Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

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.

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