I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to one of Author’s most consistent and yet least recognized contributors: Grammar maven Cherie Tucker. My relationship with Cherie began long before her inaugural column back in June of 2008.
It was my first writer’s conference, and there was Cherie teaching a class on grammar to a packed room. She had a nice sense of humor and passionate grasp of a topic to which I was personally indifferent. I had what you might call an intuitive understanding of grammar. That is, I spoke in full sentences, my verbs almost always agreed, but – particularly in writing – I was never entirely sure about whether a comma really belonged and if I should use “which” or “that.”
This approach had worked fine for a time, but I eventually began to worry about those letters and sample pages I was sending to agents. I did not like the idea that a few grammatical hiccups in the first or second paragraph might sour a prospective reader, nor – and perhaps worst of all – that identifying said hiccups was beyond my powers. If a letter or chapter was grammatically spotless, it would be so by chance, not acumen.
So I hired Cherie to read a short story I had written and teach me everything I had chosen to ignore in Freshman Language Arts. To this day I can remember nothing she taught me that afternoon except this: somehow in her little lesson she managed to convey that the purpose of grammar was to help make clear what I was trying to express.
That was the moment I made grammar my own. Proper grammar wasn’t some series of hoops lowered from on high for every hopeful writer to jump through. Commas, and em-dashes and verb agreement were tools of my expression. I could use these things to help capture the nuance of what I wished to share. I became a grammar fan that day.
All of this seems obvious enough in retrospect, but such is the case with the most valuable lessons. The truth is always clear once you see it, and I am glad for people like Cherie who continue to share what they have known effortlessly for years.
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