Tag Archive for Laura Goodin

I Do Believe in Syntax

And lo, it is Monday, and we continue the dancing monkey series wherein people ask me questions and I blog long, rambling answers in response. Once more into the breach and all that.

Today, Peter Kerby offered up the following:

Just to stir the pot; English is living language and all living things evolve, so how much licence should be tolerated when it comes to grammar and spelling, or does it depend on the intended audience.

Verily, I am the wrong person to ask this sort of question, ’cause my response is invariably something along the lines of “so long as you can be understood, rock the fucking Kasbah, lolz, peace out, peeps.” Except, you know, not in so many words, and potentially in ways that make me sound less like an idiot and more like I have some understanding of what da kidz are speaking like with their crazy slang these days. I mean, hipsters, man, who gets them? (Hipsters are still a thing, right?)

You want a license? No problem, I hereby give you a license to go forth and fuck up language’s shit as much as you want when it comes to the words themselves.

I’m not a purist when it comes to word. Call it the side-effect of spending years and years and years teaching in a creative writing degree where people were really fond of semiotics. The important part isn’t really the words themselves, it’s making sure there’s a cohesive framework around the words that allows you to understand what’s going on. Words are…well, lets just say they’re meaning is inherently situational, and their meaning is capable of being utterly borked by putting them in the wrong place in a sentence.

Grammar, though, that’s a different story.

I am, by no means, a grammar ninja. I’m fairly slipshod with all sorts of things like apostrophes and deploying the right version of their or there when they need to make an appearance in a sentence. It took my an embaressingly long time to develop the necessary pattern recognition to recognise the difference between a lowercase b and a d as a kid, and my understand of grammar constantly floats somewhere between English and American English conventions as a result of being an Australian who writes, primarily, to sell things into American markets. I developed strong opinions about the Oxford comma primarily to irritate my friend Laura Goodin (who is a grammarian ninja and thus becomes one of those people I consult when I do dumb-ass things like write an entire story where there is dialogue within dialogue every paragraph).

Despite all that, I’m a fucking nutter about learning grammar, ’cause grammar is the toolkit of syntax and syntax is the goddamn glue that keeps the English language together despite its inconsistencies and stupidities. The basic approach to the sentence – doer, doing, done to – is a pretty useful thing and when people start fucking around with syntax too much I find myself reaching for the nearest copy of Strunk and White that I can carve into a prison shiv and go a-hunting.

‘Cause it’s when you start fucking with Syntax – the basic framework wherein a sentence as a subject acting upon something – that language falls apart and I loose interest in trying to decode whatever it is you’ve thrown on the page. When it comes to syntax I lose any pretense of rationality and just start frothing at the mouth.

And, again, this is a side effect of many years working in universities and marking the creative writing assignments of first-year writing students whose approach to grammar and syntax was…well, lets just say that I spent a lot of time resisting the urge to write I WILL CUT YOU, YOU GODDAMN FUCKER in the comments of their essay and short story assignments.

Which is not to say that I’m militant about any of these things – once you know the rules of grammar and syntax, I’m happy enough for you to break them, so long as you know why you’re breaking them and what effect you’re going for. Fucking with the status quo of language, grammar and syntax from a position of knowledge is sexy as hell, and I’m sucker for any author who can do it well.

And you know what? I’m not alone in that. Get together a group of writers and editors, lob in the question “so what do you think of a well-deployed semi-colon?” and watch about half the room melt into a puddle of hormones and desire.

Just be warned that the other half of the room will, of course, turn on you like a pack of rabid dogs for even suggesting such a thing (semi-colons are divisive, man), but to each their own. Both sides are coming from the same position – know your shit – so we’re really all fighting on the same side in the end.

But I’m digressing – I know I’m digressing here – and I’ll get back to the original question. I have no problem with the evolution of language, or even the evolution of syntax, but my level of interest in decoding things evaporates much faster when you fuck around with the structure. I’ll spend days reading, say, A Clockwork Orange and working out what shit means ’cause it’s system is familiar, but if you expect me to learn a whole new system of syntax I’ll generally flail.

As in all things, it’s a pick your audience kind of thing, just as you suggest in the question. People who speak multiple languages probably have a much higher tolerance for syntax hi-jinx than I do, simply ’cause they’ve been forced to learn them as a result of the language studies (except German, maybe, ’cause my dim memory of studying German in high-school suggests its got a similar sentence structure to English). People who were born before the invention of mobile phones may have a much stronger objection to seeing the phrase “lolwt?” in fiction. We all get used to certain structures and accept them as normal, and so long as what we’re reading seems something akin to recognisable we’re generally willing to puzzle shit out.

Mostly About Things I’ve Read Online

I met Laura Goodin several years ago at a writers workshop. She was forthrightly American in many ways, despite being expatriated to Australia for several years now, and we frequently found ourselves coming from stories at very different angles. Despite her handicap as a non-native Australian, she wrote one of the finest SF cricket stories I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. Since then she’s been busy doing a series of impressive things – writing plays and opera’s, for example, and enrolling in PhD programs. She’s also published a story over on daily science fiction titled The Bicycle Rebellion and it’s rather sad in a sweet kind of way, and it’s perhaps one of the more intriguing stories I’ve seen from Laura over the years (which, considering her knack of publishing SF stories about Demon-pigs in BBQs and Futurism gone mad in magazines that don’t generally publish science fiction, is saying something).

I first met Angela Slatter about…well, six weeks or so before I met Laura Goodin…but after years of blogging about Write Club I’m assuming I don’t need to provide a great deal of context for Angela. She’s awesome, she writes remarkable things, and among the remarkable things she’s written is the latest editorial for the Weird Fiction Review. And if you were sitting around, wondering what to do with your holidays, you could do a lot worse than checking out said editorial, As the Weird Turns, and using it as a suggest reading list for the next month.

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There’s ten days until I move house. There’s still several rooms that need to be packed. I also have two deadlines between now and then. I suspect I’m going to keep mentioning this out loud, since it’ll remind me that I should probably go write the things I need to write in order to meet said deadlines.

It’ll also remind me to never again schedule deadlines and the relocation of everything I own in the same month. Especially when that month is December.

There is no cheer or good humour in me today. I’ve spent most of my time sporting this facial expression:

I Hate Everything

Dancing Monkey Post 2: Memories of Brisbane’s Ferry System

The Dancing Monkey challenge from lauragoodin: “write a blog post about being on a Brisbane ferry. At night. And it’s raining. And you’ve spent your last money on the fare.”

I suspect it’s not what Laura intended, but every time I read that request all it translates into is “please tell me what it was like being twenty-three.” It’s all the qualifiers to the original request that do it – when I was twenty-three I’d just finished my honours year in which I wrote a lot of poetry, just moved to Brisbane for the first time, and just started my PhD. Being at the tail-end of my love-affair with goth as a movement, I was prone to attaching all sorts of significance to thing that happened in moments of poverty, rain and night.

Lets not make this *all* about nostalgia though. Instead lets talk about exactly how lucky you are if you live in a city with a decent public transport system, because I’ll admit that my first few years in Brisbane was largely spent listening to people bitch about the buses, trains and ferries while resisting the urge to shake them and scream “what the fuck are you complaining about.”

Everyone I’ve ever met is adamant that the public transport system in their home city is the worst available, but I think I can mount a safe argument for the Gold Coast (aka the city that I spent most of my teenage years growing up in) has one the worst of the lot. Part of it is an infrastructure problem – the Gold Coast bus service is privatized and the city expands faster than pretty-much everywhere else in Queensland. Part of it is cultural – the Gold Coast is a tourist city with a lot of beaches. But the basic gist of the Gold Coast public transport system is this – if you don’t want to travel along the highway that rarely strays further than a block and a half from the shoreline, you’re screwed. In order to catch a bus to uni as an undergraduate (a 30 minute drive), I used to have to hike out to the highway (about twenty-five minutes) and catch three transfers at various tourist malls in order to travel along what was, more or less, a straight line (about two hours, maybe longer if the drivers were feeling fickle or you missed a service). All this was, of course, essentially impossible if I had classes that started before nine (a surprisingly common occurrence, given that I was in an arts degree). Add in the Gold Coast’s tendency towards continuous roadworks and the once-a-year insistence on spending a month setting up an Indy Car race track in the heart of the tourist district (which *every* bus in the city passed through) and you start to get a pretty good idea why I look at buses, even Brisbane buses which are comparatively well-run, with a look of disdain and horror.

So when I was twenty-three, broke, and moved to Brisbane where there were options such as trains and ferries, lets just say I went a little crazy with the options. Hence it’s nearly impossible for me to separate the ferry from that particular age. Between twenty-three and twenty-four I spent a lot of time on the trains and ferries, often purchasing tickets with fistful’s of spare change that was scavenged from desk drawers and couch cushions. By the time I was twenty-five I’d fallen out of the habit – I started working back on the Gold Coast regularly and many of the fellow Brisbanites with whom I car-pooled stopped, so I was basically driving everywhere instead. It’s only within the last year or two that I’ve really started working to break that habit and make a concerted effort to use the trains again.

(Yes, I realise there really isn’t much to this, but truthfully I’m a much bigger fan of Brisbane’s train system than I am the Ferry system. I think people tend to fixate on one form of transport in particular depending on where they live, and I’ve primarily lived in Brisbane suburbs where the train is your best choice for getting anywhere you need to go).

For the record: peanut butter soup is awesome.

2013 Update: I Need Your Help

If you’re reading this in your RSS feed, please let me know in the comments. It’d also be really helpful if you could let me know which RSS reader you’re using and/or which RSS for the site you’re following – it seems my attempts to spring-clean some old posts have resulted in said posts going out as if they’re new, and I’m trying to rectify the problem. 

Also, for the record, Laura Goodin’s Peanut Butter Soup Recipe is still awesome five years on, and she posted it on her blog a few years back.  I figured that, if anything, was sufficient reason to use an edit this post as a means of doing this test.

Thanks in advance, folks, and I now return you to the thoughts of Peter M. Ball from 2008…


Yesterday I thought I was meant to be at a QWC workshop, only to discover that I had the dates mixed up and the workshop is sitll a week away. Totally threw me, since I’d more-or-less planned my day around that. Hence yesterday was a terribly non-productive thing, full of out-of-the-house errands and wrestling sims and pizza-ordering sloth. Then, around eleven at night, it wasn’t. The not-writing was getting to me, so I decided to pull out the laptop and do some revision before bed. By the time I went to sleep I’d managed to revise myself about 1200 new words.

Today I have to go to the library and make peanut butter soup (recipe courtesy of Laura) to get rid of some sweet potato before it goes off. At some point I shall count some words.

My life, oh yes, the excitement 🙂