Friday, August 30, 2013


Random stock photo of tourmaline gemstones.
Gems: They're pretty, they're shiny, dragons and people like them.

What makes a gem?

It's a stone that can be used in jewelry. People often consider some non-stones to be gems, too, such as pearls. Precious things used for adornment is a catch-all to describe gems in general.

Since many raw gemstones look more like ordinary rocks than rocks you pull them from, you'll want someone to explain to you before you start what you're looking for.
Random stock photo of gemstones.

I like mining for gems. There's something highly satisfying about pulling a rock out of a pile of dirt and knowing it hides a beautiful shiny gem inside. And shining a flashlight through my rocks until I see a green or blue or red glow always makes me smile.

Your quartz stones, of course, are obvious. They'd stick out anywhere, in vivid purples and yellows and browns and clears. One of these days I'll put a whole bunch of them together around a light and make a lamp, or something.

There's a place up near Boone, NC, where you can pan for gems and get an education experience where the staff will tell you about what you find. Okay, there's lots of gem-panning places around Boone. But this one gives you more information than most, and besides, the owners are nice. (The others are, admittedly, also fun. Sorry, Doc, I have indeed cheated with other gem mining places on occasion. Foggy Mountain is pretty nice, for example, although they don't get their ore locally and mail the gems for gem-cutting off to Germany.)

The place I usually go, Doc's Rocks, uses only local ore, from North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and such. We've got actually a lot of native gemstones in our state, so there's always something to find. In fact, the "Rock Hound" tours take you on a field trip to pick up gemstones from local areas. In the garnet expedition, you can pick up ball garnets (in their raw state, garnets look like 12-sided brown dice) from a stream. Yep. Just pluck them out of the water.

Now, chances are it'll have flaws and inclusions, if you get it cut. It probably won't be high quality by typical gemstone standards. The NC rubies are pink, and the sapphires a dark blue-black; natural emeralds tend to be very flawed. And when you take in an inch-diameter garnet to be cut and come back with a dime-sized cut stone, it's a bit of a surprise that so much of the rock is unusable.

But given a choice between a laser-cut diamond from a bloody mine in a far-away country and a less valuable stone I found myself in my own state, from my own state, hand-cut by someone I've met in person... It's an easy choice. I'll take the bright, beautiful, local stone that exudes personality and reminds me of home.

Have you ever been gem-mining? Did you get anything cut, and if so, was it what you expected?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Covers & Fonts to Avoid

Putting together my cover (with the help of the talented Photoshop genius Samantha Collins), I'm thinking about what fonts to use.

The first think I should do is to figure out what fonts to avoid at all costs.

Some of the (apparently) big no-nos?

  • Papyrus
  • Comic Sans
  • Brush Script
  • Lucida Handwriting
  • Bradley Hand
What goes on the outside helps sell what's on the inside.
(Books by Leon Brooks)
I did a web search for the most-hated fonts, and found these:'s The Most Hated Fonts

Definitive last word on fonts? Probably not. Industry standard is to write your novel in Times New Roman or Courier, of course, so don't deviate in your manuscript pages from that. But for your title, steer clear of average and hated.

Meanwhile, I'll be choosing something just a little more awesome for my own title. Remember that it should easily readable, even from a distance, and to keep it large enough on your cover to be seen from far away. 

I want to avoid making the basic mistakes. I don't know how many self-pubbed books I've seen using lovely fonts for the title, and I have no idea what the book is named, because the elaborate script has so many extra lines and curls that the letters are completely obscured. 

Just as bad are scripts so spindly they fade right into the background, effectively becoming invisible. Why, what a fantastic horror font--wait! Danger, Will Robinson, danger! Use something thick enough you can see it! And I'm averse to eye-popper colors: no red on a black background for me, thanks. 

I also want something indicating the correct genre. Sure, those dots and swirls are cute, but for a contemporary fantasy, high-adventure and high-action, where the hero has lost her entire family except her twin and the only way to bring the rest back puts him at risk, light and cheerful is just not appropriate. And while I love a good cyberpunk font, computers aren't a central theme, nor is programming used anywhere in the plot--thus, another font style to be skipped. 

Now to dive in and find a font I like.

What's your most-hated font? Favorite?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Long beginnings for great stories

Worn binding, yellowed pages... I'd say
30 pages until the story actually begins.
(Public domain image, found here)
Books today start a little differently than books written twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. 

It used to be that writers would pour a few chapters into a book that described the scenery, the background of the main characters, the slow and gradual rise of the villain into power.

These days books seem to start right in the action, or have short setups. Backstory? It's provided in tidbits, here and there, as needed.

Some people call this tragic; others call it progress. Me? I call it a change in writing styles.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. Published in 1982, it's one of the fantasy classics. But it takes a good two chapters before the story really begins, and only in my post-college years did I learn to love those first two chapters. The gradual story building wouldn't fly with most readers today.

On the other hand, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell well exceeds that. If you ever pick up this book, be prepared to spend 100 pages being bored... and the next 800 pinned to your chair with one of the most enchanting adventures you've ever read.Yet it was published in the recent 2004.

The Blue Sword get a special license for a slow beginning. It was published in a decade where that was the norm, and readers expect a slow beginning. But Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell proves that people are still willing to read through books with a slow start, are still willing to work to get to the meat of a story worth reading. On the whole, reader tastes have changed towards a shorter opening, but yet here's a book that proves the stereotype that today's readers won't read long beginnings wrong.

The most important detail is to write a great story. But if someone hadn't strongly recommended Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to me, if a teacher hadn't required me to pick up The Hero and the Crown (the prequel to The Blue Sword), I'd have never gotten through them. I'm very glad I did, but the slow beginning does make an impact when readers have literally millions of books to choose from (if not more...)

So maybe it's best practice to have a rapid beginning to your story, and get right to the action. It's certainly easier to become traditionally published via this method. But maybe it's just another shift in writing styles, and maybe it's less a shift of readers' tastes as it is publishing trends. I'll be curious to see in fifteen years if the majority of the best-selling books have slow beginnings or quick ones, if prologues make a comeback, if styles change wildly without gatekeepers to say who is and is not allowed on the shelves.

Do you think slower beginnings and other classic structures of classic books will make a comeback with the rise of self-publishing? Or are the days of the two-chapter world setup gone? I was never a fan of them (I skipped more prologues than I read!), yet I know others like them.

Do you mind a slow beginning to a book? Do you think they'll be become more popular in the next ten to fifteen years, or are the days of best-selling books with slow beginnings gone for good?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Publishing Industry News

Today's publishing news and industry blogs post covers from 8/7-8/23/2013.

Publishing News

The Simon & Schuster vs Barnes and Noble terms disagreement has been settled. (And the S&S authors rejoice.)

A new Writer Beware warns writers against American Book Publishing's new arm All Classic Books. Of note is the heavy pressure to buy hundreds of copies of your own book to distribute for reviews. Another recent warning is about Iconic Publishing, whose owner has registered copyright on books despite contracts clearly saying the copyrights remain in the name of the authors, and the authors having not agreed to the transfer.

Did end its "stealth war" with Amazon over prices? Nope, not exactly.

What do you think of paying $200 on course books for your college classes? CourseSmart offers a rental program that allows students to rent 6 books for a semester for just that much.

So Barnes & Noble isn't planning on selling the Nook business after all.

Nielson has purchased book tracking services from Bowker.

Judge Cote ruled on the DOJ vs Apple court case. The injunction she suggests against Apple displeases publishers, who say it affects them, and would disrupt the deals they carefully began establishing after the settlements to be in line with the settlements (and since they've already settled, ruling against them is not part of the deal). Of course the proposal doesn't actually attempt to rewrite directly the publishers' settlements, or their deals with other companies beside Apple. The DoJ dismissed the complaints, and meanwhile Kobo cheered the injunction.

Apple has proposed an October 2014 liability hearing for the damages ruling on the trial (basically, they want to delay the punishment until after they've had a chance to win an appeal). The request to stay the damages hearing until then was denied.  They'll be back in court August 27.

**Added Friday afternoon: More publisher warnings from Writer Beware.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 8/9 and 8/23.

Dana Sitar offers advice on connecting to readers: don't rely on loyal fans for their money (or why should they be loyal?), have real non-sales conversations with people, and more.

Rachelle Gardner talks about how we help ourselves focus on writing as a business.

On QueryTracker, Rosie Genova offers another form of organizing plot, for those of us who don't work so well with notecards, sticky cards, or Scrivener: Word tables. (I have a personal hatred for working with them myself, but that's more to having to fix them when the formatting runs around at work after the 6th person has edited that file across 3 different versions of Word...) And Stina Lindenblatt explains ways authors can do giveaways. Did you know you cannot do promote contests on Facebook outside very specific methods, but you can install a Rafflecopter on your page?

Also on QueryTracker, writer Elizabeth Craig talks about her life as a hybrid author (that is, an author who is both self-published and traditionally published.) And what is and how does it help you? How about telling you what your Amazon sales are? Sarah Pinneo describes how it works--mostly by watching Amazon's author rank, the ranks of books right above and below you, and tracking when your books move apart as proof of something being sold. Carolyn Kaufman also describes what exactly plagiarism is, and how to avoid being plagiarized.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the point that innovation is now in the hands of indie authors, in no small part because the Big Six are now the Big Five (and possibly whittling those numbers down further). If you do go traditional publishing, she says, be prepared to be a team player, because publishing houses are in it for the money, and like Hollywood prefer reliable sellers to risky new ideas.

How can indie writers find reviewers? GalleyCat offers links to a couple of resources.

Blogger Justin Swapp puts together some free Scrivner templates.

Don't overuse words, such as suddenly, in your novel.

So how about fighting piracy by surrendering customer data to antipiracy organizations, and putting watermarks on your ebooks when you buy them?

Beware of traveling internationally with your e-reader. In fact, don't update when traveling, because you might find you can't read some of your books afterward if you do.

15 places for free e-book promotion (as assembled by GalleyCat). And 23 query letters that got writers agents.

And Smashwords now has a tool that allows authors to interview themselves. (Um, thanks for agreeing to this interview...)

What relevant publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When Characters Cook

Does your main character's dinner look like this?
When characters cook in a story, what happens?

Food's a pretty important part of our lives, and so it's not surprising to see characters preparing it in the scenes of a story. Watching how they do so tells us about them. Do they microwave? Is the idea of putting a pan in the oven more terrifying than fighting six demons before breakfast? Or do they sweep through the kitchen with joy, dancing through elaborate feasts and feeding all their friends?

In some stories, especially those with restaurants, food is an obvious plot-motivator. But usually it's an accessory, just another way to help develop characters.

Or like this?
(From Wikimedia Commons,
uploaded by PanShiBo)

Sometimes it's a weakness, a point of vulnerability. Often characters will be bad cooks as a way to show something they haven't mastered. Kick-butt super heroine who destroys bad guys with one hand and speaks 14 languages? Chances are she can't boil water.

On the other hand, sometimes kitchen ability is a way of connecting characters. Have a party of four or five disparate characters who don't get along? Cooking together gives them a way of connecting. Have a hypermasculine character who needs a touch of softness? Give him a frying pan and an apron. What about a character who wants to take care of everyone? An author can emphasize nurturing tendencies by letting a character cook for everyone.

There's a lot of characters in stories I read who have unhealthy relationships with food, and often it's almost even celebrated. This trend seems to coincide with the writer's attitude towards skinniness. It's important to remember the character who survives off vitamins for half his meals is probably constantly lethargic and doing horrible things to his body--something often overlooked by writers. The truth is, starving distracts the mind, gives headaches, causes dizziness, and makes a character confused and weak in critical moments. Doing so too long can lead to nutrient deficiencies, including hair loss and weak nails, extreme illness, strange bruising due to the body's consumption of internal organs, and worse. Neglecting those consequences can romanticize unhealthy eating habits (something that bothers me, personally).

On the other hand, occasional missed meals may not be dangerous, and a character in situation where food is hard to come by might deal with starvation on a regular basis. Those who go adventuring (as many stories have them do) will probably burn off a lot of calories on a daily basis, meaning they can eat as they wish. And honestly, a story is just a story, and sometimes it's nice to pretend that the lifestyle habits are sustainable--wish fulfillment does play a role in many novels, after all.

In any case, how the characters deal with cooking tells the reader about them, and sometimes the foods themselves become popular on their own. Ever heard of the cookbooks assembled by sci-fi writers, including Anne McCaffrey (and her bubbly pies)? Some of those recipes are pretty tasty!

Does your favorite character know how to cook? What does his or her kitchen habits tell you about the character? And does the story offer realistic consequences for his or her general eating habits?

Monday, August 19, 2013


When you read a name in a book that has an apostrophe in it, how do you pronounce it?

Apparently Friday was International Apostrophe day! So celebrate your apostrophes (by using them correctly and/or mocking incorrect uses). Personally I don't mind apostrophes in fantasy/science fiction names if they have a purpose to be there (I rather like Anne McCaffrey's use of them; it's perfectly logical). On the other hand, I'm a bit irritated by random apostrophes that follow no rules whatsoever.

Here's an article on how apostrophes worked their way into many real, modern names, such as O'Brien, and the use of them in character names in stories.

Personally, I rather like the idea of pronouncing apostrophes as "Boing." Because it's so much fun to say "F-boing-lar" or "O-boing-Conner" whenever I read them...

Er, or maybe not.

What's a comical misuse of an apostrophe you've seen recently?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Frog Juice: Game

Frog Juice: The official game of Second Christmas!

My old college friends and I get together every year. And, because we're us, every time we get together we must play Frog Juice. It's tradition.

It's one of those slightly silly card games. In this game, you try to make "spells" by matching the number cards in your hand with the numbers on the table (a twelve and a twelve, or a seven and a five to a twelve). You can also cast spells by putting down a "spell" card and collecting the named ingredients; this version gets you points towards winning the game.

Only certain cards are valuable. The rest are just fun.

It's hard to take a game seriously when you're collecting toads, newts, and unicorn horns (or when you're playing it at 3am, but that's another matter.) On the whole, it's just a fun game, and cute. I'm not entirely sure when it became our group's official game, but between that and Mahjong, we keep ourselves entertained.

And, of course, any game where using frog juice, shrinking potion, and a prince as ingredients (to make a frog, of course), is bound to make me giggle.

Do you have a traditional game you take out when you hang out with your friends? What do you play?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Science! Atom-sized problems

So recently, as in two days ago, an article went up on Wired about scientists making a discovery that might help them see things too small to be currently seen. "Perfect lens" is the concept--a lens that does not get in the way of seeing tiny things.

Okay, I'm not going to pretend I get the science. My optics studies are a little, er, rusty. As in, nonexistent after high school, which was *mumble* years ago.

But as far as I can tell, from my attempts at understanding this by reading the article and Wikipedia articles, the reason we can't see atoms is something like this:

See? Makes perfect sense. Er, sort of.

(Science friends, you may stop laughing now. Wait, no, that doesn't mean take out the pitchforks and torches...)

So according to my understanding of the article, scientists are trying to "bend light backwards," which to me sounds more like focusing light in a way that makes the wavelengths long enough to see.

In other words, scientists make a material whose atoms line up in such a way that, instead of light bending in different directions when it hits the material (like when you look at a spoon in a cup of water, the spoon seems bigger and differently located), all the wavelengths of light get concentrated and lengthened in the same direction. This makes them something that we can see.

Kinda like this:

This is what I imagine this article is trying to say.

Okay, people who actually study this stuff... What's negative refraction actually doing? Is this even in the ballpark of correct? Love to hear how it really works (in terms a non-scientist can understand...)!

And everyone else... SCIENCE!

Er, I mean, can you think of a cool way to use this?

What's one way seeing atoms could be used in science fiction? In the real world?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Yosefa Tea: Love it!

When making my yearly trip to the NC mountains this past weekend (Boone, to be exact, home of my alma mater Appalachian), I visited the new shop Yosefa AntiquiTEA.

Loved it. Just loved it. It's decorated in Moroccan style, with draping curtains, cushioned seats on the floor by large golden low tables, intricately styled regular chairs, and comfy-looking lounging sofas. The idea is that you can order a teapot and sit around sipping tea.Two of my friends and I ordered two "tea for two"s (a single teapot has about 3 servings' worth of tea, as we discovered, so it's good for up to three if you've got less time). We then sat around for a couple of hours sipping tea and chatting.

Yep. That's what you're supposed to do.

You can also buy the teas to take home (I recommend the Mandarin Silk and the Halo, yum!) or blend your own at the blending bar. One of my friends did a white peony base with rosehips, lavender, calendula, and marigold petals. Quite lovely. And they have delicious-looking pastries, if you like something sweet with your tea.

I would love one of these shops in my hometown. Please?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Publishing Industry News

Today's post only goes through Wednesday (7/27-8/7), due to a blue box appearing in my apartment on Thursday morning. Next post should cover the missing days, assuming there's nothing wrong with the calibrator.

(Don't worry, the house is well occupied, with two dogs and a roommate. Benefits of sharing rent? Being able to announce vacations!)

Publishing News

A price war between Overstock and Amazon? Overstock promises to beat Amazon prices by 10%. Amazon cuts prices but refuses to acknowledge the "price war," which Overstock then extended until August 7 (yeah, I missed it too).

The CEO of Amazon has bought himself a newspaper: The Washington Post, to be exact. GalleyCat gathers some reactions. Note that this is not Amazon buying the Post, but Jeff Bezos personally buying the newspaper, with his own money.

The DOJ is seeking rather comprehensive punishments for Apple in the DOJ vs Apple price-fixing case. Apple likes this about as well as you'd expect--that is, not at all--and has called the proposed terms "draconian." Some of these include the immediate loss of all its digital deals with publishers, meaning every business deal would have to be rewritten with government oversight for the next ten years. Apple argues vehemently against the injunction, saying that the terms are written in language broad enough that they could possibly apply to more than just the digital works, or even preclude writing new deals, and interfere with Apple's ability to sell e-books period (plus more strongly-worded objections to the proposed sentence). The DOJ claims the terms are necessary to prevent more price-fixing, given Apple's history. Of course, Apple is planning to appeal the verdict, and has requested a stay in the ruling until after the appeal.

Smashwords offers a new preorder feature.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 8/2.

Nathan Bransford posts This Week in Books for 8/2.

Author Marie Force publishes a reader survey. It's got some very interesting information. Note that it was published online and is a volunteer sample, mostly through the web domains of romance authors, so the respondents were tech-savvy enough to want to use an online survey, wanted to respond, and found the survey through romance author-linked sources. Even despite the tech slant, half of the nearly 3000 respondants still purchased print-and-ink books (in addition to e-books), 80% bought from Amazon, the price point most of them expected to pay was $4.99, most preferred to buy authors they'd heard of before especially in self-published authors, and 64% said it didn't matter who published the book as long as it was good. Tons more great data here--44 questions worth.

Another interesting survey is all about showrooming: when customers compare prices of something on the shelf to online prices using a smartphone. It also has suggestions for stores to combat showrooming: offer price-match guarantees to provide discounts to match the online retailers' prices.

Rachelle Gardner explains how a publishing auction works: when two or more publishers are interested in manuscript and want to 'bid' on it, with the agent and author going with the house that offers the best deal. It's not always all about the advance, but going to auction does usually mean the author gets a better deal than normal, since publishing houses know others are already interested in it (which bodes well for sales).

Register your domain name early, prepare well in advance of contract expiration if you plan on switch servers, and diversify over more than one source of social media, author Stina Lindenblatt advises, after having lost a domain name and having had to restart from scratch.

Nathan Bransford explains how he customized Feedly and in doing so, made it his favorite RSS reader.

Agent Janet Reid implores writers to remember to post contact information that includes places others can't see what messages are sent (i.e., an e-mail address, not just your Facebook Wall).

Author Terry Spear explains reasons you might blog, and why blogs herself. (Me? I blog 'cause I enjoy it.)

Forbes reveals the 15 richest fictional characters (in case you missed my post earlier this week!)

On the Editor's Blog, a post about how to incorporate technology into your story. Try not to draw attention to things the characters use day-to-day if you're writing from their POVs.

DearAuthor uncovers someone soliciting ghost writers and repackaging their works as from one of several different pen names. There's also quite a bit of sock-puppet reviewing going on.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch talks about how crushing it is to see authors get hooked into bad contracts because the lawyers they hired did what they were hired to do--negotiate bad contracts to make them better. Note: Even an improved bad contract can still end up as a bad contract, so make sure to ask the lawyer that all-important question: should I sign this? Also, she talks about seeing her childhood dream of being a New York Times Bestseller never be realized as she wanted.

On QueryTracker, Carolyn Kaufman talks about how to find a reputable agent or publisher.

Confused on what New Adult fiction is? GalleyCat offers an explanation, plus some book examples.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


The Troll says "No billy-goats allowed."

Fantasy tropes give you a pretty good idea of what a particular well-known monster should more or less look like. I say elf, you think pointy ears. I say dragon, you think big, wings, fire, pillaging; or long, rivers, flying, wise.

So what's a troll?

Big, muscly, dumb, with a huge underbite and fangs?

Or a cute little dog with troll-like fangs, with a sweet temperament and a tendency to get along with cats?

I'm not usually a dog person, but really. I love this face. He's like Grumpy Dog or something.

Plus, while he gets along well with cats and large dogs, around other small dogs he starts making troll-sounds. He'll be hiding under the table when the pest (er, "sweet cuddly other dog [who poops around the house and is insanely proud of having killed my evil purple fuzzy sock--what do you mean I'm not good at advertising?]") bounces by, and suddenly, from under the table will come a low growl. Then after the pest has passed by, out pops the troll!

Good Troll.

I can't get over that face. It's so cute. Ugly-cute but cute.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fictional Moneybags!

Forbes has revealed the richest fictional characters of 2013. Topping the list? Scrooge McDuck!

Wealth is a frequent theme in books (as it is in life, although in books a character we know usually actually has it, which isn't always true in life...)

What does wealth mean? It can be used to represent stability, competence, or power. When the character possessing it is a good guy, it's often a tool that allows the character to continue being a hero without maintaining a day-to-day job. Sometimes it even drives the plot, when characters must travel in order to finish the story--something not always possible without a stock of wealth to draw from. Other times, money acts as a barrier that holds her/his love interest at a distance by intimidation. Frequently, the love interest doesn't know about the wealth, or the wealth is a tool to introduce the characters; it can be seductive, but for the heroes, it's never the main draw--even when obtaining wealth was the initial goal of the hero (I say this thinking about a number of historical romances...). Rarely is money the main draw for the love interest; it ends up being icing on a cake, so to speak, with the cake being the hero. In the hands of heroes, money is used to buy good things and to create happiness, or used to shelter and protect the innocent. While the things that may be bought might be frivolous, they'll be used to make someone happy.

When the villain has it, it's almost inevitably a crippling vice, representing greed, corruption, or ruthlessness. Money is thrown around as a way of hurting others. It can be used to purchase frivolous things that make no one happy but act as a display of power, or to bribe or intimidate the heroes. When the villain/antagonist is in competition for a love interest, the money turns into temptation, or is used to showcase the dark side of the antagonist. Often it's used to hurt, and when it's not directly hurting someone, it's used to establish pecking order. The things that it buys are shallow, and the villain has at her or his core a basic, driving emptiness.

Personally, I found the list rather interesting. It has heroes and anti-heroes, downright villains and even a dragon. I'm personally rather fond of Smaug, the dragon, so that one made me laugh. Christian Grey, from 50 Shades of Grey, makes an appearance.

For a world with relatively few millionaires, there sure are a lot of fictional ones. Looking at the list, though, reminds me of how universal this trope is: a wish-fulfillment, and a warning about letting money become an obsession.

Are any of the characters in your favorite stories wealthy? Which ones, and what role does the wealth play in the story?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Grammar Brigade: Insure vs Ensure and misc. rules

Here's a couple more commonly confused terms, and how to keep them straight:

Ensure: To make certain
ex: Ensure that Mike takes his bike this morning.

Insure: As in car insurance, flood insurance, etc.
ex: When my house turned into a pickle, I realized my decision to insure only my car against acts of magical nature was probably unwise.

How to keep them straight:
e: ensure: extra sure, as in, make extra sure it happens!
i: insure: in case of disaster, I want money!

And some miscellaneous grammar rules:

Rule #1

Compound subjects and predicates do not have commas, but compound sentences do.
Walking to the store and eating pickles wore me out last week. (compound subject: 1 predicate)
I ran out of pickles and needed to refill my pickle jar with premium-quality pickles. (compound predicate: 1 subject)
My friend Charlie went to the magic store, and I chose a likely house to turn into a pickle. (compound sentence: each part of the sentence has both a subject and a predicate)
 Sometimes you can count verbs, but remember, that only works if there are no infinitives, gerunds, or other instances of verbs acting as non-verbs. "Walking to the store" is considered a single subject, and acts a noun in this sentence (quick definition: gerund=verb phrase acting as a noun).

It's possible to have both a compound subject and predicate without having a compound sentence:
Chuck and I laid the spell and spent the afternoon eating pickles. (2 subjects: Chuck and I; 2 predicates: laid the spell and spent the afternoon eating pickles)

The easiest way for me to tell is to look for a coordinating conjunction: most commonly, and, or, so, for, nor, but, yet. Aka, "FANBOYS." And will usually combine two noun or things acting like nouns, and will combine two predicates. And also usually combines two halves of a compound sentence. Look for both together:

Chuck and I: Neither thing combined has a verb.
laid the spell and spent the afternoon eating pickles: who did these things? Neither has a subject.

Chuck laid the spell, and I spent the afternoon eating pickles.

Chuck laid the spell: Chuck lays a spell. Both subject and predicate present.
I spent the afternoon eating pickles: I ate pickles. Both subject and predicate present.
These two complete sentences are combine with and, thus, a comma is needed.

(Still confused? See clauses for more detailed explanation.)

Rule #2
They can fight over it.

Dual ownership and pluralities:

Annie's and Marie's favorite flower...
Annie's and Marie's favorite flowers...

Which is correct?

Ask yourself, is it the same flower? If so, use singular: flower.
If they have different favorite flowers, it's plural: flowers.

Annie's and Marie's favorite flower is on the table. (There is a rose on the table)
Annie's and Marie's second-favorite flowers are on the counter. (Annie's got a daisy, Marie has a lily)

Example 2:
The prices for a sweater at two stores are different. (different prices=more than one, use plural)
The price for a sweater at two stores is the same. (same price=one price, use singular)

Example 3:
Chuck's and Stacy's pickle was crunchy. (They shared one pickle between them.)
Sarah's and Lucy's pickles were limp. (Sarah and Lucy each had their own pickle.)

Keep it straight:

Do you have any grammar questions, or want to know how to keep any particular word pairs straight?