Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tip O'Day #323 - Reach Out to Others

Guest blogger Pat Bertram - I Am a Thirteen-Month Grief Survivor. ( A post from “Bertram’s Blog” on April 27, 2011, used with permission.)

Yesterday at my grief support group we were asked to complete the sentence, “After he died, I was surprised that . . .” Everything that happened in the thirteen months since the death of my life mate — my soul mate — has surprised me. No, not surprised me. Shocked me.

I was shocked that the end came so quickly. He’d been sick such a very long time, his health fading slowly, that his dying became our way of life. When he was finally diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer, we were told he had three to six months to live. He had only three weeks. And those weeks seemed to evaporate in just a few hours.

After he died, I was shocked by the very presence of grief. My brother died four and a half years ago, and my mother died a year later. I handled both deaths well, so I thought I could cope with the death of my mate. I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, that one didn’t grieve the same for every loss. I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, that there was a physical component to the death of a long time mate, that it would feel like an amputation.

After he died, I was shocked by the depth and breadth of my feelings. During the last year of his life, and especially the last six months, he’d begun withdrawing from the world and from me. This withdrawal, this lessening of a need to be with others is a natural part of dying, and my response to his withdrawal was just as natural — an increased determination to live. He might be dying but I wasn’t, and I had to untangle our lives, find a way to survive his dying and his death. I thought I had successfully completed this task, but his death rocked me to the core of my being.

After his death, I was shocked by his sheer goneness. Because I’d spent so much time alone that last year, I thought life without him would feel much the same, but it isn’t like he is in another room or another city or another country – it’s like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I still have no words to describe the finality, the undoableness, the vacuum of death. He was part of my life for thirty-four years. We breathed the same air. We were connected by our thoughts, our shared experiences, the zillion words we’d spoken to each other. And then he was gone from this earth. Erased. Deleted. I still can’t wrap my mind around that.

After his death, I was shocked that I felt so shattered. So broken. And I am shocked that I still feel that way at times. I am shocked that no matter how strong you are, how well you are healing, grief can slam into you at any time, especially after a good day when you’re not expecting it, and the pain feels as raw as it was at the beginning.

After his death, I was shocked by the scope of grief. You grieve for the one who died and you grieve for yourself because you have to live without him. You grieve for all the things you did and the things you didn’t do. You grieve for what went wrong in your shared life and what went right. You grieve for the past and you grieve for the lost future. You grieve for all the hopes and dreams and possibilities that died with him. It’s amazing that anyone can survive all that pain, but we do, and that shocks me, too.

After his death, I was shocked by how complicated human emotions can be. You can feel sad and unsad at the same time. You can be determined to live, yet not care if you live or die. You can know in your depths he’s gone, but still listen for him, still yearn for him, still worry about him.

Mostly I’m shocked that I am still the same person I was before he died. Such emotional trauma should have changed me, made me stronger and wiser perhaps, yet I’m still just me. Sadder, but still recognizably me. Well, there is one change. I’ve always been a worrier, but now I try not to fret about the future, try not to wonder how I’m going to cope with growing old alone. After his death, I am no longer shocked that life can remain the same year after year. Nor am I shocked that it can change in an instant.

Learn more about Pat at her blog. She is the author of four suspense-thrillers from Second Wind Publishing plus a nonfiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning. She also moderates the FB group Suspense-Thriller Writers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tip O'Day #322 - Try a Kindle

Guest blogger Rod Lindsey on leaving the Luddites behind.

I'm a caveman stuck in modern times and I admit that my embrace of technology roughly equates to pacing the dirt floor in my cave, my trusty club on my shoulder, knowing there are better clubs available out there but unwilling to let go of the balance and feel that I'm used to.

Take my library, for example, a few hundred books that have meant the world to me. I can't remember how many times I've packed them up and moved them, how many shelves I've built for them, the collection always growing. I like to read and re-read them. I like to just sit and look at them, remembering and imagining all the thoughts and ideas they contain. Then I think of ancient libraries, of parchment rolls and hieroglyphs carved in stone and my library begins to seem a bit...heavy.

This brings me to my new Kindle - I've resisted getting on board the e-book rage until a couple of weeks ago simply because a book has always been a book to me, but I've got to admit that I really enjoy reading (fiction, at least) on the Kindle. Maybe a book is really the characters, ideas, and secrets contained inside.

Check out Rod at his blog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tip O'Day #321 - A Young Author’s Advice

Guest blogger Zack Wall on his writing journey.

As a new author just barely out of my teen years, I found writing my first novel to be anything but traditional. Inceptum began as an assignment in college, but quickly developed into a passion I wasn’t aware I even had. I’ve learned much along the way. My biggest lesson was to never self-publish, except as a last effort to see your book in print. If you feel your story is worthy of being read by the public, then seek out a literary agent, or a small publishing company to get you on your feet.

There are thousands of agents across the country, and chances are high that at least one or two will show an interest in your book, provided it has been professionally written and edited. One way to achieve this for free is to contact professors at a nearby university, and ask if they’d be willing to review your book for grammatical errors. Many in the education field would be glad to offer their services for free or inexpensively.

Another mistake first-time authors make is with scheduling their writing sessions. If you feel you’re an “inspired writer,” that’s great, but you still need to balance time spent in front of the computer, or you will burn out from overexposure. After I completed my book, I was so sick of reading it that I didn’t even touch it for several months. Make time for yourself during periods when you won’t get distracted by anything, and sit down for at least an hour to create your story.

If you’re having trouble finding the inspiration to write, consider sitting back and ask yourself why you’re writing this particular book. What inspired you in the first place? Is the story going anywhere, or is it dead in the water? Don’t be afraid to delete a chapter here and there if they aren’t contributing to the overall flow of the book. My story was science fiction, so to find inspiration I would watch my favorite science fiction movies.

The best advice I have ever heard is to write a story you will want to read over and over. It shouldn’t matter if you never sell a single copy of your book. If you are happy with the finished product, then any sales are an added bonus.

I plan on writing many more novels in the future, as well as working on a sequel to Inceptum.

You can find Zach’s book at his website, download the Kindle version on Amazon, or follow him on the novel's official Facebook page.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tip O'Day #320 - Fictional Reality

Guest blogger Kenneth Weene answers “How I know Cal.”

Knowing that I’m not much of a drinker, my friend John wondered how I had met Cal, the protagonist of my latest book, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne. “Was he a client?” he asked; after all I had been a shrink for years.

We had met for coffee, and John was full of praise for my writing. I sipped my latte and resisted the temptation to laugh.

“Does he live here in Phoenix?”

This required a bite of almond biscotti, which was a mistake; I started to cough. I rolled my eyes, cleared my throat, and gave John the best answer I could. “He lives everywhere.”

That was obviously unsatisfying. John’s pretty literal; he hadn’t understood that Dew Drop is a work of fiction. Not too long before, I had seen a Facebook comment about a true novel. That had led my mind to another oxymoron, fictional reality. I thought about what I might say to John.

A writer makes up his world; I call it a fictional reality. The places, the people, the events: none of them are real, but they are all true. None of them exist in a single place, but they all are universal – at least that’s what the writer hopes.

As John would scratch his head and look confused, I might have added:

We authors are a strange breed. We are like gods. We make it up and bring it to life. You want to meet Cal, read the book. You want to try a Killer’s Delight, ask Sal to make “yous” one. You want to laugh and cry with people too real to walk the streets, visit The Dew Drop Inne.

That’s what I thought of saying; of course I didn’t say it. After all, we magicians never reveal our tricks. So I just said, “Well, he did live here, but he moved on. You know those barflies; they never settle down.”

John nodded his head sagely. “Yeah, poor guys.”

I turned the conversation to the baseball season.

“I never knew there was a minor league team in Davenport,” John said. “I like learning stuff like that.”

Well, my friend had learned something. Better yet, he had enjoyed the book. The latte was hot, the biscotti crunchy, and life was good.

Try this book trailer to learn a bit more about Tales From the Dew Drop Inne.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tip O'Day #319 - Creativity

Guest blogger Ben Drake on creativity.

Solitude helps me deal with writers block. I like to go to my summer home on the lake. If it is winter I like to go to my ski cabin in Aspen and be alone to await inspiration.

I’m pretty sure that the BS has never came flying out of my mouth at a faster rate. No, for me it’s about finding a way to escape. Unfortunately, life sometimes prevents our escaping to the home in Aspen or the lake house. Also the fact that I own neither of these things plays a pretty big part. No, I seek inspiration in everything. The only problem is, sometimes I forget how to do it.

I must have my escape. The poor man in me likes music to be that escape. It’s funny how many times I get caught up in life and forget to use my escape, or how I actually go about doing it. Sometimes at work I have to be “retrained” on how to do the same old job. I have to retrain myself to be creative. I may listen to classic metal, or country songs, sometimes classical music on its own. With each kind of music, I listen for the beat and the harmony. How anyone can listen to Beethoven and not get inspired, I have no idea. Eventually it will come. It always does.

The single most important thing that I do is to turn off that damn TV.

Friday, March 23, 2012

One Sentence Writing Tips: #5 of 5

This has been a fun week, sharing “one sentence writing tips” from a wide range of FB friends – from literary agent Michael Snell, to newbies, to Amazon bestseller Kathy Dunnehoff, everybody had interesting, sometimes hilarious suggestions. Here’s the final five:

Michael Snell - “Good writers need editors more than bad writers; the best writers need the best editors.”

Linda Swink - “Never trust speel check.”

Peggy Zabicki - “Before you even pick up a pen, sit down and day dream.”

Kathy Rowe - ‎"If you don't know anything about it: RESEARCH!"

Dixon Rice – “If you could use improvement at writing dialogue, challenge yourself by drafting a screenplay.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Sentence Writing Tips: #4 of 5

This week, we’re sharing “one sentence writing tips” and this is the fourth installment of suggestions from my FB writer friends.

Terry Parrish - “If you don't know how to spell, please use a dictionary.”

Jimmy Pudge - “Prison is the best place to learn about writing.”

Gil Roscoe - “Think of rejection letters from literary agents as your way of weeding out the less intelligent among them.”

Tom Winton - “You never finish writing a novel, you eventually abandon it.” (To which Cynthia Echterling said, “No, they grow up and leave home.”)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One Sentence Writing Tips: #3 of 5

This week, we’re looking at what happened when I asked: Do you have a “one sentence writing tip” to share? Here’s the third installment of replies sent by my FB writer friends.

Judith Anne Horner - “Don't do any major editing until you've finished the first draft.”

TD Jones - “When you believe you're a writer, other people will start to believe it too.”

Angie Ledbetter - “BICFOK = Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.”

Jo Marshall - “Read it out loud.”

Dixon Rice – “If you can’t find the right authors critique group, start your own.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One Sentence Writing Tips: #2 of 5

This week, we are looking at "one sentence writing tips" sent in by my FB friends.

Conda Douglas - “Set your work aside for a while before you edit, and you'll see a lot more with fresher eyes.”

Nick du Plessis - “Editors are like manners; select few can succeed without them, but most people need them.”

Cynthia Echterling - “To get a feel for dialogue, eavesdrop in places where real people carry on conversations -- truck stops, airports, bars.”

Terry W. Ervin II - “You have absolutely zero chance for success if you don't ever complete a project.”

By the way, there is still room for a couple more "one sentence writing tips" later in the week. E-mail your tip to me at montananovels@yahoo.com - thanks!

Monday, March 19, 2012

One Sentence Writing Tips: #1 of 5

I asked FB friends for “one sentence writing tips” and got some great replies. When I did this a few months ago, I only allowed one tip per person, but I made an exception this time. See what you think.

Kathy Dunne Dunnehoff - “Be a finisher!”

Claire Atherton - ‎"There is no hard and fast rule about the best way to write, just go with your heart."

Sheree Bartlett - ‎"The best way to not succeed is to keep making excuses."

Jonnie Comet - (from a beloved professor in 18th Century British Lit) “All literature must have at its core this two-part rationale: to educate and to entertain.”

Kathy Dunne Dunnehoff - “Say ‘yes’ to caffeine.”

Dixon says: In case you missed it, I enjoyed taking part in the Shamrocks-N-Sirens readers event for lovers of thrillers and crime novels. I learned a lot, and got to know a great group of up-and-coming authors. It was also fun to introduce my novel, The Assassins Club, to new readers. The event is finished, but the author interviews and book links are still on Michael Lorde's blog, which hosted the event.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tip O'Day #318 - Therapeutic or Just Too Painful?

Guest blogger Rebecca Scarberry on whether to revisit a painful past.

A few months ago, I was encouraged to write a novel fictionalizing a very painful time in my life. In preparation for the story, I wrote three different synopses. With each summary, I changed the story in an attempt to make it less painful to write. With each one, I wanted to show my vulnerability, get a message across to others who have been through such an experience, show my strength in overcoming the incidents, and hopefully show what I learned from my experiences.

I chose the synopsis that began with my recovery, the end of it all. I made an outline, with the middle having a spectacular climax, and began to type. Six hundred words later, I decided it was just too painful. Some things in our past should remain there and not be dwelt upon, not be given strength through our thinking or writing about them. I realize it is therapeutic for some people to write about painful experiences, but I don’t think it would be for me.

It took fifteen years before I could tell anybody the story. Still today only two people know the entire story, how I feel about it, and why I chose not to seek prosecution of those involved. You’re probably thinking I was raped, but I wasn’t. I have gotten over my ordeal and others have written about this subject matter. I can only hope victims who read those stories will find them beneficial in their healing.

My story will remain untold. This way is better for some of my family members, who were not at fault but might be hurt by the publication of my novel.

Dixon says: Becky has appeared on this blog previously - just a reminder that 'repeat business is appreciated.'

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tip O'Day #317 - Writing is Personal

Guest blogger Malika Gandhi on Life Writing.

You may have heard that writing is a personal thing. It truly is. People write for different reasons - for recognition perhaps, out of passion, or it could just be their job. It begins with a thought, maybe written within the pages of a diary, and a “why not?” The creative energy flows when you write something you feel strongly about. Emotions come into play - anger, sadness, happiness. The pen and paper become your friends.

Writing is about seeing. It’s about noticing what happens around you. Just walking down the street and watching what goes on around you will bring ideas. We live in a fascinating world and there is never enough to write about, but the hard part is what to write? What makes people want to stop browsing and start reading? Research is the answer, and then to go by that trend.

But this is not always necessary. If you simply want to express yourself, then there is no stopping you. Just blog. In your own site, you can put down anything that fascinates you. You can talk about photography, your life, your hobbies...the list is endless.

I began to write when I was in junior school and I was told to write book reviews in a log book. I was an avid reader and still am. I loved reviewing books by my favourite authors, C.S.Lewis and Roald Dahl. Sometimes I got carried away and filled two or more pages than was necessary! As I grew older, I moved on to writing diaries. Years later, I began to write my novel and as all authors, established or not, I had to overcome many hurdles. I attended writing courses, read many articles, and subscribed to writing magazines to get where I am now.

I still have a lot more to learn but being self-published, opened me up to the world of blogging. The site is based on my novel Freedom of the Monsoon. Also, I have the chance to showcase other works. I can talk about my personal life, my art, and my culture. Each time I post something, I feel I have achieved and so will you. It is a personal satisfaction.
Learn more about Malika at her blog.
Dixon says: Malika, I like your book title - very lyrical. One thing I disagree with is following trends. At the moment, gay, conflicted werewolves may be all the rage, but in the 2-3 years it takes to write, edit and publish your book, the public will have suffered through a deluge of stories about gay, conflicted werewolves and will not embrace another one. I believe the 'trick' is to figure out what universal themes make people flock to Harry Potter, James Bond, Hunger Games, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and so on. Then find ways to express those themes through your own original characters, plot and settings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tip O'Day #316 - Readin' & 'Ritin'

Guest blogger Blake Stevens on reading to become a better writer.

I am a prolific reader and I read to learn. I love reading great books on leadership, business history, wine, cooking, philosophy, theology, church history and a number of other topics. I also enjoy reading non-fiction detective and spy novels, and other forms of 'brain candy.' Until recently, the main purpose of my reading was to consume as much content as I could.

Occasionally, the style of writing would get in the way and inhibit my ability and even my desire to finish a book. Poor structuring of the content, poor grammatical phrasing, and overuse of complex, compounded sentences made reading tiring. Sometimes, poor writing could even be disruptive to my reading and 'stop me in my tracks.' When this occurred, I noticed it because it was forced upon me. At the time, I was not reading with the view to determine the degree of readability.

I have read the entire Bible in both the King James format and the NIV format. I find the King James version easy enough to read, but noticed when switching in between versions that I would read the NIV version about 25% faster than the King James version, and I was more tired after reading the King James version. The readability is just not as good as with the NIV version. Both are well written but the King James version has a tougher style and the reading process less fluid.

Since starting to write my first book, I have read five books and have been noticing and reviewing the different writing styles of each book. I am taking the time to figure out what makes one book easier to read than another one. I am also reviewing the style and ease of reading earlier and later works from the same author. In most cases, all authors have improved the readability of their books over time.

I have found several things that stand out to make one book easier to read and enjoy than another, including:

• Simpler, less compounded sentence structure
• Clarity of pronouns and removing ambiguous pronouns
• Less formal, more personal 'talking' style
• Consistent and progressive use of tense
• Some use of humor

I am sure there are a lot of other factors at play that make a book more readable, but these are things I have noticed which I have been trying to improve upon in my book. At first, I thought reviewing the writing style of a book would take away from the pure enjoyment of reading it, but have found quite the opposite. I am enjoying this new dimension to reading and it is also now helping my writing.

Dixon says: By the way, I've working with 11 other crime and thriller writers on a readers event called SHAMROCKS-N-SIRENS, and it runs through March 17th. Today, March 13th, I happen to be the featured author. You can find a YouTube clip about the event here. Interviews about me and my thriller THE ASSASSINS CLUB can be found on various blogs, including those of Stella Deleuze and Pat Bertram.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tip O'Day #315 - Free Book Promos

Guest blogger Diane Rapp on “What to Expect During a FREE Book Promotion.”

I became an Indie author in August of 2011 and started uploading my four novels to the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. In “real life” I sold real estate, wrote ad copy, and owned a small retail business. I never marketed myself, so Twitter and Facebook seemed like a foreign countries with languages of their own.

My daughter designed a website, and I started promoting my work. Six months later I read about authors’ success with Amazon’s Kindle Select, so I dropped Barnes & Noble (very few sales anyway) and signed up on the program.

Should I schedule free book days? With two different series, I could offer the first book in each to promote the series, but shouldn’t I wait until I had more titles to offer? Evidently free days do a lot for a single book. When a book moves up the free list “also boughts” kick in (the message that says “customers who bought this book also bought—insert your title”). I decided to offer two books for free in February. A friend directed me to a fantastic article by Karen Barney “Maximizing Free Days on Kindle Select." I had a game plan. In addition I joined tweet groups to spread the word to more readers. I suggest joining the tweet team at Women’s Literary Café and shorten links to your book at www.bitly.com.

Let’s get to the numbers. With Howl of the Wolf I gave away 4390 e-books in two days. After two weeks I’ve sold 177 books plus 13 borrows. During the same period, my friend Tina Boscha gave away River in the Sea. She reports 13,650 free downloads and sold 306 books plus 70 borrows. Therefore the more free books downloaded equals more sales. Both of us increased our sales from previous months.

The following week I offered Murder Caribbean-Style free and gave away 5225 e-books. The title reached #6 on the Free Mystery list. After two free promotions, all four of my books are selling, including the #2 in each series.

What should authors expect AFTER a free promotion?

(1) There will be dead time without sales that can be unnerving. Don’t look! Mark down the number of free books downloaded (so you can do the math later), and ignore your statistics for at least 24 hours. Don’t peek!
(2) After that sales should begin, along with some returns. Don’t let returns phase you. After free days people click without checking and return the book when they get charged.
(3) In the next week “also boughts” kick in and people browse your title. About that time, your sales rank gets higher, peaking 4 or 5 days later.
(4) Two weeks after free days, you may have several hundred sales. Regardless of how many you gain immediately, you received valuable exposure as an author!

Trying to navigate the strange world of Indie publishing and self-promotion can be daunting. If anyone has more questions, contact me through QuickSilver Novels website or on Twitter @DianeRapp.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tip O'Day #314 - She's Got Niggles

Guest blogger Dawn Torrens on indie pricing.

Life is full of niggles. In the publishing world, I have one specific niggle. As an indie author I feel self-published authors are pricing their hard work and lovingly written books far too low. I personally feel that 99c or 99p should be reserved for short term promotions. This ludicrous low pricing of indie books is under-valuing our work. If someone wants to buy your book after reading the synopsis, they will whether it’s priced at 99p or £2.99 - which is still a great price.

I have had this discussion with many people. They all agreed on one thing; if they want a book, they will buy it. They won’t necessarily buy a book just because it’s free or priced very low. I have read many great e-books over the last 12 months that I would have gladly paid more for.

As a writer and avid reader of many genres, I will buy a book based on the concept not the price.

Learn more about Dawn at her website or her FB author page.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tip O'Day #313 - Realistic Military Thrillers

Guest blogger Harvey Black on visiting actual settings.
Many action-adventure books have been written about World War II, but not so many by writers from one of the Allied countries from the point-of-view of German soldiers. Harvey Black has written three novels about Fallschirmjäger – a German word for ‘parachute hunter,’ the name given to their paratroopers. His first thriller, Devils with Wings - The Green Devils Assault on Fort Eben Emael, was released in the summer of 2011, and Devils with Wings: Silk Drop came out in early 2012.

I have wanted to write a novel since I was a teenager. Enthralled by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen series and Edgar Rice Burroughs, I felt sure my first would be of the fantasy or science fiction genre.

Joining the army changed all of that and my new passion became military history. Devils with Wings - The Green Devils Assault on Fort Eben Emael, was based on the adventures of two young Fallschirmjäger paratroopers during the early part of World War II, climaxing with the assault on a supposedly impregnable Belgian fortress.

For both books, I visited the locations in person. For Devils with Wings: Silk Drop, I walked the routes in Crete where my characters would have marched, up to 18 miles. Most of the descriptions in the novels were written in situ, looking at the terrain as the actual combatants would have viewed it. For my third novel, I shall also visit Leningrad and the River Neva in the near future, to ensure that realism is maintained.

To learn more about this author, visit his Amazon.com author’s page.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tip O'Day #312 - A Book Journey

Guest blogger Jack Scott on “From blog to book, start to finish.”

Within the last fifteen months, I’ve been mad enough to create a blog, design my own personal website and write a book. For most of my meandering expedition, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. A combination of trial and error, intuition, gentle encouragement from an inspirational publisher and not so gentle cajoling from my partner, have turned an unplanned and uncoordinated series of chess moves into the production of a well-received book that I am proud to have created. My probation has been illuminating - about writing, plot content and construction, network building, promotion and engagement. The list is endless. If you’re thinking of writing a book about your life as I have done, you may find some of these tips useful:

1. Just write - Okay, there are some amazingly talented writers out there. Every word, every sentence and every nuance is described with perfection and beauty. There’s no way you can compete, right? Wrong. All writers have their own style, and most people have ability. It’s a matter of flexing your writing muscles first before finding that creative Nirvana. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s imperfect. You have to begin somewhere. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

2. Be yourself, be unique - Each of us has our own back story. In theory, this means that we all have the potential to write something unique - and interesting enough to engage readers. Putting that theory into practice is the hard part. Think carefully about what will make your writing stand out from the crowd. How is your message different? What’s distinctive about your angle? Who will your writing appeal to? Writing beautifully about a glorious sunset may well get some admiring comments but won’t necessarily help you rise above the ordinary. Are you prepared to reveal the real you?

3. Think about ‘form’ - This is one of the biggest lessons I learned when turning my blog into a book. A story, even a real-life story, must have order, pace, plot, a compelling blend of highs and lows and a sense of purpose. I created a story-board for my book (much like creating a film script). It changed everything. I instantly saw the gaps and inconsistencies in the storyline, the flabby narrative and superfluous characters. A straight chronological account of your life may not be absorbing enough. Introduce some dramatic tension. Write as if it’s fiction. Get that reader to turn the page.

4. Think visually - Set the scene and describe your characters and situations colourfully. Help your readers visualise your story in their mind’s eye. Use dialogue to break up the narrative and keep the speech realistic. Don’t over-egg the pudding with dense, old-fashioned diction. You’re not writing Pride and Prejudice.

5. Edit, edit, edit and when you’re done, edit again - Be bold and decisive. If something adds little to the plot or message, cut it. Unless you are absolutely confident about your writing skills, re-examine long, flowery sentences and make sure the reader doesn’t get lost in the prose. I made an early decision to keep my book extremely tight and fast-moving. That involved some painful and dramatic pruning.

6. Share your writing - Sharing something you’ve just written is a brave thing to do. If you’re a new writer, as I was, it’s the only way of getting a real feel for how you are doing and how your written style will be perceived by others. You can start gently by asking those close to you for an opinion, though a critique from somebody completely independent is, in my view, more useful. Ask for feedback. Then take a deep breath. Take the comments on board. Some of them will be rubbish but some of them won’t. Try not to take things personally and never spit back.

7. Start a Blog - Blogging is a great auditioning process for writing, and the best way to experiment and grow your fan-base. There are many blogging platforms out there (Wordpress, Google, Wordpad, etc) and most are easy to set up and use - providing a range of professionally designed templates to select from. For a small consideration, these applications will also set up your own domain name linked to your blog. I use Wordpress.com linked to my own domain.

In the crowded blogosphere, content is king and the best content is fresh, new and frequently updated. My blog became popular because I wrote little and often around a small number of specific themes that quickly found an audience. Break up your words with interesting and relevant images. Keep your blog clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multi-coloured fonts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and discourage the reader from continuing.

8. Think about Search Engine Optimisation - Don’t be spooked by this. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is just how a page is ranked on search engines and by this I mostly mean Google. If your blog doesn’t appear in the first few pages of Google then you might as well not be on the internet at all. There are many companies that claim they will increase your ranking for a fee. Don’t waste your money. Follow these few steps and you’ll soon by up there with the pros:

• Publish a post at least once a week
• Engage with your blogging peers with comments and guest posts
• Add share buttons to your posts so your readers can spread the word
• Create reciprocal links by listing other similar blogs on your blog
• Join blog directories. Most are free and some specialise (women bloggers, ex-pat bloggers, for example).

9. Get Yourself Interviewed - Online interviews are a great way to increase your profile. For instance, many ex-pat sites are always looking for interesting people to interview. It provides them with content and you with exposure.

10. Exploit Social Networks and Forums to Grow Exposure - Join social networks and make friends. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and influential. Create a Facebook page for your blog (and for your book when your masterpiece is done and dusted). Autopost your blog posts to both Facebook and Twitter so you don’t have to add them manually. Again, this really helps with SEO.

If forums exist for your area of interest, join them and participate meaningfully. Engage gently and be careful not to over-promote. People will catch you out.

11. Create a Personal website - Your work of genius is written but unless you want to be stuck with a box full of books propping open a door or languishing unloved and unread in the attic, you need to make sure people know about it. Use your blog to get the message out. Plaster the good news everywhere, particularly your social networks. Create a personal website. This isn’t the expensive faff it used to be. There are a number of free or inexpensive website platforms available that require very little expert knowledge. I use Weebly for my site. It’s a free service that’s easy to use with all the widgets you could want.

And finally - Exhausted? You will be. This book lark takes hard graft. I know. I’ve never worked so hard.

About Jack Scott’s recently published and well-received memoir, Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bittersweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay ex-pat couple in a Muslim country. For more information, please click here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Story Excerpt - Jack the Ripper vs Louis the Vampire

Guest blogger Carole Gill on Jack the Ripper and Writing. (WARNING - contains vivid description of a murder.)

Jack the Ripper’s identity has been discussed ever since those horrific crimes were committed. Below is an excerpt from a short story I wrote, "A Tale of Whitechapel," which concerns a meeting between Jack the Ripper and Louis Darton, a most erudite vampire. It appears in a novel length collection of short stories entitled Haunted Tales of Terror.

In this story, I name one of the official suspects as being Jack. Truthfully, I hesitated naming him, but I think writing takes courage. We are faced constantly with so many daily challenges, such as the challenge of commitment and of sticking to our projects.

In fact, it’s anyone’s guess who he really was. Those killings may have been committed by an unknown lunatic who lived in the area and didn’t stand out. I think he seemed to be invisible because he knew every single alley and hiding place in those grimy warrens and impoverished hell-holes. Having said that, we like to have a little fun sometimes; I know I do. Here is the excerpt:

Some would have said she was pretty. I, myself, didn’t share that opinion. I could see the bog in her, the stinking midden, which flowed too near to her birth place. I could see and smell that as well. Yet when I first saw her move with the unmistakable sauntering gait of the street walker, I was fascinated, the way a lion might be staring at his prey.
I smiled and said something. She took my interest as flattering, my conversation as exciting. I saw a smile and flash of her teeth, still intact because she was young.
“Alone, darling?”
Darling! What effrontery. Had she known who I was, she’d have died! How ironic, don’t you think?
“Ooh you are a gent, ain’t ya? Look, dear! I don’t live far. Just this way. Miller’s court, see?”
It was late—few people were about even on these disease ridden streets. So we walked along, just she and I, both full of happy expectation. Her lodgings were grim and disgusting. A broken window with a piece of fabric shoved inside it to keep the cold out.
“Step in whilst I light the fire.”
The room was so tiny the door could not open properly. Her bed seemed to fill up the place, a busy bed no doubt.
“I‘ll just put this on...”
I turned in order not to see her tawdry preparations.
“Alright then.”
She was wearing a gaudy, nearly threadbare chemise, long past its best, a gift perhaps made cheap from overuse. I think she thought I was shy. “That’s right, ducks you just relax. I’ll stretch out on me bed and wait, that’ll give you time.”
I smiled too as I reached for my friend: Mr. Sharp and Ready—a pleasant sort of chap if you don’t rile him. The women rile him—some women that is.
Some kind of instinct must have alerted her for she suddenly opened her eyes. That’s when I slit her throat. Two swipes—the second so powerful, I nearly took her head off. Blood erupted like a beautiful fountain. Then it stopped.
Her eyes were open and staring and that’s when I began to paint my canvas.
I wanted to leave my mark. It was work. People said I wasn’t good at anything, but I was, for I was a master craftsman, an artisan! People don’t realize how much talent it takes to do what I do. Nor do they know how much time it takes; however as it was getting late and I could not afford to dawdle, I pulled off my blood-stained clothes (I had clothes underneath).
I planned to walk up Commercial Road toward Anthony Street, eventually reaching London Hospital where I knew I could easily catch a cab to Jermyn Street.
Ah, the luxury of a Turkish bath to wash away the tiredness and anything else that might need washing away.
Finally I leave, closing the door gently behind me, but that’s when I saw a man standing not 100 yards away. There was something familiar about him.
Suddenly I knew where I’ve seen him. Club Crimson!
I will have to be clever; I cannot afford to leave a witness. “Good morning to you, Monsieur Darton!”
Learn more about Carole at her website or check out her book on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tip O'Day #311 - A Language Barrier?

Guest blogger Blake Stevens on using a non-English speaking reviewer and editor.

The English language is something that most of us have intuitively learned as an early child. While some of us have studied the language more formally at school, most of us are ignorant of basic grammar, proper use of tenses, yet alone how to structure a paper. Therefore, we lack a lot of what it takes to be a professional writer.

I have had to learn 'proper' English the hard way as an adult through my business writing and consulting, and it has improved significantly over the years, but being a proficient, technically correct writer still does not come easy for me. Since English is my first (and mostly only!) language, I also write in a style that is more parochial, and I lack a trained understanding of how the language is properly constructed. I also find in basic proofreading that because I was the author of the text, that when reviewing it, I am glancing over it too quickly and miss a number of simple typos, in addition to more complex issues such as consistent use of tenses, pronouns, etc.

One of my friends lives overseas and English is his third language. He has had to learn English as a language through formal training and in many ways understands the grammatical structure better than I do. While I am far more experienced in the use of the language, he is far more formally trained. This allows him to pick up on things that slide under my eyes without notice. While his lack of experience in English does limit him from completely editing the book on his own to make it 'close to perfect,' he is uniquely positioned to pick up and correct a number of items that my other reviewers - who have English as their primary and first language - have missed. I have found this invaluable and would recommend that everyone have a non-English speaking native on their review team!

Blake Stevens is author of Still Stupid at Sixty and you can learn more about him at his blog.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tip O'Day #310 - More on Setting

Guest blogger Jonnie Comet returns with some thoughts on yesterday’s ‘setting’ post.
Hemingway once said, about writing in a given setting, ‘Don't forget the weather.’ Details about setting can be vital to a story's appeal but there are pitfalls to having too much detail as well.

I tend to write with a firm idea of the locale of the story. First, I like to choose places I would like to live in, possibly because I do not find many good works of fiction set in such places. I never write about NYC, Miami or LA, for example. There is not much fiction set on sailboats or in the lesser-visited Caribbean islands, so Deirdre, the Wanderer is focused on these settings.

In other cases I will invent geography (more recently relying on Google Earth for ideas) and otherwise using the story itself as what determines what the place has to look like. Whilst not a science-fiction writer, nor a fantasy writer like Tolkien, I nonetheless have devised whole worlds for the telling of a tale. One series (bits of which are on Kindle) takes place in a fictitious British possession in the eastern Pacific -- bearing a passing similarity to the British Virgin Islands -- for which I have composed a source book of documents, maps, history, weather patterns, cultural identity, bus routes, rosters of businesses, and so on. When writing a new chapter, I already have a known 'reality.' It works just the same as if I were writing about a real-life place.

The central-Connecticut 'River Valley' setting of my Love Me Do is another case. Ostensibly it is set in the vicinity of Middletown, but Middletown does not exist in the story's reality (though other real places do). The township of Wilshire is too big to be Middletown and I can't claim that roads and streets mentioned have any real-life corollaries. Wilshire thus stands as an alternative reality of Connecticut in the 1970s, not unlike what creative re-enactors and model-railway hobbyists concoct. I confess I borrowed this device from Fitzgerald's setting of The Eggs in The Great Gatsby. The setting is finite, must exist in a specific area and yet does not depict 'true' reality. This leads to a certain surrealism which, I believe, is part and parcel of a story's theme and of the whole reading experience.

Fanciful settings do have their limitations, especially when they must dovetail with actual ones. We have all seen Pocahontas flying over the 50-foot waterfall in a Disney film, but such a waterfall does not occur anywhere along the eastern US coast. Did Disney really believe anyone who had been to Busch Gardens and Williamsburg wouldn't know that? Such stretches of credibility can detract from the audience's experience.

Setting details should support but not overwhelm the story. Too often a writer will try to keep too close to real-life setting (or, worse, biography) and may include so many details the story itself seems secondary. Even the Gothic writers of the late 1700s were more apt to invent scenery than to write from experience. In addition there is always the possibility of misrepresenting something an astute reader will notice. Agatha Christie related an anecdote, soon after publishing a Poirot mystery in which she had a man meet someone at the corner of two streets in Paris. A reader wrote that, 'Mrs. Christie, those streets do not meet. They are parallel all through the city.' Oops.

One way to avoid error is to simply be less precise. My rule is 'If you don't know, don't say.' To represent a TV studio in Manhattan, don't give the address or the directions or even the time it takes to cross the town to get there. Anyone could case 53rd Street and discover the building you describe does not exist. Just say it's 'in the Fifties'. That's close enough. It's believable, establishes location, and moves your story on to the real action.

Whilst strong, credible and well-described setting is an asset -- perhaps even a requirement -- for any story, slavish adherence to reality can actually be detrimental to the story's purpose. Keep in mind that a story should include some action, character development and a memorable, relevant theme. Setting is only one vehicle to enable those elements.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tip O'Day #309 - Where to Set a Story?

Guest blogger Graham Smith on choosing settings.

How do writers choose a location or a setting for their stories? There are lots of different answers to this question, so all I can do is relate my own experiences and choices. My own take on this is somewhat varied as I use real, fictional and amorphous locations for my stories.

First, there is the novel I’m writing which is set in my neighbouring county. I purposely chose to set my novel in Cumbria and The Lake District because I am familiar with the county and the dialect of the locals and I have an understanding of local issues and the mindset of the populace.

Another deciding factor is a purely lazy one. Cumbria is on my doorstep and if I need to research something then I know I can jump into the car and within a couple of hours I’m exactly where I want my characters to be. All I have to do then is look around and make a few notes. If I want to get a feel for local news there is always a paper I can buy at a newsagents. Or I can head into a café or bar for a leisurely lunch and do some industrial level eavesdropping to pick up local dialects and speech patterns.

Second, there is my first collection of short stories, Eleven the Hardest Way, which has nine of the eleven different stories taking place in un-named locations. There is no reason for this other than the fact that a precise location was not important to the story. Take Shooting Stars - where an assassin lies in wait at a movie premiere - it doesn’t matter whether the action is in London, Paris, LA or any other major city. What matters is the assassin, the target and the reason for the intended assassination. All other factors contribute but within the realm of the story the location can be anywhere and as such becomes less important. A caveat to this though, is that when choosing a non-specified location the author must still imbue an atmospheric element to the story.

Third, I have another collection of short stories, Harry Charters Chronicles, which I’ve set in a fictional city called Mariscoper. Hands up here, I made a conscious decision to make up a location as when I was writing the stories I was so involved with the writing that I didn’t want to stop and start researching a location. A quick Google map search gave me a few suggestions and then after a spot of renaming I had Mariscoper, a playground for my protagonist I didn’t need to research. I couldn’t possibly get it wrong as there is no such location. This allowed me complete freedom. As I wrote further pieces featuring Harry, Mariscoper evolved to have docks, a major river and neighbouring cities not to mention a college.

Where do you set your stories?

Learn more about Graham at his blog.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tip O'Day #308 - Spark into a Flame

Guest blogger Dawn Torrens on her writing passions.

To say I am passionate about writing would most definitely be an understatement. I could not imagine a life without writing. I keep all my ideas for future books in a journal, all ideas written in hand. I am never without my journal, as you never know when or what will inspire an idea. Once I have a story in my head, it has to come out right there and then, I become all consumed and spend every available minute penning that story until it’s finished. Thankfully I have an understanding family.

I have always had an incredible imagination - my mind never switches off. I may see an image or listen to a song that will set off a spark within me. Soon the spark turns into a bright flame, and a story is born. The most amazing feeling is arriving at the finish line with your book all complete. I have now written two books, each one written with passion. They are my babies.

I have been inspired by many authors over the years: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Emily Bronte among the classics, and then the great authors of our time, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Steven King, Richard North Patterson and John Grisham to name but a few. My tastes are wide and varied. I love a good thriller, and I also like to lose myself in a great love story.

Learn more about Dawn at her website or FB author page.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tip O'Day #307 - Don't be Fooled

Guest blogger Ben Drake on plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a very nasty word and if it happens to you it is absolutely devastating – a horrific violation.

My wife’s first novel was taken on by someone claiming to be an independent publisher. She jumped at the opportunity like pretty much anyone who was in her position would. It’s what every writer dreams of. The contract seemed pretty straightforward. He would publish her novel and she would get a percentage of every copy sold. He promised to edit it thoroughly and publish it within six mouths. We were both very excited.

As time went by with nothing but endless excuses, we became concerned. Then we found an online story with devastating news - her publisher was a plagiarist. There were stories by people who shared a similar experience. Some had their work stolen, others had made big orders but never received a single copy of their books.

My wife got his attention then. He sent back emails saying that it was all untrue; they were just upset when he decided not to publish their work. Blinded by the prospect of her novel being published, my wife was a little more at ease. After another long wait, she demanded answers and he became abusive. We read on a blog that, since he had admitted to plagiarism and said he was sorry, that he felt he could remain in this business. So her heart sank even more and she pulled out of the contract.

Within a few days, she received an absolutely appalling copy of her novel. The promised editing had not taken place. There were many spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as entire pages being left blank. I believe he intended to steal her book all along, but when we made a lot of noise, he just used lulu as a publisher, so she could not say that he plagiarized her work as well.

Learn more about Ben at his Dream Publishing website.
Dixon says: A sad story. I wonder if a quick check of Preditors and Editors website before signing the contract wouldn’t have saved these folks a lot of grief.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tip O'Day #306 - "Don't Change a Word!"

Guest blogger Salvatore Buttaci on learning the writer’s craft.

As a former English teacher, I often heard young people sharing their dream of becoming professional writers. Yet, just as often, these same students did not make the connect between the dream and the labor required to satisfy that dream. Many times I heard, “Spelling doesn’t count.” Or “Grammar ‘don’t’ have to be perfect.” Or “Imagination is what a writer needs more than good English.”

Why is it so obvious in sports, trades, and professions that education and practice are prerequisites for success, and yet many aspiring writers believe they can stop at the gift of a wild imagination and play down the skill of language use and the daily application of this skill in actual writing? While it may be true that there is a book in all of us, that book most of the time remains unwritten. Why? Because it’s easier to dream than to act.

As editor and publisher of an annual poetry anthology for nearly 15 years, I rejected quite a few poems to the sometimes vociferous dismay of their authors. Constructive criticism seldom worked. Suggestions to rewrite and resubmit were rarely taken. “I was inspired to write this beautiful poem,” one person wrote, “and I will not change one single word!”

Writers who dream of attaining success must add substance to that dream by studying an English handbook so what they put down on paper in a final draft is worthy of publication. They need to learn all they can about poetry or fiction or nonfiction by reading the works of successful authors as well as delving into how-to books about the writing craft.

Once aspiring writers decide to make the effort towards becoming masterful in language, their imaginations can easily be harnessed and shaped into admirable writings. Then, by writing every day, the cart now before the horse, they can take that second bit of good advice and persevere for all it’s worth!

Salvatore Buttaci was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in national publications. Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts are available here and his new book, If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems is available here.