A Few Words about E.B. White

The November/December issue of Writer’s Journal features an article about one of my favorite writers, E. B. White.

A Washington Crossings, PA writer, Gail Friend, wrote the piece, “The Elements of Style: A Timeless Teacher,” based on an interview she did with White’s daughter-in-law, Allene White, in Maine. The article reaches back in time to give readers a delightful look at the personality and work habits of E. B. White, who wrote, among many other things, two famous books that children love, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and a famous book that is a boon to writers, The Elements of Style.

To give you a quick peek into Friend’s article, I’d like to include here one question and answer from the article:

G.F. Do you remember what he would say about writers finding their own style of writing?
Ms. White: Everyone has their own voice. You have to write about what you know and really understand. He didn’t believe in using words that most people wouldn’t understand. He would go directly to the point. His writing was very spare. He would cross out more than he left in and he wrote and rewrote constantly. I think One Man’s Meat, a book about E.B.’s life here in Maine, was perhaps the point where he found his voice. The last chapter of The Elements of Style has some things to say about style.”

I found a lot of other fascinating things in Gall Friend’s article, including the fact that E.B. White was a great jazz fan. I was not surprised to find that he loved the Rocky Mountains and anything to do with animals and the natural world — that love was evident in his children’s books.

The magazine is on the newsstands now if you’d like to read the entire interview.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Sister Mary Malachy and Punctuation Rules

Definition:

Stickler — One who insists on something unyieldingly.

Stickler. That’s a perfect description of my fifth grade teacher, Sister Mary Malachy. She was a stickler for most everything, but especially for proper punctuation. Even today, years later, I can recognize and appreciate her influence on my writing.

“The period and comma always go within the quotation marks,” Sister Mary Malachy drilled into our heads during many English classes throughout fifth grade. “The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material only,” she always continued. “They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.”

Other than one student, Melvin, the class clown, that year we fifth graders grew adept at memorizing and repeating Sister Mary Malachy’s punctuation rules. Melvin just waved his arms wildly and made chicken clucking sounds during English class. I lost track of Melvin through the years but I doubt that he ended up as either a writer or an editor.

We went to elementary school at a time when learning by rote wasn’t frowned upon and Sister had scores of drills in her rote repertoire. Throughout high school, college and jobs, I was lucky that all of Sister Mary Malachy’s drills stuck with me. They made it easy for me to remember her punctuation rules later in life, especially when I had copyediting jobs.

They may also be responsible for my disappointment for my writing buddies who didn’t reap the benefits of having Sister Mary Malachy as a teacher. When they sit down in front of the computer, those writers can’t possibly hear, as I do, the repeated refrain, “The period and comma always go within the quotation marks.”

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Some Things Freelance Writers Need to Know about Trademarks

Fiction writers may seldom, if ever, face a trademark issue, but freelance copywriters, article writers, and other writers of non-fiction may have to deal with trademark questions from time to time. One of my writer pals, the late Betty Larkey, knew more about trademarks than anybody I ever met. At one time, she was a contract Trademark Administrator for Holiday Inns, Inc., helping that company protect its trademarks.

Owners of trademarks spend millions of dollars to create, develop, promote and protect those marks, which to them represent the quality of a company’s goods and services. Betty told me that companies believe trademarks help customers identify consistent quality and prevent consumer confusion, and she said companies don’t look kindly on those who misuse their trademarks or who fail to use them at all.

A single trademark misuse might earn you a stern letter from the legal department; repeated violations could result in stronger reprimands or even legal action. Publishers of books and magazines are generally aware of, and comply with, trademark rules; self-publishers may need a crash course in trademark law. Here are some basics:

A trademark may be a name, design symbol or color combination used to identify goods or products. In the U.S., trademark ownership is based upon its first use; in most other countries, it’s based upon its first registration.

Companies go to great length to protect their trademarks, with good reason. Federal law says a company may forfeit its trademark rights through acts of omission or commission which cause the trademark to lose significance in identifying a company’s goods or services. So writers should always use the generic term along with the trademark name — Xerox copiers, NutriSweet brand sweetener, and Weed Eater trimmer are three examples of the proper way to use a trademark name with a generic product.

The most important consideration is a company’s need to keep the trademark from becoming a common noun, as has happened often in the past. Many of the words we use today began as trademarks. In 1921, Bayer lost its trademark to the word “aspirin” when that word become generalized. And Otis lost its proprietary status and its capital “e” in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that the word “escalator” had become a common descriptive term for moving stairways.

If you’re a writer employed by a company, you probably have a legal department you can call on to cover you from liability against improper usage. Freelance writers don’t have that kind of protection, but there are several steps you can take to help assure proper usage:

1. Use a trademark notice with every logo, with the first use of a trademark in copy, with the first reference on each subsequent page.

2. The (®) may be used only for a registered trademark; the (TM) (for product) or (SM) (for service) may be used for a mark when registration is pending or not filed. In the U.S., a trademark can only be protected by registration when it is used commercially. A service mark may be used a soon as the service is actually rendered.

3. If you’re writing/editing a newsletter for company employees, for example, using the trademarks and service marks properly will encourage their correct use in external copy as well. You may use a notation at the end such as “The following trademarks and service marks are owned by ….”, but you will still want to use the company’s name properly throughout the newsletter, without needing to use the trademark symbol each time.

4. Never use a trademark as a verb, in the plural, in possessive form, as a coined word, or in abbreviations.

5. If you’re writing advertising and promotional copy, the following notice should appear on every item: (c) (year) (company name).

6. If your copy will be used in countries outside the U.S., follow the copyright notice with “All Rights Reserved.” Some companies that sell their products overseas opt for Foreign Trademark Registration on a country-by-country basis. Do your homework and find out the legal requirements in other countries around the world.

You can always check with a company’s legal department for trademark help. For minor questions, call a government agency such as the Federal Trade Commission (202-326-2222).

For quick trademark help and free and immediate answers to questions about spelling, capitalization and proper usage of trademarks, the International Trademark Association operates a hotline at 212-768-9885. Hours are Monday-Friday during U.S. business hours (but not on U.S. national holidays). The association’s mailing address is 655 Third Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10017-5817.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Applauding an Up-and-Coming Humor Writer

It’s always fun to watch up-and-coming writers as they accumulate writing credits. I’m especially pleased with the success of my friend Ike Martin, who has a special knack for writing short humorous pieces. He’s very good about alerting me when his byline is scheduled to appear online or in a local or national print publication. That may because Ike knows that, along with his wife, Carolyn, I’m one of the biggest fans of his brand of humor. I predict that even more readers will come to enjoy Ike’s work in days to come.

Early on, Ike learned one secret to getting his work published: editors like humor and articles written with a light touch. I really admire Ike’s ability to supply those needs.

If you’d like to take a look at one of his latest pieces, check out “I Am Legend,” and read his take on the sport of NASCAR racing. No matter how you feel about NASCAR, I think you will enjoy the humor you’ll find in Ike’s’ article.

Ike is listed among the writers on the SouthernHumorists.com site. You can click on his name (Ike Martin) in the alphabetical lists of writers on the left side of the main page, or you can just go here. In time, I expect to see Ike’s byline is many more online sites and print publications.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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