Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tip O'Day #417 - How One Reader Spots Winners

Guest blogger Trisha Russon on choosing what to read.

I'm passionate about the things that interest me. I'm addicted to reading. One of the most beneficial outcomes of reading is relaxation. For me, this is important therapy. To some people, myself included at times, reading offers an escape from the real world.

I'm an avid reader, always searching for new authors to fuel my addiction. I enjoy reading different genres depending on my mood. When I choose a book by an unknown author, there is a combination of specific things that draw me to the book. First and foremost are a striking cover, an impressive title and an intriguing description.

If a book lacks these qualities it gives me the impression that the unknown author is an unprofessional beginner who doesn't know how to write. In my honest opinion, that's a sure way to quickly lose a reader’s interest. I know there are people out there who believe in the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover." Sorry, but I have to disagree. I want to be captivated and drawn into the book like a child entering a candy store for the very first time.

I like to use a variety of different sites to help me when choosing a book. Web pages like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, authors and readers blogs, and even Facebook pages and groups with descriptive blurbs, synopses, anthologies and great reviews are all helpful tools.

With that being said, I still don't base my final decision about a book solely by what others have to say about it, for one reason. We all have different opinions about the books we read. What other people like or don't like will not sway me either way. At the end of the day it comes down to one thing.

Did the authors have what it took to draw me into buying their books?

Dixon says: These are all good points, and yet we’ve all had the experience of buying what appears to be a professionally-produced, thought-provoking book, only to quickly realize it’s poorly written garbage. However, there’s a way to prevent that.
Let’s say you’ve been intrigued by the catchy title, striking cover and interesting blurb. You’ve seen it mentioned on some websites you follow. You’ve read a few positive reviews, and noticed it has a high rating on Goodreads. My suggestion is that you now read some sample pages.
Sure, we all know the first chapter get edited and proofread a lot more than later sections, and yet believe me, any writer too lazy or clueless to run a book past Beta Readers or a critique group, will demonstrate those same qualities in the first five pages. One of the things I really enjoy about eBooks is the ability to preview a certain amount of the opening pages, usually about ten percent, just as you might do browsing in a physical bookstore. I recently previewed a book where I didn’t need to go past the second page to find about a half-dozen misspellings and misuses of there, their and they’re. So be a smart consumer, and do the work needed to avoid buying junk.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tip O'Day #416 - Hello, Lurkers!

Guest blogger Lucy Pireel rants about online forums for authors.

When Dixon asked me whether I would like to supply him with a guest post for his blog, I jumped at the opportunity — like I always do. Head first and oblivious to the existence of shallow, shark infested waters. But that’s me.

Anyway, I had a nice topic to ramble on about — where to get new ideas — but got distracted. By? Yup, the evil Book of Faces. It has me in its clutches and won’t let go. Mind you, I’ve liked being on there ever since I signed up rather reluctantly. It’s a major distraction, but also a source of great fun and a wonderful means of reaching out to people. We get to ‘meet’ individuals we would have never known without Facebook.

I thought it would be useless to me, but to be honest I’ve learned quite a bit about self-publishing and marketing during the mere month since being suckered in. Hahaha. But there’s a balance to be kept, because before you know it — Poof! — there went another day that could, no should, have been spent on writing, editing, or other writerly habits.

So, there you have the topic of today. Facebook. Let’s take a long hard look at it. Fun? Yes! Useful? Yes, and… Oh, well, yes. Even if I sometimes think the authors gathered there are mainly promoting our works to one another, I still honestly believe that there must be other people watching and reading too. People who lurk in the shadows and think, because they do not write, they have no right being part of an authors group.

How wrong they are. There are heaps of readers too. Readers who love to connect with writers. Take for example the Book Junkies group, a gang of readers who not only love books, but are also dedicated to helping writers get their names and works more exposure throughout the online universe. Book Junkies members think ‘outside the box’ and have set up not only their group, but also a site to promote authors, and a site to promote books by posting reviews. They offer a complete platform for writers.

And there are many other similar groups.

Not only are there promotional groups, but recently a new group called Authors Against Piracy has been formed. Now we not only unite in the search for an audience, but we’ve started the effort to protect our intellectual property against thieves. Much like the music industry struggles to protect itself, we ought to do the same. Digital books need the same kind of protection that recorded music has. And I don’t mean that lousy excuse they call DRM, because any second grade digital thief can take that off any file in a jiffy, ruining a beautifully formatted book while at it. Leaving the ripped off copy a mucked up mess.

So Facebook and other online forums offer an opportunity for authors to network and create friendships all over the globe. We get to learn more about the craft of writing, about the publishing business, and about our legal rights. We have the chance to discover what readers are looking for, and how they choose which books to purchase. For those of us in rural or isolated locales, we have the opportunity to create a writing platform.

And the lurkers get plenty of places to hang out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tip O'Day #415 - The Best POV

Guest blogger Carolyn Arnold says “First Person POV Can Save Your Writing.”

All of us -- both as authors and as readers -- want characters we can relate to and connect with. Nothing can kill a plot much faster than cardboard shadows roaming the pages. I’m sure we’ve all been victim to this plague at one point or another, whether the infection has been injected by us as the author, or we’ve tried to read a book that has them.

The question as an author is, how can we avoid flat characters and get ones our readers feel they can pinch?

When we start out writing, we all have areas we can improve on. In fact, even once we may have “mastered” one technique or area, we’ll find there are still ways to sharpen it further. That’s why I always say that writing isn’t a destination but a journey -- a metaphor that holds true in so many ways.

So if we are to improve our craft, the old adage, practice makes perfect, is always in play. When I started out writing, I didn’t even know where it was headed. My goal was simply to write a full-length novel. I didn’t see beyond that until a few months after I finished the first draft. And it wasn’t until I wrote Ties that Bind, the first Madison Knight novel, that I realized how serious writing was to me. Going from a single goal to a lifestyle, I was reborn an author. It’s quite likely my situation mirrors your own. You may also relate to the fact that once you decide you want to make money with your books and have people “out there” read them, you have to refine them to the point of exhaustion, and beyond.

Along my journey, I discovered I needed to sharpen my characterization. I went back to Ties that Bind repeatedly revising and tightening until Madison Knight came alive off the page. It was at this point I proudly published the novel satisfied she was relatable and like a real woman I could run into on the street.

This didn’t happen overnight. As mentioned, it took many return visits to the manuscript and time. Maybe you’re wondering how I knew what I was looking for? Here’s how: writing first person POV saved my writing.

Possibly you’re cocking an eyebrow right now, or smirking at the statement, but it’s true. Think of it this way: the most popular point of view to write in is third close. That is the use of “he” and “she”, where as the author you’ve distanced yourself immediately by pulling out of the character’s head. You may argue that third close gives you “insider knowledge,” and it does if executed properly. That latter part is the key. So, how do you get there?

Think of writing first person. The use of “I,” “me,” “we” and “us” become the terms used in this point of view. It instantly feels more personal. By using “I” and looking at emotions and situations in first person, you are right inside that character’s mind. You feel what they feel, see what they see, hear what they hear, and smell what they smell.

In consideration of this, my suggestion to all authors is: write something in first person.,/p>

For myself, this came in the form of a full-length novel (Restitution, not yet published). But you don’t have to write a novel. Why not just try a short story, or if you’re struggling with a scene, re-work it (for your purpose) in first person?

Close your eyes. Immerse yourself in the scene. Breathe in deep and focus. You are your character. How do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear? You get the idea.

By writing in first person, it benefits your writing in at least two ways:

1. It strengthens your intimacy with your characters, and in turn, your readers -- even when writing in third close. In fact, I find when I’m writing close third in a first draft, I have inadvertently put “I” because I felt that close with the character.

2. It takes away any hesitation to branch out and try something new. This is very important, because as author as we must continually challenge ourselves.

For myself, after I wrote Restitution, that was then I revisited Ties that Bind. In fact, at the time of this post, I have written three novels utilizing this point of view with a fourth in the works. Here’s another challenge for you: switch off between first and third to play with the plot of the story and further heighten conflicts and create more suspense.

Of course, my advice to all authors, write any story the way it demands to be told. For me, I took on the challenge of mixing first and third in a few thrillers I have written. My thriller/police procedural Eleven (part of the Brandon Fisher FBI Series) utilizes this and is currently available for Kindle or in print.

An effective way of switching between characters for different scenes, mixing first and third or not, is another challenge -- and another post. For now, just keep writing, and heck, why not give writing first person a try? It might save your writing.

Carolyn Arnold is the author of both the Madison Knight and Brandon Fisher FBI series. To find out more information about her available books and upcoming releases, you can visit her at carolynarnold.net or peruse her Amazon Author Page.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tip O'Day #414 - Save & Recycle

Guest blogger Linda Greene on the art of rewriting.

Returned to its source, the pulp from the rejected pages of my rewrites over the course of my writing career would constitute a woodland the rival of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest. It wasn’t until I discovered that the master wordsmith himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered the art of fiction to be the art of rewriting, that I stopped viewing it as a blot on my abilities and grew keen on the practice.

Actually, it is one of the tasks of writing that I enjoy the most, not only because of its value to the finished product, but also because I’ve discovered almost none of it goes to waste. Just as there was said to be “gold in them thar hills,” there is gold in those abandoned pages.

Developed through layers of evolution, sometimes my completed writing projects barely resemble the early drafts — but, oh, those early drafts have been priceless when adapted for other projects. My latest novel, Guardians and Other Angels, is an example of this fusion of independent pieces of writing, some of which I had thrown on the heap of the unfinished or uninspired that I considered of little or no further use to me; when pitched to the tuning fork of the new piece, they sang the praises of my story. My obsessive compulsive nature that makes me hoard every scrap I pen often pays off in the end.

My penchant toward collecting pages of personal writings is apparently inherited, for included in Guardians and Other Angels are my transcriptions of authentic private letters written by ancestors during the Great Depression and World War II. It is a preserved anthology remarkable in its recording of their thoughts and feelings, and of their day-to-day experiences, as well as in its powerful chronicling of the incomparable history of those times. Like my set-asides, those hundreds upon hundreds of pages written by my ancestors were thrown in an old chest and thought worthless; in fact, when once again shown the light of day, their share of my novel is golden.

Based on this one example alone, my advice is to rewrite until your work reflects the best of your capabilities, and value all of your written words. First, save them for your own future work; second, like me, one of your descendants might need your discards for the novel or biography he or she will eventually write about you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tip O'Day #413 - Three Bits of Advice

Guest blogger Lesley Ann Sharrock says you need to “be yourself, find your own voice, and write for yourself.”

What does it take to be published? Damned if I know, even though I have achieved that honor.

It seems to me that it’s a bit of a lottery.

When I finished my first novel, The Seventh Magpie, I tried going down the traditional route of finding an agent. No luck there, lots of “it’s not for us but another agent may feel differently.” They didn’t. We all know that the large publishers will only look at work that is submitted to them via an agent, so that door was firmly slammed in my face. I finally went directly to a smaller publishing house and they accepted it. Phew!

I have just finished my second novel, Truth Lies Buried, and am back on the old agent hunt because I feel that this one is far more commercial than the first as I have now shifted genres to crime thrillers. I may well be wrong, but only time will tell.

The advice I would give all writers is to be yourself, find your own voice, and write for yourself.

Not everyone will like your work, not even your nearest and dearest. Don’t be deterred. There will be lots of people out there who are just like you and who will tune in to your story, given half a chance. Have your final manuscript edited by a professional, experienced editor before submitting it. This is essential, no matter what route you decide to take, be it the traditional one of finding an agent for your work, submitting directly to small publishers or self-publishing. Make it as perfect as it can be.

You can view the book trailer for The Seventh Magpie here. Check out this author's website at http://lesleyannsharrock.com.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tip O'Day #412 - Diversity in the Wild West

Guest blogger Diana Harrison has a shocker for you.

People are rather surprised by the fact that a British woman writes Westerns, which is probably why I write as D M Harrison. After that comes their amazement that the Wild West genre is still alive and well.

I consider Westerns to be a combination of adventure, mystery and thriller with a sprinkle of romance or sauciness. The West attracted pioneering men and women, encouraged by a government that wanted to open up the continent. The books in the Western genre are set in the few years between 1849-1900. This short era has given us more characters than many other periods in history.

My knowledge of the Wild West came initially from films and TV series, followed by books I’ve read, Internet searches, and visits to the American West. Although used to films stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, I wasn't ready for the small buildings in the (now preserved) ghost towns.

As I researched the era further, I found the West was made up of a melting pot of races, colors and creeds. I have attempted to reflect its diverse make-up in my books. I depict the Native Americans as courageous Nomads who unfortunately did not survive the different culture of the Frontiersmen and women. The Native Americans thought there was enough land for everyone to share but the new people fenced it off. Sharing was not in their nature.

My books develop with an idea - a robbery, a kidnapping, a railroad coming through - and then I put it in a time and place. I see the main character and how he/she is involved in the situation. Then I build on that. I write the story from beginning to end, and then I write it over and over again until I've checked all my facts and I'm satisfied with it. After that I send it to a publisher and hope they like it.

My stories are as diverse as the Wild West itself. Robbery in Savage Page, published by Robert Hale Ltd, has a Chinese-American as its main protagonist. In The Buffalo Soldier, published by Solstice Publishing, the main character is an African-American. The Comanche's Revenge, published by Robert Hale, describes what life is like for a young boy kidnapped by the Comanche. Kato's Army, published by Robert Hale Ltd, tries to depict the strong role women played in the West, fighting alongside their men. Blood Brothers, published on Kindle, describes the paths chosen by three brothers, and asks whether blood is truly a strong bond.

Look out for Diana’s next book with Solstice Publishing, Going to see the Elephant, describing the hardships and the wonders of a 3,000 mile overland trip to Oregon and California from a female POV. Her website is dmharrison.com and her Amazon.UK page is amazon.co.uk/D.-M.-Harrison

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sayings for Writers #142 - Critics

A Few Quotes which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"A critic is a legless man who teaches running." -- Unknown

"Criticism is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing." -- Aristotle

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that, before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” -- Harper Lee

A few days ago, Montana photog Susan Haugan took this pic of a skull with a fresh layer of snow.

Dixon says: Mean-spirited reviews have been part of publishing since the first caveman scratched a doodle on a cave wall, and then the second caveman came along and corrected a misplaced hyena. All writers claim to welcome constructive criticism, and most of us lie on our tax returns as well. The first unfair and unflattering review always hurts the most, except for all the others.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tip O'Day #411 - Where's the NF Horror?

Guest blogger Anthony Servante visits from the Servante of Darkness blog to discuss “The Flowering Roots of Horror: Criticism and Creativity."

Ann Radcliffe was the first to argue that horror was not the object of the gothic novel (she wrote six of them and is considered the Mother of the Gothic form), that terror was the dutiful aim of such literature. When the gothic stories became gruesome and sensational (circa early 1800s), Radcliffe dropped out of the writing scene and her work “On the Supernatural in Poetry” was her last published critique of the romanticization of her beloved story form. To find any other literary criticism of horror, we’d have to look back as far as the Ancient Greeks, who argued that “horror vacui” was “a fear of empty spaces.” Thus artwork of the grotesque crowds every single space of the canvas with images, from the works of Dadd to Bosch to Crumb (and even Mad Magazine movie parodies where each caption is filled to capacity with absurd and sometimes horrific pictures and characters that backdrop the main characters of the movie being ridiculed).

Today, however, there is no longer any criticism of horror as art or literature. What I have been trying to do for the past few years under the pseudonym Anthony Servante (especially under the Servante of Darkness moniker) is to revive this critical spotlight on works of horror that meet the criterion established by critics of old and guide readers to new critiques of art, whether in horror, science fiction, fantasy, noir, or gothic forms.

While most writers veer toward fiction and fame, very few choose nonfiction in a field rich such genres as the supernatural, mystery, suspense, thrillers and, of course, gothics. As an academician, I specialize in works of the grotesque in art and literature, concentrating on German and English Romanticism. My interest extends to the Victorian Age because it spawned many a great monster (Dracula, Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dorian Gray). As a reader, I peruse the monsters of today from new and old talents in film, art, and books. One day I decided to bring my academic writing to bear on my current readings. I decided to review today’s books the same way I critique the old literature. The only difference is that I don the Servante of Darkness garb for my reviews, but the result is still the same. I’ve had a hoot since I’ve been writing about the new wave in the grotesque.

I have followed the current trend in the Zombie Apocalypse and have interviewed authors on their views on the longevity of the genre. I have followed “cybernocturalism,” the self-publishing avalanche of horror eBooks. Some books are instant classics, while others are just plain bad, and the chasm between the two grows with no end in sight. The literature of Noir is being kept alive in the creative mind of Trent Zelazny. The Southern Gothic is alive and well with Ray Garton. Historic horror maestro Mark Rainey adds a dash of education to his works. Literature of the Absurd is modernized in the works of Gina Ranalli. The Weird Western, a new but important form of horror, has sustained new life with authors such as Ed Erdelac and Ian Rogers.

G.N. Braun has taken horror in a new direction with his work “Hammered” and my review of his book remains one of the top five read articles on my blog. The top three pieces in the Servante of Darkness are interviews with three rock legends: Roger Hodgson, the voice of Supertramp; Dave Lambert, guitarist and vocalist of Strawbs; and Tom Toomey, guitarist for The Zombies. That’s saying a lot about the staying power of Braun’s nonfictional biographic work.

Which brings us back to the lack of nonfiction writers in the field of horror and its neighboring genres. You don’t need to be a professor of literature to write a review or to point out a new trend. You simply need an opinion and a voice. There are plenty of avenues to get your opinion read: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and so on.

Radcliffe would be proud that her view of terror is still being written about and critiqued, and that the gothic form lives on today in literature and even music and cinema. Even the horror vacui continues in the work of Park Cooper and Barbara-Lien Cooper. It’s a brave new world for horror. And it’s a braver new world for those who write about its branches and growth. I am proud to be amongst them.

Check out this writer at Servante of Darkness blog found at http://servanteofdarkness.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tip O'Day #410 - NaFiYoDaNoMo

Guest blogger Laura Roberts presents an open letter to NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month). You might not think it’s necessary to explain that abbreviation on a blog intended for book lovers, in which case you would be wrong.

Dear NaNoWriMo,

You are wonderful. We have been great friends, and I have enjoyed our many years together. What fond memories of participating in word-blasts and world-building, character development and plot thickening… You are a wonderful tool for kickstarting creativity. Every year I look forward to being reunited with you for a month of writing with no excuses.

I love you.

However, this month I need something a little bit different.

Instead of embarking on a new and exciting novelistic journey, I really need to sit my butt down at a keyboard and FINISH THE NOVEL I HAVE ALREADY STARTED. It’s a work in progress. It’s been this way for years. While the desire to start something new always tugs me in different directions, this year I really must finish what I started.

So no-no on a NaNo participant button for my site this year. In its place, I am putting up this button:

It is the NaFiYoDaNoMo button, which is short for National Finish Your Damn Novel Month. If you want to shorten it further, consider YoDaNoMo, which sounds vaguely Star Wars-esque and is therefore sure to placate the true geeks reading this. (Especially in this dark time of woe, what with Disney’s purchase of all things Jedi.)

While I wish all you NaNo novelists great success this November, I shall be over here, in my own little corner, finishing my damn novel at last.

See you in December!

Love, Laura

P.S. Feel free to use my button on your own site, if you also have a novel to finish this month!

Laura Roberts is the author of several humorous and erotic eBooks, including The Montreal Guide to Sex and The Vixen Files: Naughty Notes from a Montreal Sex Columnist. She is finishing her longstanding WIP, Naked Montreal, during the month of November and hopes to have it ready for sale in time for the XXXmas holidays. You can read more of her dirty words online at http://nakedmontreal.net

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Saying for Writers #141 - R.L. Stine

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.” — R.L. Stine

Sunrise on a quiet morning - the Swan Mountain Range in northwest Montana. Another foot or so of snow is predicted for tonight.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tip O'Day #409 - A Literary Slut

Guest blogger Patrick Whittaker has a dark secret.

I’m a slut. That is to say, I am happy to bestow my favours for free upon anyone who asks.

You see, I wrote this science-fiction novel called Sybernika which is set in the near future and explores – amongst other things – the impact that faster and cheaper computers will have on society. It is an edgy work, in that it has much that certain people might find offensive – sex, violence, swearing and other fun stuff. Little wonder then that publishers who were keen to publish the book (three of them) also demanded I make changes to ‘tone things down’ as it were. This I felt I could not do without damaging the integrity of my work. (Precious, I know, but it’s not my fault that I care.)

I was beginning to despair of finding a publisher for my baby when I stumbled upon Philistine Press, a truly remarkable outfit. What makes them different from most publishers is that they give it away.

Yep. You heard. They give it away. Now why the heck would they want to do that?

To quote from their website: ‘We’re here to publish material that wouldn’t ordinarily be published by mainstream presses, or accepted by the literary establishment.’

Frank Burton, Philistine’s founder and head honcho, thinks giving it away is a great idea. His reasoning being that very, very few books make a worthwhile amount of money and it’s better to give away a thousand books than to sell a half dozen for a couple of quid each.

You can see his point, can’t you? With the profit motive out of the way, there’s no need to pander to the market place. So you don’t have to follow trends and (more importantly) you don’t have to impose censorship on your authors.

I realised at once that Philistine was the perfect home for Sybernika.

Thankfully, Philistine agreed and now Sybernika is out there - untamed, uncensored and willing to go with anyone who asks.

The book was (kinda) launched last March at the Not the Oxford Literary Festival fringe event held in the fabulous Albion Beatnik book shop in Oxford. After Frank gave a speech detailing Philistine’s activities and rationale, I gave a short reading from Sybernika. Also present was Banana the Poet whose Endaxi Press publishes poetry. She was quite adamant that Endaxi would never contemplate selling its books for nothing. Part of her reasoning was that if you give it away, nobody appreciates it.

The lady has a point.

I suspect Sybernika has ‘outsold’ any of Endaxi’s books by a factor of 100. But how many of the people who’ve downloaded Sybernika will actually read it? Very few. Each Endaxi book, however, will be read at least once and probably several times by several people.

So why go down the free route? In the case of Sybernika, I had two prime motives. The first I’ve already mentioned: I did not want my baby butchered to suit somebody else’s middle class sensibilities.

My second motive was, of course, exposure. With everybody and their brother inflicting their work on the Internet, it’s very hard to get noticed. Quite frankly, I’m not sure of the best way to go about it and I seriously doubt anyone else does. And there’s no point studying the journey of the best sellers – 50 Shades of Gray etc…- because they make it more by luck than judgement. What works for one person doesn’t for thousands of others and may never work again for the person for whom it did work in the first place.

So what’s a boy to do?

I’ve gone for a scatter-gun approach. With every new book I put out there, I try something different. So I have books that are self-published, books that are published through publishing houses such as Philistine and Musa, free books, cheap books, not so cheap books, eBooks, paperbacks, books on Smashwords and books on Kindle Direct. On top of that, I have a (woefully neglected) blog and I whore myself on Facebook where I have over 1,000 ‘friends.'

Now all I can do is hope for that elusive breakthrough where some sort of dark alchemy kicks in and word-of-mouth creates a buzz for me and my work. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to give it away for free. At least some of the time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Halloween Blog Post

Guest blogger Mary Ricksen presents a tale from her Gothic childhood.

Many years ago my sister and I used to play this game. We would lie in bed late at night and play when we couldn’t sleep. The old Victorian house my great grandmother lived in would creak and groan. We never knew what was house or what could possibly be ghost. The odd shaped windows and doors that opened into walls added the mystique. You had to keep both feet well away from the edge of the bed. Better safe than sorry.

The idea of the game was to guess the tune. We would tap out the music on the bed while hearing it in your head. I don’t know how we did it, but we always guessed right.

The room we stayed in was all dark corners and deep closets with shadows so dark, you had to feel your way out of the room. I hated it, but every time we visited we ended up in the same room.

Dark, heavy curtains lined the windows. Not a speck of light got in when they closed. Wood pineapples were on each of four posts of the old cherry furniture. We stayed on the third floor. I don’t know why because there were four bedrooms on the second floor and we were always the only ones visiting. The only ones up there. All alone. My cousin used to tease us, saying great Uncle Snidely had died up there and watched his heirs all the time. She told us about him and showed us his picture. We were primed.

No night lights allowed; we were big girls.

One very stormy night at Great Gram’s place we lay there tapping out songs. Thunder boomed and lightning knocked out all the street lights. After one particularly loud boom I realized I had to take a pee. My sister ran to the window to look and I jumped outta bed and ran. The tile floor chilled my feet as I walked on little squares. I quickly did what I had to and ran back down the dark hallway to our room.

My sister was talking and she sounded flustered. “I still can’t understand what you’re trying to have me guess.”

I jumped on my bed closest to the door. “What are you talking about?”

“Very funny, I’ve been trying to guess the song, but you keep tapping out nonsense. I told you I give up and still you kept tapping. What was the song you were trying to have me guess?”

“I just got back from the bathroom. I haven’t been tapping anything.” I chuckled. “Have you been playing our game with a ghost or something?”

Her voice quivered. “Did you say you just came back from the bathroom?”

“Yes.” Now I was getting scared.

“Well, I have been trying to guess the song and you, well I thought it was you, were tapping away like crazy. I had no idea what you wanted me to guess.” She jumped on my bed as a loud peel of thunder ripped the skies.

“Someone was here. Something, oh man, something was playing our game with me.” She shivered against my side.

Just then we heard it, in the silence between lightning strikes. Tapping. Tap, tap, tap…

“AAAAAHHHHHH!!” We screamed in unison. Both of us jumped up and ran outta that room so fast our feet flew, screaming the whole way. “AAAHHHHH!”

My great grandmother appeared at the end of the hall. “Girls, what’s wrong?”

“Ghosts,” we wailed. She calmed us down and urged us into her huge bed. Between breaths we told Gram what happened.

“Oh, that wasn’t Uncle Snidely. We have no one in the family by that name.” She laughed and we laughed.

We got under the covers with her and snuggled. Warm and secure we felt foolish, until she closed her eyes and sighed.

“The only person it could be is Uncle Frankie. He loved music.”

Vermont-born Mary Ricksen now lives in Florida and writes time-travel romance novels. Her next novel will be released in November, and her first novel, Tripping Through Time, is available at both Amazon and B&N. Her website is www.maryricksen.com/ where you’ll find a link to her blog.
On a dark and scary Halloween night, Mary suggests you hang out with other writers, who are generally warm, supportive and willing to share their knowledge.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Saying for Writers #140 - Richard Peck

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"We don't write what we know. We write what we wonder about." -- Richard Peck

A Montana sunset - photo by Sue Haugan.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tip O'Day #407 - Settings

Guest blogger Jack Sakalauskas says he’s “not too old for dreams to come true.”

I was born and brought up on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. My best earliest memories were going to the library each Saturday morning to get my books for the week. Pirates, boy detectives - it didn't matter, as long as I could visit someone else's world.

At this time, I did fantasize about being a writer. I wanted to write cowboy stories. For me, the perfect job would be to live in Arizona and write westerns. Well, at least I've gotten to visit Arizona. My career was the military and James Michener one of my favourite authors.

My reading took a sudden halt in 1972 when my daughter was born with C.P. Everything went on the back burner. Medical bills for special hospitals in the U.S. had me working part-time jobs, four at one point, besides my military career. My daughter will be forty next month. Bed-ridden, she requires constant care.

I didn't start reading again until my final retirement in 2004. My first book was Salt: A World History. Then, it was one book after another. For me, as well as most writers, the Internet certainly changed things. It became easy for anyone to write something and put it out there. So I jumped in. I thought it would keep me out of mischief and maybe keep Alzheimers at bay.

I wrote some short stories and it was fun. Some are on Echelon Press. By now, I wanted a book in print. I had no delusions I would ever get a publisher. Along came CreateSpace. Perfect for me. But what to write about? Write what you know about, everyone says. Well, I had spent time in Morocco. I knew about their trains, riding camels, deserts and the Kazbah. That would do.

My first book, Jewel of Marrakesh, is a YA novel, about a spoiled princess, two English boys, along with a flying carpet, slave traders and magic. I must admit, there is nothing like having a book with your name on the cover sitting on your bookshelf.

Next, I tried my hand at a book for adults. I settled on my home town of Sydney Mines. Lots of coal miners and some bootleggers, but basically boring, as I suspect most towns are. So I changed the town name to Li'l Warsaw and titled my book, Moonshine or Dirty Faces.

For the most part the places are real and also most of the people. Of course, everything is exaggerated. How else can you make a story?

You can learn more about this author’s books at http://tinyurl.com/8heos4e .

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tip O'Day #406 - A Changed World

Guest blogger K. Anne Raines on “The Confessions of a Book Junkie.”

I read a lot – like over 120 books per year a lot.

Once upon a time, book lovers – including me – flocked to bookstores everywhere. Some preferred large chains such as Barnes and Noble, others sought out used stores, while those like me enjoyed unusual little shops in quaint little towns. I could spend hours getting lost in all of the books. The hidden treasure inside each binding was a faraway world not yet discovered to me. And I was there to find it.

One day a new gadget changed my life. My Kindle paved a whole new road for finding new books. The once infinite worlds of a bookstore were now finite. Countless authors that would have never been able to share their stories before found their way to publishing through the e-book world. And, I just have to say, it is awesome! Yes, because it’s so easy now to publish, there is a chance you’ll find a book that’s less than stellar; however, I’ve read books published traditionally where they left me scratching my head wondering how they ever made it to a bookshelf.

With the dawning of the Kindle age, finding what to read next has changed drastically. I hate to say it, but I absolutely 100 percent judge a book by its cover, especially if it’s self-published. Why? Well, to me it’s easy. You can tell how serious authors are about the product they’re producing by their cover. Authors, both self and traditionally published, hope to gain a profit from their heart-pouring efforts, and it’s a business venture. The old adage that “you have to spend money to make money” is true, and they should invest wisely in the cover.

Social networking sites to find great books such as Goodreads are all the rage. There’s also Facebook book groups. My favorite books of all time have come from recommendations on these sites. The word-of-mouth on social sites is invaluable to both a reader and an established or emerging author. On social networking sites you’re not limited to what a bookstore offers. The book possibilities are endless.

I’m a book junkie, a true bibliophile, and always will be. Whether the stories are in a quaint shop or waiting to be purchased on Amazon, it doesn’t matter, I will find them.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Saying for Writers #139 - Bradbury

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” -- Ray Bradbury

A photo of Bird Woman Falls in nearby Glacier National Park.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saying for Writers #138 - Hemingway

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” — Ernest Hemingway

Dixon says: It's comforting to read biographies of famous authors we admire, and to discover they also wrote crappy first drafts, struggled with clunky passages during rewrites, and despaired of writing something good enough to publish. We all slog along a muddy path where the greatest joy comes not from writing, but from having written.

The photo above was taken this morning by my friend Sue Haugen, an avid photo bug and fellow soccer nut who lives in my hometown of Kalispell, Montana. Winter has come to our quiet little valley entirely too soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tip O'Day #405 - Judge a Book by its...

Guest blogger Karla Darcy says “Cover Me.”

In the self-publishing world, I’m a newbie and at times I’m overwhelmed with the steep learning curve. Writers love to write. I do but I’m not very good at the business end of my career. I’d been traditionally published but wanted the control of self-publishing. What control? There are so many parts of this that I feel I have no control over. I need back up. I need someone to cover me.

Covers, you say? My biggest challenge was getting covers. I began by spending several days looking at the lists on Amazon and studying the covers. The first thing that surprised me was how much of a gut reaction I had to each one. I realized that for me I would know instantly if I would consider buying a book based on its cover alone. I had always believed that you couldn’t tell a book by its cover. In my case, when faced with plunking down money for a book, I definitely was deciding based on what I saw.

The second thing I noticed was that I wanted to know instantly by looking at the cover what the genre was. I don’t want to have to guess. For years romance writers have been criticized for having the “clinch” or “bodice ripper” covers. Frankly I find that reassuring. I want to know that it’s a romance. If it’s a thriller or a mystery, I want to have some sense of danger or suspense when I look at a book.

Third, for me personally I like a simple cover, not too busy and I want to be able to see the writer’s name without the use of a magnifying glass. I like bright colors. When you’re buying a book off the Internet the covers are about the size of a postage stamp in many places. I want to still be able to see the writer’s name and the title of the book.

So now it was time for me to get covers. Unfortunately the artistic gene is totally absent in my DNA. I like my world to be symmetrical. My garden plants are precisely arranged so that one side of the garden matches perfectly with the other side. Four square corners too. My mantel has two candlesticks on either side of a lovely antique clock. Nicely balanced.

So I knew my covers would be disastrous if I designed them. As a starter I would want a kitten on the cover because I love kittens. And naturally it would be in the exact center of the cover.

Enter the expert. Tara O’Shea, tara@fringe-element.net. A friend of my daughter’s, Tara was always creative and artistic. I asked her if she could do my covers. I gave her a vague idea of what I was looking for. Okay this was my idea for the cover of The Five Kisses. I’d have taken this one if she could have moved the kitty into the middle.

Tara talked about branding and other things I had never thought of. So despite the fact I loved this cover I realized I’d have to let Tara do her own thing. The one thing I’ve learned in this journey to publishing is that I can’t learn it all or do it all, so find an expert who can.

The plan was for nine or ten books. Since I was a history major they would all be Regency romances which was a time period full of international intrigue, the Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812. The series would be about a group of men who belonged to Sweet’s Racing Club. Horse mad when they were bachelors but now in their maturity finding women who were unique, independent and not just beautiful but bright and interesting. And I liked the clothes of the Regency period. The underwear wasn’t all that tricky.

Time passed and Tara worked her magic. She had my back and Covered Me. Voila! I had covers. Simple, gorgeous and branded! What fun this was going to be. Now I could actually get back to the writing part of my career.

I’ve launched The Five Kisses and The Masked Heart. My newest releases are The Marriage Wager and The Scandalous Ward. They introduce you to more of the members of Sweet’s and some old friends. The Marriage Wager is one of my favorites because the story is touching and a reader will cheer at the depth of humor and romance in this traditional Regency.

I’m sure I’m not the first or the last to be traumatized by the decision making on cover art. Nobody sees things the same way. For me, the journey to self publishing is one of constant learning. I’ve been blessed with friends who have gone before me and graciously shared their experiences with me. And that’s the reason that I’ve been successful in learning parts of this business. I’m still in the beginning stage but thankfully I’ve got great friends who can cover me. How about you? Who’s watching your back?

Stop by this author's website to see more beautiful covers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saying for Writers #137 - Leslie Gordon Barnard

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.” — Leslie Gordon Barnard

Dixon says: Sometimes it is the inner contradictions of writing that make it so fascinating. Take a second look at the Barnard quotation. It says you cannot make fictional characters seem real to a reader until they become actual living people within your own mind.

That’s so true. You know you’ve got a good story when the characters wake you up in the middle of the night, when they whisper ideas in your ear while you’re driving in rush traffic, when they grab your well-plotted tale and drag it in a new directions because…well, because they have personalities and you’ve been trying to make them do things contrary to their natures.

Bringing your characters to life is difficult if you start with stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs. I prefer to experiment with flesh-and-blood beings. Here’s three ways you can do this:

1. Take a person you know and change his or her gender. Let’s say you take Jorge, a man who’s always getting into bar fights, and turn him into Joanne, a woman. In most cultures, the fairer sex is not expected to resolve problems with fisticuffs. If Joanne gets into a series of fistfights, what would be the consequences for her? As an alternative, what feminine wiles might she use to act out her aggression instead of punching people in the face? The more questions you ask yourself and the more choices you make, the more unique the character becomes – unrecognizable as being based on an actual person.

2. Take someone you know and “flip” his or her most distinctive personality trait. Let’s say Willard always manages to be out on the curb feeding a parking meter whenever it’s his turn to buy a round of drinks. Try leaving most characteristics the same – his intelligence, sharp poker skills, and clumsy ways with women – but change him from a miser into a philanthropist. Then put him into a scene and create situations where the well-being of innocent strangers conflicts with his personal wealth. But his girlfriend doesn’t understand the choices he makes. And he needs every available penny for a business (or charity) he’s about to found. Voila! You’ve created an interesting new character.

3. Take someone who stepped into your life in a quirky way, and “fill in the blanks” to create a complete character. Once I was sitting in the periodicals room of a public library, when a strangely dressed man sidled up to me. He leaned over and whispered: “There’s something you need to know – the FBI is rounding up redheads.” And he wandered away to share his delusions with other library patrons. That particular loon has appeared in a number of my stories. Sometimes he’s tall and gangly, sometimes short and plump, sometimes a woman, sometimes young, sometimes elderly. On occasion, he speaks the truth and nobody believes. These characters never look, sound or act like the other iterations, but they are all inspired by the same five seconds in that library.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tip O'Day #404 - Learning from Mistakes

Guest blogger Jami Gray on ‘Third Time is The Charm.’

With two books out there, and working on a third, I'm starting to recognize that there are a couple of stages in the writing game every writer goes through. The first one comes after you begin to fall from that high of being published and seeing your first work out there--all alone in the big bad world of readers, where it can be raised up and kicked down faster than lightning. You try not to get obsessive about the reviews, feedback and those pesky things known as ratings, but those little voices manage to wiggle their way in and tear bits and pieces off of your creativity. Together those small things gain strength, and so the debilitating question looms on your writing horizon---can I really manage to write another book?

Answer: Hell, yeah you can. You're a writer, stop worrying about what's being said out there. You're out there. Readers are reading you. You have to be doing something right. So in a truly horribly NY/Bronx accent "Forget about it!" and write your story. Take the things you've learned with your first book, do them better or fix them in your second. Then keep going. You can’t get better if you don’t keep writing.

With my second book out there, I started tackling my third title, Shadow’s Moon. This has not been an easy journey as I am leaving behind the familiarity of my protagonist of my first two books to focus on another and I’m writing from two POV’s this time around. Yes, I’ve heard the rule, but rules are meant to be broken. That’s the beauty of being a writer. How will you discover what works if you don’t try it?

Yet while I'm crafting this story, I'm still getting feedback on Shadow's Edge and Shadow's Soul. I know you'll never please all your readers all of the time, but it is so easy to fall into the downward spiral of "OMG, I need to change this..." or "Maybe I should do this instead..." Second guessing ourselves is not productive, not even a little bit.

One of my critique partners shared a blog post by Kris Rusch discussing when is your book truly done...I so needed to hear her when she said,

I’m here to tell you this: If you want a career as a writer, ignore your critics.
When the book is finished, when the book is published for heaven’s sake, then it’s done. Irrevocably done. Mistakes and all.
--http://kriswrites.com/2012/06/27/the-business-rusch-perfection/

So now, I make it a point not to obsess over rankings or critiques--readers will either love it or hate it, it's out there, I'm not changing it. For now, all I can do as a writer, is take what I've learned, and use it for Shadow's Moon. And the mistakes I make in that story, I'll just use those to make the next one even better. I'm a writer, but I won't be much of one if I don't learn and grow from my screw-ups. Besides, who knows, maybe one of those screw-ups will turn into a flash of genius!

Check out her books at www.jamigray.com/books and her website is www.jamigray.com

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Personal Essay

Guest blogger Eileen Austen, whose short story “Post Polio Syndrome” was nominated for the UCLA Kirkwood Award, has been widely published in academic circles. Every essayist has a different approach, a unique voice. The blending of creative nonfiction with academic influences can be seen in this essay, “In The Wake Of…”

I am obsessed, I know, with burrowing into dark places, unearthing and chronicling the myriad effects of war on women and children. Many are old and obvious. From Sarajevo to Zaire, rape endures as a deadly weapon. Kids step on land mines, starve or die from unnecessary disease. Families rot away in refugee camps waiting for refuge that never arrives. There is nothing new here.

For me something new, a link previously unconnected came by surprise. Last night at an impromptu gathering of friends, I chanced to meet a woman who has spent the last five years working with Cambodian villagers near the famous temples of Angkor Watt. She described in detail how a mere $240 builds a well, and how the water changes lives. In a society where civilization itself vanished, she provides uniforms and books so children can attend school, wrestles up medicine, creates health care programs and garners donations to pay teachers and nurses. The benefits are measurable.

When I asked what she considered the most important service offered she answered without hesitation: teaching contraception and dispensing otherwise unaffordable, birth control pills. Since the financial burden of a large family is difficult, many children with married, loving parents are sold or given to local orphanages, knowing the chances for adoption are remote. Most often children are sold again into slavery and sex-trafficking.

For anyone who has visited Cambodia’s Killing Fields and its museum of torture, the horrors are shocking and impossible to forget. Many of Cambodia’s impoverished still live in the shadow of the Khmer Rouge. A people stripped of their financial and cultural resources, this war riven legacy has proved disproportionately hard on women and the children they cannot afford to bear. It’s impossible to imagine the pain of selling a child knowing the result is servitude and abuse. To the parents, isn’t this another subtle, disguised form of torture?

In the wake of recent years, opponents of Choice have espoused religion at the expense of economics. They’ve succeeded in erasing any pecuniary considerations from the political discussion even though that is where the debate originated. Choice is and always has been about the economic emancipation of women. The conflagration in Cambodia fueled huge, unintended consequences. So too, might the War Against Women here at home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The End of Exclusivity?

Mark Coker is the founder and CEO of Smashwords, and we spoke recently about an Amazon ‘December surprise.’

Last December, Amazon shook up the Indie publishing world with the announcement of the KDP Select program. In exchange for you giving it exclusive rights to sell your eBook, Amazon would give you certain promotional benefits. One attraction is the ability to have “free days” where you hopefully raise your Amazon ranking by giving away a book for up to five days during each 90-day exclusive period. After a free day, the price returns to normal without any delay or confusion.

People like to talk and speculate, and the publishing world is no different. Rumors abound about another coming December surprise, with many folks guessing Amazon will give the authors of the world a Christmas present by eliminating exclusivity. Mark Coker discusses this in the following excerpt from the October 5th post on the Smashwords Site Updates page (used with permission - see the entire post at https://www.smashwords.com/about/beta )

In recent weeks, the tea leaves point to more exclusivity. With the recent launch of their distribution to India, they added a requirement that if you want 70% royalties on India sales, you must enroll in KDP-Select and remove books from all other retailers. It seems they've also stepped up the aggressiveness of their automated price-matching. Their emails now threaten authors with account termination if they're enrolled in the 70% royalty rate (this is independent of KDP-Select) and another retailer is offering a lower price. No other retailer tightens the screws upon the knuckles of authors like Amazon. It's so unnecessary.

I for one hope for a kinder, gentler Amazon in the future. I think it's in their best interest. Amazon has a brilliant retail platform, great discovery, and smart people working there. Why treat authors like such pawns? And why do so many authors fall prey and willingly submit to such oppressive policies?

In a message to me on Saturday, Mark wrote: “I hope Amazon does the right thing and drops exclusivity. If they did that, I'd become a huge supporter of KDP Select.”

I agree.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saying for Writers #136 - Jack Kerouac

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.” — Jack Kerouac

This sunset is brought to you by Glacier National Park and the state of Montana.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saying for Writers #135 - Virginia Woolf

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” -- Virginia Woolf

Dixon says: There is a hard truth that some writers never come to grips with. Not everyone will fall in love with your lovingly selected words and painstakingly arranged sentences. People will give you bad reviews and one-star ratings (even when it's obvious they never bothered to read it).

But then, you haven't been enraptured with every single short story, essay and book you've ever read, have you? You have a certain genre, a certain style, a certain je ne sais quoi about the literature you prefer. Why would you expect other people to be different from you?

I have a good friend who wrote the best romantic comedy I've ever read, and she has earned over fifty 5-star reviews. Plus a couple 1-stars. The first 1-star rating hurts, but after that you can laugh them off.

The absolute worst thing to do is respond to the lousy review. This invariably ends up in a flame-war of biblical proportions, which will make you look just as bad as the (from your POV) unfair reviewer. If you must say anything, try this: "Thank you for sharing your opinion."

Friday, October 12, 2012

TipO'Day #403 - How to Pick a Book

Guest blogger Ellen Grogan on “So Many Books, So Little Time.”

With a collection of close to 4,000 books, the second question friends and neighbors always ask is, “How do you choose which book to read?”

“Well, that depends,” I respond.

When it comes to sampling books by authors who are new to me, cover design counts big time. If an author doesn’t care enough to invest the time and/or money in a professionally-designed cover, well, how much care could have been invested in the writing and editing of that manuscript? You see, we’re not in school any longer. We are offering a valuable work product (hopefully) in exchange for someone’s money and the time to read it. Value is expected in return! After that, all I want is to know what the story is about. If the description on the jacket of the book peaks my interest, I will read the first page of a sample. That’s it – one page. And price is always a consideration.

My first picks, however, are always from among the authors whom I consider to be some of the greatest living writers of our generation: Margaret George, Anne Rice, Stephanie Cowell, Michael Connelly, Ken Follett, Stephen Leather, James Patterson. Not only are they wonderful storytellers, but also there is much to be learned from the way they craft their stories.

I like true crime by Anne Rule if I want a really good scare. Nothing like a serial killer story to get my blood pumping. I like interesting detective stories: Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly; Alex Cross by James Patterson; Samuel Tay by Jake Needham; Inspector Zhang by Stephen Leather. I like everything non-vampire by Anne Rice. Her writing makes me feel like a little child curled up with a cup of hot chocolate listening to her as she tells me another magnificent story. (Of course I hear voices, silly – I’m a writer!) And Stephanie Cowell, well, all of her writing is so beautifully vivid that it just breaks my heart.

I must admit that I have not yet read any of the Dan “Spider” Shepherd novels by Stephen Leather but, those aside, I have never been disappointed by anything this amazing storyteller has written. Dreamer’s Cat and the Jack Nightingale series are beyond magnificent in story and in craftsmanship.

Oh, yes, and about that other question my friends and neighbors always ask me first: “Where do you find the time to do all this?”

Easy – I don’t do housework.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Saying for Writers #134 - George R.R. Martin

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” -- George R.R. Martin

Jojen Reed is a character in Martin’s Song of Fire & Ice series the inspiration for the Game of Thrones cable series. Clever of Martin to trot out a fictional character for a profound quotation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tip O'Day #402 - Sticks & Stones

Guest blogger Micki Peluso on "What's in a Word?"

"In the beginning was the word . . ."
John 1:1 King James Bible

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me," says the childhood taunt. This is not true. “The pen is mightier than the sword," and the complexity of language plays upon everyday living. It can be subtle (my favorite), sarcastic, ironic, menacing, hateful, loving, instructive; the list is long. Ultimately words hurt much more than stones, because the scars from hurtful words do not always heal.

Words make or break relationships, erase the tears of a crying child, soothe an aching heart, cheer on an athlete, or manipulate an enemy. Words are power and it is essential to learn to use them wisely and to understand the strength behind a simple word.

As applied to writing, proper word choice is critical to a successful essay, short story or novel. Making an error in word usage can change the tempo and alter the perspective of any given piece of writing.

Years ago, four years of Latin were required in high school. We all groaned, but this now obsolete language was the best example of how the nuance of a word can completely change the meaning of a sentence or story. English, based in part on Latin, is no different. The words one uses in narrative or description show character traits and personality. Using different words can turn these traits in a different direction.

"He was a tempting, seductive piece of work," shows the reader much about this character. So does, "She put on her reading glasses and began stamping the books the children brought to the library desk." Words define characters, build plot and suspense, and describe settings. Words in dialogue show emotions and character behavior. Words are all one has to work with, both in real life and in writing. It is prudent to choose them well. Roget's Thesaurus should be every writer's bible, packed as it is with synonyms that shift context and meaning in the most subtle ways.

"Words express ideas, name things. Words have momentum. They carry you from one place to another. When your words change, you change." Taken from The World Book Complete Word Power Library."

"In the book based on the life of Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker, the little blind and deaf girl's mother asks the child's teacher what is to be taught first. 'Language, I hope,’ replies the teacher, ‘. . . what is she without words?'" Taken from the Dictionary of Problems and Expressions," by Harry Shaw.

Words are critical to writing. Without them the page would be blank. Words help communicate thoughts and feelings. What would we be without words? Mastery of them would take a lifetime and more. And should.

Check out this writer’s blog and her Amazon page.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tip O'Day #401 - Elements of a Scene

Guest blogger Bill Hopkins says, “List? A writer don't need no stinkin' list!”

I've attended many writing conferences in my lifetime, enough to have several lists of things a writer (especially a fiction writer) must do to have a successful story.

But first, let me tell you where you can find a real-life example of the list I'm about to share. My selection of books is wide-ranging. I read The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas when I was in high school. I read every one of the books in The Mushroom Planet series when I was in the sixth-grade. Robin Hood books were my favorite when I was even younger.

However, the book that has affected me and my writing most is one I finished recently. Stephen King's 11/22/63 tells the story of a man trying to change the past by stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It's pure science fiction (flavored only the way King can do it) and it adds a new twist to the canon of time-travel stories. (I think I've read every time travel story available; trust me on this.)

That's only part of what makes this book great. Things that King shows are elements that each scene of a successful story must have. A lot of these items are obvious, yet I've read books by high-powered authors who don't include some, making for confusion.

(1) Source of light. Every scene must explain the time of day and, if the scene takes place inside, show the reader where the light comes from. Are we outside in the middle of the night? Full moon? New moon? Starlight? Clouds?

(2) Participants. Every scene must also tell the reader who is there and where "there" is. One novel I read recently started a new chapter that ran for over a page before I knew the who and the where. This is frustrating and irritating to readers.

(3) Senses. Every scene should deliver the six senses. Six? That's right. Not only smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste, but the emotional state of the character needs to be explored. Briefly and surreptitiously, of course, unless you want to have a list at the beginning of every scene. (Not advisable.)

(4) Resolution. In every scene, somebody must want something, somebody must oppose that want, and there's a clear winner and loser. Otherwise, what you've written is a lecture on morality. A good exercise is to write a scene about what Jack and Jill do with that pail of water. Each needs it and there can be no compromise.

There are tons of lists. Two more, by Kurt Vonnegut, can be found at these two sites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut and also http://peterstekel.com/PDF-HTML/Kurt%20Vonnegut%20advice%20to%20writers.htm.

Finally, to paraphrase Vonnegut, if you're a great writer, you can ignore all those lists.

Learn more about this author at his website www.judgebillhopkins.com. Bill’s latest novel, Courting Murder, was released ahead of schedule just a few days ago, and is available on Amazon and B&N. Here’s the Amazon link. http://tinyurl.com/Bill-Hopkins-Courting-Murder
Speaking of writing conferences, there’s a dandy in Kalispell, Montana this coming weekend, Oct 6-7. Guest speakers include John DeDakis, writer/editor for “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, and Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. It’s remarkably entertaining, educational and inexpensive, and there’s still time to register. Go to http://www.authorsoftheflathead.org/conference.asp

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tip O'Day #400 - Books on Writing

Guest blogger Seeley James on some writing books that were very helpful and others – well, not so much.

I’ve read many books about the craft of writing. Some I cherished and underlined and marked up. Some I abandoned after a few pages. Each of them taught me something. A few were amazing. Oddly enough, the highly recommended books were not that good. I jotted down my thoughts about the three I found most helpful and two that made me think, what happened here?

First, understand my slant: I like to read and write thrillers. My goal is to entertain as many people as possible. If your goal is to write character-driven, world-changing literature, or romance or epic Sci-Fi, these reviews may or may not mean as much to you. However, I think good advice transcends genre.

Second, I like to read books that tell me how to be a better writer. How to improve my action sequence. How to pace my highs and lows. Why no one feels my main character’s pain. When to do this instead of that. I like to read a book and immediately launch into notes for improving my manuscript. If the book I’m reading doesn’t stimulate my creative process, then I’m not enamored.

Third, on my blog, I’ve written my ideas on the craft of writing in a series called The Architecture of Writing because the one thing all these books have in common: they’re too freaking long. The points made in each could be summed up in a PowerPoint deck and dropped on us to take or leave as we wish.

Two popular books that taught me far less than I expected:

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass -- While Mr. Maass is a top agent who cites great works of literature and describes why they were great, it rarely says anything about how to actually write a breakout novel. I found myself nodding and thinking, ‘yeah, he’s right, that was a great book.’ But only jotted down two or three notes to follow up on later. My takeaway: some writers wrote some really good books.

On Writing, Stephen King -- Yeah, blasphemy, I know. I’m a heretic. It’s a great book about a literary celebrity. I was fascinated by his story and his life experience. He has one passage about his editing process. And he railed against plotting. Otherwise, it was a memoir. (OK, so he’s been writing since he was 10 and he plots intuitively. Does that mean the rest of us are pond scum?) My takeaway: Always have a book in your hand.

Three books that drove my imagination and made me take notes:

Techniques of the $elling Writer, Dwight Swain (1965) -- Yes, I am recommending an obscure writer who taught at the University of Oklahoma fifty years ago. The references to starlets long gone are amusing and younger readers will have to study some of his literary references but he explains technique at the sentence and paragraph level. With right way and wrong way examples, no less. Read this and you will have a much better grip on why your last story flopped and how to make your next sing. My takeaway: Tactics.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King (1991) -- Another oldie but goodie. And I mean goodie. This one explains story structure and pacing with a little more meat on the bones than Swain’s work. Where he gives you paragraph tactics, this offers concepts for story strategy. At the same time, this book picks nits that will have you running for your editing notes. And the best part is — the authors formed a company offering indie authors professional services. Their story was so compelling that I’ve hired The Editorial Department to handle my editing, artwork, layout, and marketing. My takeaway: Strategy.

The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler (1998-2007) -- This is the most important book a novelist can own. Mr. Vogler presents it as the foundation for every story ever told. Not true. However, it is the most comprehensive explanation of classic stories like Star Wars and Wizard of Oz. You do not need to follow his example. You do need to understand the structural underpinnings that have formed classic stories from Odysseus to Harry Potter. My favorite author, Lee Child, has never applied this method. My second favorite author, James Rollins, always applies this method. Whether you use it or not, knowing how it works helps you form a stronger story. My takeaway: Structure.

There are many more good and not-so-good books out there. I’ve only listed three of my many faves. What books taught you the most about the craft?

Seeley is the author of short story collection Short Thrills, and his novel Geneva Convention will be released later this year. He was a Finalist for the DeMarini Award in fiction, and was short-listed for the Fish Publishing Award and the Debut Dagger Award.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Know Your Enemy

Guest blogger Zachary Richards wrote this post, which has nothing whatsoever to do with writing or getting published. It appeared on his blog on 9/20/2012 (Repeated with permission).

You need to know this.

Regardless of your political beliefs.

Regardless of your race, creed, gender, religion, sexual orientation or financial situation.

I am a member of your family.

I know very little about North Dakota. I know where it’s located but I’ve never met anyone from there. Don’t know if I would like them if I did.

But I know this.

If any outsider, any foreign country or even hostile space aliens invaded North Dakota and attacked its citizens, I would grab my rifle, jump in my truck and take off to help defend them. It wouldn’t matter who they supported for president, or whether or not they liked country music, or if they are adamantly for or against this or that.

They are Americans and as Americans they are my family and in times of trouble I got their back and have no doubt that if the situation were reversed, they’d have mine.

As the political season grows uglier, we need to remember who we are and what we stand for. Don’t let them convince you there are blue and red states. Don’t buy into the lies that seek to divide us into conservative and liberals, or rich and poor. Ever hear the saying, divide and conquer?

E Pluribus Unum — Out of many, One.

That is our country’s motto. Remember that.

Over the course of our history hundreds of thousands of our soldiers sacrificed their lives for our protection. The best way to honor that sacrifice is not by having parades, or holding memorials or having big blowout department store sales. We can honor their sacrifice by taking the time to verify the statements made by the media regarding the people running for elected office. I have seen the most outrageous, villainous and outright treasonous claims made about the presidential candidates as well those campaigning for local office.

It is disgraceful.

I have no idea what your political stance is but I do know this. Even if we were on completely opposite sides of an issue, if we sat down at the table and hashed out our concerns, we would come to a reasonable compromise. It wouldn’t be perfect, compromises never are, but our main concern wouldn’t be about getting our way. It would be about doing what’s best for our fellow Americans.

I have mentioned in a previous post that Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdock, an Australian who had been under investigation for hacking into people’s personal cell phones and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal the nephew of the Saudi King. And on the other side of the spectrum, The Daily News is owned by Canadian born Mortimer Zuckerman, a man with a long association with the Israeli lobby.

Do you think both sides are slanting their news stories to convince you to side with them and to support their issues? Do you think both sides are fanning the fires of derision to make us turn on each other and overlook the fact that they are feathering their own nests at our expense?

I do.

And I will not support or participate.

I believe that as an American, you are capable of making up your own mind as to who your elected representative should be. I believe you will take the time and make the effort to research the candidates to find the best one for the job. As for me, I will actively fight against any organization that divides us into categories, or tries to convince me that anyone who disagrees with their position is a traitor, or un-American. And I pledge that I will not post any derogatory clip or statement about any candidate unless I can personally verify its accuracy through various unrelated and reliable sources.

My name is Zackary Richards and I approve this message.

If you agree, share this and let the special interests know that lies, misinformation and malicious propaganda against any candidate will not turn you against the candidate but will instead, turn you against the organization that distributes it.

If you wish to comment you can do so at my blog: http://zackaryrichards.blogspot.com

Dixon says: Americans have a long history of vicious political discourse. In the mass media of his day, Abraham Lincoln was pilloried with a gusto few modern politicians have been subjected to. Franklin D. Roosevelt was called a Communist - not by fruitcakes on the fringe, but by his mainstream political opponents. John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic elected as president, was hated by segregationists and bigots of every stripe, and Texas schoolchildren cheered at the news of his assassination. George W. Bush was ridiculed by late night comics as nothing but a hick and a moron, and Barack Obama's first national campaign - well, you know all the far-fetched claims that spread like wildfire on the 'Net. But this year's political campaigns, fueled by fear, anger and heaps of special interest money, have really been over the top. Even if we dislike the current White House occupant, I hope we can come to respect the office itself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Saying for Writers #133 - Isaac Singer

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"When I was a young boy they called me a liar. Now that I'm all grown up, they call me a writer." – Isaac Singer

Twin Lakes in northwest Montana.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tip O'Day #399 - A Writer also Reads

Guest blogger Ellen Grogan on how technology and becoming a writer simplified her reading life – Not!

Two years ago when I got my first e-reader (a Nook Color), reading was simple. I read what I love, and I love historical fiction. Nine months later, things got a bit complicated when I decided to try my hand at writing. My reading time got divided between historical fiction and “how to write” books. Then, of course, genre books had to be added into the mix to further complicate things.

Several more months went by, during which time I discovered Facebook and started “friending” authors, telling them how much I appreciated their books, how helpful their writing had been, yada, yada, yada. More months passed and it was time to purchase a second Nook, the Simple Touch. It was lighter, more portable, easier to use for studying all those “how to write” books when on the go. Now things got even more complicated. So many wonderful authors, so many wonderful books they’d written, so many reviews to post on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and Smashwords. Yikes! How did things ever get this complicated?

It’s been two years now and I’ve broken down and added a Kindle Touch to my collection, but only because of those dastardly DRM’s that prevent me from converting Kindle books to epub format for my Nook. Well, at least now I have all my favorite types of books, all my “how to write” books, and all my favorite authors’ books at my fingertips all the time on one or another of the e-readers. I am one happy camper, let me tell you. (Not!)

Most mornings, I spend five hours with my “how to write” books, learning and writing. In the afternoons, I spend three hours sampling books by authors who are new to me. After dinner, I spend another three to four hours reading books by authors I’ve already become familiar with and whose writing I enjoy.

I know, I know, you’re wondering how I find time in between all this learning and writing and reading for the editing work I do. No problem! When an editing job comes in, everything stops until that manuscript goes to print. Everything. Except at night. I will steal three hours each evening to stop and rest and read historical fiction – usually something by Margaret George because her writing calms me down and keeps me sane.

A little sanity in my life – priceless!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tip O'Day #398 - What Drives Readers Crazy

Guest blogger Darlene Elizabeth Williams looks at what makes a novel outstanding compared to others in the same genre.

As a reviewer, I look for some key points. First and foremost, the most common detraction to a novel is poor editing. While typos or grammatical errors are found in most novels, more than 2 or 3 become a distraction. Novels rife with poor grammar and superfluous words quickly lose appeal.

One of my pet peeves is the word “that.” It is an overused word that, in many cases, does not need to be included. I am guilty of this habit and always go back through my work to ensure I have eliminated every “that” possible.

Lengthy passages of narrative relating events are sure to cause a reader’s eyes to glaze. Instead, characters conducting conversations or engaging in activities to impart the information keeps the reader in the moment. This technique is valuable for immersing the reader completely.

While on the topic of narrative, passive sentences slow action. Sluggish progression equates reader boredom. A tightly written novel with active wording and succinct dialogue zings with vitality. The pace has highs and lows. Readers need to catch their breath after a climatic event, but not for too long. An outstanding novel wraps up almost immediately after the final climax. To continue on for a few chapters with explanations of what happened afterwards ruins what could be an excellent finale.

Authors who complete comprehensive character studies “know” their characters intimately. A cynical character who, inexplicably, becomes tender and forgiving in Chapter 3 before reverting back to sardonic in Chapter 4 goes beyond suspension of disbelief. Well-developed characters evolve throughout a novel in a convincing fashion.

Now to what is called the “story world.” A novel lacks depth when it skims over the characters’ environment or contains easily notable inaccuracies or discrepancies. Credibility is lost if a character pops an 8-track tape into his 1954 Ford Customline telling his passenger how “cool” the Back Street Boys are. If a dog is black at the commencement, he’d better be black at the conclusion.

Fantasy, paranormal and science fiction story worlds have more liberalities, yet they must also be plausibly constructed. Fans of the genre expect intricate, imaginative settings, but still require some familiar grounding. Even Star Trek’s Spock had his rare moments of emotion.

Not just a few of these elements are essential for an outstanding novel. They all are.

Darlene Elizabeth Williams reviews historical fiction at http://darleneelizabethwilliamsauthor.com/ (under the HF Reviews tab) and is currently working on her first historical fiction novel.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Saying for Writers #132 - Gene Weingarten

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“All stories have to at least try to explain some small portion of the meaning of life. You can do that in 20 minutes, and 15 inches. I still remember a piece that the great Barry Bearak did in The Miami Herald some 30 years ago. It was a nothing story, really: Some high school kid was leading a campaign to ban books he found offensive from the school library. Bearak didn’t even have an interview with the kid, who was ducking him. The story was short, mostly about the issue. But Bearak had a fact that he withheld until the kicker. The fact put the whole story, subtly, in complete perspective. The kicker noted the true, wonderful fact that the kid was not in school that day because ‘his ulcer was acting up.’ Meaning of life, 15 inches.” — Gene Weingarten

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tip O'Day #397 - Grafton vs Indies

Guest blogger Simon Alexander Collier on “Busking Outside Carnegie Hall.”

American novelist Sue Grafton brought a wave of criticism on herself through a number of disparaging remarks about those, like me, who choose to self-publish their fiction. Like these critics, I think she is mistaken, but since she has subsequently apologized and expressed a desire to learn more about changes in the publishing world, I won’t add my droplet to that wave. I too occasionally err, as my wife kindly points out.

Ms Grafton’s original comments did raise a couple of points that are worth considering, even if she herself has since rowed back. The first is the idea that self-publishing is a “short-cut,” a way of avoiding the hard work required to become a published author in the orthodox fashion. As many indie writers who responded to Ms Grafton correctly pointed out, there is an enormous amount of work required to get your own work out there and publicize it. Self-publishing isn’t about avoiding work as much as substituting productive work – publishing and marketing your story – for the unproductive task of spending months or years in a (likely) futile attempt to find an orthodox publisher.

Another issue raised was that self-published authors have an inflated sense of self-worth, acting like “a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he's ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.” Well, an element of ego is probably involved in any public display of artistic output, but it is difficult to see why any more is involved in self-publishing. It would also be easy to highlight many conventionally published authors whose mastery of their craft is well short of the average concert pianist’s. Ultimately, this line of reasoning rings of “know your place,” a location of which I have long remained proudly ignorant.

Since the musical analogy has been introduced, it may be worth recalling the spirit of the punk movement of the 1970s. A reaction to the corporatisation and blandness of much of the music of that era, this promoted the idea that anyone could be in a band and gave us groups such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, whose music stands up pretty well these days. Democratization of the creative process should surely be welcomed, and while there may be some semi-literates producing fourth-rate bodice rippers who are not exactly the Johnny Rottens de nos jours, it is likely that self-publishing will lead to some works of merit seeing the light of day that otherwise would not have done so.

Fundamentally, it is a mistake to see publishing as a moral issue. There is no ethical requirement for hard work – that is unavoidable in one form or another anyhow – or for only the “deserving” (whoever they might be) to have a chance of an audience when so much rubbish gets put out by conventional publishers. I make no apologies for saying that I would love to find a short-cut or any cut at all to the literary equivalent of stadium filling. Frankly, however, at the moment I’m playing a couple of tunes I wrote to a few friends and the odd passerby at open mic night in my local boozer. The closest I get to Carnegie Hall is busking outside. But greatly enjoying it.

Dixon says: If I understand it right, busking is a British term for street music or performance, what’s sometimes called guerilla theatre. A pretty cool word, don’t you think? I plan to use it frequently (and probably incorrectly).
Simon is the author of Milligan and the Samurai Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about this writer, check out his busking good website.