogged down in detail as to take away from the book report. I have not made the same mistake since, and neither should you.

Writing needs to correctly reflect the period of time you are translating into words, no doubt. But how do I organize the stacks of research and scores of web pages I rely upon in writing my story, beyond saving web pages under a special file heading?

Within the outline from which I am working, I insert references that I can rely upon when I put the story together. I also print the most relevant web pages and notate them for quick reference. I clip them to the appropriate outline pages. (Yes, I print the outline.) I need to be able to locate my research quickly. If not, I can become side-tracked, forget to add important facts, lose my train-of-thought or, worse still, lose time.

In some ways it is as if I am writing a term paper with an index or bibliography. I like to keep my research handy and tied into my outline. I save writing time while maintaining accuracy. Some people have asked how I go about deciding which details I need to research for a particular project.

When, for example, I am about to start a new chapter, I envision the surroundings I am going to describe. My scene description most often is a paint brush. After I have the scene painted, I fill in the relevant details. Or I might go the opposite, as in: Cy suddenly stops, his attention captured by a tantalizing bright red coffee cherry clinging to a branch directly in his path. The two men following him also stop, and while Cy plucks the coffee cherry, taking delight in its singularly unique flavor, one of his two companions gazes at the acres of coffee trees layering across the rolling hills lying ahead, as if in waves. The Pacific Ocean is a sparkling blue mass a few miles to his right… 

coffee cherries

The scene started with a narrow focus and grew from there. Research on the timing of when a coffee cherry turns ripe allows the author to maintain the proper season of the year. I would be wrong to have the scene taking place in April, much as it was wrong to use a 1964 Ford police car in 1961.

The balance of the scene description can be derived from personal experience, research, or both. If you desire to have action taking place on a coffee plantation, you need to know if it was planted in volcanic rock and soil. Is so, you wouldn’t describe the ground as sandy. The ground the characters walk across should play into your description.

You would not likely need to research what the men in the coffee field are wearing, but if the scene were set, say, in the 1930s, you would. Other aspects of the above scene might be the type of birds or wildlife the men might encounter, which means more research. Consider the fact the cherries are coming ripe, which leads to research about harvesting; in this instance, you learn that they are picked by hand. If the men need privacy, then mention needs to be made with respect to the presence, or absence, of coffee-cherry pickers.

In the above scene, the men are going to commit a murder. Mention of the coffee pickers becomes important, and it helps to know they bring their entire families out, including little kids – exactly the kind of information the author can use in the telling of the story.

If the scene were set in a cornfield, similar questions would come into play. Historical settings need to be accurately re-created with enough detail to properly set the stage – but again, too much will ruin the book’s pace.

When the man looks out toward the Pacific Ocean, I could have included details such as a cruise ship, a couple of sailboats, or a fishing boat, but would they have made the description any more vivid? I don’t think so. Too much detail.Folders Notebook

In keeping track of my online files, I create a master file in my bookmarks folder. For instance, Dinner with Himmler would be a file category all to itself. I move the files up or down within the category so they appear more closely in the order they come into play in the book. I sometimes make sub-files. The idea is to have all the online research easily accessible.

I do not discard research, be it online or in-hand. I never know when someone might raise an issue over a fact, so I keep the hard copies in files along with my outline. Research does not do me any good if I cannot locate it or lose track of it while writing and miss some good points as a result.

Research takes time, but taking the additional time to properly save the research and notate your book or screenplay outline accordingly will pay off.

Marcus Nannini
began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the Marcus Nanninisixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.

Please Share

Posted in Marcus Nannini | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Amazing Sailor, Metal Sculpture, and Author – Alice Otsuji Hager (09-13-1920 to 01-13-2014)

by C.K. Thomas

Alice HagerAs a second-generation Japanese American, Alice Otsuji Hager spent time during World War II in the Gila River Relocation Camp, along with her parents and seven brothers and sisters. Hager’s father was sent to a camp in North Dakota. When the war ended, they found they no longer owned their farm in Napa County, California.

After the war, Hager took up nursing and practiced her career for 30 years. She married and had three children, but her husband was killed in an auto accident while on a errand for his wife. She felt responsible for his death and became determined to go to Japan to scatter her husband’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean in order to assuage her guilt.

It took her a second try due to an electrical problem on her sailboat, but at age 63 she sailed solo and non-stop to Japan in 77 days aboard her 26-six foot Marieholm International Folkboat. The boat’s name was Ganbari, Japanese for perseverance. A relatively novice sailor and a non-swimmer, Hagar arrived in Kagoshima, Japan (her parents’ home town) on July 24, 1984, having sailed from San Francisco Bay.

She told United Press International, “I went through seven sets of sails, down to the storm sails. Gale-force winds, at least 60 knots, lightning and thunderstorms.” She finally sighted Wake Island and knew she was on the right course for Japan.

After touring Japan and being hailed as a sailor-celebrity by the Japanese people, she returned to California where she took classes to learn how to do artistic welding. She created more than 25 sculptures between 1987 and 1998. In 1992 her work as a sculptor was first exhibited in a metal and glass display in her Benicia (a suburb of San Francisco) hometown library. Two of her sculptures, “Wavering Woman” and “First Step” were later displayed in a local art gallery.

In 1969, American Sharon Sites Adams, became the first woman to sail across the Pacific. She made the trip in her 35-foot sailboat Sea Sharp II in 75 days.

Hager’s book O’er the Bounding Main, an account of her adventurous life, was published in 1998.


Vallejo, California Time Herald article by Tony Burchyns.
July 26, 1984 United Press International article from The Arizona Republic

C.K. Thomas
lives in PhoC.K. Thomasenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.

Please Share

Posted in C.K. Thomas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment