Friday, January 12, 2018

Don't Let Your Dream Die With You

Arden Edwin Harper
May 17, 1926--January 8, 2018
The man pictured to the left is my father, Arden Edwin Harper. He died this past Monday at the age of 91, and I miss him more than I can say. But I don't want my loss (and that of my brother and sister) to override the value of the lesson he taught me. Of course there were many lessons, but the one I'm referring to is to not wait another minute to do (or at least put into action a plan to do) something you've always wanted to experience or accomplish.

While my father was a highly-educated man--he had a master's degree and was a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent of schools throughout his entire career in education (and beyond, since he taught mathematics at two different community colleges following his retirement from the public school system), he was also a gifted writer. Late in his life, around 80 or so, he began to take an interest in writing stories about his youth, his high school and college years, his experiences in the Army during World War II, and other topics. He had a phenomenal memory and could recall the names, dates, places, sisters, brothers, parents, etc., of everyone and every place that populated his stories. I have one book-length manuscript he wrote detailing his time in the Army during WWII, and many shorter essays/stories on other topics. I recall when I was younger hearing him say he'd like to write a book one day. I always assumed he would. After all, he was my dad; he could do anything.

When his interest in writing was re-kindled, he was into his ninth decade on this earth. Technology was a real challenge for him, although he was as sharp as he ever was right up until about a week before his death. Intelligence wasn't the problem. It was not being able to keep up with the constant changes in technology and the publishing process that eroded his desire. Oh, he still enjoyed the act of writing and hearing my reactions to his pieces of work, but his interest in actually publishing anything at that late date was slowly being extinguished. It seemed insurmountable. Perhaps it was.

I mourned that loss, and tried many times to convince him that he still had so much to offer the world, that there weren't many WWII veterans left who could so accurately tell their stories of that time in our history, that I would help all I could with any questions he had on computers, technology, or submitting his work. But I think he felt it was just too late. But I don't think so. I think he could have done a fine job of writing that book (or books) even at his age. I think he thought he could always do it tomorrow, but tomorrow turned into next week and next month and next year, and eventually led to his last day.

I'm certainly not disappointed in the writing work he did accomplish. It is well-written, hilarious, inspirational, historically accurate, and done expertly. I will cherish it always. I'm disappointed, though, that he never had the chance to hold his published book in his hands and tell himself, "I did this." Because he could have.

Now I know our desires and dreams change as we age. Other things were just as--or maybe more--important to him as time went on as writing ever was. He was happy, occupied, content. He read a lot, kept up on current events, was a master at crossword puzzles (I mean hard ones) and Sudoku. His mind was sharp, but his stamina waned, and so he eventually lost the will to do what he once thought he could do some time during his life.

Don't let this happen to you. I'm primarily writing to you writers out there, but this could be applied to any dream or goal of anyone reading this. What's the worst that could happen if you gave it (whatever "it" might be) your all? You might decide you don't like it as much as you thought you would. You might fall flat on your face and tell yourself you'll never do that again. So be it. That happens to me all the time. It happens to all of us all the time. But there's something about that very special dream that makes us gun-shy. Hate it, fail it, but please, never, ever, ever sell yourself short by not trying it.

My dad didn't completely give up on his dream, and I realize that the writing he did do was probably enough for him at that stage in his life. I'm happy for that; I really am. But I'm sad that the world didn't know Arden Edwin Harper as the author of the fine work he produced.

Maybe I'm looking for something to hold on to now that he's gone. Or wishing some accomplishment on him that he really never wanted that badly. Could my hearing him talk about writing a book have been a frivolous comment he made that I just took too seriously? Could his writing that book-length manuscript without having it actually published been enough for him? I won't know this side of Heaven, and by that time it won't matter.

My father was a fine man. The world will just have to take my word for it that he was also a fine author. Because he was.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dialog tags and punctuation

by Lisa Lickel
Dialogue Clipart

When I was a baby writer back in the early 2000s two fads were passing through my tiny little writing world. They both were flash in the nights and are now gone. The first was to disavow dialog tags altogether, like some Mission Impossible agents whose case had gone south. The first novel I contracted for was written proudly without tags. The editor put them all back in. The second fad, which lasted for about five minutes, was to try to be creative with he said, she said--"Don't be boring," non-reading pundits advised. Meanwhile, real writing experts (those who actually made a living at it) and real readers, after complaining they never knew who was talking in the above case, said about the creative tags, "Are you kidding? I never pay attention to 'said' anyway. It's, like, the invisible word. Just use it and don't get lame trying to make me figure out which hep cat hissed this or cliche bad guy growled that. Just say it, man!"

I bring this topic back up today because of the many times I've witnessed these errors in materials I have been reviewing and editing lately. I'm not signalling anyone out, and sometimes it's just an honest mistake. I mean, they had to put the comma and period right next to each other on the QWERTY keyboard, right?
Dialogue cliparts

So now, when you read fiction, mindfully notice for a while who sez what how. Good writers use a carefully crafted blend of tags and action beats (more later) and stay out of their own story.

Dialog--what exactly is it? Dia is Greek for move it along, folks and thought, according to etymology online  to be the latin root origin of two. Logos, of course, is Greek for word, from which get our idea of language; thus two speakers. Monologue, of course is...yep, mono for one--one person blabbing to himself or herself, internally or out loud. Tag is another way of saying "attribution." The speech is attributed to Paul, or Ringo, or George, or whomever is talking in your story. "I said it," Ringo shouted.


In American English, we use double quotation marks to offset speech. Unless you're Charles Frazier writing Pulitzer-worthy novels made into major motion pictures which win major awards, then you use dashes. If you want to know the rules of other types of English that is not American, British author Lynn Truss has a fantastic book.

"Thank you for having me on your show," I told the radio host.
"I'm just thrilled to be nominated," said the jaded diva.
Lucy said, "Just ketchup."

In American English, we ALWAYS put certain punctuation marks INSIDE the quotation marks
and, when ending the sentence and part of the speaker's verbiage,

"Gee whiz, Mr. Ed, why'd you have to say that?" Timmy asked.
Reginald's face turned crimson. "You are out of your mind!"

Gee whiz, Mr. Ed. Didn't you hear Timmy say, "I'll be right back"?

In American English we use single quotation marks INSIDE of double quotation marks when a speaker is quoting someone else:

"No!" Reginald huffed. "Mark clearly said 'Ahhh!' when he was going over the side."

We use commas to INTRODUCE speech and periods to end the speech.

Babs said, "Ooh! Wait for me."
Mark asked Reginald, "Can you see it? Bobbing on that wave? It's just over...Ahhh!"

We use periods to end sentences or action beats--those little phrases that indicate who is going to speak when we don't tag the speech.

Mr. Ed nodded his head, sending his mane flying. "I did too hear Timmy say he'd be right back."
Babs pouted. "I wanted to go save Mark."


Tags are the words that describe how one speaks. Said and Asked are the two most common, invisible ways to attribute speech to a character. Since they are so common, readers mostly skip over them, just making sure they are following the conversation. Along with tags, dialog--speech among people--should also be distinguishable by mannerism, word choice, and especially body language. Tags, interspersed with action beats (usually some type of body language or activity that identifies the speaker) make conversation move the story along.

Ways people speak set the tone and pace of the conversation. Out of breath people speak one way; nervous people have particular mannerisms and ways of speaker, non-native-English speakers have little idiosyncrasies. People who have been crying, or are happy have ways of speaking. People with secrets speak a certain way. You get my drift? People can sniff, but they can't sniff-talk, giggle-talk, wave-their-hand-talk, smack-your-shoulder-talk, cough-talk. "Cried" is one of those dual-purpose words that can mean the act of weeping, or a way of calling out loud. Be careful to use that tag when the action won't be confused with the manner of speech. They may talk after or before they perform those actions, but the action is NOT an attribute set off with a COMMA--the action is a SENTENCE set off with a PERIOD. 

"Come into my parlor," whispered the spinster to her gentleman caller.
The caller wiped his shoes and doffed his hat. "Thank you, ma'am."
She indicated the sofa. "Sit here," she said and waved her hand. She didn't dare meet his eye. "I'll sit there." She gathered her skirt and perched on the end of her mother's brocade chair.
The caller cleared his throat. "Seems like..." He sniffed. "Excuse me," he said. He wiggled his mustache. "Would you have a handkerchief to spare," he asked.
"What did you say?"
The caller repeated his request. "My nose is twitching," he explained.
"Shore do!" the spinster shouted back and sprang to her feet.

What are some different times you use an odd tag? What are your favorites?

Resources: has a good lesson sheet on some examples to use--SPARINGLY--in place of said. I question a few of them because--really--who "giggle" speaks? and can you understand it?

The SuperTeacherWorksheet site has a very basic info page and exercise. Puh-lese, don't knock it until you do it right in your sleep. Everybody needs a little refresher, and if you're smarter than a fifth grader, good on 'ya, but just try it, K?

The Write at Home blog by Brian Wasko has a good slightly older post on the subject.

And of course the venerable Writers Digest has a venerable article on the subject of what kinds of tags to use when--though of course they're wrong about there being no rules. Of course there are rules, silly. Even Charles Frazier played by the rules when he used no quotation marks in Cold Mountain and other works. And he's a recovering literature professor.

ClipArt is from and is free to use and share for non-purposes.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Writing Your Best Story with Phil Martin

How To Write Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale

Writing Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale, Second Edition
By Philip Martin
Crickhollow Books
Copyright, November 15, 2017
168 pp.
Ebook $2.99
Print $14.95

Buy on Amazon

About the book:
“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.” – Flannery O’Connor.

Beginning writers often wonder what it takes to get published. The second edition of this practical book looks at what really makes fiction work: good storytelling! Oddly, storytelling skills, despite their immense value to all writers, are seldom emphasized in writing courses.
How To Write Your Best Story explores three key elements that fuel the magic of story: intriguing eccentricity, delightful details, and satisfying surprises. The proven storytelling techniques are time-tested and used by the best authors, including by winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, and National Book Award, as well as by commercially successful authors whose books appear on bestseller lists and whose work is treasured by generations of fans.

Written by an accomplished editor and indie-press publisher, this guide draws on the author’s decades of experience in the book trade, studying what really works for emerging writers and editing many books of advice on literary craft and career development.

The practical tips, techniques, and examples of best practices here draw on the work of great literary storytellers – from Shakespeare, Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain to Willa Cather, E.B. White, and James Thurber to Neil Gaiman, Ivan Doig, and Patrick Rothfuss.
How To Write Your Best Story will help you understand how to craft better fiction (or nonfiction) and to get your best work published.

Lisa's review:
Framed in a story of the author’s creation, Philip Martin sets off to do what all good mentors teach—show, not tell—in this case, authors, how to create a good story that enchants.

Story should rise above narrative, Martin writes; more than groups of words, more than a series of events. It is also an art form. Quoting liberally from ancient to modern works, Martin employs his background as a professional gatherer of stories and histories to show how story works across culture and time to draw listeners in to a communal experience. Writers are more than purveyors of phrases. Writers offer a promise and provide the worthwhile payoff.

As an experienced editor of writer’s advice books, a former editor for best-selling mainstream authors, and the director of Great Lakes Literary, Martin shares his advice and technique for creating memorable works that hopefully attract an agent or editor. He takes a three-pronged approach, and so this book is divided into sections: start with a quirky hook; keep the middle more than readable by using delicious details, and finally, provide a satisfying ending.

Martin is not a fan of Plot. Plot, as a mechanism for writing a book, will make your work…mechanical. Contrived. Agenda-driven. Unimaginative. I believe his emphatic dissing of the term throughout the book is more a rebellion of the idea of plot, an issue of interpretation. After all, experienced authors are familiar with the idea of a novel being “plot-driven,” as in genre work, or “character-driven,” as more often describes non-specified fiction, aka literary work. No real matter, as Martin does make allowance for necessary underpinning of a story, whether compared to a sensual meal or a spider web. Plot is simply structure, whether an author uses it for a flexible framework, or discovers it after the story is complete. Structure works to create a commonly understood or shared experience. Too many authors use plot as a controlled formula, which Martin insists must be avoided.
Whether cyclic or arced or linear, a story has a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s the promise of a fine meal promised and fulfilled. Start with a desire or a want. Bait your hook with enticing morsels. Help the reader invest, establish resonating characters in intriguing environments. Give them a problem to work on. Create anticipation; offer satisfying surprises. “Delightful details” keep the reader’s interest and should build upon the premise. “Detail should triumph plot,” Martin says. Even while he dismisses Plot, Martin embraces Theme. “Theme should tell you what the ending should deal with,” he writes. Don’t try to find it until you’re well into your story. Theme is a message that answers why the story is important. The end of your tale should let the reader know this journey has been worthwhile, that he has returned better for having taken it with you, the story teller.

The book is well written with an easy-to-appreciate style. As mentioned above, he spins a story to show us how to create interesting characters with interesting problems who need interesting solutions to achieve desired outcomes. Martin also shares examples from well-known work to exemplify his points. While geared specifically with writers in mind, those who practice verbal story-telling would certainly benefit from reading and studying Writing Your Best Story. The premises and examples Martin lays out in the book apply to all kinds of writing from short story to full length novel, even on a certain level to non-fiction.

About the author
Phil Martin is an experienced editor of many books of advice for writers. Previously acquisitions editor for The Writer/Books, he had also written A Guide to Fantasy Literature and The Purpose of Fantasy, as well as award-winning books on traditional culture. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he directs Great Lakes Literary, offering editorial services and websites for authors. He also speaks and teaches workshops, and serves on the board of Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, Inc.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Stress, Satellites, and Deep Space

It's that time of year again. Everybody everywhere (at least in the USA) is preparing for Christmas, and the stress level is hovering somewhere between the stratosphere and deep space. Between the parties, shopping, decorating, entertaining, wrapping, sending cards, baking (and more baking), and hosting Christmas gatherings or traveling to them, attending church services and office parties, we're driving ourselves nuts.

And in my case at least, I have no one to blame but myself.

To make matters worse, it seems my expectations rise each year. I want to not only equal, but surpass what I did the previous year--even if the money or time or energy isn't there. I scramble to find ways to make the season festive, as well as meaningful, considering the real reason we celebrate this most holy day of days--rivaled in my opinion only by Easter. And of course, my stress level rises right along with my ridiculous expectations, and is, at this very moment, in an orbit around the earth alongside 35,000 or so satellites. I expect a call from NASA any day now.

Take a few minutes or hours or days to remind yourself just
what this season is all about. Remember what you're doing with
your writing--and why. Be content with relaxing for a while,
reveling in your family and friends, and rejuvenating your
creative side so you can resume your writing when the Christmas
tree comes down and all the cookies are gone. Yes, all the cookies
will be gone eventually. Don't shoot the messenger.
Why do I, year after year, do what amounts to torture and then resort to self-flagellation when I know perfectly well I've set my sights too high? I guess it's for the same reasons I place unrealistic expectations on my writing career. Trouble is, I don't know why I do that either. Perhaps being unrealistic in our expectations of the many things we do these days is the new normal in our present-day society.  If so, that's sad. Darned sad.

I'm also guilty of trying to "harken back to the good old days" when I think of simpler times, but I seldom do what I dream of doing. Inevitably I fall victim to the hustle and bustle of the season, squeezing in activities I don't have time for, and more often than not, don't want to do in the first place. Goodbye, Good Old Days. Hello, Present-Day Chaos. I do that with my writing too. Instead of writing a blog post once a week, I tell myself I should post every other day (I have three blogs in addition to this one) and even pencil it in my calendar, when I know perfectly well I'll fail right out of the starting gate. Then comes the self-recrimination. It's a vicious cycle that I need to break in every aspect of my life. Perhaps you do too.

If you're not guilty of the things I talked about above, I salute you for your wisdom. I admire your ability to prioritize your time and money and no doubt enjoy your holidays, and your career, a whole lot more than I do mine. I will, of course, enjoy my Christmas this year. I always do, and I'm always pleased with what I've done to make others happy too. It's not the gifts or even the parties or treats we bake. It's the fact that we take time out of our busy lives (and writing careers) to concentrate on our families and on the Gift that surpasses all other gifts. I will also resume my writing with a peacefulness born in the beauty of the season.

More than anything, I wish for you joy and happiness, relaxation, and the enjoyment of everything this precious season holds for us. Put your writing aside for the moment and concentrate instead on the reason you write in the first place--to make a difference in the world, to support your family, to achieve a dream you've probably held for a long time.

There will be time in 2018 to continue chasing your dream, honing your craft, reaching your goals, and achieving your expectations. Take time out at the end of this year to enjoy yourself with your family and friends, refresh and rejuvenate. You deserve, they deserve it. The new year will come soon enough.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018 to all!
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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Here It Comes!

Google Free Images

Here it comes. Another brand new year. Many of us turn out thoughts to our writing goals and plans.  I know that we you don't plan, we plan to fail. But I sometimes plan myself into an unrealistic corner. This year I intend to keep it simple.

1. Just write. I'm choosing a dedicated time to have seat in the chair and hands on the keys. Treat that time as sacred, a commitment, and just do it.

2. Read. I will read, read, read in my genre and also read books that teach and train writers.

3. Promote. I plan to really get the hang of social media marketing this year. I know my way around Facebook now, but barely poke my head into the other pathways. I have accounts with Instagram, SnapChat, and Goodreads. I intend to make myself more knowledgeable in those areas. Also, I purpose to be a more faithful blogger.

4. My why. I'm determined to remind myself every day why I'm doing the above three things. My ultimate goal is to encourage and inspire others. If I keep that in mind, it will give meaning to the other goals when the going gets tough.

How'd your 2017 writing year go, and what are you plans for 2018?
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Help an Author and the Book by Reviewing

Good Review Tips 
Lisa Lickel

Review are powerful consumer tools. 
We all know about the critics with their thumbs up or thumbs down, 
the critic who either hates or loves everything. 
How do you read the review in order to understand it?

As a reviewer, consider what your review is meant to accomplish. If you've agreed to help an author as an influencer, then you are obligated to write a review that is meant to encourage readers to buy that book no matter what you personally think of it (within reason). If you're simply a fan reading a book by an author you love or one who is new to you, then you can write whatever you like; if you are a professional or semi-professional reviewer, then you need to follow your instincts in a way that helps a reader decide whether or not the book is a good purchase.

When putting a review on your blog or personal review site, make sure you post general information: title, author, copyright date, ISBN, publisher and price. By using the ISBN, potential buyers can use this information to order the book from their favorite bookstore. You can also include purchase links. If the author or publisher has not supplied them, you can go to an online retail site, look up the product and copy the code at the top of the screen. When posting a review on a retail site such as Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or Amazon, this information does not need to be repeated in the body of the review.

The review is written in present tense throughout, except when referring to past events in the story. This is a reflection of your own writing, so make it clear, concise and use your best skills. Start with the bottom line. What did the book do for you? Write a brief summary that reflects the fact that you have read the book and have a few personal observations. This summary shouldn’t be a repeat of the teaser or blurb on the back but should include setting and plot and what happens without giving away the ending or major twists.

Comment regarding the quality of writing, style, flow, characters, appropriate research or believability, what kind of emotions you felt while reading. Remember, the author has put time into this work and unless entirely self-published, and also has relied on a publisher or editor to stamp the final product. The author doesn't always have final control of everything about the book, sometimes including editing, cover and design. If there are glaring typos or plot errors, try to alert the author personally.

Conclude with a summary statement that may comment about who would like this book and possible market comparisons. If you like the book, you want to entice potential readers to buy it; if you didn't like it, you can be neutral or matter of fact. If you did not care for the book, you should say why. If you personally didn’t care for the genre, then why did you pick it up? Reviews reflect more on you, the writer of the review, than the book.

You are usually required to give a rating when leaving a review on a retail site. If you are afraid to hurt the author’s feelings and automatically give the same high rating for each book you review, it will be hard for readers to trust your reviews.

Fan reviews can be a few phrases long, just enough to share what you really thought about the story. Putting reviews like this on Goodreads and retail sites are a good way to connect with other readers and potentially find new authors to try.

General, reasonable lengths for reviews runs 250-500 words, but that’s simply my suggestion. You should be able to get everything out in that amount of time, and much less than 200 words probably means you couldn’t find much to say. 

Think about what you, a reader, want to know about a book you want to buy, 
and advise accordingly. 
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Surviving the Newbie Blues

When I was a fledgling writer (and I do mean fledgling), I heard the adage that good writers read--a lot. And being a literary know-it-all with my six weeks of experience backing me up, I scoffed. "Read? Who has time to read? It's all I can do to write a paragraph without being interrupted by three teenagers or dinner preparations or any one of many other distractions that each and every writer in the world faces." Poor me. Little did I know back then that I'd condemned myself to Newbieland for as long as it took me to truly understand what writing is all about.

Writing is not romantic, easy, nor is it a profession for the faint-hearted. No one writes alone in a vine-covered garret or the tower of a crystal palace with servants to take care of the mundane things of life--like earning a living if your writing career doesn't bring in several thousand dollars the first month or so. (That was sarcasm.) Instead, writers spend precious stolen moments honing their craft until life settles down. Maybe that's when your spouse comes home to watch the kids, or the pizza delivery guy shows up and everyone's too busy eating their deep-crust pepperoni with extra cheese pizza to pester you, or when the kids go to bed. Maybe it's early morning or late evening, noon hours, coffee breaks, weekends, and may be, just maybe, it's not until your retirement years.

My point is that just because I was trying my hand at writing didn't mean the world would kindly step aside for me to work my genius and crank out bestseller after bestseller. That idea was quashed fairly quickly there in Newbieland where I resided until I'd learned a few hard lessons, including:

1.)  The writing field is jam-packed with talented, ambitious people who more often than not--no, make that always--knew a heck of a lot more than I did. Being a newbie was on one hand thrilling; on the other, terrifying, and I admit I often had the Newbie Blues.

2.)  Nobody has enough time to write. Nobody. Even the successful writers (and you know who you are, Successful Writers, although I imagine you're not reading this) who consistently hit the bestseller lists probably have trouble with life getting in the way of their craft. Writing is no different than anything else we want to do in life. We need to make time and space for it.

3.)  It doesn't come easy. Being a new writer means you know enough to know you don't know enough about being a writer. (Please read that again until it makes sense.) A good share of the time I spent living in Newbieland was spent learning everything I could about writing, and yes, that included ...

4.)  Reading! Yes, lots and lots of reading. In a moment I'll list some of the books that have helped me tremendously, but first I want to tell you that reading anything helps to make you better at writing. It finally dawned on me that I wasn't going to go anywhere with my raw talent. Just as if I had a great serve in tennis, I wasn't going to hit Wimbledon right off the bat (or racket, as the case may be), I had to get rid of my bad habits and groom the good ones that others had learned before me. And to do that I had to read their advice in books on that topic or simply read the fiction books they'd written. Speaking for myself, I've learned more from reading the books of successful and great fiction writers than I could figured out for myself if I'd worked at it until the day I dropped dead. And by then it would be too late, and I wouldn't give a rip, anyway. There's just so much to know and to assimilate into your writing until it's a habit, that not taking the advice of good authors is just plain silly.

Of course there are many other ways to learn. Critique partners, writing groups, conferences, and classes are just some of them. I concentrated on the reading aspect simply because it's something you can do for little or no cost, and it's a pleasant experience. No longer do I think it's outrageous to think writers need to read everything they can get their hands on. I've moved out of Newbieland and I'm looking for a niche in Mightjustmakeitland. It's still a long shot, but I'll never get there if I don't try. I hope I see you along the way.

Before I forget ... trying reading Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Writing for the Soul (Jerry B. Jenkins), or On Writing (Stephen King). There are thousands of other books out there, most of which are no doubt very good, but I've read these three over and over. I also read the novels by Jerry and Stephen and Anne's other non-fiction books. I learn something from each author and each of their books whether they're trying to teach me or not. They're that good.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

On Writer Buddies & Ignoring Them

“Generally, art partly completes what nature cannot bring to a finish, and partly imitates her." -Aristotle, Physics, Pt. 2& 8
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” -Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying.

Although the critical theorist in me would love to join a spirited debate between two old dead guys, for the sake of brevity let’s just agree that life and art are inextricable. Then as artists we can apply those truths we’ve found in life to the benefit of our work (which will then improve our life, likely resulting in the further improvement of our work, but that’s only if imitation…wait, I said I WASN’T going to join the debate).
In life, we have multidisciplinary evidence that it’s impossible to succeed or thrive without human contact; the same is true of art. You cannot succeed as a writer without allies and friendships. Yet the work of a writer (and I imagine most artists) is rather secluded. I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed at myself when writing a scene thinking “How would a non-socially awkward person respond in this moment... oh well, I have beta readers and normal people for that.”
There is this romantic image in the writer’s mind of a cabin in a forest somewhere which contains little besides a laptop, maybe a caffeine source, and a table near a pot belly stove. The haze of said cabin is a place from which triumphant writers emerge with completed manuscripts after the course of a week. Now, I have been to that cabin; my friend’s mom owns it and sometimes we go there for tea and the pleasant company of ignoring each other for a while. Ah…the cabin. ::sigh:: But that romantic image is not where books get made.
Isolation is the suffocating pit of self-doubt where dreams go to die. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and agree that there is a definite time to buckle your pants and close the door so you can get the work done. Managing distractions and interruptions is a skill that must be a sharp pair of scissors in a writer’s toolkit. Don’t get me started on smartphones and the “attention economy” (seriously though, google that, but not right now, you’re reading something). Some parts of the writing process are isolated and focused.  But others require external input and criticism; writers know this. I personally recommend this cool new thing the kids are doing called single-tasking (It’s pretty fringe, you’ve probably never heard of it). It’s this new wave habit where you turn of the smartphone and TV, ignore all the people that you love, and do one thing at a time. The writers that practice it, finish their books. Food for pigeons.
I’m still new at this (obviously, you should see my under-construction newbie website. Or maybe not, ha!), but there were two things that took my writing game to the next level in 2017. The first was tracking my hours. That habit showed me the limits on my “focus” time. Before tracking, I often vacillated between “I have no time to write” and “I am taking so much time to write away from my family, oh the guilt! But data doesn’t lie, and I have been averaging about 15 hours a week for 11 months because I started tracking. My two cents: Track. Analyze. See where it takes you. The second and even more helpful change I made this year was connecting with fellow writers. I’ll be honest with you; it was intimidating at first. I started out thinking, “Who am I to comment, ask for feedback, or share ideas?” Not to mention, we all have asked that dreaded question, “Am I really a writer?” I’ll let you in on an industry secret; you are. And more to the point at hand, we’ve all asked it of ourselves. That question is not so far in my rearview mirror that I have forgotten its impact. It matters; ask it; answer it.  There will come a moment when you realize how silly it is that you ever had to ask. But whether or not we admit it we’ve all asked ourselves that question. For some of us we were in junior high, but we still asked it.
Honestly, for me, connecting with authors is still intimidating. I’m writing a guest post for Author Culture today for cry-babying out loud, how cool is that? My first book is only half finished, but without the dual pedals of focused work and writer buddies, on my book-cycle (oh man that’s a terrible metaphor), my WIP would still be an intangible dream.
This writing journey, whether it’s to Canterbury, Random House, or Amazon is made better by companyae (Ha! Middle English non-conventional spelling for the win!).
I cannot stress this enough. Do the work. Write. And connect. With. Other. Writers.
Good. Now, actually show them your work. Otherwise you will likely end up arguing with Aristotle or something…
…and we all know how that ended.

p.s. If you are interested in connecting, look me up on Facebook or check out my blog
I’ll keep the sass to a minimum…maybe. 

Amy Karas is a mom of two beautiful kiddos, a wife to a great man, and a child of God who occasionally takes herself too seriously. She is grateful to offer her writing as the crayon scribblings of a child at a plastic table next to the desk of her Heavenly father while he does real work. 
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Friday, November 24, 2017

6 Things Writers Can Do This Holiday Season

Halloween is in the distant past (as is summer), Thanksgiving is behind us, and the Christmas season is in full swing. This is traditionally the time when the publishing business slows down, folks go on vacation, the holidays consume us, and not a lot gets done until after the new year.

I'm not sure if that still holds true or not. In this age of instant communication, maybe it's just as easy to accept or reject a manuscript at home, on the train or bus, or even in the car (in the passenger seat, of course) as it is in the office. Needless to say, every publishing house, editor, agent, and writer does it differently. Many writers self-publish these days and can work around their holiday festivities with no worries about publishing houses slowing down during the last month of the year.

Aside from wondering if this holds true, I also want to mention how easy it is to put our writing on the back burner and take it easy for a while. If that works for you, and you don't feel guilt or pressure, I say go for it. If, though, you're like me and would rather know you're on top of things in your little corner of this profession, you'll continue doing what you always do.

You'll people-watch. Malls are great places to watch others as they run from store to store, lugging around their latest purchases and cursing themselves for not leaving their winter coats in the car. You'll see exasperated parents, cranky toddlers, whiny teenagers, bored middle-schoolers, frantic retail employees. You'll see men and women who truly want to be there shopping their hearts out, and you'll see others who gladly would give you a kidney on the spot if you would just get them out of there.

You'll eavesdrop. Everyday conversations are interesting enough, but add in the stress and hustle-bustle of mall-shopping, and you've struck dialogue gold. Shopping is tough from the get-go; add in a heavy coat, bags of purchases whose handles, whether twine or plastic, are threatening to cut off the circulation to your hands at any moment, the food court and its horde of hungry humans, and the lines--let's not forget the long lines--and you've got some juicy dialogue to steal.

You'll take notes. Neither of the above activities will be worth a hill of beans if you don't take notes. Dictate what you hear and see into your phone (and you'll have the added advantage of looking like a spy), so all those gestures, words, and whining you've culled from your day of snooping won't be forgotten.

You'll continue journaling, writing devotionals, free-writing, or whatever you do with your computer when you're not actually writing or editing (and Free Cell doesn't count) your latest work-in-progress, if for no other reason than to keep your work fresh and in the forefront of your mind.

You'll keep up with your blog posts, or at least warn your readers that you'll be back in a couple of weeks. While I don't personally have as much time to read blog posts during the holidays as I do during the rest of the year, I do look forward to a few of them and would wonder where they went if I wasn't told in advance. It's just common courtesy. You might also want to write some blog posts, tweets, etc., ahead of time and schedule them with Edgar or some other site that will do that for you. That allows you the freedom of not having to worry about missing important obligations.

And finally, I sincerely hope you'll remember what this season is really all about and enjoy yourself, your family, the food, fun, and parties, the meaningful church activities, and all the traditions that surround you and your loved ones. No, we can't forget we're writers and losing a month out of the twelve we get each year will no doubt cause you to do some catching up come January. But a little forethought and a few minutes each day devoted to what you do best will go a long way in keeping those January blues at bay.

Maintaining an orderly work life is important, but that pales in comparison to the memories you'll make with your family and loved ones. A little bit of planning will go a long way in giving yourself the freedom to truly enjoy the holidays and all they entail.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Helping Fellow Writers

Part 2 of Lisa Hannon's Guest Post on Writing Group Critiques -Reading (and listening) to help another writer.

For both the person giving and the person receiving the critique, there are a number of things that can become apparent in the necessarily short pieces that are read aloud in a read-and-critique group. No one is going to address every possible item of the following lists in a few minutes of verbal critique, but keeping them in mind allows the person giving the critique touchpoints, and allows the writer the ability to strive for the positive points and correct those that should be changed before putting their work in front of others.
For those trading manuscripts online for critique, the lists can be valuable reminders, both to the writer and the reader, as well:
What to look and listen for when writing, or when listening or reading to critique another writer.
             The villain who isn’t just a stereotype.
             The hero who isn’t a stereotype either. A hero without weakness is boring! Some weakness makes them human, and the reader needs to identify with him or her in ways that make them keep reading.
             Dialogue that works.
             Plots (and subplots) that are clear and compelling.
             In non-fiction, there should still be a story arc – you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a biography or a history.
Changes to look for:
             Plot – Is the plot clear, is it believable? Is the piece read out or handed out to the workshop driving that plot?
             Subplots – Are they necessary to the story? Do they drive the story, or are they distracting? Are they convincing and well-drawn?
             Setting – Does the reader know where they are? Is the setting used as another character within the story, driving the action, or is it a thruway?
             Characters – Are characters motivated, are they individual? Are you able to tell them apart by how they drive their dialogue? Or do you simply not care whether a character lives or dies?
             Characters – Does each character have a defined arc? Every major character, and any character that drives a subplot, should go through some form of change between the beginning of the story and the end, or a reader will feel incomplete.
             Names – The names of the characters are part of the overall setting—are they appropriate? Do they help define the characters?
             Consistency – Do the characters adhere to the facts we learn about them during the story?  Take a look at continuity, in the sense that a character who exhibits a trait in one part of the story still has that trait in another, unless it’s part of their own arc. A stoic may break down before the end of their arc, but a character with an amputated leg should not grow it back, unless it’s science fiction or magic.
             Length – if the piece is a short story, every word should drive the story arc. If it’s a novel, or part of a novel, there is more time and ability for character development, backstory, etc.
             Language – are some phrases confusing? Are the words chosen well?
             Lack of conflict—a story without conflict isn’t a story, it’s a monologue.
             Too much conflict – the reader needs some moments of calm in order to breathe.
             Description – Places where more description is called for (or less).
             Dialogue amount – Places in the story where more dialogue is necessary (or less).
             Dialogue attributions – Be sensitive to passages where more attributions are needed so readers don’t get lost in figuring out which character’s speaking, or fewer “he said/she saids.”
             Action tagging – Places in dialogue where an action tag would be appropriate.
             Pacing – Areas of the story where the pace is dragging, and you just want the characters to get on with it.  Alternatively, be aware of sections where pacing is racing so fast, the reader doesn’t have time to breathe, and can quickly get lost and frustrated.
             Information dumps – When a character or the narrator simply tells what’s happening or gives backstory without weaving it into the narrative of the story. This is where the person giving the critique will often say, “You need more showing and less telling in this section.” This is also often where an observer will say, “This part was a little boring.”
             Show don’t tell – Telling and not showing is also an issue when you see the word “felt.” Naming emotions can distance the reader. “She felt sad,” doesn’t give the readers what they need. But showing them will: “Covering her face with her hands didn’t stop the tears. Nothing did.”
             Dialogue reality – Unbelievable dialogue, whether it’s stilted or simply unlikely from the way the character has been drawn, is another character issue. It’s often when the person leveling the critique will say “I don’t believe the character would say something like …”
             Point of view issues – Swapping points of view mid-sentence or mid-paragraph can leave a reader confused or annoyed. No reader should ever have to wonder whose head they’re in or whose eyes they’re looking out of while they’re reading.
             Tenses – Tense confusion, from past to present and back should be noted.
Writer’s workshops can be even more valuable with a guideline to follow. Hopefully, this will help your workshop be even more valuable to its members.

About Lisa 
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