Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for May 2014

Some Thoughts on Editing UK and American Spellings

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Folks, after reading Stephanie Osborn’s latest guest blog about writing both British and American spellings — not to mention euphemisms and sayings — I started to think.

You see, I’ve edited for a number of non-Americans. Whether these have been Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, or folks from the United Kingdom, I’ve given them the same advice I give anyone else.

So what changes when I edit for someone who isn’t from the United States? Mostly, it’s the spelling . . . but as Stephanie cogently pointed out, some of the sayings are dissimilar also.

And yes, that can be complicated, especially if I’ve never come across the euphemism before despite all of my reading and other experience.

So what do you do then, as an editor?

My job, as an editor, is to help the client, regardless of where he or she comes from. So if I don’t understand what the client is saying, I have to ask him — and I am not shy about doing so, either.

(Why I should be is possibly fodder for another blog entirely. But as always, I digress.)

Sure, it looks odd for me as an American who grew up with American spelling to see behavior spelled behaviour — or color as colour, either — though some UK-derived spellings aren’t so odd or outré.

Consider, please, that most people don’t even bat an eye when the word “theatre” is spelled with -re rather than the usual American spelling, theater. And most American writers use dialogue with the -ue rather than the technically preferred and American spelling of dialog, which drops the -ue entirely, right along with the word prologue.

Also, it’s not unknown to see an American spell the word marvellous with two l’s — even though that’s technically the British spelling — rather than marvelous with only one l.

Anyway, spelling differences aside, the advice an editor gives doesn’t tend to change very much. But you do have to make a note of it when you’re working with someone who isn’t from the United States and is writing for a world market as opposed to the U.S. market.

That aside, as a reader and reviewer, I find it refreshing to see Stephanie Osborn using British spelling in Sherlock Holmes’ point of view, while her American hyperspatial physicist, Skye Chadwick-Holmes, the wife of Sherlock, quite rightly uses the American spelling she grew up with.

Because I do think it adds to the narrative to do it that way — and, perhaps ironically, points out that the differences between men and women are not always merely cosmetic.


Quick reviewing update: I hope to have a review of LINCOLN’S BOYS up over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) by tomorrow evening. Stephanie Osborn’s fourth book in her Displaced Detective series, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS, is tentatively scheduled for this Saturday, as what could be a better time to discuss the actual wedding of Sherlock and Skye than Romance Saturday at SBR?

And if you live in Racine and want to see a good symphonic band concert, I urge you to come out to Case High School on Thursday night to see the Racine Concert Band. I’m playing the alto saxophone in this concert, so if you know me, be sure to give me a discreet wave. (I’d say “give me a yell,” but that would be quite rude under the circumstances.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 14, 2014 at 5:37 pm

A Guest Blog from Stephanie Osborn: The Differences in Writing British and American English (and How to Write Both)

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Folks, Stephanie Osborn is no stranger to the Elfyverse (or my blog, either, though sometimes they seem to be one and the same). She’s previously written a few guest blogs (here and here), and as her latest book in her popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick, has finally arrived — this being A CASE OF SPONTANTEOUS COMBUSTION, it seemed like a good time for Stephanie to write another one.

So without further ado, please welcome writer extraordinaire Stephanie Osborn back to the Elfyverse!


A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make another guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.


American English and British English, and Learning to Write Both

By Stephanie Osborn


I’m sure you’ve all seen it.

We in America would say, “I don’t recognize this caller ID on my cellphone; I thought this app specialized in emphasizing identification. Could you wake me up at seven in the morning? Everything has been taken care of, but I have to run over and see Mom before the announcement is publicly known.”

But a Brit would say the same thing like this: “I don’t recognise this caller ID on my mobile; I thought this app specialised in emphasising identification. Would you knock me up at seven in the morning? It’s all sorted, but I have to pop over and see me Mum before the announcement is publically known.”

It’s the difference between the American version of English, and the British version of the same language. Sometimes people who travel back and forth between the two countries — the US and the UK — have been known to remark, “We speak the same language, but we don’t.”

And the difference encompasses terminology, slang, and even spelling.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling was made to change the name of the very first book in the Harry Potter series before it could be published in the USA? The original title, the title you’ll find on bookstore shelves in London, is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But publishers felt that Americans might not recognize the alchemical reference, and so it was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And you may, or may not, be familiar with the use of “trainers” to mean athletic shoes, or “jumper” to refer to a pullover sweater. Cell phones are “mobiles” and refrigerators, regardless of brand, are “Frigidaires.” (I suppose this is analogous to our referring to all disposable facial tissues as “Kleenex” and cotton swabs as “Q-Tips.”)

Americans may call it a plow, but Britons call it a plough — that was even a major clue that Holmes found in one of the original adventures, denoting the suspect wasn’t British as he claimed. There is, it seems, and has been for something like a century and a half at the least, a tendency for Americans to eliminate so-called silent letters and spell more phonetically than our British counterparts. But at least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle only had to write in one version thereof.

When I started writing the Displaced Detective series, which has been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” I made a deliberate decision: If the speaker was American, dialogue (and later, thoughts and even scenes from that character’s point of view) would be written in American English. If the speaker (thinker, observer) was from the United Kingdom, dialogue etc. would be written in British English. This has held true right down to the book currently being released, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, book 5 in the series (with at least 3 more in work, and more in the planning stages).

The series itself traces the exploits of Sherlock Holmes — or one version of Holmes, at least — when he is inadvertently yanked from an alternate reality in which he exists in Victorian Europe, into modern, 21st Century America. Because in his particular alternate reality, he and Professor Moriarty were BOTH supposed to die at Reichenbach, if he is returned, he must die. So he wisely opts to stay put and come up to speed on the modern world. Working with Dr. Skye Chadwick, her continuum’s equivalent to Holmes and the Chief Scientist of Project Tesseract (the program responsible for his accidental transition), Holmes ends up being asked to investigate unusual and occasionally outré situations.

In his latest foray, after an entire English village is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, London contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Holmes goes undercover to find a terror ring. In Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and mustangs, believing Holmes has abandoned her. Holmes must discover what caused the horror in Stonegrange and try to stop the terrorists before they unleash their bizarre weapon again, all the while wondering if he still has a home in Colorado.

And the cast of characters includes an American FBI agent, several members of the US military, two entire units of MI-5, and more. All of whom have to be rendered in their appropriate version of English.

Simple, you say? Just set Word to use the British English dictionary.

Right. Except then Skye, Agent Smith, Colonel Jones, and the other Americans would then be speaking Brit.

“So set both dictionaries operational,” you suggest.

Great idea. I’d love to. But Word doesn’t have that option — the two dictionaries would conflict. And even if it could use both, how would it know whether an American or an Englishman were speaking? More, one of those characters — Holmes himself — actually uses a somewhat archaic form of British English, in that he is a man of the Victorian era, and speaks in such fashion. So I am really using three different forms of English.

Well, the end result is simply that I have to make sure I read back through the manuscript very carefully, looking for places where either I’ve slipped up, or autocorrect replaced the British with the American equivalent (which it does every chance it gets). I’m also pleased that my publisher has assigned me a regular editor who is quite familiar with the British version of English, to include the euphemisms, exclamations, and general slang. She’s been amazingly helpful, and I do my best to stay up to speed on the latest version of slang in both the US and the UK.

So what has been the response?

Well, I’ve had one or two Amazon reviews refer to “misspellings,” and there’s one venerated author (of whom I like to refer as one of the “Grand Old Men of Science Fiction”) who is currently reading the first couple of books in the series and is amazed that I even attempted to pull such a thing off, let alone that I’m doing it.

But other than that, it’s rather strange; not one reader has volunteered the observation that I am writing in two different forms of the English language. Yet the sense among fans of the series is that I have captured Doyle’s tone and style, despite the fact that I do not use a first-person Watson narrative, despite the fact that we see what Holmes is thinking, at least to a point.

I believe the reason is because, subconsciously, readers are picking up on the fact that Holmes speaks, thinks, and observes in proper, Victorian, British English. And even when referring to more modern conveniences, maintains a solid British presence. Consistently. Throughout.

And that’s precisely what I intended, from the very beginning.

I love it when a plan comes together.

* * * * *

And that concludes Stephanie Osborn’s latest guest blog! (Insert another hearty round of applause here.) Thank you again, Stephanie . . . as always, I enjoyed your guest blog heartily.

For the rest of you, please do yourselves a favor, and go check out Stephanie’s  intelligent novels of Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day by hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick — and who later marries him, becoming akin to Dr. Watson in the process. They are truly SF novels, contain solid science and world building and characterization, and yet even with all this somewhat “heavy” subject matter are gripping and full of suspense.

That’s tough to pull off. But if you’re like me, you won’t recognize this in the heat of finding out just how Sherlock and Skye are going to solve the case this time . . .

A Quick Friday Round-up

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Folks, things continue to be very challenging around here, but I thought I’d try to catch you all up on what’s been going on with me over the past few days.

First, I just played a concert with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Community Band on the clarinet. I was fortunate enough to have solo clarinet parts on two pieces (Gordon Jacob’s William Byrd Suite and Gioachino Rossini’s La Cambiale di Matrimonio), and my former clarinet teacher, Tim Bell — who’s been retired for several years now, but looks as youthful and energetic as ever — told me he thought I played well, which was very nice to hear.

The reason I am mentioning this concert, though, is because it was the final concert for Professor Mark Eichner, who’s been the Director of Bands at UW-Parkside for many years. Professor Eichner was my faculty advisor when I finished up my Bachelor’s degree at Parkside many moons ago, and also helped me rough out some musical compositions (Parkside did not have a composition teacher at that time, so Prof. Eichner was gracious enough to help me on an independent study basis); I couldn’t have had a better one.

The Community Band played as well as we ever have in order to salute Prof. Eichner and send him into retirement on a good note. (Pardon the pun.)

Best of all, Prof. Eichner received three standing ovations after the concert was over . . . no musician could’ve had a better send-off.

Next, I wanted to let you all know that author Dina von Lowenkraft has put up a blog for the most recent Blog Hop (called “4×4” or “Four Questions for the Writer”) . . . please go check that out when you have time. (She had tagged me, as did Katharine Eliska Kimbriel; I discussed my own answers here.)

I am also happy to report that I read Eric Brown and Jason Cordova’s new novella KAIJU APOCALYPSE (which I discussed here) and actually reviewed it on Amazon. I enjoyed it; it’s a very quick read with a lot of action, very well-paced.

Other than that, though, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be reviewing anything over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) this weekend due to my cousin’s passing. But I should be back at it next week, so do stay tuned.

Aside from that, what’s going on with my favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers? Over the past week-plus, the Brewers have lost six of the last eight; before that, they’d started the season 20-7. Their record now stands at 22-13.

This is maddening mostly because the Brewers are not hitting very well. The starting pitchers have been really good to excellent with one exception (Matt Garza, I’m looking squarely at you), and the relievers have mostly been lights-out.

Still, I’m hoping the Brewers’ bats will get it together.

Before I go, it’s time for my weekly shameless plug: if you’re interested in buying something I wrote, or something my husband Michael wrote, please go to the “about Barb” page; there are links there that will get you to Amazon so you can purchase them to your heart’s content.

Enjoy your weekend, folks. (As for me, I intend to think about my cousin Jacki and reflect on her life, which was one well-lived.)

When Life is More Important than Writing

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The past few days, I’ve not blogged, I’ve rarely spoken (except to good friends), and I’ve been unusually uncommunicative.


Well, my cousin Jacki passed away suddenly. She was only a few years older than me, and I hadn’t seen her in over ten years . . . but I always felt close to her.

Maybe it’s strange that I’m saying that, as I hadn’t seen her in years, hadn’t even talked to her by telephone since before my husband Michael died, and mostly had kept track of her doings online.

But I’d hoped to see her this summer. . . I hadn’t yet figured out how, as money is always a problem, but I still planned to go see her and my other cousins. Didn’t tell her, or my cousins, because I didn’t want to get their hopes up —

But now, I won’t have the chance.

Jacki is dead. And now, it’s left to me and anyone else who cared about her to comfort those still alive — most particularly her sisters and brothers.

Mind you, it’s hard to know what to say at a time like this, even though I’ve been through something similar. Grief is different for everyone, you see, and it’s a journey that I’ve intensely disliked . . . I’d not wish this on my worst enemy. Much less my cousins, who are normally full of life and all its joyous exuberance.

Even so, I will do and say what I can, at least at a practical level. That’s all I can do.

But anything I say to them seems pointless right now. I know it will not bring Jacki back.

This is a time when life has trumped writing. All of my words seem without resonance, without purpose . . . without life.

I know that’s an illusion, mind. Words are all we have, and perhaps by speaking of my cousin at her funeral, and by continuing to remember her, we’ll summon up some of the good memories — of which there were many.

Even so, my heart remains troubled.

I’ve had a bellyful of mortality. I’ve lost my amazing husband Michael, my best friend Jeff, several other friends, my Aunt Micki — my grieving cousins’ mother — last year, and now, I’ve lost Cousin Jacki as well.

This just does not seem fair or just, at all, no matter what the rewards of Heaven are said to be by various religions.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 7, 2014 at 5:16 am

Reviewed Grant Hallman’s “IronStar” and “Upfall” Last Night at SBR

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Folks, this past week has been a nightmare.

Why? Well, I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection. The hot water heater decided it had had enough, too . . . and even the cheapest and lowest-rated hot water heater is currently beyond my reach, though of course I’m working on that.

Anyway, I’d hoped to review Grant Hallman’s novel IRONSTAR and novella UPFALL a few weeks ago. But I knew I couldn’t do them justice, which is why I’d delayed . . . at any rate, I have reviewed them now over at Shiny Book Review (SBR, as always).

Now, why was I worried about doing two science fiction stories justice, when I’m a SF writer myself?

Simple. IRONSTAR incorporates some metaphysics into the mix (as you’ll see if you go over and read my review), and I was unsure at first how to discuss this without giving too much of the plot away. And, while IRONSTAR is military SF, I was worried about describing the many other parts of the diverse plotline . . . but it all came into place once I realized I could review both stories on Saturday.

You see, I’ve reviewed many books that have a romantic component on Saturday for SBR’s “Romance Saturday” promotion. And Hallman’s novella, UPFALL, is an unabashed romantic SF story of the old school . . . lots of good science, lots of intelligent romance, and a crowd-pleasing ending, so what’s not to like about that?

When you put UPFALL together with IRONSTAR, which also has a romance along with the military SF going on, it seemed a natural fit for Romance Saturday.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy my review. So have at . . . and enjoy your weekend. (As for me, while I do intend to watch the Brewers play the Reds, I have a whole boatload of editing to get done by Monday morning.)



Written by Barb Caffrey

May 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm