Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scratched and Dented 2

More of those "scratched and dented" hymns, salvaged and revised from my high school and college poetry album... Again, if you think these are bad, you should see what I originally wrote! I get the horrors when I think that I once submitted their original versions to a hymn selection committee. Maybe with a little rewriting, they can be of more use.

The Child in Christ

Suffer every son and daughter
Unto Jesus Christ to come,
Born to him through word and water
That they may behold the Father
Through His sole begotten Son!

Only such as these can enter
Heaven's kingdom, safe from death.
Christ, faith's object and inventor,
Calls them to the cross, the center
Of their childlike love and faith.

Would, Lord, that we too might trust You
As the simple babe believes!
For in Christ by faith we must be
If we would before You just be
And the due of sons receive.

Would that You like babes would nurse us
With the pure milk of the word,
And in saving grace immerse us
Lest the enemy disperse us
From Your guiding hand, O Lord!

As a child clings to its father
Let us trust and follow ours;
As He loves us, love each other,
Every mother, sister, brother,
Trusting in His ample powers.

Oh what grace, that at His bidding
Even infants can believe!
Therefore it is good and fitting
Every little babe permitting
Grace baptismal to receive.

Children of the realm of heaven,
Let it be our first concern
That each child to Christ be given
And unto His cross be driven!
Suffer them to come and learn!

Every little one's formation
May we hold in high respect,
That each one may know salvation
And with joyful expectation
Meet the day of the elect!

Dilexi Quoniam (Psalm 116)

I love the Lord, for He has heard
My voice of supplication.
Hence I will call to Him in all,
In sorrow and elation.
The pains of death encircled me,
The flame of hell a certainty
Till He brought me salvation.

The Lord is just and holy, yet
His mercy lasts forever;
The sinner who repents and trusts
In Him will perish never.
The humble God preserves in love;
The hungry He provides enough.
His grace can fail me never!

Return, O heart, to rest, for God
Has kept my feet from falling,
My eyes from tears, my soul from death,
My limbs from chains enthralling.
In God I'll walk in yonder land
Where all who live in Him shall stand,
Nor pain nor tears recalling.

What can I render to the Lord
For Christ's redeeming treasure?
I take salvation's cup and sing
His mercies passing measure.
I am your servant, God, your saint;
From this bleak world at last to faint
Will be my fondest pleasure.

Burial Hymn

To earth we commend in grief our friend
Who from this dark world departs in peace;
Your Spirit, Lord, send, our heart to mend,
That in us despair may not have lease.

Of sin all men die; Lord, grant that I
May number my days and live for You.
When my time is nigh, to you I'll cry,
Relying on You to answer true.

In sin we were found, for torment bound,
Till Jesus' blood cleansed us in Your eyes;
Let praises abound, a hopeful sound,
For life but begins when this shell dies.

Low spirits, begone! A lamb is home,
In glory surrounded, free from pain.
Its course is now run, its labor done;
Safe in Jesus' arms will it remain.

Dear brothers take heart; soon we depart,
Dear sisters, to stand in perfect light.
The Lord will impart what Jesus bought
And free us from death's uncharted night.

To life was my Lord, I know, restored,
And soon all who died in Christ shall stand.
Fear not the grave's cord; trust in His word
That our flesh shall stand at His right hand.

Come, Lord, and console our hearts, and pull
Our spirits from vain and hopeless gloom:
For body and soul shall soon be whole,
Arising in triumph from the tomb.

Psalm 118 Hymn

O give thanks unto the Lord;
Our good Master is He.
Let us sing with one accord
To His love, faithful, free.
When I called in sore vexation
He responded with salvation.
With such Advocate on high,
Who can fear earth or sky?

Our strong refuge He remains
Though all fortresses fall.
While like bees swarm earthly pains,
In His name I rout all.
Though my sin to hell had pulled me,
Jesus rescued and consoled me.
He is my Strength and Song,
My Salvation so strong.

Whose strong arm do we now praise?
God who valiantly wins!
In His Son is righteousness
Who was slain for my sins.
Praise the Lord, whose vict'ry freed me,
Who from death to life will lead me;
Though I feel His stern rod,
I've found favor with God.

Gates of justice, open wide!
Full of thanks, I come in!
Only those can here abide
Whom God clears of all sin.
I give thanks to you, dear Master,
Who have heard my prayer and answered;
You have stoppered my tomb,
My Salvation become.

What the Lord has done this day
Is in His scripture shown:
What the builders cast away
Is the chief Cornerstone.
We rejoice now in the Lord's day;
For salvation let us now pray.
Blest is He who comes forth
In the name of the Lord!

From His temple we have praised
Christ the Lamb slain for us,
To redeem us bound and raised
On that altar, the Cross.
To my God, my Savior holy,
Praise and thanks I offer solely;
O give thanks to the Lord
Whose love lasts evermore!

Venite Hymn (Psalm 95)

Come, let us sing to the Lord God of Hosts,
To salvation's rock let us kneel;
Come, let us thankfully enter His courts,
And joyfully let anthems peal.

He is our God and great heavenly King,
Who made both the mountains and peaks;
His is the sea, and the dry land is His;
So come, at our Maker's feet kneel.

He is our Shepherd and we are His folk,
The flock pastured under His hand;
Never forget His great glory and love,
Who holds up the sky, sea, and land.

Morning and Evening Prayers

Heavenly Father, as dawn spreads her light,
We thank You for Jesus' sake
That You have brought us by grace through the night,
Keeping us till we awake.
From sin and evil now graciously keep
Us, that we live to please You.
Guard us with angels till once more we sleep,
Satan's strong wiles to undo.

Merciful Lord, as the shades spread their length,
We thank You in Jesus' name
This day for keeping us from Satan's strength;
Pardon our sins in the same.
Likewise tonight shield us from his foul schemes;
O'er us cause angels to bend;
And should You call us from out earthly dreams,
Take us where day never ends.

Micah 7 Hymn

Let all the nations rage and roar,
Let vanity consume the horde;
But as for me, come drought or war,
I wait with hope upon the Lord.
I watch with firm unshaken eye
For Him who hears my faintest cry.

Do not so mock and jeer, O foe!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though darkness fill my dwelling so,
The Lord illuminates my eyes.
His Word is light unto my steps,
A light that no vain sage accepts.

Yet I will bear His rod, for I
Have sinned against Him day and night,
Until He pleads my case on high
And carries me with awesome might,
Acquitted, to His shining skies
Where I stand righteous in His eyes.

O Shepherd, tend us with Your power
And lead us to the promised land;
Defend us in the evil hour,
Afflict the wicked with Your hand.
The world will see Your might and faint,
While You protect the humble saint.

What God but You would pardon sin,
Redeem the remnant of Your church,
Cast anger out, bring kindness in,
And cast our guilt beyond all search?
With truth and love, Your ancient vow,
You keep Your remnant even now.

Passion Hymn

Jesus, weighed with sorrows deep,
Coax your lads from heavy sleep.
Some bright eye the watch should keep
On so dark an hour.
Trembling, sighing in Your fear,
Knowing that the time is near,
Pray that God the Father bear
Mitigating power:

"Father, now be glorified,
As I will be at Your side;
Even after I have died,
Glorify Your Son.
Let Your Word, the truth for all,
Sanctify whom You will call.
If You will, spare me this gall;
Yet Your will be done."

Crushed by all the guilt of man;
Sinless, yet for sin in pain;
Marked out by the Maker's plan,
Marked for sacrifice:
Blood falls from Your fevered brow,
Though Your angels help You now.
Mortal men can never know
How You pay their price.

Sold to enemies at arms
By the traitor's poisoned charms,
See with grief what gloom alarms
Jude, Your straying Lamb!
Yet, before the Lord of Hosts
Yields in peace to mortal foes,
They fall prostrate at the boast
That You are I AM.

First before the priests You stand,
Who already have a plan
How for all a single man
In their place may die.
Had they but the Scripture known,
They would hail You as the Son
Sent to die for everyone,
Life for all to buy!

By Your closest friends denied,
By false witnesses belied,
Scourged and mocked from every side
And in purple dressed,
Place to place in shackles led,
Thorny wreath upon Your head,
Even now how You have bled,
All for Pilate's jest!

Pilate asks, "Are You a king?"
"I rule not an earthly thing,
But to truth My subjects cling."
He sneers, "What is truth?"
Even Pilate, all along
Knowing you had done no wrong,
Says in terror of the throng,
"Treat him as you choose."

Not a single angel fought.
Not a loyal word was brought.
Can a stranger thing be thought?
God in such defeat!
As you lay aside your powers,
Facing death's most bitter glowers,
Can one find in such bleak hours
Victory complete?

What a fearful mystery:
Your defeat my victory!
In the battle fought for me
You, Lord, bled and died!
When in scorn Your people gazed
Where You hung, by woe amazed,
Though in shame for sin upraised,
You were glorified!
There are lots more. I really had a prolific few months in 1993. Too bad it wasn't married to more developed skills and judgment. Oh, well. That's what experience is for!

Scratched and Dented Hymns

While hunting for hymn tunes and harmonizations that I wrote years ago, I found an album of my old poetry that I haven't looked at for a long time. Some of them were sacred poems. And other than the few I selected for my book of Useful Hymns, having carried them forward in my "live" collection of poetry all these years, they're not particularly good. But some of them are close enough to halfway decent that with a little unwrinkling, they might be of some use.

Here are some of those selections, dating most likely from some time in the early 1990s, if not the late 1980s, and freshly edited if not downright rewritten to improve content and resolve metrical awkwardness.

Hymn to Enter

In peace let us honor the One who gives peace,
To Him who gives all things return our increase.
There's no higher praise than to trust in His care,
No sacrifice sweeter than penitent prayer.

In faith let us hope on the Spirit of faith;
For works avail nothing, for sin causes death.
He calls us by name, clothes us in the Lamb's blood,
And saves us by baptism's sin-drowning flood.

In joy let us worship the King who brings joy.
He saved us from death; let us therefore employ
No mere songs or praises, but lives set apart,
A hale Hallelujah of hands and of heart.

In love let us walk with the God who is Love;
In dying, bear witness to heaven above.
Afflicted, we triumph; our power is meek;
His strength is made perfect in those who are weak.

Thee and Only Thee (Mediation of Christ)

Christ, Mediator, intercede for me;
I raise my prayer to Thee and only Thee:
Atoning Lamb of God, have mercy!
All that has been, that is, and that will be
Owe life and weal to Thee and only Thee:
Creating Word of God, have mercy!
To wear the form of man Thou camest down
And lived in deprivation;
Pierced for our sake, worest as well the crown
Of death and desolation.
Thy blood for me now testifies;
Thy holy death now justifies
Before God's throne the sinner, even me.

Christ, Mediator, intercede for me;
I place my trust in Thee and only Thee:
O Lover of my soul, have mercy!
By my most grievous fault I stray from Thee,
Yet Thou dost seek and homeward carry me;
O Shepherd true and good, have mercy!
When I return for Thy rich love
Dead works and insurrection,
Call into evidence above
Thy death and resurrection.
Clothe me in Thy pure robe, I pray,
And fit me for it till the day
I rise to follow Thee and only Thee.

Inspiration Hymn

We bless You, Spirit of the living Word,
For blowing life into our nostrils when
It pleased the counsels of the changeless Lord
To furnish space and time with changeful men.

We bless You, Spirit of the Crucified,
Once yielded up as He expired in pain,
For pouring forth on them for whom He'd died
When He arose to breathe on them again.

We bless You, Spirit of the Lamb enthroned,
For rushing mightily on those below
Who, soon to be beheaded, burned or stoned,
Went boldly forth, your presence glad to know.

We bless You, Spirit of the hidden truth,
For breathing revelation into men
Who, whether full of years or lean with youth,
Declared Your word as You moved tongue or pen.

We bless You, Spirit who in mercy binds
Your mysteries to dead and blinded hearts,
For shining light into our darkened minds
And proofing them against the devil's arts.

We bless You, Spirit of eternity,
For guiding us in truth these many years.
So blow us forward till the ages flee
And, seen at last, You wipe away our tears.

Sola Gratia Hymn

Your grace alone, O living Word,
Has saved our soul from sin;
For through the gospel taught and heard
Your Spirit entered in.

All who for hope and comfort pine
Must to Your feet be driven,
For there alone by grace divine
Is life eternal given.

My works and prayers can nothing mend,
But grace my sentence stays.
Such fruits of faith I humbly send
To You, my God, in praise.

For if I built on my own deeds
I were on shifting sand.
Christ, to Your grace my spirit pleads,
The Rock on which I stand.

Cleansing Hymn

Christ my Savior, God and Man,
Who set forth creation's plan:
All my efforts, all my pains
Cannot cleanse my guilty stains.

Christ my Light, my Life, my Lord,
Broken for me and outpoured,
By that stream my conscience rinse
That my soul may hail You Prince.

Christ my Prophet, Priest and King,
Who has ordered everything:
Let Your Spirit make me new
That my steps may follow You.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
I have none whereof to boast
But your all-sufficient grace;
Keep me in Your safe embrace.

Proverbs 30:5 Hymn

In the world's tumult and snare,
Where shall we seek truth, O where?
Not in sayings of the loud,
Nor the wisdom of the crowd,
But the foolishness of God
And the path the feeble trod.

What the wise behold as wise,
Darkening their carnal eyes,
Shrinks as shadows from the sun,
So beneath the Holy One.
His strong Word is tested, true;
Swollen man has not a clue.

Favored are the poor in heart,
Yearning for the better part,
Who can pay nor debt nor toll;
Only such will save their soul.
He who sets the sinner free
Shall their shield and refuge be.

Isaiah 55 Hymn

Come, you thirsty, to the water!
Come, you needy, come eat!
Cost and payment do not matter,
Free the wine and choice meat,
All things fresh and all sweet:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Should you pay for what is not food,
Buy what does not nourish?
Heed the word and eat what is good;
Eat, delight and flourish!
Such food shall not perish:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Listen well, and God will save you;
Listen that you might live!
All the promises He gave you
He full measure will give;
You He never will leave:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Faithful is His grace forever,
As He showed to David,
Who bore witness of His favor
Unto whom He gave it,
Who by faith receive it:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Thus shall every foreign nation
Join in praise and gladness,
For your Lord has made salvation,
Piercing sin's dark madness,
Breaking fear and sadness:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Seek the Lord while He is by you,
Call on Him repenting!
Come, lest He at last deny you,
While his wrath's relenting;
Come, and leave lamenting:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Let the wicked quit his sinning
And the fool his lusting!
Trust the Lord; from the beginning
He redeems the trusting,
Their frail hearts adjusting:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Pardon freely He announces,
Mercy overflowing
To the one who sin renounces,
His redemption knowing;
Pardon freely flowing.
Alleluia, alleluia!

"My thoughts are not yours," the Lord says,
"Farther than the stars are
From the earth, so far are my ways
Over yours, and farther;
Higher than yours and wiser."
Alleluia, alleluia!

"As the rain to me returns not
Without feeding your soil,
So My word its purpose spurns not,
Nor nor returns to me void;
It works faith and gives joy."
Alleluia, alleluia!

So rejoice with exultation,
You who life have tasted!
Bear in mind the Lord's salvation,
Pray the day be hastened
And the wicked chastened:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Uff da. There isn't much helping that last one. The meter is a liability. But I had a tune in mind for it that I can't shake off, so I could only do so much.

Monday, November 17, 2014

More of My Harmonizations

Further original hymn tune arrangements for my upcoming book Useful Hymns...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Hymn Tune Harmonizations

I've been pulling together some of my original hymns into a little book that I plan to call Useful Hymns. The texts are all by yours truly, but only some of the tunes are my original work. And here are only some of them, plus some arrangements I wrote of a few existing tunes. If you want to put them together with the texts that go with them, you can either wait until my book comes out or do a scavenger hunt through this blog. Good luck!

A Lion Among Men

A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire
Recommended Ages: 14+

The third book of The Wicked Years focuses on Brrr, the cowardly lion who was with Dorothy when she melted Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Now on an errand for the witch's brother, who has become the Emperor-Apostle of Oz, Brrr visits the Mauntery of St. Glinda on the eve of a battle between the Emerald City army and the secessionist Munchkins. His mission is to interview the crone, and possibly oracle, known as Yackle, and find out why her history connects with that of the late Elphaba. But before he can prise Yackle's story out of her, he must give up his own.

It's the third of four volumes of a grown-up reimagining of the Oz series, with sexual content, political themes and an outlook on life and life stories that embraces disappointment, disillusionment, and the tendency of true stories to lack the simple lines and tidy endings of fairy tales. It is, in summary, a textbook case of an Adult Content Advisory.

Brrr doesn't know much about his origins except that he has never truly belonged anywhere, he has a gift for botching things, and his reputation for cowardice and betrayal is at least partly deserved. Yackle, meanwhile, seems to have come into existence as an old lady, and in spite of all the magical contributions she has made to the fates Elphaba and her relatives, she does not really understand what she is doing. She can't even seem to die, which is what she most wants to do by the time Brrr finds her.

The two odd characters circle each other, psychologically speaking, and size each other up. Yackle hopes that Brrr may prove worthy of a trust that may enable her finally to move on. Brrr hopes to learn from her what happened to a mysterious book of magic called the Grimmerie, which the Emperor Shell wants above all things. The real question ends up being what Brrr will do with the book if he gets hold of it.

Meanwhile, loose ends of the story of Liir, the witch's son, and his green daughter are still dangling, as are the fate of his half-sister Nore, the mission of the mysterious Clock of the Time Dragon, and the perilous pivot point on which the fate of Oz totters as two armies converge on the abbey. The journey through memory, the exploration of guilt and failure and solitude, the peril of war and oppression, and the strange magical powers of both book and clock combine to make this a funny, moving, thought-provoking, immersive, world-building extravaganza of a book, with plenty of character tension and plot momentum to keep readers hooked to the end and into the succeeding book.

For the first two installments in this series, see Wicked and Son of a Witch. For the conclusion of the series, see Out of Oz. And for an excellent listening experience, listen to the audio-book version of this book read by John McDonough.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Write Newspaperese

There's a big difference between the kind of writing I've been doing most of my life and the style I am expected to write now at the newspaper. My father faces a similar struggle. Writing like Hemingway isn't for everybody. For some it may seem as if they have to strip all the individual character out of their writing style and create flat, simplistic prose. But there really is a knack to getting out of the story's way, of becoming an transparent, or at least translucent, barrier between it and the reader.

Here are some tips. I think it's time to put them out there, in case anyone is reading who might consider going into the newspaper biz, or might want to submit their writing to a newspaper. Some of them are amazingly simple and easy to learn. Amazingly, that is, when you consider how far off target the average writing submitted to the paper is. Learn this stuff and you will save some poor editor a ton of rewriting.

First, forget about the Oxford comma. Don't take it personally. I'm all for the Oxford comma. I learned it and used it all my life. It makes sense to me. In the sentence "Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice are coming over tonight," the Oxford comma is the one immediately after Ted. But it's not crucial. The sentence is correct with or without it. In writing for newspapers, it is customarily omitted.

A few commas may seem like a small thing, but in the era of movable type it could make a serious difference in the amount of lead type on a page. I know, "commas save lives" and all that. And besides, nobody prints with movable type any more. But it can still mean a big savings in ink alone, not to mention the extra column-inches of space resulting from the difference in line breaks and whatnot. And besides, tradition is not something to trifle with. Newspapers are hard enough to read without switching things up all the time.

Other standard uses of the comma may also go out the journalistic window. I was brought up thinking the sentence "The committee will meet at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, in the school library" should have two commas in it. That's probably still the best practice for writing outside newsprint. But in the newspaper racket, the comma after Oct. 30 may be dismissed. Or take the similar case of "Smith moved to Tulsa, Okla., this weekend." The comma after Okla., though exactly correct in formal writing, may be banished from newspaper prose.

Of course these guidelines are not to be applied mechanically. Watch out for independent clauses and parenthetical phrases, like "though exactly correct in formal writing" in the paragraph above. These may still be set off by commas. And sometimes you may simply feel a comma is needed to point up the structure of a particularly long and punctuationally unregulated sentence. Just be alert to the strong probability that you are going to feel that way more often than you should.

Some conjunctions and adverbial phrases, especially at the beginning of the sentence, seem to cry out for a comma to set them apart. Do not listen to their siren song. In sentences like "Later, the dog took a nap" and "In spite of poor weather, the team played well" do not need those commas. And sometimes what would have come before the comma can be sacrificed as well. Many sentences can get by without the rhetorical throat clearing words and phrases we writers like too much. "Be that as it may, etc." "For whatever reason, etc." "Indeed, etc." "Nevertheless, etc." The burden of proof is on them to defend their right to add lines to the story.

Newspaper writing can also dispense with many verbal commas, like the word "that" as it is often used. Two examples are in the sentence "The reason that Johnson left early was that his house was on fire." The word "that" doesn't add anything. The sentence would make the same sense without it, though the second "that" may sharpen the definition a bit.

I used to work for a magazine with a very strict style guide. Few of its rules resulted in more work than the one governing dashes and hyphens. Some poor editor or other (sometimes yours truly) had to go through every paragraph and make sure hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes were properly employed. The rules were something like: In a hyphenated word, use a hyphen. Between two numbers representing a range of numbers, use an en dash. As an alternative to a colon or parentheses, use an em dash. In any case, heaven forbid there should be a space on either side of the hyphen or dash.

Newspaper style is much simpler in some ways, but nastier in others. You may have to look up whether the word should have a hyphen in it in the AP Style Manual. And I'm sorry to say, the book has never been indexed properly, so you're probably just going to be wrong until somebody who knows the rule points out your error. But as a general rule, instead of an en dash you can use a hyphen. Instead of an em dash, you can use a hyphen with a space to either side of it. For many groups of words where you might expect connecting hyphens, none is really needed. Write "the third grade class" instead of "the third-grade class." Write "the seven year itch" instead of "the seven-year itch." And so on.

I could go on and on about the proper deployment of semicolons, apostrophes, single and double quotes - did you know, for instance, that only single quotes are used in headlines? - parentheses (avoided as a rule)(irony intended), when commas should be inside or outside quotes, etc. You know what, though? The best way to learn this stuff is to pay attention to the red marks you get from a seasoned proofreader and try to assimilate the rules they are applying to your work.

Five Ws
Forget about answering the questions "Who, what, when, where, why" and "how" in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. That type of opening gambit is old hat. The successful news lead will tell your reader just enough to get what the story is about. You can answer a couple or three of the W words in the first graph, then fill in the others in the next graph or two.

If you're really going to say who did what when and where in one sentence, it should ALWAYS be in this order: "Don Perkins won the grand prize in the pie eating contest at 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9 at Mack's Heart Attack in a Sack Shack on Elm Street in Centerville." Rule 1: Get to the subject of the story (who) with as little preamble as possible. Rule 2: Put the main verb of the story (what) as close to the subject as possible. Rule 3: As for when and where, put time, date and place in that order and move from specific to general in each case. But again, err in favor of pulling details down into subsequent paragraphs in preference to packing too much information into the lead.

Unless you have to edit non-professional writers' prose for a regular publication, you probably cannot imagine how irritating it is to get paragraphs full of Scrambled Eggs, Sausage Patties, Hash Browns, Biscuits and Gravy, Coffee, and Orange Juice. None of those words is supposed to be capitalized. You would probably be surprised how few of the words the average person casually capitalizes are capitalized for good reason. It's an abuse of big letters that, again, used to be the bane of typesetters in the era of movable type and that, again, still leads to unnecessary expense in ink and column inches. Just stop it. You're better off assuming the word shouldn't be capitalized and letting the proofreader correct it if it should.

In general, a word should be capitalized if it's at the start of a paragraph or sentence, introduces a new thought after a colon (though not if it's just a list of items), is part of a proper name, or serves as someone's title immediately before his or her name. If it's longer than a word or two, the title should rather be placed after a comma to the right of the person's name, in lowercase letters. The AP manual draws a number of finer distinctions. Be receptive to them when your proofreader dings you on them. Or, if you never actually see their red marks, reflect on what's changed about your work since you sent it off to be published. Notice the ways it looks different and try to grasp the reasons for that.

Lord, have mercy. The rules governing which numbers are to be spelled out and which can be represented by Arabic numerals, or even (gulp) Roman numerals, are crazily numerous and riddled with exceptions. And as I mentioned before, the AP manual is badly indexed. Its cross references direct you to topics that do not exist, and fail to mention entire realms of inquiry that you may have overlooked. I, for one, only recently discovered that ranges and ratios, like "7 to 13," should be written that way and not, as the "numerals" section in the manual suggests, as "seven to 13." Also, children's ages are always given in Arabic notation - "9 years old" or "age 9" - in spite of AP's general rule that whole numbers under 10 should be spelled out. It had never occurred to me to look up a section on ages because I would have thought the section on numerals would cover such exceptions.

Of course, one number I can't help noticing is the number 1978, which is the year my copy of the manual was printed.

Other stuff
In the middle of a sentence, the E in e-mail doesn't have to be capitalized, but it should have a hyphen after it.

When you mention a website in a newspaper story, feel free to leave off the "http://" bit - though I personally like to leave the "www." bit on.

There is no such thing as italics in AP style. If you're wondering whether something like the name of a ship or the title of a book should be italicized, the answer is no. Underlining is right out. The only question, then, is whether or not to put the title of something in quotes. My strategy, when I'm thinking clearly about things like this, is to look up a website that lists what kinds of titles AP does or doesn't like to enclose in quotes. Most of the time, when I don't do this, I'm probably wrong. It's important for me to remember, though, that if my mistake gets past the proofreader, it's still my mistake.

We don't convey thanks, congratulations or invitations in a news story. People who want to invite so-and-so or thank such-and-such should take out an ad. This can be tricky because sometimes the fact that, say, the Chamber of Commerce voted to thank the City Council for something is actually part of a news story. Reporting the fact without violating this taboo can be anything but easy. Your choices are either to skip it or to phrase it in a totally neutral way. Telling news sources they can't say such things in a story can become even more tricky when they are also advertisers.

Maintain the appearance of journalistic objectivity by confining editorial remarks to the editorials and purging them from other stories. This can also be quite tricky. Sometimes a tint, or taint, of the first or second person sneaks into a story in a non-obvious way. Obvious things to look for, of course, are the pronouns "I, we, you," except within a direct quote. But there are also less obvious artifacts of an editorializing journalist who can't help putting himself in his own story. Imperative verbs are among them. References to the weather, without attribution to a character in the story, are as well. Saying everyone "enjoyed" something (without polling every single person involved), or evaluating a sale as "cheap" or a meal as "delicious," can transgress the bounds of what an objective journalist can report. If you have never experienced the frustration of being told something you wrote cannot be stated in a news story, you haven't been writing for a newspaper more than a week.

Speaking of that, always write "more than" and never "over" an amount. Always write "approximately" so much and never "about" so much. Always say an event "is scheduled" to take place at such and such time, date, and place (in that order, right?), never that it "will" happen and most definitely not that it happened, even if it falls within that awkward twilight time between the deadline for the paper and the publication date. Why? Because we are reporters, not oracles of the future. We report facts, not assumptions.

Whenever possible, end the story by saying when the next event is scheduled to take place and/or whom to contact (and how to reach them) for more information. And if at all possible get somebody close to the story to fact-check it for you before it goes to press.

Your photo looks nice, but it's no use to a commercial weekly newspaper without local faces in the frame and local names in the cutline. When you submit it, please identify everyone in it by name and please, PLEASE get them spelled right. The two most common sequences of names in a caption are "Mildred Smith, left, Ethel Johnson, Violet Burns," and so on toward the right in a single row, and "Front row: Mildred Smith, left, Ethel Johnson, and Violet Burns; second row: Eunice Collins, Beatrice Wilkins," and so on to the right, all the way to the back row. Occasionally, if the nature of the photo calls for it, we'll do something like, "Clockwise from top: Mildred Smith," etc. Your alphabetized list is no use to us. We might as well just say, "A bunch of people," or "Members of the quilting club," etc.

All these tips have to do with things I have learned about newspaper writing within the last three or four months. I have learned many of them by making mistakes and growing from them. So an appropriate closing move is to discuss that most dreaded feature of journalism: the correction.

There are two methods. Method 1: The headline is "Correction," or if necessary (and God help you), "Corrections." It should appear somewhere around where the mistake happened in the previous edition. It should explain where the mistake was and the nature of the error, then give corrected information, if possible without repeating the mistake or (heh!) adding a new one. Then it should apologize for the error and any inconvenience it may have caused, full stop. Example: "On page 2 of the Nov. 5 issue, a story about the Board of Elections incorrectly stated the date and location of the board's next meeting. The Board of Elections is scheduled to meet at noon Friday, Dec. 5 at the Last Chance Saloon on High Street in Centerville. We apologize," etc. Only repeat the erroneous information if a clarification is really necessary, such as: "Mona Swanson was incorrectly identified as the chairman of the board. Actually Swanson is the secretary-treasurer. Joanne Brown is the chairman." Or: "The meeting will be Friday, Dec. 12, not Dec. 5 as previously reported."

Method 2, to be used especially when correcting a photo caption, a wedding or birth announcement, or an obituary, is to re-run the whole story or photo with the facts corrected and an editor's note explaining the situation. For the really atrocious mistakes, of which I have made plenty in a short time, there is nothing for it but to grovel in abject apology in the editor's column.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Notes of Interest 3

Here are the October numbers of my personal column in the weekly newspaper of Stover, Mo.

Oct. 1: Culture Shock Carried by Phone Lines

The funny thing about living in a rapidly changing world is that you don’t have to go anywhere to experience culture shock.

Another thing I’ve recently noticed about culture shock is that it often seems to be carried by phone lines, TV cables, and the signals from cell towers. Dial at your own risk.

I’m not old, but I remember when answering machines came in. Touch tone phones were pretty new, and older folks like my grandparents still had the rotary kind that really gives meaning to the word “dial.”

Everybody had the same phone company, and the phone company owned the phone. A curly cord was a must, and more than one extension in a home was a luxury.

It felt like only a couple weeks later I met a couple on the street who asked me to take their picture. When they handed me their phone, I gave them a dumb look.

Seemingly another week later, phones are for so much more than taking pictures. Now you can play Grand Theft Auto while you drive, though there is no do-over if you crash your real car while doing so. You can watch NASCAR on TV, Google directions to the nearest emergency room, and text a photo of your wreck to the insurance company, all while waiting on hold for a 911 operator.

It’s not that they’re slow. Everything else is just so fast.

I’m not allergic to technology. I’m practically an expert at some computer programs, and I’m a supersonic typist. But God did not equip me with fingers dainty enough to type emails on a cell phone. And I’m way behind the curve where portable tech is concerned.

I didn’t get a cell phone until I really had to. I had to because I was carpooling with a co-worker who only showed up three or four days a week, and not knowing what to expect was making me a nervous wreck.

Ever since then, I have often said I wouldn’t know how to live without a cell phone. But that isn’t precisely true. It might even be fun to try. Having to work a little harder to reach other people would be a small price to pay for not being reachable once in a while.

I still own a dumb phone. I am in no hurry to upgrade to a smart one. No one needs a device in his pocket smarter than he is. If my survival ever depends on being able to open the airlock doors, I don’t want my life or death decided by a gizmo that lives a half inch from my underpants.

Still, I have grown used to a higher level of telecom tech than the average family in Stover uses. When I first started calling local numbers after moving into the area, I found myself listening to a sound I hadn’t heard in years: the busy signal.

I was so amazed that I told my Facebook friends about it. Some of them, including a lady who had moved to the U.S. from Australia, didn’t even know what an American busy signal sounded like. Fun fact: You can find recordings of busy signals, and other telephone error messages, on YouTube.

Another sound I never thought I would hear again, until recently, was the sound of a phone ringing and ringing without ever being answered.

I thought at the time that it meant I was moving back to the 20th century. But the real reason is even more upsetting: Folks in Stover are ahead of me on the technological learning curve. They have Caller ID on their land lines. They’ll call back even if you never get through.

What do you know! I’m learning something. To misquote an already misquoted movie line: “We don’t need no stinkin’ voice mail!”

Oct. 8: Three Simple Ways You Can Help

A few weeks ago, I put out a general invitation to help me make your newspaper better. Now let’s get down to specifics.

Let me give you a brief, backward-running word picture of the life cycle of a weekly newspaper. Forgive me if it’s not as interesting to you as it is to me. I’m still new at this.

Each issue of The Morgan County Press, in an ordinary week, is dated from the Wednesday of that week. This allows time for mailed copies to reach local subscribers.

Actually, Wednesday’s issue gets printed on Tuesday morning. Yours Truly is often there to see the presses running at Vernon Publishing headquarters in Eldon.

It’s a fascinating process, by the way. Let me know if you’re interested in a tour of our press room. We just need to know you plan to visit two or three days ahead.

Be aware the press room only operates on Tuesday, Wednesday, and sometimes Thursday. For a brief preview, you can find a video of the presses running at

After the papers have been printed, stuffed with advertising circulars, stuck with mailing stickers, and bundled for delivery, I drive back to the newspaper office in Versailles.

From there I go on to Stover to deliver papers to the schools, stores, and vending machines, and to drop off tubs, bundles, and bags of newspapers at the post office.

So if you buy your paper from a machine or newsstand, you can actually read Wednesday’s news as early as noon Tuesday.

But that means, apart from exceptional circumstances, the whole newspaper has to be done by Monday afternoon. And to make sure the layout people don’t have to work past their bedtime, the content really needs to be in place by noon Monday.

Monday morning is a frenetic time at the Press office. A lot of stories don’t come in until then, especially for things that happened over the weekend. Only when things go smoothly is this deadline strictly met. If you call me up for a chat during this time and you find me sounding a little grouchy, I apologize in advance.

Rewinding to the previous week, we find that most of the writing, editing, and picture-taking that goes into next Wednesday’s paper must be planned and carried out from Tuesday afternoon through Friday. Stories needing to be covered over the weekend are gravy.

Another thing you may not know about the paper is that the number of pages we can print is directly related to the number of ads we sell that week.

One of our advertising salespeople left us a few weeks ago. We’re still feeling the hurt. Some weeks, less advertising means we have to go with fewer pages. And less space forces us to make tough decisions about which pictures and stories we will and won’t print.

What does all this have to do with how you can help make the paper better? The answer is three simple things.

First, bear in mind the Monday noon deadline for Wednesday’s paper. If you have a news item that needs to be in our next issue, bring it to our attention well before this deadline. The earlier the better!

If it happened over the weekend or even into Monday evening, we may be able to hold a space for it; but there are no guarantees. Otherwise it will have to wait for the following week’s issue, when it will be “olds,” not news.

Secondly, if you own a business, belong to an organization, or are planning an event, please consider buying an ad in the paper. More ad sales will allow us to print more pages of stories that matter to you - including stories that, at no extra charge, promote the causes that interest you.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, we need talent. Please keep your eyes peeled for somebody who could help us, especially in the ad sales area.

Maybe you know a college kid, a bright young adult lookiing for work, even a high school student with time on his or her hands. Put them in touch with us. Vernon Publishing may be able to offer them some valuable work experience. It may even lead to a great career.

Thanks in advance!

Oct. 15: This Column Will Be Meta

There’s a trendy word going around: “meta.” People who like to sound smart like to drop it into conversation about books, movies, and TV shows.

I was trying to sound smart last week as I explained “meta” to someone. Realizing I didn’t have the words to define it, I tried to give examples.

“Meta-thinking” is when you think about the process of thinking. “Meta-language” is when you talk about the process of communication. “Meta-writing” is when you write about the process of writing. “Meta-fiction” is when a story discusses the fact that it is a fictional story.

It’s like a stage act that lets you peek behind the curtain. It’s like a TV or movie character who breaks the fourth wall. It’s like a minister who can’t let a ceremony alone and has to dress it up in phrases like, “I will now pronounce the blessing.”

My last couple of editorials have been meta. Please excuse me. I can’t help myself.

In only my first two months on the paper, I have made a lot of mistakes. I should issue blanket apologizes to all the people whose names I have misspelled, the organization whose time-sensitive announcement didn’t get printed because I wrote the wrong date on the copy I gave to the typesetter, the person whose submitted photo was captioned “photo by R. D. Fish,” and countless other victims of my journalistic blunders.

But I particularly want to apologize to the Stover Lions for not getting their story about the upcoming 75th anniversary celebration into last week’s issue. I wimped out under deadline pressure, but that’s no excuse. Oct. 10 was going to be the deadline to RSVP for their anniversary dinner on Saturday, Oct. 25. It was too important to let it slip by.

Now that I have disclosed my wide ranging and many faceted ineptitude, it’s time for another plug for your business.

The Oct. 8 issue was huge. In fact, it was the first time I have seen an issue of The Morgan County Press carry a B section. Stover advertisers helped make that possible. I know it may seem too soon after such a great effort, but my plea is: Keep it coming!

My imagination brims with ideas for regular features that could be part of the Morgan County Press with your help - which is to say, sponsorship.

A long-time reader has already brought up the idea of reviving the Kitchen Corner recipe column. I noticed the paper used to carry a church directory. These are old ideas that could be made new again.

Then there are items that are already in the paper. With a local sponsor supporting them, we could ensure they continue while also making room for more content. Features to consider sponsoring include Years Past, What I Like About Stover, the weekly cartoon, and News in Education. Or maybe you could underwrite a sports column, box scores, or the Student of the Month report.

Finally, there are countless possibilities for new features that could become reality with your help. For a few examples, imagine if the Press carried a weekly Pastor’s Pen article. With the right organization behind it, Stover might also recognize a yard, house, or business of the month.

You may have even better ideas for making our paper better. I’m open to hearing about them. I may be better at writing them than dreaming them. That’s why, once again, I ask for your advice and support.

Oct. 22: Music to My Ears

My taste in music may not jive with most people in Stover.

My idea of an old-time country song comes from a country called Austria and an old time called the 18th century.

I got a kick out of singing Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “Les Noces” a few years ago with a symphony chorus, though even some of my fellow singers hated it.

I once honored a church choir I directed by composing a piece for them, and they liked it so much that I was almost fired.

But when I hear stories of the kindness and generosity of the community I now call home, I think most folks will agree when I call it music to my ears.

Back in August, when the Ivy Bend Community Food Pantry broke ground for a new kitchen and dining facility, pantry president Charlie Myrick spoke warmly about “all the people who are working every day to make this happen.”

He kidded about an “Ivy Bend Mafia” that put the word out around town: “You don’t mess with the food pantry.”

He told the story of an Iowa lady who offered to match up to $10,000 raised in a telethon, and the viewers who pledged that amount in less than 12 hours.

He talked about a lady who walked up to him at an Ivy Bend Fest and handed him a check for $1,000 - and how that turned out to be only the beginning of a foundation grant for $10,000 and a corporate matching donation of $22,000.

With stories like this ringing in the air, state Rep. David Wood said this area is one of the friendliest communities in the region.

That same day, I spoke to a father and daughter whose family was touched by the community’s response after a serious car accident injured two members of their family.

“They were wonderful,” said Donna Brandle. “Two guys literally gave us the shirt off their backs.”

The giving started at the scene of the accident, when bystanders used pieces of their own clothing to staunch the victims’ wounds, and continued throughout the family’s time of need.

This past week, I interviewed Denise O’Donnell of Florence about what she likes about Stover. She brought an outside perspective to the feature, as an employee at Rocking M Ranch Western Emporium in Stover.

O’Donnell didn’t want to stop after saying she thought people would help her if she was in need. She went on to tell how the Marriott family, her employers, made her feel welcome in the community. They invited her to social events, introduced her to people, included her in the Stover family.

We saw another example of this earlier this month in the amazing results of St. Paul Lutheran School’s fall food drive, which has surpassed its goals year after year.

We saw it in the flood of support for Stover Police Officer Kevin Lutjen and his family after he was injured in the line of duty last month.

We saw it in the shared grief of an entire town when Melvin Dale passed away on Sept. 5.

We are seeing it in a similar outpouring of sympathy for the family of Albert Miesner, whose death in an auto accident Oct. 10 shocked and saddened the town.

The news we hear each week sometimes has a sorrowful ring. But threading through it is a turn of melody that delights my ears. It’s music of the heart.

Oct. 29: Halloween and Other Matters

An urban myth about Halloween has been making the rounds in recent years.

The story goes that Halloween was originally a pagan festival that ancient Christians appropriated and transformed.

So instead of being really witchy, Halloween became a sham of witchiness. Its purpose, then, was to put the frighteners on simple superstitious people, members of a pagan culture that had only partly converted to Christianity, and scare them away from their old rituals.

The truth is modern-day witches and neo-pagans invented their version of the holiday only a few years ago. They gave it a Celtic sounding name, Samhain, and created new rituals for it that the historically uninformed may view as ancient traditions.

It was, ironically, the pagans who took a Christian holiday and made it their own. Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints’ Day, really started out as a Christian festival celebrating the victory of Christ over the devil.

Today there isn’t much Christian meaning left in our culture’s observance of Halloween. It has become a secular festival of deliciously scary fun.

Note how that formula contains three ingredients. Sugary sweets supply the deliciousness. Spooky costumes, pranks, and decorations add the scariness. For the fun to gel, it is important to take both the scares and the sweets safely and in moderation.

Parents and other adults need not let the kids have all the fun. Besides levying a percentage of the candy they bring home, they can get in on the spooky fun too. Look under “Halloween happenings” in this issue for some pointers.

To keep Halloween fear in manageable doses, be sure to steer your kids toward safe activities such as parties with people you know and trust, trunk-or-treats and other shindigs put on by respectable businesses and community organizations.

What do you think?

I’ve been told the making of news slows down during the winter in Stover. This will leave more space in the newspaper for special features.

In the next week or two, I’ll be planning ahead for my winter features. I could use your help. If you have an idea for a story, please get in touch.

Some possible subjects are a business with an interesting history, a retired person looking back on a varied career, a student with big plans, a struggle with a medical problem or a legal issue, someone with a hidden talent or passion for a cause.

I’m going to need a lot of ideas, so don’t assume your idea isn’t worth my time. Share!

A crazy idea

Sometimes I find myself in the mood to solve all the world’s problems. Usually I can cure it by spending a night or two with the TV turned off. At a recent city council meeting, however, I had a flash of inspiration.

A citizen expressed the opinion that Stover police have not done enough to enforce the lawn and weed ordinances. The council replied that the police force is stretched thin and has to devote its manpower to other priorities.

Meanwhile, another bump in my brain was turning over the ways to fund school programs like vocational agriculture.

I hadn’t forgotten how the Stover high school greenhouse class sells mums each fall to raise funds for its spring sale. When it takes one sale to pay for another sale, imagine what the class could do with another stream of income.

Suddenly the two problems bumped together and BANG! they took off like a firework.

Suppose the city deputized students at Morgan County R-I, especially those studying vo ag or members of Future Farmers of America, to clean up yards cited in violation of the lawn and weed ordinance.

Then suppose the city were to donate the fines for the yards they clean up to vo ag and other programs that reward student initiative.

The kids would get valuable experience, especially if they need to use haying equipment to do the job. Maybe they could get community service credit too. Proceeds from selling the hay could go to the spring greenhouse sale or the FFA treasury.

It’s just a thought. Not even that, it’s the rough beginning of a thought. You see what happens when my mind wanders at a public meeting.