Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Primary Secondary Tertiary Research - Good Tips #1 of 4

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Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Research Sources

by Lisa Lickel

Every good book contains elements of truth and fiction. Even nonfiction is biased in the eye of the author who picks and chooses which facts to present and the way to present them. Fiction, though, must contain enough believability to offset the unbelievable. This is generally building the trust factor in order to persuade your reader to suspend his or her disbelief for you.

Typical research is gathered by primary and secondary resources, and occasional other means, tertiary and so forth, points of origin. It’s either the personal experience (primary/first hand), knowledge from the person who had the personal experience (still primary since you’re gathering from the primary source), or someone relaying the information from the person who had the personal experience (secondary source). Further removal from the original primary source of information is like playing the game of phone call where someone passes a message by whispering into the ear of the person next to him, who then passes on what he (thought/assumed) he heard to the next person and so on. Very often the end result has little to do with the original message. It can be similar to hand copying records from one generation to the next, or translating language from one lingua to another or one generation to another. You see how tiny but compounded both innocent and calculated or simple mistakes can cost an author his credibility.

Free Student JournalTo begin, make sure you’re ready to keep track of what you’re doing and how to get back there for reference when you’re writing.

Establish a method to collect and access the information you collect.
Examples – Excel or other spreadsheet that probably came with your computer word processing software, a document with your notes, Scrivener (not free), Zotero (free). Copy the internet address, any other relevant info such as author, date of information, if a physical resource such as museum display, phone book, encyclopedia, note all data about it; if an interview, make notes about the person’s name, the date, place and circumstances of interview.

Label and date all sources. Many academic and other papers today require noting the date collected when using online resources in footnotes/bibliography.

            So, just what are Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary sources? Read on.

Primary Sources
A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include diaries, letters, historical and legal documents, government records, eyewitness accounts or direct interviews when you can quote the original source, results of experiments performed and logged, statistical data, original creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects, surveys, fieldwork, and internet communications such as e-mail, blogs, forums, listservs, and newsgroups.

Secondary Sources
Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. These include many books that interpret information* articles in newspapers or popular magazines—even interviewing and rewriting an account of an interview can contain inadvertent error or bias, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

Age is an important factor in determining whether an article is a primary or secondary source. When close to the original event, the more the information offered can be considered primary.  Review articles summarize research on a particular topic, but they do not present any new findings; therefore, they are considered secondary sources. Their bibliographies, however, can be used to identify primary sources.

*If a book includes firsthand original documentation, the book can be a primary source.

Tertiary Sources
Tertiary sources contain information that has been compiled from primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources include almanacs, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories, guidebooks, indexes, abstracts, manuals, and textbooks.

Factors to consider in reviewing a resource:
Keep in mind that ALL INFORMATION IS BIASED. That’s not lying, it’s choosing what facts and data are relevant to share, in what manner they are shared, according to the researcher’s or the interviewee’s particular point of view. What do you remember and why? That’s bias. It’s not always deliberate. (Then again, that’s what makes fiction soooo cool—the interpretation of information.)

For whom was the information published (or website made) and why? Is it to inform, sell, entertain, or advance an opinion?
For websites, is advertising included?
Is the purpose of the information stated and clear?
Are there personal, political, religious, or cultural biases presented?
Are the author's credentials and affiliations listed?
Is contact information provided for an individual author or an organization?
What are the qualifications of the author or group that published the information?
Does an organization appear to sponsor the information?
Does the author cite the works of others?
Are the sources listed in the bibliography or included links related to the focus of the research/purpose of the site?

Always verify your secondary and tertiary information!
Free Free Culture Research Conference logo V4 
Many of these tips came from Ithaca College Library, Ithaca, New York, retrieved February 2016 (Why is it important to tell you this? Because the info may have been updated or changed or even taken down since then.). This site’s Research 101 is an excellent resource, highly recommended.

For the following months, I'll show you some ways I researched for my work -- how and where I found sources and resources, and how I integrated that information into my story.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Ever Had One of Those "Throwing in the Towel" Days?

Every writer thinks about quitting. Every single one of them. If you've never thought of throwing in the towel, I'd daresay you aren't very serious about your craft. And that's not to be insulting; it's merely the truth. Those writers (me included) who truly think we're meant to write as either our chosen profession or our life's calling have thought about tossing that computer off the balcony or under that bus and never looking back.

Here I am pondering my decision to either
continue writing or quit and go on the road with
a circus. Wait, that's not me. That's my grand-
daughter celebrating the fact that she's not yet
an adult who faces those doggoned decisions 
every day of her life. Enjoy it while you can, 

I'm a Christian writer--rather, I'm a Christian and a writer who happens to write mostly Christian material. There's nothing unique in that. Many Christians write for His glory. Some are well-known and widely read. Others (again, me included) are not well-known, nor widely read, but that doesn't stop me from trying. Every single day. If I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing (or more specifically, about why I'm not writing at the moment). It consumes me. I don't doubt that many secular writers approach their writing in the same way I do. Perhaps they don't have the Lord looking over their shoulders when they write secular material, but then again, maybe they do. Many writers who are Christians write for the secular audience. There's nothing wrong with that. What would be wrong would be wanting to give it all up when they realize they're probably never going to make a lot of money or gain a lot of prestige from their chosen profession/ministry/hobby.

Back to quitting. There have been times, too numerous to mention to be honest, when I've seriously considered throwing in the towel, crawling into bed, and pulling the covers up over my head. I've been that disgusted with myself, my work, and the industry that I actually considered tossing all my training, time, and effort in the trash. And that's on a good day. You don't want to know what I consider on my bad days.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. It's not fun, and I'm never very productive on my "towel" days, but I think examining our motives for writing, the reasons we continue to do it in the face of the very real possibility of rejection, and our final decision to quit or not to quit make "towel" days redeeming in the end.

A few months ago, I came down with the grandpappy of all colds. I don't think I've ever had one that lasted as long or took as much out of me as that particular cold did. One of the worst things about it (besides the truckloads of tissues I used and the gallons of cold medicine I consumed) was that I seriously considered quitting writing. I don't know why I even thought about it because I was too sick to do anything but blow my nose and try to live through the next minute. But for some reason, my state of ill health and the subsequent depression it caused made me ponder (or wallow in) the truth of what my writing was actually accomplishing.

I came up with a few things. First of all, I was pretty sure that cold wasn't going to kill me, no matter how hard it tried and no matter how convinced I was that I was on my last legs. So if it wasn't going to kill me, I was going, sooner or later, to have to face the decision of continuing to write or not continuing. I realized that since I probably wasn't going to achieve overnight fame and fortune, I needed to understand why I wrote in the first place.

Was it for fame? No. I'm an introvert by nature, and wouldn't enjoy fame even if I achieved it. Was it money? Possibly, but I've been at this game of writing for at least a couple of decades and have yet to be forced to call the Brinks trucks to my house to cart off all my riches. There was nothing new about not making loads of cash. Was it the hour after hour, day after day drudgery? Probably not, since I'm retired and have a lot more time to write than I ever did when I worked full-time, and writing is never drudgery for me anyway. Well, if it wasn't for fame, money (or lack of), or the time I've spent in the pursuit of writing, what was it?

Simple. It was the expectation I placed upon myself every single time I sat down to my computer and hoped for inspiration. Even if I don't want fame, money, or those lost hours tacked onto the end of my life, I still have my pride. And my pride makes me do funny things. Of course, being a Christian, I believe there's more to this than just my pride and my personal view of myself. I don't give up on my writing because I feel it's my God-given gift and I think He'll let me know when it's time to stop--more than likely, from my dying. But why don't I give up when I'm totally convinced that either 1.) I'm not cut out for it, 2.) I have no talent, 3.) there's too much competition out there, 4.) I'm too old, or 5.) I don't need the money--hahahaha.

Because I know better. Deep down inside, I know I write because He put that desire into me before I was born. Yes, I'm not rich, famous, or the darned best writer to ever inhabit planet Earth. But I'm me. I'm the person I'm supposed to be and part of being that person is writing.

The same goes for every one of you. You're doing what you're doing (writing, that is) because you're meant to. If you ever stop writing, it'll be for one of two reasons: 1.) you were never meant to write in the first place, or 2.) you're just plain wrong. You were meant to write and your wondering about why you should continue because that's what writers do.

Welcome to the club.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Song of the Shepherd Woman

Song of the Shepherd Woman

Song of the Shepherd Woman 

Carlene Havel
Sharon Faucheux
Biblical fiction
ISBN 978-1979693301
256 pp
9.99 paperback
.99 ebook

released November 2017

About the book:
In the first century, Channa’s stepfather gives her to her maternal great-uncle Avram to raise. Avram is known to be a peculiar, perhaps dangerous, man. His wife Yael cannot speak. Nevertheless, they are kind to Channah and teach her how to care for sheep. When her stepfather unexpectedly announces her betrothal to a Jerusalem tanner, the girl is forced to leave the only home she knows. 
Channah looks forward to a loving husband, but soon learns she is to be Enos the tanner’s second wife. The beautiful first wife is barren, and she resents her youthful rival. Channa struggles to adjust to marriage and city life, cherishing the hope of someday having her own child to love.

My review:
Song of the Shepherd Woman is a loving and faithful look at life in first century Biblical times. Havel and Faucheux have teamed up on several novels about biblical characters. All have been diligently researched and are thoughtful recreations of the period and possible events. The other characters have been well-known: Rahab, and Michal. The shepherd woman, however, is a typical country woman affected by profound events. Her uncle, generation earlier, was witness to an astonishing sight, but subsequently lost his faith.

Excellent writing aside, the mindful story made me think deeply about events surrounding the birth, life, and death of Christ, and how everyday people might have heard and reacted to his ministry. Channa lived only two miles from Jerusalem, yet, as a young woman fleeing from a disastrous trouble, had no idea exactly where home was. I found this poignant and very truthful. Often what we are seeking is within reach, and we are unaware. Avram lost his faith for a simple reason—he knew all the boy babies had been killed and assumed the savior was among them. Also very believable.

This story is painfully realistic on many levels. Don’t get too entrenched with anyone, just love the moments. Told from Channa’s viewpoint, this beautifully, haunting story is sure to help you dig deeper into your beliefs and appreciate the ordinary lives in the first century.

About the Author:
Carlene HavelCarlene Havel writes Christian-themed romances and historical novels set in Biblical times. She’s lived in Turkey, Republic of the Philippines, and all over the United States. Carlene worked for a banana importer, a software development company, and everything in between. She attended several colleges and universities, including one that—surprisingly—granted her a diploma.
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Friday, January 26, 2018

Location, Location, Location

Choosing where to place your characters in a book is a decision worth taking some time to consider. Some of us (like me) choose a fictional location; others use real towns or cities that readers might know about, or opt for cities like New York that everyone has heard about. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three.

Because I'm most familiar with my own work, I'll discuss using a fictional town/location first. I chose Road's End, Virginia, a long-forgotten, but very historic village in the middle of nowhere for my Road's End series because I wanted the freedom to name the streets, describe the outlying areas, and decide on other details like the number of stores, homes, and other buildings (in my case, a church). It also gives me license to make up landmarks and create a history for the town. Because it doesn't truly exist, there's no way I can inadvertently call something by the wrong name or attribute an historical event to it that never happened. I happen to love creating my own little world in which my characters exist. It also cuts down on the research required. I'm familiar with Virginia, so I simply applied that knowledge to keep it accurate even though the village of Road's End exists only in my mind and between the covers of my books. Whenever I came across something that really did need research, I did my best to make sure it was accurate.

I have another book in which the protagonist lives in a fictional town in Michigan. I grew up there, so I have an intimate knowledge of what towns that size are like, the weather, etc. I can easily take aspects of other towns--main streets, number of churches, or malls, for instance--and since the town itself doesn't exist, I'm not doing an injustice to an actual Michigan town. You might consider using a setting you either know intimately or perhaps even lived in if you want to go this route. It's the best of both worlds.

The down side to this is that some writers want well-established landmarks or streets or businesses in their settings. They don't exist if you're making up the location as you go along. And if you don't want to write about locations you're already knowledgeable about, preferring instead to explore new areas, then maybe another method would suit you better.

Obviously, if a writer chooses a mid-sized city for a setting, and an event that is fictional--murder, explosion, wedding, or other incident--occurs, that's not a problem. It's just when you describe a famous museum incorrectly or put a body of water nearby that doesn't exist that you'll get called out by a reader. Making a visit to the city or area is a great way to have a fun time and research your setting while you're at it. Choosing a lesser known location cuts down on the possibilities that astute readers will catch you in a mistake. Researching is still important, however, because I know you want to be accurate and true to the location you're writing about. The upside to this is that most readers will not have been in that location and perhaps wouldn't catch any errors. The downside is there are always readers who have been to your setting, and would notice mistakes. That's where intense research is imperative.

The third possibility is to choose a very well known location like Washington, D.C. Now not everyone will know every street name or business or apartment house in the city, so taking liberty with those aspects should be fine. But messing around with the better known locations will land you in hot water every time. Don't mis-name the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial or mess with the locations of the other important and historical buildings for which Washington, D.C. is known. There are countless details that need to be accurate when your setting is a prominent one.

There's always the very real possibility your setting has nothing to do with a city in our country or in any other country in the world. Perhaps it takes place in the jungle or on a cruise liner in the middle of the ocean. Now you have a very different set of criteria to which you must adhere.

Let's face it: there are countless settings for your novels, and every one has its individual pros and cons. What's really important here is that you're comfortable with your location, your characters find their way around (with your help), and that you're as accurate as you can be. It's so much easier with the internet at our immediate disposal to research a location without ever having stepped foot in it. If you want to use just about any place in the world for your setting, there will be information available for you to be as accurate as possible. That will make your readers (and you) very happy. And isn't that what we all want?
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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.

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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!

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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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