Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Out with the Fear, In with the Gratitude

Photo credit: Google Images
This morning, there was a ghost of a chance I might finish the book review I had planned for this last day of the month. I'm afraid you'll have to wait until November though. My time somehow disappeared into the ethers. It's just as well, because in November we'll focus on new books published by our friends and favorite writers, to give you ideas for holiday shopping. So I'll share my favorite new thriller author in a few days.

Tomorrow is National Author's Day - how cool is that? I think someone should take us all out to dinner, don't you?

Add to that National Life Writing Month (life writing is what we call memoirs now) and Pursuit of Happiness Week and you see why we can think of lots to be thankful for other than just Thanksgiving Month. We'll share some of the things we're grateful for in upcoming posts, because it's a pretty good time to be a writer despite how bad the news makes it sound. We hope you'll share some of your thoughts and ideas with us.

Everyone have a safe and fun Halloween. If you were costumed as your favorite writer, who would it be? Please leave us a comment!


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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Are You Afraid Of?

“I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” ~ Stephen King
The world's most famous horror writer would know a thing or two about fear, wouldn't he? Misery was the first Stephen King book I read, and is a story that spoke to some of my major writing fears: the possibility of being "hobbled" by early and/or desperate choices of genre, style, publisher, and contract terms; and (more generally for anyone who risks any sort of fame) the nightmare of attaining a stalker.

Many years ago, when I first, naively, paid for website hosting, I was (ahem) horrified the day I checked the Who Is information on my website and saw that my home address was displayed publicly for the world to see. I solved that problem by moving house.

This month the Blood-Red Pencil editors and contributors have been taking a good, long look at fear, and now it's your turn. Tell us what you're afraid of, writing-wise, editing-wise, or otherwise. (Or else!)

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Elle Neal still occasionally hangs around her old neighbourhood to throw the Paparazzi off track. Who told you she lives in Australia? No, she doesn't. And her website is not HearWriteNow, so don't you dare visit it. And if you comment on this post she might just add you to a list of suspected stalkers. Okay, stop reading now, you're making her nervous. Really.


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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Monster in My Office



Saturn Devouring His Children by Goya

By James Kendley

There’s a monster in my office, and it gnaws at me.

This monster lives in the twilight world between life and death, never daring to crawl out of the shadows. It’s too hideous for the light of day; it’s bloated and grotesque, with far too many bizarre and malformed appendages flapping spastically about. No wonder I keep it in the dark.
If you ever looked closer, as several people have, you would see that most of its individual parts are quite lovely, even if they don’t fit together like clockwork. Were some of the extraneous bits sliced away and the remainder stitched up neatly, we could see what massive reconstructive surgery might make this creature viable.

For now, the monster remains in the shadows. I lock the bottom drawer to keep it from wandering out.

It’s my first novel, The Wine Ghost, in which we consider the terrible freedom of Frank Boyles, the last Baby Boomer. Set in Arizona, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand, The Wine Ghost was twelve years in the making. I wrote at least 350,000 words on three continents to get the present 110,000, and I learned lessons in writing that no classroom can contain. The Wine Ghost is so dense, challenging, and chaotic that it's unpublishable in its present form, but writers who've read the whole thing (and the handful of agents who've read the substantial pitch and excerpts) have said it's a remarkable achievement, despite the fatal flaws.

Here are some of those fatal flaws (from my current perspective):

• The first half of the novel is a nosedive, and readers begin wishing for the final collision 30 pages in. As it is, it takes 60,000 words for Frank Boyles to fall off Japan.

• The upward spiral of the second half has stronger structure, and it’s less relentlessly depressing than the first, but the pacing is crippled by chapters up to 9,500 words in length, chapters ending like short stories rather than ending in thrills, chills, or cliff-hangers that might help keep readers turning those pages.

• Even at a slim 110,000, it’s nearly Dickensian in the number of characters and subplots, a ridiculously overdrawn expat milieu that drowns a simple tale of disgrace and redemption.

• It’s written in the first person. Along with its many other indiscretions, first-person treatment brands it as an irretrievably vomitous semi-autobiographical first novel.

I’ve moved on, I sometimes tell myself. I can’t start draft five anytime soon, especially knowing that it would take a sixth and seventh draft to get this monster on its feet. I have too much going on.

After 30 years as a professional writer and editor, I put aside The Wine Ghost as a “hobby novel” and started my fiction career in 2009. This stage of my career as a “seasoned newbie” is all about the foundation. I’ve completed a stint as senior editor of an online litmag. My first website is up (http://www.kendley.com), and the more competitive, more sales-friendly version is under construction in dry dock. I’m a member of a professional organization, the Horror Writers Association. I’m working social media, and I’m guest-blogging (and grateful for the chance). I have a small backlog of stories for reprints. Most important, I have a completed and competitive genre novel, The Drowning God, making the rounds of publishers, and I’m a quarter done with its sequel, The Hungry Priest.

As for The Wine Ghost, I’ve mined it for short fiction (“Dry Wash” in The Bicycle Review, “Coolie Tales” in not from here, are you?) and poetry (“The Algerian Witch’s Abandoned Brood” in the Danse Macabre e-collection Hauptfriedhoff, for which I also penned the foreword), and I’ve lifted setting elements and whole characters for my genre series. I sometimes want to just strip off everything I can repurpose from The Wine Ghost and leave it like a car on cinderblocks.

If only I could. The Wine Ghost never stops gnawing at me, so much so that I’ve planted crossover elements in The Hungry Priest such that my literary novel and my genre series will occupy the same time and space. The Wine Ghost intrudes on my other work in ways I won’t even reveal; I’m constantly laying Easter eggs and setting a breadcrumb trail that leads back to The Wine Ghost, back to my monster in the bottom drawer.

This monster still gnaws at me. It’s not that I think that The Wine Ghost will ever, ever make me more money or even gain me more critical acclaim than a genre book. It’s not that I miss the freshness and urgency of the literary expression that led to my writing The Wine Ghost; I’m a much better writer now than even a few years ago, when I wrapped up the fourth draft.

This monster gnaws at me because it’s an important book, the book that called me to write it because it may speak to some teenager as confused and depressed as I was when I first got a little relief by reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren or Lord Dunsany’s Pegana tales. It may show some kid a path out of a darkness that almost took my sanity and my life.

This monster gnaws to tell me that I must keep honing my craft in order to do the story justice. Every genre chapter I write, every blog post I submit, every short story that goes over some indifferent editor’s transom — it’s all training to deal with the monster in the drawer.

I’m lifting weights here, people.

And it may sound perverse, but I hope you have a monster in your drawer to keep you moving as well.

If you have a monster in a drawer somewhere, take it out during this season when monsters abound. Thank it for keeping you moving, keeping you writing. Promise it that you’ll visit it more often, and that you’ll eventually bring it to life and set it free on an unsuspecting world.

It doesn’t hurt to make these promises, even if you don’t intend to keep them.

Don’t worry if you forget to go to see your monster every once in a while.

If your monster is anything like mine, it will come to see you.

Happy Halloween!





Friday, October 26, 2012

Fear – Friend or Foe?

What are you afraid of?

Personally, I’m not fond of high places or lowly creatures with eight legs. Recently, a neighbor knocked on my door and showed me a tarantula in a gallon jar—he’d found it in my front yard. Yikes!  He told me it was a baby, but it was the size of a small animal, definitely too big to step on.

Fear touches all of us in one form or another, and the topic would fill volumes were we to explore its almost endless aspects. So let’s narrow it down to writing. As writers, what do we fear most?

Many might say “rejection.” From whom? Agents? Publishers? Readers? Fellow writers? Family and friends? Ourselves?

How can we reject ourselves? We do want to be writers, right? Any of the following comments—or thoughts—qualify as self-rejection:

Nobody will buy my book. How do you know? Has anybody read it in its final form? What does your editor say? Yes, you need an editor. Find one you feel comfortable with, check out the credentials, and budget the money to pay for editing. This is an investment in yourself and your future as a writer. Make the commitment to see your project through to the end . . . and listen to the advice of your editor with an open mind. You don’t have to apply every single suggestion, but be sure you understand why it was made and how the change will affect your story—and your sales—for the good.

I’ll never find an agent. Have you looked for one? Do you think an agent is the only route to publication? Have you explored other options such as independent publishing or small publishers that don’t require agent submission?

I just got another rejection letter. Do you know how many rejection letters Stephen King and other well-known authors received before finding the right agent/publisher? Take heart—you may not have yet found the “perfect” person to push your story. Or another publishing route may be the right fit for you.

I don’t even like my own book. Hmmmm. Is this an honest appraisal or another voice of self-doubt? If it’s honest, why don’t you like it? How can you make it likeable? Or have you read, reread, self-edited, rewritten, etc., until you’re just plain tired of looking at it? Put it away for a few weeks, get involved in something else, and go back to it once you can read it again with fresh eyes.

I need somebody else to sell my book after it’s published—I’m not a marketer. Learn. The game has changed. Even big houses don’t offer major marketing campaigns for many of their writers as they once did. This has become a do-it-yourself scenario where the author promotes his/her book. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds because writers have all sorts of tools at their disposal, beginning with numerous opportunities on the Internet and extending to niche markets and beyond. How many bookstores can match the daily visitors racked up by Amazon?

I’m afraid I’ll fail. That’s a common concern of writers, but there’s another side to the coin: Are you afraid you’ll succeed? Responsibilities and expectations come with success. Readers will want more books from you; bookstores, special interest groups, and libraries may invite you to speak or do signings; and continued sales may depend on your ongoing marketing efforts. Anonymity has its advantages, and celebrity has its challenges. You have to be on your best behavior in public if your photo appears on the cover of your bestselling book because others will recognize and judge you. On the other hand, the satisfaction of authoring a great book cannot be overrated.

Depending on how you handle it, fear can be a friend or foe. How so? If it inspires you to try harder, research more, write better, learn new skills, or any number of other positives that move you ahead in your writing career, it qualifies as a friend. If, on the other hand, it paralyses you into stagnation, indecision, and/or lack of growth and productivity, it becomes a major foe—a career-stopper that can permanently stifle your dream of becoming an author.

What is your greatest fear (or fears) about writing? How do you handle it?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Linda Lane and her editing team work with writers of varying experience and in a number of genres. Their goal is to leave each writer with greater knowledge of good writing and how to make a book “work.” Her new website, Linda’s Book Nook, is scheduled to debut before the end of the year, and it will offer a variety of perks for writers and readers. Watch the Blood Red Pencil for the announcement of its grand opening. Contact Linda and her team at www.denvereditor.com.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fears That Hold Us Back

In keeping with our October theme of fear, I decided to write about those things that hold us back from accomplishing all that we can. Some of those fears have already been addressed in other posts this month, so I thought I would focus on two that are closely connected: The fear of failure, and the fear of success.

The first time I heard those two concepts linked together, it gave me pause. I fully understood the fear of failure. I think we all learn that in school the first time we are called on to speak in front of the class. What if we bomb? What if the other kids fall out of their chairs laughing?

Many of us have carried that childhood fear into adulthood and worried about failing at our writing, but fear of success? What is that all about? In psychology, fear of success is about being subconsciously afraid of succeeding. According to a report posted by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen in Suite 101, "Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Many people fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force people to deal with their flaws."

I thought a lot about this phenomenon, if it can be called that, when our oldest son failed to follow up with a casting director who had loved his audition and wanted to work with him, even though he was not right for the current project. Apparently they had cast the lead for that movie and were looking for the supporting actor role, and our son looked too much like the star they had already cast. 

In trying to figure out why our son did not jump on this opportunity to perhaps launch an acting career, I took a hard look at myself and realized that I have the same tendency to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone. I'm resistant to change, as any of my friends and family will attest to, and it is that little fear of the unknown that sometimes holds me back.
This is not the least bit scary, but appropriate for Halloween.

 However, I have gotten better in more recent years. I received some wonderful advice from the late Liz Carpenter when I had the honor of hosting her at a writers' conference many years ago. I got to spend one-on-one time with her driving back and forth to the airport, as well as sharing some time one evening with her and a friend. She was a warm and gracious guest and was generous with her advice to a fledgling journalist. During one of our drives she told me, "Never say no to an opportunity. Sometimes when we are a little scared of something we don't know, our first impulse is to say no. Don't do that. Embrace every opportunity that comes to you."

Shortly after receiving that advice, I got a call from a large institution in Dallas wanting me to do their PR work. I had no idea what a PR person did. I'd stumbled into the world of journalism via a weekly humor column, but I had no extensive experience and had never studied journalism or public relations. Nevertheless, I smiled and told the interviewer that I would be happy to consider the offer. Then I went home and called a good friend who had experience in PR and said, "Help!"

My friend did help, and for several years I went on to do all the in-house publications for this institution, as well as creating marketing material, slide shows, and corporate videos.

I still thank Liz Carpenter for giving me that push that I needed, and I think of her every time a new opportunity pops up.

If you deal with fear of success, perhaps this advice from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen will help. She offers these tips and more in her article Overcoming Your Fear of Success:
  • Figure out why you’re sabotaging your goals.
  • Accept failure as part of succeeding.
  • See your skills as changeable.
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Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is a police-procedural mystery, Open Season, available as an e-book for all devices. The second book in the Seasons Series, Stalking Season, releases next month. It has received a STARRED review from Publisher's Weekly, and a nice review from Kirkus. If you would like to read the books, you can ask for them at your local library. To check out Maryann's editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Surprising Fear

Considering that I'm now retired, you'd think I'd have plenty of time on my hands. Still, I have what some might say is a surprising fear, others not.

My fear is not getting everything done when it needs to be done. I have lists everywhere of what I need to do that day, the next and other dates as well. I have a calendar to tell me the guests for my blogs, whether they've sent in their information, and whether I've set everything up yet. Still, sometimes I forget to check the calendar, because it gets buried beneath the lists and important notes on my desk.

I'm so bombarded with e-mails and blogs and social media sites to check each day, it seems time slips by so fast that I don't know where it went. God forbid if I had a full-time day job, because being an author has become a vast encompassing and time consuming operation.

Maybe I bite off too much, but it seems that every author I know does the same. Not only that, somehow they manage, while I seem to always be behind, doing the bare essentials, wishing I could read more blogs, answer every post from friends in the e-groups, and more importantly, actually work on my books again.

Her Handyman by
Morgan Mandel
Others said to put my books up on KDP Select to get sales, so I did that right away with Her Handyman, and hosted a freebie two-day event on Oct 12 and 13. I spent almost every minute those two days publicizing the event, not to mention the time before when I set up my tweets through Hootsuite.com and submitted applications to publicity sites. That's only two of the days. I still have three more for that book to use up.

I also heard that to stay in the public eye it's a good idea to put more than one book up as a freebie. I originally placed my thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse on Amazon and Smashwords. Last night I took it out of Smashwords. It will be at least three weeks before all their affiliates have removed my thriller from their sites. When that happens, hopefully by December, I'll start another event for that book, along with all the Christmas madness that month.

Oh, yes, today, I finally got around to paying my gas, electric and sundry bills, which were almost due. As I write this, it's going on seven at night. I'll stop to eat dinner now and watch some TV, but during the commercials I'll be retweeting on Twitter.

What about you? Are you afraid of not getting everything done when it should  be done?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Morgan Mandel
Morgan's Amazon Author Page

Facebook: Facebook.com/MorgansBooks
Twitter: @MorganMandel

Morgan is a past president of Chicago-North RWA,
past library liaison for Midwest MWA, and once
freelanced for the Daily Herald newspaper before
being published in book form.




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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Use Fear to Develop Character and Conflict

We’re all afraid of something.

That fear can shape who we are and can create jeopardy in our lives. We’ve all been to the dentist, right? For some, just the word could make you break into a cold sweat. Maybe you’re afraid of the pain, or the buzzing sound of the drill. But most realize that the fear and anticipation of that dental visit is worse than the actual procedure.

Fear of the unknown is a similar situation. For example, both my husband and my sister-in-law recently underwent chemo. We were all nervous about what to expect. What would it feel like? Would they immediately get sick? What would their reactions and side effects be? Our imagination can conjure up all kinds of “what-ifs”. But, usually, once you’ve experienced it, you know what to expect the next time, and it’s not as scary as it was before.

Use that fear and anticipation to build suspense in your writing. Suspense is about anticipation. It is about what we do not have, what has not happened, about what might happen. It’s about the process of watching events unfold. (i.e.While the victim is being stalked, suspense looms. Once the victim is murdered, the suspense disappears.) Waiting to find out builds suspense and drama.

Fear may be something our character needs to overcome, her internal conflict in the story. That takes us on her journey of development, how she reacts to her fear, how she deals with it, how she wins over it in the end or is changed by it.

As an author, you can use your fear to drive your character (and maybe overcome your own in the process).

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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.    

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Storyphobia

A common condition saps the strength of many of the first novels I’ve evaluated: the fear of telling the story.

Granted, a story is a dark house that can be frightening until the author turns on a few lights. Too often, though, she does just that—lights up the conflict, then scoots out into the yard only to view it through windows, from afar. The reader wants to experience the characters stirring ash in the hot center of the conflict.

Let’s say that you have a love story set in the highly competitive world of championship dog shows. Perhaps Don grew up around blue-blood Miniature Pinschers, and despite the health problems associated with their suspected inbreeding, he remains a purist—his great grandfather was a founding member of the American Kennel Club. Alice bred Australian Shepherds—that is until her prizewinner mated with the French Poodle next door, resulting in Fifi, the sweetest Ausiedoodle she ever saw. She is now fighting for the inclusion of half-breeds in the AKA obedience trials. Don adores her feisty spirit but fights his attraction—they are second cousins, and Don can’t let his oft-defended standards slip. 

Here are some of the common storyphobia symptoms I’d find:

General bloatedness
Fifi jumped off the couch and over the object in front of it. The object was brown, solid, three feet tall, rounded on top, had brass hinges on one side and a leather strap handle on the other, and stood on four stubby legs. [The logjam of words dammed your river of thought, robbing your prose of its story purpose: Fifi sprang from the couch and over an object that looked like a trunk on legs. She looked back at Alice, then Don, clearly expecting them both to applaud her trick.]

Vomiting
You’ve learned everything there is to know about dogs—the AKA history, its breed approval process, symptoms of inbreeding, cleaning carpet smells, etc.—and put it all in the first few pages so your reader will understand the world of story. [Which will net you a perfectly wonderful…newspaper article. Each of these areas of research, if dramatized and distributed throughout the novel, would seem less like vomit and more like key nutrients.]

Melodramatica eruptus
Rather than orienting the reader by feeding out story, you withhold it, thinking you’ll spring it on them later—as a surprise. Such as at the climax of the book, when Don and Alice are in bed and one of them exclaims, “But you are my second cousin!” [Whereupon your reader will laugh. If we knew they were cousins from the start, then learned of Don’s predispositions, then felt the attraction burning, we’d think “Oh no! How is a guy like Don going to deal with this?”]

Dementia 
With typecasting by breed, you came up with the perfect humorous metaphor for prejudice in American society, with all you’d need to explore its roots and possible solutions and deepen the taboo-like tension between these lovers—then forgot to make your point. [These people are dog breeders, yes, but you never write scenes at dog shows or at kennel club meetings because it was so much more fun to show them…breeding.] 

Reflux
Your prose repeats on you: Fifi jogged, no—ran, sprinted, galloped!—across the yard. [Just get Fifi across the yard so we can see what will get this story moving! Unless there’s nothing there. In which case we’ll set down the book and watch TV.]

I blame word count enthusiasts for such problems. Once allowed to drift off-track, as can easily happen while trying to apply as many black marks to a page as one can in a day, it can be hard to re-center the story without a thorough re-imagining. Something to think about for those of you about to start NaNoWriMo.

Once diagnosed, storyphobia is easily cured: Find that first moment of conflict and write straight into it until you’ve come up with its essential manifestations. Feel the blood pounding through your veins? That's the pulse of your story. Assign perspectives essential its full exploration to each of your characters. Then drive your characters into that conflict, over and over, never letting them escape into backstory or inane stage direction or a meaningless glut of words. Hold them there until they scream for mercy—and when you won’t bestow it, watch their glorious transformation.

Do that from the start and you can avoid storyphobia altogether.

Then call me in the morning. I’d be glad to edit that kind of project.

Do you recognize any symptoms of Storyphobia in your work? Or do you have more creative symptoms to share? 

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Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her article, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," co-written with Janice Gable Bashman, is in the current Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest. Her debut novel is forthcoming from Sourcebooks. Her essay Memoir of a Book Deal tells the larger story while also serving as a primer on story structures. To follow her writing please "Like" her Facebook Author Page. She follows back most writers on Twitter.


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Friday, October 19, 2012

Conflicting Your Reader

Photo by Brady Tulk, Indy Trendy Skits, Flickr
Draw your reader even more deeply into your story by playing on their own conflicting feelings. How does your reader hope the book will turn out? Think of this plot thread: the protagonist loves two men, but one is perfect for her and the other is obviously using her and will hurt her. For the reader the hope is simple: choose the good guy.

Now change one element: Both men are perfect for her but in completely different ways; both men are good, both men have their flaws, both men love her deeply. Now you’ve created reader conflict – whom should she choose? Whom would the reader choose? In one scene, one of the men reveals something that could hurt the protagonist, and the reader makes a choice: choose the other guy. But then the other love interest makes a mistake, and the heroine (and, along with her, the reader) is back to square one.

Perhaps the protagonist wants the same goal as another character, or reaching the goal will cause harm to that character. Again, if the other character is the villain, the reader’s alliance is simple to form. But, if the reader has almost equal sympathy for the other character in conflict with the protagonist, the pages almost turn themselves. How can they both win? What will the protagonist choose to do? Who will win, and what will happen to the character who doesn’t?

This is not to say you shouldn't write clear-cut plots with a sympathetic protagonist versus a nasty antagonist, but, rather, that adding an element of conflict on either side of the equation might be the missing piece that injects life into your story and gets your reader emotionally invested in your book.

If something seems to be missing from your story, or it seems somehow lifeless, check that you're causing your reader conflict.

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Elle Neal is currently on maternity leave, but is volunteering behind the scenes at Blood-Red Pencil, while keeping an ear out for blood-curdling screams from the other side of the house.  She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.



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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing's Four-Letter Word: Fear

Writers need talent. We all know that.  They also need to learn and master the skills that go into fashioning great fiction and nonfiction. Again, no news flash here! But one of the hidden attributes a writer must have, which isn’t apparent going in, is courage. Because one of the biggest bugaboos pretty much all writers face is fear.

Is my work good enough? Do I have talent? Can I make it in this business? Universal questions, all.  Almost every writer I’ve worked with has been plagued by that internal voice that says: What makes you believe you can be a writer? In many cases, this is followed with that snippy little Puleese!  Funnily enough, the folks I’ve worked with who had tons of confidence, and no self-doubt, almost always proved to be not as talented as those who question themselves. Kinda like the old saying that it’s the healthier people who go into therapy.

Especially when searching for their sea legs, new writers become terrified when it’s time to actually let a professional see their work. Oh, Mom and Sis and even Aunt Bessie may have all loved the manuscript (folks tell me this every day), and that bolsters confidence. Some. But when it comes time to let someone in the industry read it, all that praise sort of evaporates into thin air. Knees knock. Palpitations hit the heart. I can literally feel the fear through the phone lines or email. 

Scary stuff, this writing business. Because we’re not selling bread dough here, but rather parts of our very souls. Nothing leaves you more vulnerable, more naked, than having your story “out there” for people to read. No matter who you are or how polished or how often you’ve been published (or not), every story reveals at least some part of your psyche, which heretofore has been kept hidden. Someone is going to deduce that, well, as the Mad Hatter said, “We’re all quite mad; you’ll fit right in!” 

I’ll never forget when my first novel was in production, galleys due to arrive any day. I sat up from a dead sleep and went: “My mother’s friends are going to read this!” 

Of course, I probably should have been afraid of that, but that’s a different story! 

The thing is, one way or another, we all face the pesky demon who questions our worth, our validity, whether we have one iota of business being in this industry. I’ve often thought that the gene for writing and the one for self-doubt are linked. The writer’s conundrum about worth is that universal, and such bone-chilling fear stops a lot of folks.  

I’m always walking my writers through this process, and almost daily talking to others afraid to take the plunge. Because truly, to make it in this business requires a courage unlike any I know. That old adage saying the only way to get through fear is to face it plays out unequivocally here. As just about all the famous philosophers said, if you don’t have courage, none of the other virtues matter. You simply have to stare straight at fear.

The tool I always use, and teach, is when that demon on your shoulder says, “You’re not good enough,” look it in the eye and say, “you’re probably right.  But just this minute, I have a paragraph/scene/chapter to write. I’ll get back to you once I’m done.”

Amazing how that shuts the little bugger up!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: www.maloneeditorial.com

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Little Fixes

I am a firm believer in the benefits of going back through a manuscript several times. The first rewrite is to deal with story issues, but a second or third draft should focus on ways to improve our use of language. Sometimes we write in such a hurry that we overlook the fact that the word placement and usage may not be quite right.

"Sirens screamed, bouncing off the buildings and deafening me. "

Wait a minute. Were the sirens bouncing off the building or the sound?  "Sirens screamed, the noise bouncing off the buildings and deafening me."

"As I pulled into the warehouse parking lot, the smell of smoke lingered in the air."

For some reason that just didn't read smoothly to me. Perhaps it is better this way? "Stepping out of my car in the warehouse parking lot, I caught the lingering odor of smoke."

"She tapped my forehead with the revolver then slipped it into the pocket of her blazer."

Oops, she didn't slip the forehead into the pocket. "She tapped my forehead with the revolver, then slipped the weapon into the pocket of her blazer."


There are times we may tack a phrase on the end of a sentence that is not needed.

 "I heard that Royce is having some problems with his health."

That way is correct, but could it be better this way? "I heard that Royce is having some health problems."

The use of pronouns can be tricky if we don't pay close attention, and we have to be careful not to write ourselves into a pronoun maze. "Leslie was a bit surprised that Mandy had not told her, but then she had been a bit distracted the past couple of weeks." Maybe you can fix the pronoun problem?

Something that I always have to be mindful of is not sticking with the first thing I wrote.

"She filled the sink with water and washed the dishes."

That is so bland. Sentences like that are so much better when specific details are added. "She filled the sink with water and slipped the egg-crusted plates into the suds."

In a book I recently read for review, I was a bit put off by the frequent use of adverbs, but there are times when a well-placed adverb works. The following example came from Kristen Lamb's blog. She commented that generally one should avoid using adverbs to show how someone is speaking. For example,  "She whispered quietly."

Lamb wrote, "Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly? Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? Or whisper sensually? The adverbs conspiratorially or sensually tells us of a very specific types of whispers, and are not qualities automatically denoted in the verb. Therefore, the adverb use works in those instances."   

I have been known to rail against having people bark, especially when barked is used as a dialogue attributive, but there are some rare instances when bark works. "Olivier gave a bark of a laugh." From Still Life by Louise Penny.

Now it's your turn. What are some of the improvements you have made by carefully crafting your words? Have anything to share from a book you are reading?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is a police-procedural mystery, Open Season , available as an e-book for all devices. The second book in the Seasons Series, Stalking Season, releases this month. It has received a STARRED review from Publisher's Weekly, and a nice review from Kirkus. If you would like to read the books, you can ask for them at your local library.To check out Maryann's editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who Says Writing Isn't Scary?

We know there are professions that come with a level of fear attached. Firefighters, cops, military personnel—these folks are doing jobs that put their lives on the line all the time. Overcoming and channeling their fears is part of their training.

But a writer? What are we afraid of? Paper cuts? Power failures? Losing files? Hardly life-threatening. However, there are still things that frighten writers. Fear? Maybe not. But darn powerful insecurities.

Our job is a constant battle with these insecurities.

For example, I just sent my newest manuscript, Deadly Bones (a sequel to Deadly Secrets) to my editor. Although I sent her the cleanest copy possible, it's not her finding typos that scares me. It's sitting on pins and needles until I get the manuscript back. Or worse, the fear that I'll get an email from her saying, "What were you thinking with this book? I'm not going to waste my time editing it."

Or, you get edits back, and they're not really edits—they're revisions, so you have to make a multitude of changes, and then you're afraid the book won't be the same.

With each book we write, we're afraid it won't measure up. That whatever meager talent we possess will dry up, and even if we have more stories to tell, they won't be as good as the last one. And "as good" isn't good enough. They have to be better. So we worry whether or not we've already written our best book, and if we're on  a downhill slide.

When I started writing, people told me not to worry too much about the book's title, or to get attached to the one I picked, because publishers usually changed them. Not so with mine, and, for me, finding the right title is scary. With only one exception, my titles are the last things I write. Imagine how I felt when I re-released a book and had to come up with a second title for it!

Then, what if you find that "perfect" title and take the next step—checking Google or Amazon to see if there are any other books with that title—and you find three pages of them. If you're an Indie author, there's no publisher to take the blame if your title doesn't resonate.

Cover art. More fears. If you're traditionally published, you can still end up with a bad cover. With traditional publishers, it's usually – "if your name is spelled right, this is your final cover."  If you're indie, you have no one to blame but yourself. (On the flip side, if you're indie, you can change it.)

If we're writers, we want to write. We don't always want the responsibilities of all the "extra" stuff, and having to learn that side of the business is scary.

Once we have the final product, we let it loose into the world and fear nobody will buy it. With traditional publishers, you'll get a royalty statement maybe twice a year. In the meanwhile, you have no clue if your book is selling, and it's kind of an out of sight, out of mind thing. If you're indie published, you can check your sales figures all day (and all night) long. Why didn't I sell any copies of this book today? Yesterday I sold ten. Why did my rankings drop? Do I need to pay for ads? Send out review copies. But what if reviewers don't like my book?

I might not worry about someone pulling a gun at a traffic stop, but I have plenty of fear.


Does the pumpkin scare you?
How about this zombie? Courtesy of Jason Odell

What about you? Do you worry about your writing? What scares you? And if you're a reader (and authors are readers, too), you can help dispel some of those fears by simply telling authors you liked their books. A quick email is all it takes to brighten an author's day. And posting it publically, via Facebook, Twitter, or a review at Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads can really send fears flying.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Terry Odell is the author of the popular Pine Hills Police Series and the Blackthorne, Inc. Series. You can find out more about them, as well as her stand-alone romantic suspense novels HERE.  Her newest release, Nowhere to Hide, can be found here.  You can find her at her Web site. If you've followed her blog (or want to start!), note that it's moved and is now HERE. You can follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Eating My Words

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I am obsessed by the sound and touch of words.

I like Old English comical words like mugwort or marshmallow. I like hushed words spoken in whispers, like neath and ghoul. I like common everyday words like horn and jump and dog.

I feel words nestled in my mouth, tucked into my cheeks. I smell them and taste them and lick every last drop from the corners of my lips. Then I let them drip like sweet spiced oil off my tongue.

Words like nut have a short sharp crunchy feel as I say them, and when I say honey I can feel the goldenbrown goo thick at the back of my throat. Or the word crazy: the bee-tickled zz sound juxtaposed with the terrified eee sound of the y, the harsh C next to the soft liquid R – these are contradictions that make you doubt the location of your mind.

I am enveloped in the sweet glut of words. I jump into them as though they are piles of autumn leaves. I roll around and listen to them crinkle and crisp under my broad soft hips. Or I dive into them as if they were the gooiest darkest mud, letting them stop up my ears and my nose. I snort and sneeze and squelch and rub them in my armpits. I hang them on my body like jewels and spray them onto my skin like perfume. I ornament and decorate and design myself with words.

I feed myself with words. I suck them in while hot and feel them burn all the way down, and I even crave cold leftover words because they too can hit that blank lonely spot and make the soothing Aahh begin.

©2000 Eating Mythos Soup: poemstories for Laura, by Kim Pearson
~~~~~~~~
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

This month’s question often plagues first-time writers and sometimes experienced ones. A great story idea comes to mind. You write it down so you won’t forget it, and then the notes begin. Characters form in your mind, an outline takes shape as a storyline, and the plot thickens. You create character sketches and review them (even if only in your mind) until you know each one as though you had been acquainted for years. With a working title in place, you sit down at the keyboard (or typewriter or with a writing tablet and pencil), ready to produce a bestseller.

Where do you begin your story?

Now that “once upon a time” has fallen from favor, this is often the first of several challenges that face a writer embarking on a new tale. The experiences of those whose books I’ve edited, as well as my own, indicate the first chapter or two are the most difficult to write. They can also be among the most challenging to edit. Why is this?

Even though we think we know our characters intimately—and well we may—we don’t necessarily know how they will interact with one another, and herein lies the problem. Add that unfamiliarity to the fact that the first chapter, especially the first page, must hook the reader and pull him/her into the story. Suddenly, what seemed initially to be a simple dilemma becomes crucial to the sale and success of the book.

I’m an edit-as-I-go writer (NOT recommended), so I stress way too much over beginnings. The advice I would give you is to pick a starting point, begin writing, and get the first draft on paper. After that, you can go back to the beginning, ponder its relevance, and consider its effectiveness.

Does it make sense in light of the story as a whole? Does it avoid the “huh?” factor? (Translation: is the reader going to envision the scene and jump into it, or does she feel like she walked into the middle of a foreign-language movie?) Is the starting point a great lead-in to the action?

Case in point: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I have never gotten past the seemingly endless beginning description to savor the story (I do love the movie, however). Granted, rave reviews shouted its praises, it’s now considered a classic by many, and it was written in another time about a time even further removed from the present. So was Louisa Alcott’s Little Women written in another time. Let’s do a quick comparison.

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. The paragraph continues with more of the same, and this does not grab my attention.

“Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It's so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We've got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

 This beginning, at least, pulls me into Alcott’s story.

By today’s standards of bare-bones writing that eliminates excessive description and bloated dialogue tags, neither book would have likely have found a traditional publisher. And if by some obscure chance it did, the editors would make quick work of the excessive wordiness. In all fairness, the appeal of either story is a matter of personal taste, and the point we’re considering is beginnings, not specific books we like or dislike.

How do you begin your stories? Do you find yourself rewriting your opening chapter after your first draft is completed? Inquiring minds (of editors and writers) want to know.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Writer/editor Linda Lane works with a team of editors/mentors whose goal it is to help writers write more effectively. Her new website, Linda’s Book Nook, should be operational by the end of the year. Not only will it offer books for sale, it will also feature serialized stories, short flash fiction contests (350 words or less), and a blog to address writers’ questions and issues.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Writers Are Fearless

To be a writer you have to be fearless. You're delving into new, un-thought-of ideas, creating characters, surprising characters with twists and turns, writing scenes that make even the writer laugh or cry. And yet…most writers are not all that fearless. They worry no one will like what they write or the book won't sell or what they consider a sentence or plot point that will capture the reader will actually cause them to close the book.

But, despite all that, writers are still fearless. They keep moving forward, sitting at their computer or notepad and writing, day after day. They read and re-read what they wrote and make changes, a word or two here and there or even erasing an entire chapter or character. Personally, I don't know of any writer who writes from word one to The End without reading, re-reading, writing, and re-writing.

Writers are fearless, but not because they have no fear, but because they face those fears and keep moving forward. If they're stuck on a plot point and can't get past the problem, they turn to friends or fellow writers. If they find themselves struggling over paragraphs or sentences, they keep working on the section until it flows -- or they hire an editor to help them.

This is another area where writers have to be fearless. Working with an editor is not handing over your work for that editor to rewrite or re-mold your characters. Never fear, that's not what editors do. If an editor changes something and you don't know why, ask. If you disagree, you don't have to accept the change. It's your book. If you accept the change … it's still your book. Hopefully better. But still your book.

In this month of Halloween and scaring, be brave. Write what you want to write. Try your hand at something new -- a short story or a poem or a month of scary posts on your blog. Maybe it's writing in a genre you've never tried. Or maybe it's approaching a local book club and asking if they would read your book then have you talk.

Or perhaps it's totally re-writing a book you've been working on, but not getting anywhere. Tear it apart, analyze the structure, do bios on the main characters, whatever you have to do, whatever you've been scared of doing.

But before you do, save the original. Work on a copy. Totally losing that original through a computer crash or hitting delete instead of save is about the only thing that can instill true fear in a writer. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 Helen Ginger is the author of Angel Sometimes, as well as 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series. You can find two of her short stories in the anthology, The Corner CafĂ©. Her free ezine, Doing It Write, now in its thirteenth year of publication, goes out to subscribers around the globe. You can follow Helen on her blog, Straight From Hel, on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. She is also Co-Partner and Webmistress for Legends In Our Own Minds® and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October's Visit to the Writing Sheep

A bright light turns on. A group of sheep are discovered huddled in a corner, sleeping.

Sheep #1: HEY!

Sheep #2: Who turned on the light?

Writer: Sorry. That was me.

Sheep #1: We’re sleeping here.

Sheep #2: We’re still recovering from our Thanksgiving dinner.

Writer: Thanksgiving?

Sheep #1: It was Thanksgiving this past weekend in Canada. We’re Canadian sheep.

Sheep #2: Except for Nigel. He’s English.

Nigel: Team GB!

Sheep #1: Ignore him. He’s reliving the Olympics.

Writer: They were very good games.

Sheep #1: Anyway, what can we do for you? Make it snappy. We’re tired, we’re Canadian and there’s no hockey.

Writer: No hockey?

Sheep #2: (whispering) The lock-out. We don’t speak of it.

Writer: Sorry again.

Sheep #1: Another apology? Are you Canadian?

Writer: I wanted to ask about location.

Sheep #2: As in where to buy? 

Sheep #1: We’re not the real estate sheep. You’ve clicked on the wrong blog.

General resentful muttering from the sheep.

Writer: No, no, location in my story.

Sheep #1: It’s important. Good bye.

Sheep #2: Sorry about him.

Nigel: It’s the lack of hockey. He’s finding it hard to cope.

Sheep #1: He suggested I watch cricket. Cricket!! 

Nigel: It’s a thrilling sport.

Sheep #1: (ignoring Nigel) Location is important. It’s should be another character in your novel. Use it.

Sheep #2: Let your readers walk the streets alongside your characters. Let them feel the gravel or pavement beneath their feet.

Sheep #1: Have to raise their voice because of the constant roar of traffic.

Sheep #2: Be startled by the scuttling of rats.

Nigel: Relish the whack of a well hit cricket bat…

Sheep #1: Their stomachs grumble because of the smell from the near-by chippie.

Sheep #2: Or Tim Hortons.

Sheep #1: Are you in a metropolis? The country? Another planet?

Sheep #2: Those real estate sheep are right - it’s all about location.

Writer: Thanks for your help.

Sheep #2: Glad to be of assistance. See you next month.

Writer: It’s the baseball playoffs. You could watch those.

Sheep #1: I’m Canadian. I want my hockey. 

Sheep #2: Hey! Nigel just found some left over pumpkin pie!

Sheep #1: That’ll help ease the pain.

----------------

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her latest mystery game, "A Fatal Fairy Tale" was published in February. All her murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.com. She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.


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