Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why do we write; why do we read?

I suppose the reasons for writing and/or reading vary according to the number of different people who write and/or read. Some use the written word as escapism, entertainment, information, excitement, knowledge some because they love language.

On a recent day excursion to the mountains, I had a conversation (a real one, not one in my head) with my companion. He told me about the time he signed up for some self-improvement seminar. The first question the speaker asked was, “How many of you have purchased a self-help book or tape or attended a seminar?” The entire roomful of people raised its collective hand. Next he asked, “How many of you purchased a second self-help book or tape or attended a second seminar?” Again, the hands rose.

“Why, he asked in summary, “If you finished the first, did you need a second?”

It’s that way with fiction, isn’t it—reading it or writing it?

You buy one fiction title today, finish it and you’re ready for the next one.

You finish writing one masterpiece and you rev up the motor to start on the next one.

We hunger; we need; we feed

It doesn’t matter why, does it?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A book for right-brain people

I'm inserting a totally unrelated post as a 
recommendation for someone. 
It's a kindle version of a book 
someone recommended to me.
I downloaded it with the kindle to review and now I'm passing it along. That's all...

Why do you blog?

Been wondering ...

Is it art imitating life or the other way round?

Is it searching for life or a life in search of?

Is it Waiting for Godotor just an unexplored fear?

Am I asking you or am I asking me?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I don't live in other people's houses

I visit them. I wander around their rooms when they’re not home, when they’re sleeping, while they’re sitting at their dinner tables. I watch what they watch on their TV. I read the books they’re reading. I eavesdrop on their conversations.

I’ve left the comfort of an air-cooled desert home to sit in the chilling rain in Carolyn Graham’s Midsomer County; I’ve tried to send mental solutions to P.D. James for her Inspector Dalgliesh ; I’ve planned escapes from Neolithic apes on The Island of Doctor Moreau.

I’ve traveled cross country with the Joads and Bishop Jean Marie Latour, hitchhiked the galaxy alongside Arthur Dent, sailed down the Nile in a cabin next to Hercule Poirot, swung from vines with Tarzan, warded off velociraptors in Jurassic Park, chased down a monster alongside Dr. Frankenstein’s neighbors, and had my heart broken with C.S. Lewis by the death of Joy Grisham.

And I’ve loved both men and women who have touched my heart by their very gentle souls.

More than experience, reading helps me understand motivations, drives, purpose, both good and evil, and I am better able to touch and love the people of my life.

Why do you read?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A momentary lapse of reason (with apologies to Pink Floyd)

Good phrase, that line from the 1997 album Momentary Lapse of Reason

That’s how I answered when I asked myself why I’m doing this blog. But it’s too late to stop now. I’m going too fast.

I’ll try to keep the late-in-life introspection to a minimum but I know I won’t always succeed.

Some of the stuff I write here creeps into my fiction and vice versa so I’m guessing it’s okay.

I just hope I don’t look back one day and regret the revelations.

But then, regrets are nothing more than the result of that momentary lapse, aren’t they?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas message from the Buddha

From the Abhisandha Sutta, I offer this Christmas message to all ...

Photo courtesy of my sister, Rosemarie Perniola
In [undertaking the five precepts of Buddhism], he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the ... gift, the ... great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted .... This is the ... reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, and appealing; to welfare and to happiness.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A blog of a different name

Originally, I planned to have a different title for this blog. I was going to call it Them’s Writin’ Words, a bastardization of  Them’s fighting words, a phrase attributed to and made famous (sort of) by Ring Lardner in Gullible’s Travels. I’ve read Travels and despite what Wikipedia says, nowhere in Lardner’s work do those three words appear in sequence. Perhaps they are, by nature of the work, implied.

Take a look yourself. The text is free. But if you don’t want to go there, the words as penned by Lardner are:

You know they's lots o' words that's called fightin' words.

I wasn’t confident about the title because I didn’t like the way it looked in the URL, all squished together like unkerned letters pressed together to accommodate justified text in limited space. They just look like a mistake.

I just thought I’d mention it here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Would you use these verbs?

When I blogged about my favorite verbs recently, I was thinking in terms of creating action within fiction. A couple of friends joked about the piece and offered a few of their own favorites, none of which I plan to use in my own work. But, the topic, and the laughs, made me think about other types of verbs, common and not so common, some of which I've listed below. I can’t foresee using them – at least not at this moment – but who knows. Maybe, just maybe, one or two of them will slink around the crevices of my brain and worm their way into my prose.

Verbs like:
  • Backspace: I’m not sure this is really a verb but I caught myself saying I was going to backspace somebody out of my life. Don’t you think it’s a stronger word than delete?
  • Abscind: Can you imagine writing this: The killer abscinded his victim’s hands. Nah, it doesn’t even sound like a verb.
  • Scamander: I think I’d just use meander. Scarify: This really means to scar but I think readers might interpret it as a form of scare.
  • Plodge: I kind of like this one. I can almost see someone plodging around an unclean stable or maybe the soggy ground during a monsoon.
  • Fantasticate: Sorry, but this one sounds a bit too much like one of those malaprops, like refudiate.
  • Obfuscate: This is actually a common word, one I used in a column many, many years ago. A reader told me if I didn’t stop using such big words, he would stop reading my stuff. (I backspaced him from my Christmas list, even before I ever thought of using backspace as a verb.)
  • Gerrymander: We’ve probably seen a version of this word as a noun but not so much as a verb. It’s kind of sad, though, that a word that sounds so nice would mean something so nefarious. (Okay, maybe nefarious is too strong but isn’t it a melodic word, despite its definition?)
  • Decatise: Hmmm. I bet ephemera experts know how to decatise.
This whole verb thing interests me. It’s the verb that moves action along and the precise verb should be powerful enough to let the reader feel and see the action.

Quote of the day (4)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The new era of publishing

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about publishing lately. Based on what I’ve seen, it isn’t much of a stretch to realize that writers are leaning toward the ebook version of their potential best sellers rather than jumping through the almost impossible hoops of writing snappy query letters and synopses (I had to use a dictionary to find the plural of synopsis, by the way.), finding an agent and hooking up with a publisher. It seems there’s a plethora of complaints that even if (I should put that word in upper case.) a writer manages to hit the target in all three areas, he or she still has to do a ton of self-promotion to get the darned finished product in the hands of the important people – the readers.

I think there’s still a place for printed books. While they might not be as handy as the kindle versions, they’re still nice to take to bed with you, or pull from the bookcase and flip the pages to look for and remember favorite passages, to enjoy the cover art, to collect, even to enhance the d├ęcor of your rooms.

But, unless I’m being totally deceived (and I don’t think I am), the same self-promotion you need to publicize your work will mean a lot more money in your pocket and in the end, that’s the result that can make you a full-time, self-supporting author.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My favorite Las Vegas bookstore

For those of you who think Las Vegas is nothing but casinos and bright lights, here’s a bit of good news. The city has a number of independent fine used bookstores that are definitely worth abandoning the tables and slot machines for a few hours.

One of my very favorites is Greyhound’s Books on the corner of Decatur and Sahara. Their motto is books of worth and worthwhile books; they specialize in first editions in all genres, and their stock includes some fine signed first editions.

They don’t have much of an internet presence, believing that if you want them, you have to touch them, see them, smell them, and then buy them, should you like. (That’s a quote from their Blogger profile.) Owners Phil and Barbara both know more about books than I could ever hope to know – and they don’t mind sharing their knowledge.

I stopped by this afternoon to chat and to see if there might be a book or two for me to take home to enjoy during the rainy weather that promises to last a couple of days. (They have a super collection of mysteries.) While I was there, several customers arrived looking for interesting titles, all of which they were able to supply: a Harry Potter in Spanish, a couple of tomes written in French, and some older vegetarian cookbooks that I believe were to be a Christmas present for a special person.

I happened to have my camera so I took these pictures which don’t do justice to the place but I thought I’d share them anyway.

I believe this: If you take the time to visit Greyhound’s Books the next time you’re in Las Vegas, you’ll make it a destination point on all subsequent trips.

What are your favorite verbs?

I was going through one of my unfinished manuscripts yesterday, looking for a particular incident I’d described. Since I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, I did a partial word search and eventually found the section. While examining each result, I highlighted several with the processor’s yellow marker. I wanted to go back to these areas to flesh them out, give them more spice, if you will.

This got me to thinking (Yes, I'm easily distracted.)about ways to add impact to particular scenes, which eventually led to thinking about action verbs and how they can improve my writing.

Here’s example: He sat on the chair looking like a wilted flower.

Not much excitement in that sentence, is there? I reworked it a couple of times, finally settling on this (for now): As he slumped into the chair, he withered, like a wilted flower thirsting for a reprieving rain.

I liked that verb, withered, and thinking this, I wondered (distracted again?) what other words I might like to use. The answer came easily, resulting in this short list.


I’m still mulling this over (Oh, I should add mull to the list), attempting to uncover my all-time (or at least current time) favorite verb.

What’s yours?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A few of my favorite authors

I can’t begin to list every writer who impress me enough to read and reread, but without much thought at all, I can list the ones that come to mind immediately. I’ve included an Amazon link to some of their works in hopes that, if you haven’t read them recently, you’ll read them now. I’m betting your writing will improve as a result.

Edgar Allen Poe: The first time I read The Cask of Amontillado I didn’t know what a cask was yet alone amontillado but the story scared the daylights out of me, literally. In a half-darkened room, I attended that carnival, listened to the conversation, followed Fortunato’s footsteps as he descended to his eventual imprisonment behind his enemy’s wall, and vowed never to drink amontillado.

Maya Angelou: The title of Angelou’s 1969 work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, captivated me enough to buy the book. My trouble basic college psychology courses left me wondering what this science was all about. Angelou taught me what the professors couldn’t -- how much a child’s experiences infect and affect his or her growth.

Agatha Christie: I have to admit, I never solved any of Christie’s mysteries on my own. Time and again, I studied the clues, thought along the same patterns as her protagonists, then made a decision only to be proven wrong. One day I plan to read her works again, not to try to figure out whodunit but to see how shedunit.

John Steinbeck: I admit I sometimes lean a little bit toward the left politically but I blame Steinbeck for that. I was curious as to why The Grapes of Wrath was banned; knowing it was banned, I had to read it. And when I did, I developed a distaste for the tactics of big business who seemed to be have too much control over people. Beyond that, however, I fell in love with the downtrodden Joad family because despite having the odds stacked against them, they were strong and full of hope, especially the women.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: I’ve been known to cry during sentimental or downright sad movie scenes but I think the only book that actually made me cry was The Yearling. If an author can do that, she belongs among the others in this list but Rawlings does more. She has the ability to create such lifelike characters that we just know they exist in real life.

Are there any of your favorite writers here? No? Then who do (or did) you love to read?

What are you doing now?

Seth Godin has some good advice for writers when he addresses the question: What are you working on?

Things I've never done

This morning, before the sun appeared over Sunrise Mountain, I woke up to the sound of my neighbor’s melodic wind chimes clanging in the winter breeze. Playing their random notes, the slim metal tubes were telling me I’d slept enough; it was time to get out of bed and do something. That message resonated in me.

As a retiree from the grind of employment, my days have virtually no structure. I get up when I want to, nap when I need to, sleep when I’m tired. My friends joked about my plans to stop following a work-day clock by telling me I’d be bored to tears within three months. Thankfully, they were wrong. I now have time to volunteer fully, to walk freely, to explore my environment when the mood hits and to write, write, write. These are the things I’ve never been able to squeeze into the few hours left over between job and home, the things that often went incomplete. And so, I’m grateful and pleased.

This morning, as the breeze turned into a wind and the chimes picked up the tempo of their song, I thought about things I’ve never done. I don’t know how the leap to this occurred; it just did. So, while the coffee was brewing and the dog was enjoying his morning treat, I made this list of things I’ve never done, just to see if where it leads.

I’ve never eaten a McDonald’s hamburger. (Don’t think I ever will.) I have eaten their fries; I’ve forced down one of their breakfasts, sipped their hot coffee. But just the sight of that flat brackish brown thing posing as a burger and topped with pickles (pickles?), creates such a negative image in my brain that I just can’t fathom putting it between my teeth and biting into it.

I’ve never seen the Oprah show. (Since she’s ending her 25-year production, I probably never will see it.) I attribute this to the fact that my television gets dusty from lack of use. When once it acted as background noise for household chores, the screen now puts out a blank black stare, begging at the very least, to host my latest Netflix gem.

I’ve never killed an animal. (Never will, I hope.) One morning, while driving to work, a scruffy yellow dog streaked across the street and thumped into my right front bumper. I was in such a panic. I pulled over, got out, and searched both sides of the block looking for the animal but never found him. The next day, I walked the block again and there he was, penned behind a fence, barking at traffic, looking like a captive prince, no worse for the wear.

I’ve never jumped out of an airplane (probably won’t); never slapped a date (probably should have); never been to Europe (don’t need to go); never betrayed a friend (came close by accident and still regret it).

Not all these things will find their way into my writing but what I’ve learned and felt as a result will. My characters will watch too much or too little TV, will eat fast food or dine in the finest restaurants; will love or hate animals; will leap from mountains, find or lose a love, travel in real life or in their imagination and treat their friendships in whatever their inner self demands.

While most advice recommends writing about what you know, often it’s what you don’t know can bring life to your work. Spend some time thinking about what you’ve never done. In your imagination, taste that McDonald’s hamburger, watch that frightful reality show (not implying Oprah is frightful here), take aim on Bambi and pull the trigger, jump off a bridge with a bungi cord attached to your leg, tell a friend’s secret.

See where it leads you and your writing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Go ahead, write

It must be the season

About once a week, I use the Next Blog button on blogger to get a sense of what people are writing about and to see if anything catches my interest enough for follow-up or comment. I look at this as an extension of my hardback reading, as research, and as a voyeur looking into the windows of the soul of others.

This week, I noticed that every time I clicked the next button, the ensuing blog focused on religion – religion of every belief, including Islam, Mormon, Catholic, unidentified Christian, Buddhist. Some of these were very well written, engagingly so; others were rather mundane, and in all but one case, the updates were frequent.

The rash of religious postings prompted me to encourage others to realize that no matter what brand of religion you cling to, the season of Christmas, besides celebrating the birth of Christ, should be a reminder that we all live on this planet, share the air, the water, the ground.

I don’t know why these ramblings appear on this post but this particular exploration made me realize that everyone has a story to tell, including you. So go ahead and write it. Put it in a journal, a manuscript, a blog. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war story, a love story, an inspirational journey or a lesson for life. It might inspire any number of reactions from readers but eventually, it will reach someone who appreciates what you’ve said.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The confident writer

My laptop is stuffed with words. Like the cavity of a Thanksgiving turkey, my documents folder bulges with archives of everything I’ve written over the last twelve years – articles, short stories, poetry and a couple of novels. (Many of the non-fiction pieces have been published in magazines or on the web.)

Last week, I scanned through the morass of titles, chose a dozen of these gems, one from each year, and read them. Except for one, I liked them. Except for one, they put me back to the time they were written. They returned me to my desk, my sofa, my office. They allowed me to see the past, hear the noises, and recall the people who walked by, peered over my shoulder, asked me questions. Except for one, the experience of perusing this small group of words gave me a rush of satisfaction: I knew how to write something worth reading!

Except for one.

That particular article read like a bad short story written by a stranger.

I wrote that article during a short stint as a managing editor. I’d been talking to a co-worker about a submission. She insisted this piece was definitely worth publishing because the writer had never been rejected. Everything he’d ever written had been accepted, from his first work while in college to his current articles in major magazines.

Her glowing praise had dampened my own confidence as a writer, and that doubt crept into my work, inserted itself between the commas, chopped off thoughts before they materialized into meaningful prose.

That punch in the creative stomach didn’t have a lasting affect; however, I’m sure the cause and effect clearly relates to how I think and feel about my foray into fiction. I can imagine friends and family enjoying my work but worry if that same work will resonate with strangers. Will I measure up to their expectations? Will they think I’m good at my craft? Will they demean my talent?

Despite the self-doubt that creeps into my thoughts, I continue to write. When I write, I enjoy the process; I like my words; take pleasure in how writing makes me feel, and because of that, I will bask in the glory of praise and steel myself against negative reviews.

That’s about as confident as I can be.

How about you?

A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions!!!
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

7 tips for writing a book review

A good book review should either convince your reader to read or not to read. Whether a person makes one decision or another depends on two elements: how well you compose the review and how likely your reader agrees with your focus.

A well-written review includes, of course, the book title and author name, probably the publisher, the price and the ISBN. (These can appear as separate text before the actual review begins.) The actual review (we’re thinking in terms of novels here) includes a summary of the plot (without revealing the conclusion, of course), and a synopsis of the characters and a discussion about how the author writes. (He uses too many big words; her characters are underdeveloped; he introduces characters and/or scenes then drops them with no further explanation; she describes scenery and geography vividly.) All these points are based on both fact and opinion because in the end, the entire review is opinion based, and should be cited by example.

Approach your review the same way you would approach any writing, with purpose and professionalism.

Here are seven hints for writing good book review. They’re not all inclusive but they are a good jumping off point, a good framework that you can embellish with your own style.
  • Include the title, author, ISBN, publisher and price.
  • Summarize the book with a vivid description of the plot, characters and background (Think of this as a query letter, one you would submit to an agent or publisher if you had written the book.
  • Cover points about the book you liked. (Author X draws you into the plot with characters who could be your best friend, worst enemy, neighbor, teacher. Author Y doesn’t pull any punches when describing the brutal murders committed by his serial killer.)
  • Include your opinion. (The murder scene was too graphic for my taste. I wish the author had given more background on the leading character’s mother.)
  • Don’t just state; describe. (Tell the reader why you think the murder scene was too graphic; explain why the main character’s mother deserved more treatment.)
  • Summarize why your reader should buy the book. (It’s good enough to save and to savor again; read it then leave it at the airport for the next lucky person; buy it if you want to be put to sleep.)
  • Read other book reviews, preferably ones written by professional reviewers. (For an outstanding book and author review of check out Ken Bruen's Mysterious Matters blog post.)

You could also include other elements: Does the author know what he’s talking about? Did the author make you feel as if you were walking the back alleys of Paris? Did you feel the protagonist’s pain?

Don’t be afraid to criticize. You want your reader to rely on your review, to have confidence that your opinion counts.

If your goal is to become a published book reviewer, get a copy of the books featured here. Read them and review them. They’ll help get you from start to finish.

Amazon versus erotica

Is Amazon getting involved with censorship?

Read the post, then decide.

Where is your plot going?

Some writers start their work without knowing how it will end. Others have a structure in mind that includes a beginning and an ending, sometimes jotting that structure into a notepad or word processor or on index cards. Really organized writers (I’m not one of them.) create outlines that include some or much of their entire novel – plot, transitions, characters, asides, scenes – then write within that framework.

Maybe I should ask: Where is your peacock going?

I usually know how my novel will end before I know how it will begin – no outlines, no character studies, no time lines. I don’t recommend this method to others because it usually requires quite a bit of rewrite and edit. But it works for me because once the words start bouncing around in my head, they don’t stop until I’m too tired to type them.

My friend BettyJean Steinshouer introduced me to this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days, and because I write fast, I had no trouble finishing withing the time limit. I bring this up because during the contest, I trolled around the site, checked out some blogs, read some posts, answered some questions, and somehow (don’t’ remember how) came upon the Paperback Writer's Fiction Blog. Eventually, I came across this plotting post for novels.

It’s something to think about … maybe it will help your peacock figure out where she’s going.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quote of the day (3)

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Expose yourself

No, I don’t mean get naked.

I mean, put your inner most feelings and thoughts into your writing.

For a long time, I didn’t talk about myself, at least not directly. For a long time, even my closest friends didn’t know much about my life, especially the ugly parts.

We all have a degree of unease about being exposed for some of our fears, some of our thoughts, some of our ideas. We just don’t want others to see the weaker side. We put our best foot forward.

Now is a good time to leave that baggage behind. 

Toss it in the landfill if you have to but before you do, open it up, study its contents, pull out what you need (the best and the worst) and put it in your writing then toss the rest aside.

Your inner self belongs, in your writing.

Once you put those memories on the page, you can cut, embellish and edit, but get them out there so they can make your characters and your plot come alive. Identify your protagonist or villain with these feelings and don’t hold back.

You’ll be amazed at how much better you and your writing become.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quote of the day (2)

I read a lot of poetry when in my younger days, when poetry for my friends was a chore. My best buds didn’t know this about me. A few suspected, thought it odd, but refrained from commenting. They didn’t understand poetry; often, I didn’t as well.

My favorite poet was (and is) E.E. Cummings, and to this day I have a tattered bookmark of (will you teach a... .

Cummings probably didn’t write this as an inspirational work for writers, but that’s how I use it.

(will you teach a …

(will you teach a
wretch to live
straighter than a needle)

(ask and
and ask
again and)ask a
brittle little
person fiddling

(did you kiss
a girl with nipples
like pink thimbles)

(ask and
and ask
ago and)ask a
in the snow

Friday, December 10, 2010

My grammar ain't perfect

I’m not the greatest grammarian. Far from it. I am a decent grammarian. However, I make a lot of mistakes, (Don't like to admit it!) inadvertently and usually small, but mistakes nonetheless. (Just ask my friend Lynne, who ranks up near the top of the list of great grammarians and who lets me know when I goof.)

Even so, I have some pet peeves that emerged as a result of grammar lessons learned the hard way. And, because I appreciate constructive criticism – the kind that will make me a better writer – I don’t mind airing my opinions.

The one grammatical error I find most difficult to correct is the misplaced only. We see this one every day, many times. “I only like mashed potatoes.” Unless you’re telling people you are the single person who likes mashed potatoes, or that you like mashed potatoes (don’t eat them, don’t serve them, don’t anything-else them) the correct phrase should be “I like mashed potatoes only” or I like only mashed potatoes.”

Sounds awkward, doesn’t it? That’s because we’ve all misplaced the word only for so long, the correct usage doesn’t ring true. Probably a better choice would be to say “I like mashed potatoes,” or be more descriptive by writing, “I prefer my potatoes mashed, not fried.”

When we talk, we often ignore correct grammar, which is why the errors creep into our writing.

There comes a point in life, however, where we just keep forging ahead. We get by with our current knowledge and don’t look for improvement. We think we know what we’re doing so why bother. Our mistakes go into our writing like bread into a toaster.

But then, if we have excellent characters, interesting plots, outstanding flow, we can always hope we get a good editor.

Character building, part deux

Okay, if you read my earlier post about character development and haven’t blown me off as a dope, thanks.

Years after that lovely rejection, I started writing a novel. One of the characters in the novel was an unlikable, devious woman with no redeeming qualities. After I finished the novel, I read it over and realized I’d created almost the same character I’d written about back when I challenged myself to write a romance novel. She was wooden, lifeless.

For weeks, I wondered: How could I make her real?

Then, one morning as I got ready for work, I got a call from an old classmate. We started reminiscing about people we knew in the past, and it was at that point I realized how I could put life into my character.

Basically, I thought about a member of my church I didn’t like. She was a snooty woman, outspoken and sometimes loud and very critical of everyone and everybody. She had some good qualities, though. She was educated, a superb seamstress, and in the choir, she sang like a pro.

This whole memory segued into a writing exercise. I gave the woman a new name and wrote 2,123 words about her. In the process, I finally had a character with dimension, someone you loved to hate but could also admire a bit.

Now, when I introduce a character, do the same exercise. I use bits and pieces in my exposition as well as in dialogue.

It works for me; it might work for you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quote of the day

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
Sylvia Plath

Read Sylvia Plath:
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Character building, sort of …

In another life, I worked a service job, the graveyard shift, a gig that left me with plenty of down time. One day the swing shift worker left behind a romance novel, a short thing, maybe 180 pages, by a major romance publisher.

Having studied literature in my post-graduate days, I’d never read this genre before so I picked it up and started reading, finishing it before the day shift arrived. Didn’t like it. Didn’t think it was trash. Thought it was simple-minded. Was intrigued. How, I wondered, did someone write something so ordinary and get it published.

I left a note for the book’s owner to tell her I’d appreciate it if she would leave the book for one more night. It was sitting on the desk when I returned to work. I’d already decided I could write a better book; all I needed was to look at the formula.

I tore that book apart. I counted the words in each chapter then broke each chapter down. It didn’t take long. All I had to do was read the first paragraph and the last paragraph of each chapter.

I thought about this for the weekend.

Understand, I wasn’t trying to diminish the craft of romance writing. I was thinking the world deserved a better romance book.

So, on Monday night, armed with a pen and two legal yellow pads, I started my novel. It was a slow week at the desk. I wrote the last sentence on Friday morning just before checking out to go home.  Over the weekend, I took my trusty old manual typewriter and committed the words to bond paper, not changing a single word.  (Actually, it took two weekends to finish.) Then I looked up the publisher’s address, bundled the manuscript in a large manila envelope, tucked in a self-addressed envelope and stuck it in the mail.

Now for the surprise. Three weeks later I received a response, a personalized letter of rejection from the publisher (I still have that letter somewhere in my cluttered home office.)
How  she liked my work but that it needed spiffing up (my words, not hers). The major criticism was about one character she thought was too stereotypical and that one of the acts committed by my heroine didn’t fit the model. She explained both points in detail and suggested I do some rewrite and then resubmit.

I didn’t. I wasn’t really interested in being a romance writer but even weirder, I might have accepted the challenge but I just didn’t relish having to retype the whole manuscript. Also, I was young, had dreams of writing the Great American Novel (don’t we all?) and didn’t know any better. (If I got that kind of rejection today, I’d glue myself down in front of my laptop and start following the letter’s advice.)

The upside of all this is that I learned a lesson about writing, a lesson about developing characters.

Stay tuned ….

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

About blogging and writing

I’ve noticed that blogs related to writing and writers perform two major services.

First, they provide information and entertainment. That's a good thing.

Second, they promote the blog author’s published works. That's a good thing.

Sad to say, although I’m getting closer to a publishing deal, I have nothing to sell. Oh, sure, I have some text links to a few products that might earn me a few cents as an affiliate but I don’t count that. Those links are more an learning experience.

 But, if you expect to be a successful writer, you should, as I eventually will, concentrate on the second good thing.

Cross my fingers (and yours, if you wish), in hopes that I’ll soon be able to start showing off my success stories. (A wish that goes to you as well.)
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My best advice

  1. Check out the blogs I read, see what other writers have to say about writing. These folks offer a ton of advice and inspiration.
  2. Let a friend read the first dozen pages of your work to get a reaction. If they want to read more (and you’ll have to judge their sincerity), you’ll know you’re on the right track.
  3. Join a writer's group. I'm not a big fan of this recommendation so BEWARE. Find a group that will offer critiques of your work and offer your critiques. Stay away from a group that's just looking for pleasantries.
  4. Practice summarizing your work the way you’d like to see it featured in the publisher’s notes. If you can’t do it in 200 words or less, try again.
  5. Write a practice query letter. Convince an agent/publisher to take you on as a client.
  6. Keep writing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Get a second opinion

The small town where I grew up had its small town school. (My classmates numbered just under sixty students.) We were treated to the same teaching staff for various subjects for three years (junior high) and another set of teaching staff members for the next three years (senior high). Before entering senior high (grades ten through twelve) each student had to choose a subject-related path: Academic for the smart kids (who planned to go to college), Home-Ec for girls (who would work in factories but whose real goal was to get married and raise a family), and Shop for boys (who would learn to use tools).

That’s the way it was and nobody ever questioned it … except me!

I was not a gifted student but school work came easy for me, and knowing I wanted to experience something other than small-town life, I chose the Academy Path.

My senior high English teacher had a bit of a drinking problem and a huge biased mindset. Based on his wife’s assessment (she was the junior high English teacher) and his own thoughts, as each student walked through his doors on the first day of freshman class, he decided what kind of grade each deserved.

I, he decided, was definitely a bit above average, but not spectacular, so...
I became the eternal B student.

For three years, no matter how well I scored in tests, no matter what I wrote in my essays and book reports, no matter how well I stood in front of the class for oral reporting, I would never receive a grade higher or lower than a B.

Fast forward to grade twelve when I wrote a short story that finally broke the barrier, one that earned me an A minus minus. (Yes, that was an A with two minus signs after it.) Beneath the mark, Blackheart (the name I gave him in my first novel) penned the words, “Did you really write this?”

When my guardian read that remark he went straight to Blackheart and asked him why he doubted my work. “She’s just a B student,” he said.

My guardian told him I planned to go to college, to which Blackheart remarked, “Not good enough for college. She should have been in Home Ec,” to which my guardian said, “I’ll get a second opinion.”

Fast forward again to the point where the guidance counselor agreed, at the behest of my guardian, to take me to a college entrance interview she would be attending with another student. I went, I talked, I was accepted, and less than four years later, I had my degree.

(It would be many jobs and many years before I returned to my childhood dreams of being a working writer but it did happen.)

I’m not writing this as a sad tale of baggage from the past but as a cautionary message to those starving writers, those dream-filled writers, those rejection-letter-laden writers who live with the doubt of others. Stay on your path; listen to your heart; practice your craft; perfect your style. Enjoy the process. (This writing life isn’t a get-rich-quick experience, unless you’re already famous and rich, in which case you'll just get richer.)

Next time I’ll be adding some practical advice -- or not.

Nobody asked but ...

The illustrations for The Writer Side of Me posts are all mine. In my logo (which could change at any given moment), I used some old clip art as a starting point, fiddled around with it, edited it, posted it, changed it, posted the final version.  The rest of the stuff comes out of my head to my hand to one or another drawing programs and into existence the same way my plots do ... and I'm not sure about that point of origin.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why I Write

I write … I write because I have so many stores in my head. Not fantasy, not the usual monkey brain stuff the Buddha talks about where the brain is always so busy thinking, thinking, thinking. These are people stories, places stories, sometimes scary, sometimes so off-beat they don’t make any sense, sometimes a search for answers, and they streak across my brain like bolts of lightning that emerge from sightings of billboards, automobiles, old ladies crossing the street, dark alleys and dirt…

Imagine for a moment that you are three years old, walking with three-year-old confidence, talking like three-year-old confidence and thinking well, thinking this: There’ are two batteries on the ground outside the kitchen door, big batteries (the kind that fit in big old flashlights) and suddenly you’re building a gas station, where the batteries are really the pumps. You create a road out of popsicle sticks and a farmer drives up to the pumps on a tractor and the attendant comes out and fills his tank, takes out a gun and …

That’s how it works for me. Little things like batteries and sometimes big things like buildings, the kind that have windows that don’t open lest somebody decides to get some air but they are windows that can be broken, especially if someone pushes his cantankerous old boss, swivel chair and all, out that window that thirty story high window that doesn’t open the normal way, and you hear the thud of the body …

That’s why I write. These things have to get out of my head. They want a life of their own and I’m powerless to stop them from breathing until I let them out.

Once, before word processors became so affordable, I started typing on this clunky old manual typewriter at eight pm and seven hours later and twenty thousand words, I had to stop because that’s all there was. I’d spun this tale set off by a box of Cherrios (they don’t make you cheery), and ended up at a wedding on a hill, under the only tree …

(I don’t know what happened to that story but I remember writing it. My writing life didn’t have a backup disk then; it does now and it’s filled with finished novels, unfinished novels, finished short stories, unfinished short stories, dozens of unpublished articles and hundreds of published articles.)

I write … I write because my vocabulary scares my friends when I speak.

I write … I write because words on a page flow more easily than words from the mouth.

I write … I write because I enjoy the process.

I write … I write because I live.

Why do you write?
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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Choose Your Words

My writing life has taken me to explore many paths. (I've stumbled many times, lost my way at least the same number.)

Several years ago, I became a serious student of Buddhism.

One of my favorite quotes from The Buddha is:

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care 
for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.

I don't like Post-it notes, almost never use them, but I have one with this quotation on my desk, with my own slight revision.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Who Has Writer's Block?

I've never experienced that evil phenomenon writers call writer's block.

I never seem to run out of words to put on paper ... on in this age, into a word processor.

That's why I'm probably not the person to turn to for answers about how to overcome that paralysis of fingers over the keyboard, that brain freeze, that sudden emptiness of everything and anything that has to do with the first word of the next sentence.

However ... I do have some a suggestion or two that might work for you.

 Become someone else, a character in your novel, a friend, an enemy, a famous figure. Picture yourself as that person. Do what that entity does in your mind. Smoke if she smokes, drink if he drinks, cross-dress if he does, drive fast if she does. Then go to one of those free personality tests online and answer the questions as that entity. I know. It sounds silly. But, when you scan your results you get a picture of your new self and that picture should be worth a thousand words.

Another tip: Pick up a piece of blank paper, no lines, and with your other hand (for most people this will be the left hand), write your name and address and a short biography. Write a poem. Write a letter. Just write. Keep writing until you fill the page. If this sounds even sillier (or is that more silly?) than the first suggestion, think again. What happens when you do this exercise is you tap into the creative side of your brain.

Another suggestion: Change the subject. Turn on your radio and tune into a station that plays the worse kind of music you can think of. Turn up the volume. Listen until you think you're on the brink of breaking the radio then write about that. When you steer away from your original thought process, you might also steer away from whatever road block set itself up in your head to stop you from your original goal.

I haven't had to use any of these suggestions but I keep them in a notepad, just in case I ever need them. I have, however, given them to fellow writers who have tried them and reported back, first with their skepticism, then with their success stories.

Give them a try if you need to and let me know how they work for you.

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