Author Archives: Greg R. Fishbone

The Battle of Who Could Care Less

If you’re reading this blog, it’s because you care about words and the myriad ways they can be strung together into stories. You may even have a grammatical, idiomatic, or linguistic pet peeve or two. That vs. Which, Who vs. Whom, terminal serial commas, singular they, sentence fragments, sentences beginning with a conjunction, split infinitives, sentences ending in a preposition–you may be driven into a fine froth when someone abuses your linguistic sensibilities.

That’s perfectly fine.

In a perfect world, lessons on Standard English would include both sides of each debate and examples of rule-breaking for stylistic effect, but there’s not enough room in the textbooks or time in the curriculum, so we learn “rules” that come to us as if written in stone.

We’re on our own to learn how to relax and accept the wide range of usage that’s appropriate to any given time or place. For me, after years of effort, I’m finally beginning to make some progress.

Three examples:

X Items or Less

For a long time, I used to bristle at the “12 items or less” supermarket checkout line. Didn’t anyone at that store remember that Strunk & White admonishes us all to never use “less” in place of “fewer?”


Some people have a copy of Strunk & White AND a Sharpie.

But even Strunk & White ignores the advice of Strunk & White, so why shouldn’t the rest of us? And when you think of it, the “less” in that sign doesn’t necessarily refer to the countable noun, “items.” It could also refer to an implied mass noun like “shopping,” as in the following hypothetical conversation:

“How much shopping are you going to do today?”

“Not much. I plan to buy twelve items, or maybe even do less shopping than that.”

“Then you should totally use the ’12 items or less [shopping]’ checkout line. It’s for people who are doing twelve items or less of shopping, so they can get out of the store faster.”

“Hey, thanks for the tip!”

The key difference is this:

“12 items or less” focuses on the shopping experience. People who are only grabbing a few urgently-needed items are looking to get in and out of the store quickly, and the checkout counters have been designed to move them ahead of shoppers who have set aside a larger block of time to stock up for the week.

“12 items or fewer” focuses on the items. Customers with fewer items to ring up can be processed faster, so they are grouped together and run through the checkout counter to minimize the total number of customers waiting at the front of the store.

I actually prefer the sentiment behind the first version, but since most people engaged in less shopping tend to purchase fewer items, the two versions are interchangeable in practice.

Say it with me, fellow recovering correcters of supermarket grammar: “The two versions are interchangeable.” No matter what Messrs. Strunk and White have to say about it.

I Could Care Less

I also used to go nuts over the words people used to place themselves at the bottom of the Caring Continuum. When someone told me, “Make all the nit-picky grammar and usage comments you want; I could care less,” they clearly intended to say that they couldn’t care less, while their words expressed the exact opposite sentiment.


I’d roll my eyes in wonder at people who were too ignorant or lazy to add a half-syllable “n’t” to make their expressions more accurate. However, I’ve since encountered evidence that “I could care less” started its idiomatic life as a devastating topper from the 1950s. Back then, people who didn’t care about things would brag that nobody could care less than they did.

The Setup: “Nobody could care less about that thing than I do.”

The Topper: “Oh yeah? Well I could care less. Mic-drop. You just got served!”

Or whatever the 1950s equivalent was.

Throughout the 1960s, people got tired of serving up the setup line, only to get slammed by the topper. So instead, they increasingly started with the topper. Over time people forgot that it even was a topper.

Today, what you’re really saying is implied:

“What do you think about Donald Trump?”

“I could care less [about Donald Trump than some other guy who claims that nobody could care less about Donald Trump than he does].”

Which makes perfectly acceptable grammatical, logical, and political sense.

Or think of it this way. When someone tells you they couldn’t care less about something, they have to be lying because they could always care enough less to not even bother speaking about that thing in the first place. Admitting that you could care less allows you to provide entertaining commentary about the infinitesimal amount of caring you do, as Randall Munroe presents in this episode of xkcd:

xkcd: I Could Care Less by Randall Munroe

Head over Heels

This one drove me particularly mad.

Being head-over-heels in love would seem to mean being in a completely ordinary and unremarkable position, since your head is nearly always over your heels whether you’re standing, sitting, or jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.



The only time you’d not be “head over heels” would be when you’re horizontal–which is ironic in the context of a romantic relationship.

But here’s the actual first-known citation of “head over heels” in the English language, from Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man in 1771:

“He gave [him] such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels.”

How could you drive someone head over heels if they weren’t head over heels already? And what does it mean that the method of driving someone head over heels is a particularly hard kick to the face?

I don’t have a copy of the source material, so I don’t know whether Contemplative Man is on the giving or receiving side of that history-making kick, but it works both ways:

Mayor: Contemplative Man, hurry! Captain Brainwave is robbing the bank!

Contemplative Man: Let me think about that. Hmmm…

Mayor: Now Captain Brainwave is robbing the art museum!

Contemplative Man: Hmmm…

Mayor: Now Captain Brainwave has kidnapped my daughter!

Contemplative Man: Hmmm…

Caption: Suddenly and without Warning, he gave him such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels!

Being “head over heels” probably wasn’t intended to mean that the character’s head was located just anywhere above his feet. Instead, due to a sudden blow, his neck was snapped back, his back was bent, and his legs were twisted so that head and feet, normally located at two opposite ends of the body, had come together with one resting directly on top of the other.

Take that, Captain Brainwave!

To be head-over-heels in love is to be twisted into a metaphorical pretzel, which expresses exactly how it can feel.


Love hurts.

I’m a lot happier (and more fun to be around) now that I’m no longer a rage-fueled grammatical pedant at the supermarket checkout, and no longer telling people how much they could or couldn’t care. And I’m a lot more flexible now that I can position my head and heels in a wider variety of ways.

I invite you to join me in my new pet peeve: people who inflexibly insist that their usage is the only correct way to communicate, instead of thinking creatively and accepting whatever language gets the point across.

Do you have any other pet peeves you’d like to be rid of? Leave them in the comments!

From the Island of Misfit Books, Episode 2

My prior Mixed-Up blog entry introduced the Island of Misfit Books, populated by works that find themselves in publishing limbo: unsalable manuscripts; series books abandoned by their publisher; and other books with no traditional route to readers who would love them.

For the sake of those books, I’ve been gathering information about self-publishing and sharing with other authors who find themselves in a similar position.

So far we have learned that:

  • Self-publishing is now called indie publishing because, like indie music and indie film, indie publishing sees itself as an underground movement. Whatever you do, don’t call it “vanity” publishing;
  • Self-publishing has become more common and less stigmatized than in the past;
  • Because of trends and market forces, traditional publishers are less willing or able to support midlist authors as they did in the past, and are putting more resources into short-lived blockbuster titles;
  • Authors with hybrid careers, publishing both traditionally and independently, are becoming more common;
  • For indie publishers, the rise of ebooks and print-on-demand technologies have eliminated the need for large print runs and warehousing expenses;
  • Online retailers have automated the ordering and fulfillment process;
  • Websites and social media have made powerful marketing tools inexpensively available to authors; and
  • An independent marketplace for many of the services provided by traditional publishers—editorial, proofreading, design, layout, marketing, and publicity—have made it possible for indie books to be as polished and professional as traditionally published books.

Or in other words, for authors who believe strongly enough in their work, the Island of Misfit Books has a sleek fleet of escape boats.

One recent inspirational example of a middle grade escapee from the Island is…

The Sweet Spot by Stacy Barnett Mozer

When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude is holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like, “Go play softball!” all season just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.

All stakes now rest on Sam’s performance at baseball training camp. But the moment she arrives, miscommunication sets the week up for potential disaster. Placed at the bottom with the weaker players, she will have to work her way up to A League, not just to show Coach that she can be the best team player possible, but to prove to herself that she can hold a bat with the All-Star boys.

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot

Mixed-Up Files author Stacy Barnett Mozer says:

Self-publishing The Sweet Spot was not an easy decision. I went the traditional route first. The book had an agent, spent a year in revision, got feedback from editors, went through more revision, but it didn’t sell. My agent suggested putting it in the drawer. I spent over a year working on other projects, but my heart was still in this book so I took out the editor feedback again and spent another two years revising it. I could have sent it back out there but the idea of taking control of the process became too enticing. It was the right decision for me and this book to do it myself.

What I have liked about self-publishing is that it has been up to me to get the book out there, to make sales, and to champion my work and since I have access to all of my sales, I can tell within a few hours whether something I tried worked. And getting the book out there hasn’t been completely my doing either. Every time someone has posted about my book on Facebook or written a review on Amazon, I have seen a bump in sales. It has not been easy, but at this point over a hundred kids all over the country are reading my book. That wouldn’t have happened if it had stayed in my drawer.

More details on Stacy’s decision and experiences can be found here and here.

Inspired by Stacy’s success, I’m building my own escape raft for…

Galaxy Games, Book 2 by Greg R. Fishbone

Galaxy Games, Book 1: The Challengers was the story of Tyler Sato, who turned eleven and got a star named in his honor…

which turned out to be a doomsday asteroid…

which then turned out to be an alien spaceship!

Tyler found himself at the center of the most important event in human history, and only his last-second victory over an alien challenger could secure Earth’s invitation to the greatest sports tournament in the galaxy.

I thought it’s a great story, but I also wrote it, so I’m biased. But my agent thought it was a good story, my editor thought it was a good story, my publisher thought it was a good story, and that it would make money. A whole bunch of talented folks helped turn it into an actual book, and I was very grateful to have them on my team. Readers thought it was a good story too, or at least the ones I’ve heard from. It’s just a shame there weren’t enough of them to maintain an ongoing series.

And that’s how GG#2 ended up on The Island of Misfit Books.

I resisted the self-publishing route for a long time after the series cancellation because I didn’t want to be a publisher. I’ve already done that once, and I hated it. Back in the 1990s, I published Mythic Heroes magazine, working long hours with tight deadlines. I read submissions, purchased stories, commissioned artwork, managed an editorial staff, put layouts together, took out advertisements, dealt with a printing company, a shipping company, warehouses, and distributors, handled returns, and acted as corporate attorney, accountant, and IT department.

There was so much grunt work that I didn’t have any time left for actually writing anything, which was why I’d started the magazine in the first place.

But today, an ebook can be put together with HTML, which is like a second language to me. And now you’re telling me that I no longer have to front for a print-run and fill my garage with boxes?  Sold!

2015 is not 1995. It’s a brave new world, with fewer excuses than ever for a good book to remain cooped up on an island, on a USB drive, or in a desk drawer.

Which is why I am pleased to announce, officially, that by this time next year you will be able to hold a copy of Galaxy Games, Book 2 in your hands!

Or loaded into your favorite device, which would also be located in or near your hands. Either way, Tyler Sato’s next adventure will be in close proximity to your fingers very soon.

In Book 2, we will discover the high personal cost of Tyler’s victory, and the new danger that will emerge as the Earth team ventures into the galaxy for the very first time. The story world will expand, the stakes will be raised, mysteries will be revealed, and new characters will be introduced.

Website Reveal

There are several places you can go to keep up with Galaxy Games news. The Mixed-Up Files blog, of course, but also, where a new series website is coming together. It’s an early beta, so your feedback and comments are welcome.

And since I won’t have a traditional publishing house behind this second book, I would love to have you on Team Tyler as we launch this boat off the shores of the Island.

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of galactic fiction for young readers.

From the Island of Misfit Books, Episode One

Remember the Island of Misfit Toys from that animated holiday special on TV? This was a community of sentient toys who predated Pixar, and who had all been exiled together as factory rejects because of a variety of defects. For example, one was a Jack-in-the-box named Charlie, which really shouldn’t have been a disqualification, given the state of the “in-a-box” toy category.

Who's in a box?

…and not a Jack in the bunch!

There was also a bird that swam instead of flying, which again, isn’t necessarily a defect.

Swim, you misfits!

Swim, you marvelous misfits, swim!

But in the special, some toy factory gatekeeper had decided that these toys–along with a spotted elephant, an ostrich-riding cowboy, a train with square wheels, and others–were unfit for general release. Their punishment for existing was a life-sentence on an isolated prison island from which there was no escape. Ominously enough, the fate of the factory workers who created them was never shown.

Meanwhile, out in the world, a group of kids were horribly sad because all their toys were too realistic and practical for creative play. Or because they had no toys at all, and adjusted their expectations downward accordingly. Or something. Fortunately for everyone, by the end of the special, a deer with a filament on his face and a tiny dentist were able to prove the gatekeepers wrong and unite the toys with the children who needed them.

I like to imagine that there’s another island off the coast of this one called the Island of Misfit Books, which is entirely populated by unsalable manuscripts. These are books that have been rejected by every editor in the business, and can’t be published no matter how many times they are revised, rewritten, or polished. Maybe the subject matter is too esoteric. Maybe conventional wisdom says there are already too many dystopian/wizard/vampire books on the shelves. Maybe nobody wants the fourth book in a trilogy.

Many authors are sitting on novels we strongly believe in, even if the rest of the publishing world thinks of these books as polka-dotted elephants. We love our misfit books, and we just know there are readers who would also love them, if only a flying reindeer could deliver them into the right hands.

People have been asking me about the second book in my Galaxy Games series. The first book has a base of fans, who are an awesome bunch by the way, but someone decided there were too few fans to support a sequel, and no other publisher has been interested in starting a series with Book Two. It’s a shame because I think GG#2 is better than GG#1 in many ways–the action is bigger, the stakes are higher, the plot is tighter, and the characters really come into their own. But you’ll have to take my word for it, because poor GG#2 has been sitting on the shore of the Island of Misfit Books, looking mournfully out into the mist.

We can’t count on Rudolph to save the day, but there’s still hope. Apparently there’s this thing called “elf-publishing,” run by Santa’s factory workers in the off-season from an outpost in the Amazon. Or something like that. I’m still in the very early stages of research, but it’s a very promising lead.

At the moment, all I have is a misfit manuscript, an Internet connection, and a dream. Will that be enough to get this book off the island and into your hands? I will keep you informed of my progress.

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of The Penguins of Doom and the Galaxy Games series of middle grade sports and science fiction books, past and future. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and the Web.