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Grammar Tip: Dangling Modifiers

Here’s another helpful guest post from my husband and fellow grammarphile, Greg Walker. Enjoy!

Dangling Modifiers

To be perfectly fair, we love dangling modifiers. They are some of the most fun that grammarians can have!  “What is this alleged ‘dangling modifier’ of which you speak, and why is it the source of such entertainment to you, you grammar bully?” I hear you cry. Let us take a moment to define them and master them. And, after that, you will only use them when you want to take the lunch money away from some grammar incompetent.

What is a Dangling Modifier?

Let us start with the simpler question: What is a modifier? A modifier is a word or phrase that provides extra detail about a concept. Take the following example:

After having killed his wife and her lover, Canio was truly a sad clown.

The fundamental fact being communicated in this sentence is, “Canio was truly a sad clown.” The opening phrase provides some information about why Canio was sad, but it is not necessary to the sentence. In this case, it modifies the sentence clearly and correctly—you know that it is diagramming the actions taken by Canio and there is no question about it.

A dangling or misplaced modifier is one where what it is intended to modify is not clear. This happens when it is not obvious if the modifier is supposed to refer to the subject or the object of a sentence. In the following example, can you clearly state what the modifier refers to?

Flying over the African landscape, the elephant herd looked magnificent.

Common sense would dictate that the writer is sharing that they were in an aircraft flying over the African landscape when they viewed the elephant herd, but because of the manner in which it is written, we have to wonder if there were a herd of magnificent flying elephants.

Or in the following example, what was smashed?

Smashed beyond repair, Bert saw his watch lying on the court.

Again, common sense tells us that Bert is viewing his smashed watch, but the modifier is written in such a way that it is uncertain if it refers to Bert or to his watch.

Modifiers are not always introductory phrases. In the following examples they are integral to the main sentence:

The hunter crouched behind a tree waiting for a bear to come along with a bow and arrow.

We saved the scraps of meat for the dog that had been left on our plates.

In any of these cases, an extra word or two could restructure the sentence to make the modifiers quite clear. For example, the last sentence could be reworded: We saved the scraps of meat left on our plates for the dog.

Or the bear sentence would not be as amusing, but much clearer if it was reworded: The hunter crouched behind a tree with a bow and arrow, waiting for a bear to come along.

This is an easy issue to avoid simply by taking the time to re-read your work and add clarification where it is appropriate. In compound and complex sentences, be sure that both halves of the sentence relate to one another—whilst it is certainly possible to create an grammatically correct sentence with unrelated parts, this practice contributes to the confusion of the reader, and clarity to the initiated reader is really what our job is all about.

Grammar Lesson: Use of Commas in parentheticals

Our grammar lesson today is courtesy of Greg Walker, my favorite person with whom to discuss (and argue about) grammar. Enjoy, and feel free to comment with any questions!

Commas are the bane of many writers and grammarians, for a variety of reasons. First of all, someone in first grade said, “Commas indicate pauses in speech.” I do not know why they said this, as it is wrong on every level, but they have been introducing commas this way since Chaucer was learning his letters.

Later, someone told most of us to avoid commas. It was not, in fact, that they wanted us to avoid their prudent use, but they did not want us to overuse them, as is common. As a result of the desire to avoid comma usage altogether, we drift to a couple of typical errors:

  • The misuse of parentheses, a punctuation that should be avoided in most cases in formal writing, and
  • The gross misuse of the dash, a punctuation that should be used prudently and rarely, and always correctly.

Both of these errors are made because the writers are not secure with the nature of parenthetical phrases, or “interrupters”, and how to punctuate them correctly. So from today forward, you are going to be among that elite cadre professional grammarians who can manage parenthetical phrases with aplomb. Here are some pointers:

There are two basic forms of parenthetical phrase: the introductory element and the interrupter. The underlined phrases are those that constitute the parenthetical phrase.

Use a comma to set off the introductory element, such as, “After Mrs. Pontellier fed her husband on truffled pheasants, she dispatched him with a poisoned flan.” The point of the whole sentence is that Mrs. Pontellier offed her hubby with a poisoned flan. The opening description of his main course is a bit of additional detail, but it is in addition to the main sentence.

Another example of the introductory element is, “’Well, I hope you’re happy,’ she said in a manner that caused him to doubt her sincerity.” In this case, we have a sentence within a sentence. The introductory element here is “well” at the beginning of the sub-sentence because it does not contribute to the thought in any sense and it is superfluous to the sentence.

The parenthetical phrase in mid-sentence is often called an interrupter. These are items that could be placed in parentheses, but it is generally considered better form to separate them out with commas.

An example of an interrupter is, “The spooky twins, Lydia and Margot Renault, played duets on the piano in the study.” The sentence proper is just, “The spooky twins played duets on the piano in the study.” The secondary identification of the twins by their names is superfluous to the sentence, and is therefore separated by commas. It is a common error to omit the second comma, the one after the interrupter, but both are necessary.





Author Jennifer Walker Presents to The Friendship Club

Press Release

Former Grass Valley, California, resident Jennifer Walker will travel to Nevada County on July 27, 2012 to speak at a literary luncheon for the middle- and high school members of The Friendship Club, an after-school prevention program designed to reach at-risk girls before they engage in unhealthy behaviors. The club encourages reading and teaches life skills and personal responsibility.

During the luncheon, Walker will speak about her work as an author and sign copies of her novel BUBBA TO THE RESCUE. Each member of the club will receive a complimentary copy courtesy of The Friendship Club. This luncheon is the culminating event of a six-week reading program for members of the club run in conjunction with The Book Seller in Grass Valley as part of The Friendship Club’s summer enrichment program.

In BUBBA TO THE RESCUE, what starts out as a leisurely trail ride turns into a terrifying afternoon when Alex and Leslie see a plume of smoke rising in the trees. After saving the neighbor’s horses from a horrible fate, the two teens must run through the burning woods and get back to Green Meadow before it’s too late. On the way, they encounter a strange horse wandering through the woods by itself, and it follows them home. Leslie soon becomes attached to “Spark” when she can’t find his owner…but will she get to keep him, or will someone come forward to claim the horse she has come to love?

BUBBA TO THE RESCUE is the second book in Ms. Walker’s series of THE RIDERS OF GREEN MEADOW RIDERS teen, tween and children’s fiction books. BUBBA GOES NATIONAL is the first book in the series. Each book is a stand-alone story, but they do tell a continuing story as well.

“The Friendship Club is a wonderful program for guiding today’s youth on the right path,” commented Walker. “They strive to instill in their members the exact same values I try to teach through my books. I’m honored to have been chosen to speak with the girls and share my work with them.”

Although THE RIDERS OF GREEN MEADOW was written for the nine to 14-year-old market, it has appeal for horse lovers of all ages. Readers will learn a little about horse care and showing while reading delightful stories about working hard to make one’s own dreams come true.

Michelle L. Devon, author and owner of Accentuate Services, says, “In this second book in the RIDERS OF GREEN MEADOW series, Leslie continues to learn, through her work with horses, valuable lessons that all young people can take with them: responsibility, doing the right thing when the right thing is hard to do, being a good friend, and learning how to be part of a blended family. In age-appropriate ways, Ms. Walker touches on tough subjects, like death, abusive relationships, paying debts owed, all within a great story about Bubba, our family horse character from book one, and a new horse at Green Meadow who comes to them in an exciting but dangerous way.”

BUBBA TO THE RESCUE is available at a cover price of $12.95. Books may be purchased at… or through online retailers, like and Wholesale orders can be placed through the major distributors Ingrams, Coutt’s, Baker & Taylor, Blackwell Book Services and Holt Jackson.

More information on The Friendship Club can be found on their website at



Jennifer Walker



California Authors: Meet Elaine Macko

From Elaine Macko, who’s appearing this year at the California State Fair.

I always wanted to be a writer. I also always wanted to travel and finally, in my early thirties, I made the trip across the Atlantic for a one-week tour of London. That one-week trip ultimately turned into a twelve-year odyssey that took me to Belgium.

Toward the end of my stay in Europe I found myself out of a job and bored. A friend told me this time was actually a gift and that I should do something I always wanted to do. Well, that was easy. I wanted to write a mystery but coming up with a story was another thing.

So one night I found myself in a café, sitting across from my husband. We had just been to the city and it was Christmastime and the store windows were filled with mannequins. They were quite odd looking mannequins and this became the topic of our conversation over dinner. The more we talked the more I started to think that a murder in a mannequin factory could be fun–and creepy. So the next morning I woke up early and wrote. And then I did the same thing again the next day and the day after and after almost four months I had my first book, Armed.

It took me a while to get published and I can remember walking past booths at various events and looking at the writers sitting there, talking with people, signing books and wishing it was me. Yesterday I had the privilege to be one of the authors at the California Writers booth at the State Fair and I felt so proud that with a lot of hard work and perseverance, I made my dream come true.

There’s a piece of paper on my wall at work and it says, “There’s a word for a writer who doesn’t give up–published.”

You can visit me on my Web site,


California Authors: Jennifer Martin and Bud Gardner

From fellow author Jennifer Martin, who will appear at this year’s California State Fair:


I’ve been sharing a spot at the California Author’s Booth for six years with
my husband, Bud Gardner, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Writers Soul,
part of the New York Times best-selling series.

The Huna Warrior: The Magic Begins plunges us into the enigmatic world of
the ancient Hawaiian kahunas and Kat Romero’s discovery that she has
inherited their powers. This supernatural thriller is a bronze-medal winner
of Independent Publisher’s Magazine’s 2007 IPPY Awards for Best Visionary
Fiction. You can find out more at:

Bud and I have been loving our time at the State Fair. Many visitors are
returnees, some are former students, and all are excited to meet and greet
California authors in person. It’s also fun for us to visit with our fellow
authors and find out about their books and how they’re experiencing the life
of an author. Fun!!

Jennifer Martin and Bud Gardner

Grammar Tip: Punctuating Compound Sentences vs. Compound Predicates

This week’s tip: punctuating compound sentences vs. compound predicates

First, some explanation of terms:

A compound sentence contains two independent clauses: The horse trotted into the arena, and she jumped all the fences. (“The horse trotted into the arena” and “She jumped all the fences” could each be its own sentence and make sense independently. Each has its own subject and predicate. Therefore, each is an independent clause.)

A compound predicate is a sentence with one subject that governs two verbs. We can make the above example into a compound predicate by removing the “she”: The horse trotted into the arena and jumped all the fences. In this example, “The horse” is the only subject in the sentence, and she is clearly doing both actions of trotting into the arena and jumping the fences.

When punctuating a compound sentence (two independent clauses, as in the first example), you have several choices. Use whatever will flow best in the sentence and the context.

1. The horse trotted into the arena, and she jumped all the fences. In this example, I used a comma and a conjunction: “, and”. Other conjunctions include but, or, nor, for, yet, so. If you go this route, you must use a comma AND the conjunction. The exception is when the sentence is very short and there is no chance of confusion, in which case the comma is optional. I don’t like leaving it out ever, but it is an option: Two horses entered and two horses left. If you join the two independent clauses with a comma but no conjunction, that is called a comma splice and is incorrect.
2. Join the two clauses with a semi-colon (no conjunction): The horse trotted into the arena; she jumped all the fences. Don’t over use this option; it can easily get monotonous and choppy.
3. Make it into two sentences: The horse trotted into the arena. She jumped all the fences. The only problem with this is that if you have a bunch of short sentences, it’s choppy. Using a comma and conjunction allows it to flow a bit more.

When writing a compound predicate, like “The horse trotted into the arena and jumped the fence,” no comma or anything is used. In this example, this would be the less clunky way to write this sentence than as two independent clauses. In other cases, the two clauses need to stay independent. You have to use your judgment, but it’s generally pretty clear.

Now, let’s get some practice. Punctuate the following sentences and post your answer in the comments, and I’ll let you know if you got it right.

Danny liked designing the courses at Woodside he said it was a nice venue.
The rider fell off her horse and got a concussion.
The judge thought the class was good and she gave everyone good scores.

Comments? Questions?

Read an E-book Week at Smashwords!

It’s Read An E-book Week at Smashwords! My publisher, Twin Trinity Media, has discounted Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue by 50%–use coupon code REW50, and my short The Fire is FREE! Coupon code RE100.

Visit Smashwords today to get your copies:

Bubba is on tour!

Day one of the Bubba to the Rescue Virtual Book Tour has begun! Please stop by Shark Bytes and Tales to read JoanofShark’s review. Leave a comment, and you could win a free download of my short story, Leslie and the Lion! http://www.joanofsha…ook-review.html

To find out more about the tour, visit http://services.auth…scue-book-tour/ or join the facebook event at http://www.facebook….44971298910383/.

Why a virtual book tour? This is a great way to create buzz about your book by offering a lot of promotion during a short period of time, plus it has the long-lasting effects of all these mentions of your book staying out there on the web forever. Marketing is all about keeping your name out there so people see it over and over again. You might not see an immediate result from your efforts, but everything you do adds up.

Editors: All Knowing or Fallible?

Whether you’re working with a publisher or getting your book edited before submitting or self publishing, at some point you are going to have to work with an editor. Depending on your attitude, editing can be a painful, brutal, adversarial process, or it can be a stimulating, challenging, and enlightening process. Either way, the end result is the same: a book that is better than it was before the process. At least, you hope so.

The author-editor relationship is a tricky one. An author has invested many hours, cups of coffee (or perhaps bourbon) (or both), blood, sweat, and tears in their work, and chances are they love it just the way it is. Editors come at it fresh, usually with a perspective of what will fly in the marketplace. At the very least, they are readers themselves and have some idea how a reader would view the book. They are not as close to the book as the author is, and therefore it’s easier for them to do what needs to be done.

So, here’s the thing. The author wants to furiously defend their book against any change (except grammatical ones, I hope), but the editor, presumably, has some really good changes to make that will likely make the book better. As the author, you have to decide when to listen to the editor, and when to pack up your baby and run.

Editors, of course, are people. Some are good at their jobs, and some are not. Some are more experienced than others. Some have no business being an editor, at all, anywhere, while others are outstanding. I’ve run across a couple of bad ones. In one case, on Bubba Goes National, the editor was unwilling to discuss certain changes she wanted me to make, was not interested in what the typical reader might think or know, and sicked the publisher on me to threaten me when I wanted to discuss said changes. I ended up walking away from that contract for several reasons, and that was just one of them. In the end, I made some of the changes she suggested, although not in the exact way she wanted me to. So far, so good on the response to the book, so I think I made the right decision. Plus, authors are fleeing that publisher left and right, which further emphasizes that I made the right decision.

I have an online friend with a similar story, and I hope she won’t mind that I share it here. I’ll keep the details vague to protect her identity, but after getting accepted by a small press, the editor there suggested changes to her that were very, very bad. He wrote sentences that were not only grammatically incorrect, but horribly structured and just didn’t make sense. That was the end of that relationship, thank goodness.

Having related those two tales, that is not to say you should not listen to your editor, it just means that you have to be discerning. If the editor is not willing or able to explain why they want you to make a change, you might have a problem. However, if they have a good explanation, you really need to consider it. Step away from your own work and view it the way a reader would. Is the story/character/dialogue really as believable and understandable as you think?  Does the reader really need those pages and pages of back story and description? They might have been good for you to write as an author for the sake of the story, but that doesn’t mean the typical reader wants to slog through them. Loosen your hold on what you think your story needs, and you just might find that it will blossom with a little pruning and fertilizer.

Finally, don’t look at the editing process as a painful one, even though it might seem like it. Your editor wants to help you make the story better. Look at all that red ink as an opportunity to improve, not commentary on how your work is lacking. Where I used to work, we said, “Red is the color of love!” If your editor fills your work with red ink, it means they care enough about you and the story to make it better. Every change you make is a step toward a better story. I know, easier said than done, but who said writing was easy?


Halfway through LAFFN

It’s January 15, and that means we’re halfway through LAFFN. Just two more weeks to finish that novel! How are you doing? If you haven’t started yet, there’s still lots of time. If you’ve been moving along slowly, now is the time to kick it into gear. Or perhaps you’re already almost done and will soon be laughing at the rest of us suckers over a glass of wine. Remember, even if you don’t finish, at least you’ll be further in your book than you were two weeks ago.

I’m in the middle category. I have started, I have added about 1500 words or so, but I still have quite a ways to go. I feel a little like I don’t know what to do with the book at this point, so I add a few lines here and there. I’m hoping inspiration will hit me soon! I have time. I will finish! I’ve got to get this book published (by Twin Trinity Media) this year. It will be my third, and they say the third is when you start getting some real sales momentum. Here’s hoping!

After I finish this book (Bubba Gives Wings), I need to start working on Agnes Milby, my NaNo from this year. This is my attempt at a mainstream market, so I’m pretty excited about it. Back into the querying game with me! I’m excited and scared at the same time.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about with LAFFN, read all about it here.