Grammar Enthusiast June Casagrande on 'The Joy of Syntax'

In this Stitcher Premium bonus episode, Grammar Girl talks with June Casagrande, fellow grammar enthusiast and author of "The Joy of Syntax."

Mignon Fogarty,
The Joy of Syntax Book cover

GG: Oh, I absolutely agree. And I get frustrated when people criticize the writing in popular books because I think, okay, what, ten million people read this book? Obviously, that person is doing something right, you know?

JC: Yeah, yeah.

GG: You know, and I was trying to understand — and I've read probably twenty books about how to write fiction and I've listen to a bunch of podcasts, and I've gone back and read some of the very popular books, and I was re-reading “The Da Vinci Code” a couple years ago now, and I remember having this strange feeling as I was going through, like, oh, this writing is terrible...but I need to know what happens next. It was a page-turner, I couldn't put it down, and even though occasionally I would notice the ridiculous words, it was still a good book in the sense that you wanted to read it. And that's really what you should aspire to. I mean, if you write a book with brilliant sentences that no one wants to read, you haven't succeeded. Well, let me take that back because at this point, I think anyone who completes a manuscript is a success. Just writing and finishing a book, in my mind, makes you a success because even that alone is hard.

JC: I agree.

GG: If you want to be a commercial success or a literary success, there's more to it, but—

JC: Agreed. But if you take the sort of Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson models of, these books are very successful for a reason, even though the writing's terrible — and I think Stieg Larsson is a whole level of terrible on his own. His prose is terrible which means his story is so good, it transcends the terrible writing.

GG: Right!

JC: So it's a balance sheet really, and he won that balance sheet. I can still criticize the terrible writing if I'm so inclined. I still give myself that leeway. But regarding writing fiction, there's a really great book called “Wired for Story”.

GG: Oh, I love that!

JC: It's by Lisa Kron.

GG: We all have the same agent, right?

JC: Yeah, I guess we do! I guess we do. Yeah, that's another Lisa Westmoreland acquisition and Laurie Abkemeier represents it. That's a really good one because it puts you in the head of the reader and helps you think about what they want and why they want it  — why readers want this stuff. We have a natural urge to hear stories and see people's quests to accomplish things play out and succeed or fail. And another book I read called “Plot and Structure” — I don't remember the author's name — included one bit of insight that I found extremely helpful which is readers secretly want to worry about the protagonist. It is worry that keeps turning pages which is — I found that very helpful because I can keep throwing danger and danger and shadow scary illusions and things like that at the protagonist to keep reminding the reader that this is quest. This is tough. They have a mountain to climb. This is scary and dangerous and and daunting. So I found that one bit of information very helpful — readers want to worry about the protagonist.

GG: Oh, that's great. So it sounds like you are still working on your fiction.

JC: I am!

GG: Yeah, good for you.

JC: Yeah. Thanks. That is exactly it — when and if it gets published, it'll be congratulations, but until it does, like, good for you! Keep thinking!

GG: And in the meantime you're still getting out great nonfiction books, like “The Joy of Syntax,” your new book.

JC: Thank you. Thank you.

GG: Well, it was wonderful talking with you today. What's your website? Where do you want people to go to find you?

JC: I think grammarunderground.com is still the best place. I haven't been maintaining junecasagrande.com. I think I've lost the hosting for that for not maintaining it well. So gammarunderground.com is currently the best place.

GG: Great. Well, thanks again for being here. Be sure to check out June's new book, “The Joy of Syntax.”

Thanks again to June, and thank you for listening. You can find the entire back catalogue of Grammar Girl episodes on Stitcher Premium. And if you want to find the articles, essentially transcripts, to go with them, you can find most of those at quickanddirtytips.com.


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