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 23, 2013

Tip O'Day #448 - Change the POV?

Guest blogger and fellow Montana author Ann Minnett on Acceptance and Point of View:

How do you accept what you can’t change? Maybe you don't even try, preferring to fight until you’re forced to surrender. I get that. I make myself and others miserable when trying to control noncompliant people, places and things. Every time, acceptance is the key for me.

Writing helps me gain acceptance. It happened initially through journaling, but more recently in my fiction. When I write a story about the thing I can’t change, I dump all my feelings about why it’s wrong, evil or insulting. The first draft is always awful and usually in first person — we’re talking about my problem, after all. For example, I wrote this about a difficult co-worker: "His beady eyes twitched under greasy brows, avoiding me when we talked. Like a bug on a bubble, his torso kept perpendicular to me no matter how I shifted into his line of sight. It felt like he searched our break room for a woman more worthy of his time…"

Once I got over the guilty pleasure of bleeding on the page, I played with the scene. Eventually a richer story surfaced. I rewrote it in the inattentive co-worker's point of view. As a result, the story expanded from the tunnel vision of ‘first person pissed off’ into a short story with depth and character development for both people. He was not only uninterested in the female character, but unwilling to make nice with an adversary. His behavior reflected their uneasy relationship, but she pretended, nearly bullying him. My protagonist and antagonist switched characters along with POV.

Try changing the POV in a scene that gives you trouble, if not with a life situation you can’t control. You’ll have a better story, and you might experience the gift of acceptance in the process.

Ann Minnett’s first novel, Burden of Breath, is available here. Also you can follow her blog at http://annminnett.blogspot.com

Friday, October 4, 2013

Saying for Writers #166 - Finding Forrester

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

“Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” -- From the movie Finding Forrester.

One year ago, author and writing instructor (and former writer for Wolf Blitzer's show) John DeDakis was a featured presenter at the Flathead Writer Writers Conference, and took this photo at Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park. Fond memories of a terrific conference live on, but all one million acres of Glacier Park are locked up due to the government shut-down. Next conference will be September 27/28, 2014 in Kalispell, Montana.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saying for Writers #165 - Samuel Johnson

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

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make one book.” — Samuel Johnson

Monday, September 30, 2013

Saying for Writers #164

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

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” — Virginia Woolf

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tip O'Day #447 - Writing Without a Net

Guest blogger Jamie DeBree on NoNoWriMo, Past & Future

Last November I set out to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), as I often do. I gathered my things - my trusty computer, a blank character and a great first line - and I started writing.

I hear the collective gasp out there as writers everywhere shake their heads sadly. No outline? No synopsis? No ending? No plot? No way!

Actually, it's quite possible. I call it "Writing Without a Net," and it's really the only way I can write without losing interest in the story before it's done. If I have an outline, it means I already know the story, and I have no interest in (re)writing it. If I know how it ends too soon, aside from the general ending certain genres dictate, I see no reason to explore the rest of the story. That's just how my brain works. If I know too much about the story before I start, I lose interest in actually writing it. The fun is in the discovery for me, and the discovery is in the writing.

I can start with a general idea as long as I don't have too many details - for example, this particular story led to an idea for another based on a supporting character that I'll probably turn into a trilogy of stories just for fun. And for the second story, I know the main character's name and basic personality, as well as the main conflict (as set up in the first story). That's what I'll start with, and just see where it goes from there.

When I write, I let the characters just tell me the story. I don't tell them who they are or what they're doing or where they're going - they run the show. It's more interesting that way, because I'm usually just as surprised at what happens next as the reader will (hopefully) be. Once I get to know my characters personalities, I can generally predict the decisions they'll make, and thus start predicting where the story is headed. Scenes start forming earlier, and I normally have a good idea of how things will end by the time I'm two-thirds of the way done.

So what happened with my would-be NaNo novel last year? It's my latest release, Sleep With Me - a contemporary romance novella. Why a novella instead of a 50k NaNo novel? Because it didn't need to be any longer. When I start a story, I write until it's done, whether it ends up being shorter or longer than I'd originally thought it would be. I won't force a story to be longer than necessary - and likewise, I won't cut a story off short just to hit a certain word count.

Can anyone write like this? I'd say yes, but most writers won't. You really have to trust yourself to keep going, especially when you have no idea *where* you're going...and I think most writers are unable or unwilling to give up control to that extent. But I'd encourage all writers to be brave and try it, even just once. I think you might be surprised at just where this method of writing can take your stories - and your confidence as well.

Webmistress for local government by day, Jamie DeBree writes steamy romantic suspense by night, along with horror and erotica by her two alter-egos. From her world headquarters in Billings, Montana, she's published over twenty books through her own independent press, Brazen Snake Books. Connect with Jamie at http://JamieDeBree.com and check out her novel Sleep With Me at http://tinyurl.com/dxrxsud.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tip O'Day #446 - The Writing Comes First

Guest blogger Jennifer Allis Provost on being a writer.

So, you wanna be a writer.

Maybe you want to be a full time writer. Maybe it's just a hobby for you. Or maybe you just want to write your memoirs and preserve your family history for generations to come. No matter the type of writer you want to be -- full time, part time, fiction, nonfiction -- there is one thing you must do before all else.

You need to write.

Obvious, huh? But, not everyone realizes the obvious. In this day and age, everyone talks about building platforms, social media, queries and such. None of that matters if you don't have a finished product.

As for me, I've been pretty lucky. I've published a few fantasy books, been included in several anthologies, and my latest novel, Copper Girl, book one of the Copper Legacy series, was released two months ago. But there are quite a few other things I want to accomplish. Here's a list, in no particular order of importance:

Finish the rest of the Copper Legacy series
Re-release my fantasy series
Complete my historical fantasy and shop for agents

Okay, the above list encompasses twelve (!!!) books! Holy crap!

Now, it's not such a daunting task; four are complete, and five are in varying stages of completion. Still, that means I have to find the time to complete those five books, start (and finish) three more, shop for agents and publishers, and somehow promote my existing work. Add that to my day job, caring for my husband and children, and those pesky little tasks like eating and sleeping, and my little list takes on an aspect not unlike Mount Everest.

What's a writer to do?

Me, I made a schedule. I fired up Excel and laid everything out, from soup to nuts. I started with three columns -- one for each major project -- and listed completion timeframes for each. For instance, in 2013 I will have the first draft of book three of the Copper Legacy series, Copper Veins, completed by July, and the first draft for book four, Copper Princess, completed by December. With regard to my fantasy series, I have a rewrite due in December. The outline for my historical fantasy is due by June, and its first draft by December.

Okay, so that's three first drafts, one outline, and one rewrite between now and December. And you know what? I can do that. Now, are those the only things I need to complete to remain on track? Not by a long shot. Will I make all of my due dates? Hopefully, but I did schedule things a bit more tightly than necessary to account for little things like life getting in the way. For instance, I scheduled the first draft of Copper Princess for December 2013, but it won't be released until May 2016.

Still, unless I write the books (any by write I mean write, edit, revise, re-edit, re-revise, etc), I can't acquire an agent, or submit my work to publishers. Make no mistake, while all this is going on I'll still be promoting, building my platform, and generally being a nuisance across all aspects of social media. But you know what? The writing comes first.

Jennifer Allis Provost spends her days drinking vast amounts of coffee, arguing with her computer, and avoiding any and all domestic behavior. Her novel, The Chronicles of Parthalan, is available now, and Copper Girl was released in June from Spence City. You can learn more about Jennifer at her website.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tip O'Day #445 - Ignore the Rules

Guest blogger Franz McLaren on “I write wrong.”

Over the years I have been told by English teachers, grammar teachers and a smattering of writing instructors that I should outline, I should write proper sentences, I should never use contractions, and so on. I listened, I learned, I wrote as I was told, and I produced dozens of stories that bored everyone who read them. Friends and family delicately suggested I should seek another career.

That is when desperation set in. Another career? I already had a day job that writing was supposed to free me from. Was I supposed to change my dreams and find something, anything, which gave me as much pleasure as writing?

However, the truth was, writing had become a chore. I did it because I had to. For as long as I can remember, writing was what I wanted to do.

In frustration I sat and wrote without thinking about rules, word patterns or structure. I let my mind wander and fingers pluck keys as they chose. A few hours later I had the rough draft of a story that I liked. I liked it because it was a story only I knew, one that I told myself as I was writing, one that carried a small part of my soul.

When I started that tale, I had no idea what I would write. I had not tried to outline. I did not know my characters or setting. I just wrote a story I wanted to hear.

Did I dare let others read this stuff? Should I put a bit of me out there and risk ridicule? Not yet.

I wrote a few more stories, each without knowing anything about them before I started and each revealing a little more about me than I felt comfortable with. Eventually, people noticed I was spending time at the keyboard not game related. Tentatively, I presented one of my new stories to a friend.

After a few comments about how it was unusual and they would not have phrased this passage that way, this reader asked whether I had any others. No trumpets blared from heaven, no pompoms were waved by ecstatic cheerleaders but in that instant, I knew I really was a writer.

Years later I sat down to write my first novel. I intended it to be a horror. How did I know that, since I had no idea what it was going to be about? Because, every short story I wrote was horror. Obviously I have a dark soul seeking release through writing.

Only the story did not cooperate. In a few chapters, my characters found themselves in a land of fantasy. My fingers put them there, but the characters were dictating the story. It felt as if I was coming home. I was finally in lands I had never seen, having adventures I could not have conceived.

I have been a fantasy writer since. I have business cards that say so and hundreds of fan letters that tell me I am not the only person who needs visions of other worlds.

When I finished the first book of the Clarion of Destiny series, my sons asked to see the outline. I decided enough time had passed since I gave up trying to write right that maybe I should give structure another try. I managed to produce fifteen lines that roughly represented the first book and wrote, "Leena has adventures on the way to the castle," as line sixteen. Then I was stumped. I had no idea what I should add next. The outline ended there. Seven books and more than 500,000 words later, Leena made it.

Not once during the writing of the series did I fire up the keyboard with an inkling of what I would write. Each day I spent time in Leena's world, learning as she learned and feeling as she felt. Each day she told me a new portion of the story.

I am writing a new serial character now and learning more about him and his exotic worlds daily. I do not know in-depth biographies of my characters. I do not have an outline. I do not choose the rhythms of their words. I should. Hundreds of books and articles tell me these things are necessary. However, when I tried to follow their advice I failed.

I know now that I write best when I write wrong.

You can learn more about fantasy author Franz McLaren at his website or on his Amazon author page.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Saying for Writers #163 - The Road to Hell

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

I’ve seen this Stephen King quotation several times in the past week: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

There’s a similar one by Philip Roth that I also enjoy: “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

There are some forest fires in the Missoula region - near Frenchtown and Superior - but so far NW Montana around Kalispell has been lucky and escaped unscathed. However, the woods all around us are tinder dry, and if we go a few more weeks without some serious rainfall, all bets are off.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tip O'Day #444 - Really? Did I Ask For That?

Guest blogger Gary Ponzo on “Do You Really Need an Editor?”

Recently I've had some opportunities to work with editors for my published novels. Now, I've always worked with a critique group who would line-edit each chapter as I was writing, so I've been conscious of the importance of a keen eye to scrutinize my work. After I finished each book I would have an editor go through the manuscript for grammatical errors and that was helpful as well. But as time went on my books began to expand to Germany and audio rights and print options, I felt compelled to have my work fully edited by a professional editor. Why not?

Well, here's what happened with me. And let me state right now, these opinions are completely my own and have no bearing on the competence or abilities of editors. I truly believe they serve a real purpose, especially in a day when Indies are trying to compete with traditionally published books. There's a real need to look and sound and smell professional.

First of all, I had one editor go through my work and I noticed a trend. The editor kept adding semicolons. Everywhere. No kidding, maybe one every other page. My eyes began to gloss up from the interruption of rhythm. My sentences no longer flowed into each other. They now had a “;” to remind us we were actually reading words instead of a story. Okay, that's a personal choice, I get it. Maybe even technically correct. But that wasn't how I intended the prose to sound to the reader's ear.

Then I had another editor actually change the language one of my characters spoke in dialogue. This character was in the mafia and the editor was correcting his grammar. Changing his words to the point where he sounded like an English professor instead of a hitman. I began having questions thrown at me from the editor like, "I don't understand his motive here? Why can't you explain this better?" Well, the truth is, it would've ruined the plot. So then I started second-guessing my plot. Should I change it so the reader has full understanding? But I've left plenty of foreshadowing? It was paralyzing. I wrote three page over the next month because I was afraid to write freely.

So, do you need an editor? Almost certainly, but I would set some parameters. Tell the editor what you're looking for and exactly what you're not looking for. I think I've found someone who fits that description and I will use that person on the remainder of my novels.

When you work with an editor, just know what to expect when that page full of red ink paralyzes you. Trust yourself to know when the advice is sound and when it's opinion. Sometimes, that's not easy to distinguish.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tip O'Day #443 - Secret Formula for Success

Guest blogger Kim Shaw on ‘writing well enough to be published.’

Now there’s an idea to chill the blood of any aspiring author. Writing well enough. It’s the monster under the bed. It prowls the murky fringes of our psyche, just waiting to shred our self-belief - for what exactly is ‘well enough,’ and how do we achieve that? Do I? Can I? Will I ever? And that’s before we even get to the P-word, that magical talisman to rescue us from the pits of aspiration and transform us into a Real Author. Did you guess yet that the fantasy genre is my comfort zone?

So is there some alchemic formula that will turn our base scribblings into the golden nuggets that publishers dream of? I sincerely doubt it. The multitudes of published how-to and rule books might be a place to start, or the myriad online writers’ sites or critique groups, where opinions are as varied as the membership. It will get you thinking critically about your own writing.

Actually, no - don’t start here. It’s bound to be confusing, and certain to awake the monster. Come back later, preferably armed with a torch and a broadsword. My torch is called Story and my sword, Passion. I know - it doesn’t quite have the ring of Excalibur, but together they might have something going on. Story + Passion = Real Published Author? Maybe...

Here is the formula I’m brewing up. It’s a regular sorcerers’ potion of analogies, but alchemy is all about trial and error, right?

Read. Simple. Read for pleasure, as much as you can, as often as you can. Read outside your comfort zone. Learn by osmosis. It’s much more fun that way. Then, when you do apply fingers to keyboard, all the basic tools you need will already be at your command. Having made the decision to write, you might then go back later (much later - once you have your own story and new-born voice) and try to figure out what exactly it was that you loved about a certain author’s style. It adds to the tool-kit. If I could pick just one ingredient for writing ‘well enough’, reading would be it.

Write your story. Story trumps all, in my book. Give yourself permission to fall in love with it, with your characters, their world. If you don’t love them, who else will? This is the arcane magical ingredient in the formula. Be passionate - there’s plenty of time to get cold and ruthless later. We all have some poetry in us when we are in love.

Write everything, now. I’ll borrow Steven King’s analogy here, since it appeals to the archaeologist in me. Excavate the entire thing from the depths, every last bone and tooth. Marvel over this wondrous thing you discovered, without trying to define what type of dinosaur you have until you can lay the whole thing out on the slab. Then switch on those unflattering lab-lights and proceed to the science - but don’t forget to hurry back to Read.

Learn the Rules at some point - it doesn’t have to be before you start writing, but know them well before you submit that manuscript, or make a conscious choice to break them. Invite the Rules in for coffee, slouch around in comfy chairs and debate the merits and applications, take some notes. Take note of the notes, and edit hard. But don’t let them Rules overstay their welcome. You have better things to do - writing and reading for passion and pleasure.

A final thought... The world of publishing is changing so fast that the keepers of that P-talisman are having serious trouble with their own formulas. It would not surprise me in the least if something were to explode - messily, and quite soon. I try to keep that in mind as I chase the big P. For now, I’m going with S + P = RPA.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Saying for Writers #162 - Hunter S Thompson

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

“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.” — Hunter S. Thompson

Don't let the snow and ice fool you. My friend Sue Haugan took this photo in NW Montana on June 25th.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tip O'Day #442 - Slang in Literature

Guest blogger Uvi Poznansky on Pyramus and Thisby.

You may recall the play-in-a-play, performed by the rude mechanics at the end of Midsummer Night's Dream, aptly described in their own words as 'The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.' These would-be actors, whose ability to express themselves is unabashedly mocked by their audience, are used by Shakespeare mainly for comic relief. The play they perform is merely a farce of the Romeo and Juliet love story. Why, you may ask? Because like most artists and playwrights of that era, the Bard knew only too well that he ought to entertain and compliment his patrons, the most important of which were members of the royal court. This is the reason that characters who speak in slang were nearly never placed center-stage, as the hero of the story. Such characters were portrayed as simpletons, and by no means were they given any depth of feeling.

It was only later in the history of literature that characters of the lower class were taken seriously, and their point of view began to resonate, despite much controversy, with readers and theatre goers. For example, between 1961-1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. Yet now it is recognized as an American classic, giving voice to teenage confusion, angst, alienation and rebellion. Even today, there are two clashing views about the use of slang-talking characters, one from those who see themselves as upscale, educated nobility -- and the other, the more democratic one, from the rest of us.

Recently I was reminded of this clash, when I posted an excerpt from Apart From Love in Anita's voice. You would be hard-pressed to find a three-syllable word in anything she says. The lack of long words is compensated by descriptive sequence of short words (see the replacement for ‘magnifying glass’ below.) You can spot a liberal use of the dreaded double-negative, and of the word like. In the excerpt she describes the memory of her first kiss with Lenny. Some readers told me, tongue-in-cheek, that they would need a cold shower by the time she completes her story. But one reader found the style of the excerpt inconsistent. He complained that at times Anita is lyrical, and at other times her thoughts are expressed in slang.

As a side note, let me share a little secret: even though that reader rejected the excerpt on intellectual grounds (which he is entitled to do), he did get it on an intuitive level. How do I know this? Because the very same day I got a 'romantic' invitation from him to join a social network for setting up dates. So, Anita's hot description did its charm on him, and for some reason, he must have combined to two of us in his mind. I had a little chuckle about this, as did my loved one...

So why can't a character combine both? Are we still bound to write for the Pyramus and Thisby audience? Even if your grammar is atrocious, even if your vocabulary is somewhat lacking, does that mean you can't feel the throes of pain, or the exhilaration of joy? Does it mean you can't paint what you see, feel and think? As you form your own answer, I invite you to sense the texture and the power of unrefined language, by listening to Anita's voice once more:

What matters is only what’s here. I touch my skin right under my breasts, which is where the little one’s curled, and where he kicks, ‘cause he has to. Like, he don’t feel so cosy no more. Here, can you feel it? I reckon he wants me to talk to him. He can hear me inside, for sure. He can hear every note of this silvery music.

It ripples all around him, wave after wave. I can tell that it’s starting to sooth him. It’s so full of joy, of delight, even if to him, it’s coming across somewhat muffled. Like a dream in a dream, it’s floating inside, into his soft, tender ear.

I close my eyes and hold myself, wrapping my arms real soft — around me around him — and I rock ever so gently, back and forth, back and forth, with every note of this silvery marvel. You can barely hear me — but here I am, singing along. I’m whispering words into myself, into him.

You can learn more about Uvi Poznansky at her Amazon author page or her blog.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tip O'Day #441 - Marketing Yourself

Guest blogger Cara Brookins on self-promotion, and when it becomes shameless.

Writers write. We’ve heard that statement countless times and of course it’s true. But writers also promote. It doesn’t sound as glamorous as creating exotic worlds or listening to the mysterious voices of our characters, and maybe that’s why we keep it on the down low. If writing and editing are something like a 10%/90% time split for most writers, where does promotion time come from? The well-guarded secret is that it comprises all the other waking moments of our life.

Your life is your promotion. That’s a bold statement, but my definition of promotion is broad. As a writer, you are marketing yourself, which turns every word and move into a part of your marketing platform. But here is where the balance comes in. This doesn’t mean that you should promote yourself and your book in every conversation — both real and digital. It’s a real problem if your Facebook posts, tweets, and visits to the dentist all begin and end with things like:

The one thing missing in your life today is… my book!
Here is a quote from my book that divulges the meaning of life.
In my book you’ll learn the proper way to extract a molar.
My book is for sale today… just like I reminded you it was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

The only thing this sort of person makes me want to buy is Chinese finger cuffs for each of their digits.

You must tweet. Of course, some of the shameless digital promotion is necessary. Asking your cyber friends to like your author page or review your book is all part of a good marketing strategy. Do this with obvious taste and respect. Be subtle. Be classy. Most of all, be organized by keeping track of your requests. For example, when I ask a group of people to read an ARC and post an early review, I keep extremely detailed records. I create a spreadsheet showing who I asked and on what date. If they agree, I enter the date I provided them with a copy of the ARC. Another column shows the date (about a month later) when I send a link to the review sites. Finally, I list the date of their review post which is followed by my thank you email. If they fail to post a review within two weeks of the link being sent, I send a single reminder before marking them as complete - and ceasing my requests for reviews, likes, or anything else I’ve asked for.

Writing is a business. If you want to be perceived as a professional, this sort of organization is the only way to build respect as a professional author.

Show don’t tell. I know what you’re wondering, if you aren’t telling people how much they need your book every third second, how are they going to know how wonderful it is? The best way to explain my belief is in writer speak. When you develop a character for a novel, you try hard not to narrate the character’s personality to the reader. You want them to discover the character’s type by watching their actions and listening to their words. Promotion should be handled in much the same way. Use Facebook, Twitter, your website, and your blog to show (not tell) your writing ability and your personal character. Write posts that are eye catching, well formed, and thought provoking. Make your cyber mates think, “I love the way this author writes, and I really need to buy one of those books!”

Buy me. In short, instead of promoting some author character you want people to think you are, be the author who you would like to read. This step is the primary way to turn writing from a hobby or a job into a vocation. If writing is your calling, then learning to be a better, more rounded, and complete person through your writing is the only way to find success.

Now start the count on those promotion hours by displaying the character of an author whose work you would enjoy reading.

Cara is a fulltime senior programmer/systems analyst by day and a writer by night. In between these passions she creates works of art including paintings, mosaics, concrete structures, jewelry, paper-mâché wall art – and her home. See Cara’s website for more information.
The shift has hit the fan. The first in Cara Brookins’ Timeshifters trilogy was released on May 14, 2013. Check it out at https://www.Timeshiftersbooks.com or https://www.facebook.com/TimeshiftersBooks

Monday, July 1, 2013

Saying for Writers #161 - Stephen King

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

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” – Stephen King

This stretch of the Northern Rockies can be seen from my neighborhood. Well, if you stand on my roof...

The photo was taken in the springtime, but it's still nice and cool up on top.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tip O'Day #440 - What Makes a Thriller?

Guest blogger Gary Williams on “Pacing.”

We’ve all heard the real estate adage when buying property. The three most important things are location, location, location. Well, when you embark on writing a thriller, there’s a similarity. The three most important traits of a successful thriller are pacing, pacing, pacing.

Aside from an interesting story, good writing and meticulously editing, a successful thriller must launch the reader on a path. It’s a slow progression in three acts. Act one sets the story up by building the character, settings and mysteries. Act two is where the protagonist and antagonist begin to feel each other out, and small battles are won and lost. Act three ratchets up the tension. The stakes have been clearly defined. The protagonists are usually in dire situations and the antagonists appear to have the upper hand. It all builds to a staggeringly swift pace as the two sides clash in a pulse-pounding finale that usually involves life and death.

So you think I’ve over simplified it? Maybe, but think of any great thriller you’ve ever read. Either the story started slow and turned on the jets, or kicked off with a bang and never let up. Either way, when you got to those last 100 pages, you couldn’t stop reading. You were so entrenched in the characters and learning their fates that you couldn’t put the book down. Laundry, yard work, school homework, walking the dog, and everything else became secondary until the final resolution was revealed. And it’s all because the pace of the story sucked you in, refusing to let up.

As a writer, what are things you can do to ensure your thriller is paced properly?

Limit scenery descriptions

I’ve read thrillers that were exceptionally well-written, the prose glistening off the page. Yet the story was marred, bogged down in scenery details or a character’s rambling thoughts to such an extent that it not only interrupted story-flow, it brought it to a grinding, teeth-rattling halt. A thriller is not the time to get flowery with your descriptions. Describe what’s important to the story, and move on. Extensive scenery descriptions should only be done if it’s vital to the storyline, if something about the scene will come into play later, or if you plan to have an action scene occur there later in the story.

Let me expound on this last point. Action sequences, especially late in the story when the pace should be amped up, are not the times to elaborate on scenery details. It bogs down the frenetic pace. You can get around this is by describing the location earlier in the story, if possible. Then, when the action heats up at the end, the setting has already been presented to the reader. All that’s necessary is brief setting reminders. Of course, sometimes this isn’t possible. The crescendo chapter might be the first time a location is visited in the story. In this case, describe it briefly. Remember, action (and pacing) is paramount. Don’t lose the reader because you were more interested in writing about the specific art work that adorns the walls at the Elizabethan home, instead of focusing on the antagonist tied up in the chair in the parlor with a ticking time bomb.

Limit Character thoughts

As writers we always want readers to relate to characters. This is accomplished primarily by displaying character actions and allowing readers to hear their inner thoughts. Caution must be taken as to the extent a writer allows the reader inside a character’s mind. Again, early on in the story is a good time to expose his/her thoughts and provide insight into their personal history. But once you reach the last third of the novel, keep the character’s musings in check. (Unless, of course it’s a delusional character and his thoughts are germane to the storyline!)

Sex

Thrillers sometimes have a heavy element of sex. If it’s necessary to the story, that’s fine. Yet gratuitous sex can be overkill. If the theme of the story is sexual in nature, then by all means, describe it how you see fit. But the same rules apply as mentioned with scenery details. Unless it’s critical to something in the story or shows a character trait, readers don’t need graphic details.

Self edit until it hurts

Writers write. It’s what we do. Yet we have to recognize when text is superfluous. Some of my best descriptive work never made it into print because it simply wasn’t necessary and caused the story to drag. It’s very important to ensure all scenes are core to the story. Although not a book, as an example, I own the Director’s Cut version of the 80’s action movie Lethal Weapon. It contains deleted scenes that never made it to the theatrical release. One such scene early in the movie shows Mel Gibson’s character, Riggs, dealing with a crazed gunman who is holding a classroom full of school children hostage. The intent was to display Riggs' suicidal nature. The scene itself takes several minutes and, ultimately, was cut because Riggs’ suicidal obsession was best presented while he was in the presence of his new partner Murtaugh, and not in a stand-alone scene that had no bearing on the rest of the story. In this same fashion, writers must truly evaluate scenes that can be edited from the story to help the pacing. Remember, thrillers are typically shorter in length that other genres. It’s not about word count. It’s about gripping the reader and keeping them craving more.

A thriller combines stellar writing with whirlwind pacing. This pacing should grow rabid by the time the reader reaches the last third of the book. That is not the time to gum up the works with unnecessary descriptions.

Gary Williams writes with Vicky Knerly. They have co-written four thrillers, including Indisputable Proof, named as one of the top fiction books of 2012 by Rosa St. Claire of the Miami Examiner. Their latest thriller, Manipulation, was released just last month.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Saying for Writers #160 - Tom Clancy

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

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.” — Tom Clancy

Bear grass is not a grass and has nothing to do with bears, but it is everywhere you look in the higher altitudes of NW Montana. Every 5-10 years, there's an explosion of the plant, and this is one of those years. Naturally, this has nothing to do with the above literary quote...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Tip O'Day #439 - Dig in Your Own Garden

Guest blogger Pamela Foster on herself and her characters.

At the recent Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Conference, someone asked me, “How do you keep all your characters from being nothing more than parts of yourself?”

“I don’t. And why on earth would I want to?”

The essence of the joy and pain and addiction of writing is exploring parts of myself that I keep hidden. Sometimes these treasures are buried deep, covered with false memory and justifications. Sometimes they exist within me for one brief moment of joy or terror or comprehension.

I’m not telling you I don’t base characters on individuals in my family or my friends or the guy in line behind me at Walmart. What I’m saying is that the quirky or evil or selfish or saintly characteristics I am attracted or repulsed by in others, are within me. If these emotions were not within me, I would not be drawn to them in others.

Jesus told us, “Do not say to your brother, ‘here, let me remove the splinter from your eye,’ when you have not yet removed the plank from your own.”

Or, as my grandma was fond of saying, “Go dig in your own garden.”

Let me show you what I mean.

I’m writing a western with two point of view characters who are mirror opposites of one another. Jeremiah is an emotionally deadened, haunted civil war veteran. Adeline is a naïve, innocent young girl. Jeremiah rides up a hill, kills three men, reloads his weapon and gets on with another in an endless series of dull, gray days. Adeline nurtures an abandoned baby, cares for a wounded man, and wakes each morning to a new dawn.

Both of those characters reside within me, everything beautiful and everything ugly in each of them.

Creativity demands I dig deep, find and then expose myself to the reader, in all my emotionally naked glory. The trick is the balance. Nobody wants to read 80,000 words of an author wading through muck; I certainly don’t want to write that book. Very few people will tolerate an entire novel of sunshine and roses; I certainly cannot pretend the world is always a joyful wonderland.

So, all my characters are me. I bleed all over every page while recognizing the beauty and joy within myself, as well as the darker side. I struggle daily to find the balance, to share all of myself with my readers, in the guise of my characters.

Pamela has written Redneck Goddess and co-wrote Bigfoot Blues along with Chris Simpkin. You can learn more about her at her Wordpress page found at http://pamelafosterspeakerwriter.wordpress.com/.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Saying for Writers #159 - Andre Gide

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

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.” — Andre Gide

A photo of Synder Lake in pristine Glacier National Park, taken by Kalispell friend Sue Haugan.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tip O'Day #438 - More Writing Rules

Author, blogger, columnist and writing teacher HMC is today’s guest blogger on “Don’t Tell Me What to Write” (Part II of II).

Killing a New Scene: Do you want to be the next Scorsese? No? Then here is how to move away from dialogue overkill. Atmosphere is crucial.

Before my students write a story (oh, I’m a teacher by the way, can you tell?) I always get them to imagine. I ask where they are and get them to write everything that they see, then hear, smell, taste, touch and feel. If you are ever stuck on describing a setting, this is a wonderful exercise.

Setting: Graveyard

See: stone, grey, cracks, shadows.
Hear: wind, trees rustling.
Taste: salt from tears.
Smell: damp earth.
Touch: hard and smooth.
Feel: sorrow, mourning, heavy.

Becomes

Long shadows were cast over the stone graves, and I could taste the salt of my tears as I mourned for my father. The wind rustled the trees. I smelt the damp earth underfoot. Cracks formed in the older graves, but his was smooth and new. The heaviness of his passing weighed a tonne upon my shoulders and it was difficult to drag myself away.

Building Suspense with a Packed-Punch: Ever feel deflated by a climactic scene? Perhaps the story was there, but why did the suspense not quite peak as it should have? It could be to do with the sentences — shorter, sharp sentences pack-a-punch. Also, try to end some sentences with a strong word. Take a long, descriptive piece and slash it. See what happens.

The corridor seemed endless and he could hear the soft engines of the station wagons, work-utes and family vans that purred along the street in front of the old, Fairholmes, arcade building. Perhaps he could make it out in time, and perhaps the daylight would be his saviour from the man who was chasing him. Close now, he could feel a rush of adrenaline, but it was too late; the man was gaining on him now. Damon wrapped an arm around his throat and took him to the ground, scattering the resident cockroaches.
‘Relax, Doc. I’m not gonna hurt you. We just have some questions for you.’ The doctor’s body went limp and he let his assailant win the battle.
Becomes
The corridor seemed endless. He could hear the soft engines of the station wagons, work-utes and family vans. They purred along the street in front of him. If he could just make it out into the daylight, visibility might be his saviour. Close now, he felt one last rush of adrenaline. Too late. He felt the heat and smelled the sweat of the man gaining on him. Damon wrapped a strong arm around his throat and took him down. The two men grappled, raising clouds of dust and scattering the resident roaches.
‘Relax, Doc. I’m not gonna hurt you.’ His body went limp. Damon won the battle. ‘We just have some questions for you.’
Streamlining Sentences: I’ll be the first to admit that I have to work hard at my writing. Stories come to me easily, though, which is lucky. Some people are the other way around. My sentence structure often needs work as I am a waffler. It’s why I received mixed marks at uni — some liked my waffling, others didn’t. As a rule now, I check each sentence and remove excess. Streamline is the word my editor uses, and I love it.

Freddy started to sneak out the door to evade any trouble that would come, if Anne were to notice them missing, but Sam caught him.
Becomes
But before he could make good his escape, Sam caught him.

You see, the readers already knew that Freddy was sneaking around and that Anne might catch him. So the first sentence is not only confusing, it’s redundant. Using ‘started to’ or ‘began to’ is useless… either they are doing it or they are not. These tentative words bog writing down.

Well, that’s all for now. I could keep going, but I’ll pass it over to you. If you have any more that you know of, please, add them to the comments section!

You can learn more about HMC at her website http://www.hmcwriter.com/ with links to her blog as well as the trailer for her thriller White Walls, which is having its online release during June 21-23.
As a reminder, guest bloggers wanting to share tips or stories of their writing triumphs/ordeals are always welcome. Please email me at montananovels@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tip O'Day #437 - I've seen how the rules worked for you...

Guest blogger author, columnist and teacher HMC on “Don’t Tell Me What to Write” (Part I of II).

I am overwhelmed with writing rules, just like I was when my daughter was born and all of a sudden everyone was an expert at parenting. No offense, loves, but I’ve seen how your kids turned out.

There are rules that some writers should follow and others should not. You know your capabilities. Take the rules that work for you. Someone once told me that it’s lazy to use brackets (as if I’d listen…I love brackets).

I am going to talk about what I have personally learnt from my amazing editor and mentor, Carson Buckingham, and some others here and there along the way. These are MY rules, not yours, so follow them… or don’t. I honestly don’t care.

You guys are getting an exclusive peek at my book today, as I use some short excerpts as examples — lucky.

Here are some nerdy things I’ve been practicing lately, in order to become a better writer.

The Adverse Adverb: We all know how terrible adverbs are when you can use a stronger verb instead — well I didn’t, but I do now. Take a verb and adverb, and then try to create a stronger verb. Then, the adverb becomes redundant (What? Can you repeat that?) Here ‘tis:

Hit hard = slammed
Touched softly = caressed
Moved clumsily = clattered

And backwards for fun:

Stressed = terribly concerned
Gawked = looked closely

Sentence play:

The door slowly opened = the door creaked open
The nurse was overly round = the rotund nurse

See the difference?

Underestimating Dialogue: Dialogue shmialogue! No, really, dialogue is your friend, not your enemy. If you find yourself reading a book and think ‘booooooooring,’ take the challenge and write the scene as dialogue between the characters. If you already do this too much (and your stories read like scripts) skip this one and go straight to ‘Killing a New Scene’ (in Part II tomorrow). Here is one — just for fun.

The policeman stood outside the building and waited to be buzzed-in to the apartment building. He argued forever with George, who simply refused to let him in. The policeman was getting mad as a hornet’s nest, and would soon crack it, and kick the door in.
Becomes
‘What do you want!’ George snapped through the speaker.
‘Let me up. I have a warrant.’
‘Do you have donuts too? How about bacon?’ George cackled.
‘Not funny. You have thirty seconds before I kick this door in.’
‘Go ahead officer, make my day.’

Ha! I threw that last line in for good measure. Dialogue tells a story and notice that I didn’t have to use ‘he said’ all the time? Good dialogue shows who the speaker is.

Look for Part II of HMC's writing advice tomorrow.
Has anyone noticed that Dixon hasn't been blogging lately? The Wredheaded Writer blog froze up harder than a banker's heart and it took nearly a month to fix it. But now, life is good once more.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tip O'Day #436: The Discovery of Drafting

Guest blogger Kourtney Heintz on the journey to find your story.

The first fifty pages came easily to me, but then I hit a wall. I’d laid out my initial conflict, had my inciting incident, and set my characters on their path. What came next?

I didn’t know. There were several directions the book could go in. It could be about them fixing up the house. It could be about their foibles trying to adjust to country life, but I wanted it to be more. Deeper. Darker.

So I paused and pondered. Spent a few weeks playing “what if.” Kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, except I would imagine each possibility to its rightful ending inside my head.

Generally, I’m a planner and a plotter, but this book didn’t want to follow the rules. Sometimes the story is waiting to be revealed. Mine took some unexpected turns, evolving into a literary thriller.

I had no idea this would happen. No clue when I first met my characters that we would all end up where we did. That’s part of the discovery of drafting. Even when you think you know where you’re headed, sometimes the story takes you in a completely different direction.

That unexpected detour enriches the entire novel.

Kourtney Heintz resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amok at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.
Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist, and can be purchased for Kindle here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tip O'Day #435 - To Wallow or Not?

Guest blogger Connie Travisano Colón on writing through grief.

I was honored when Dixon asked if I would write a guest blog, and told him I would as soon as I figured out a topic. Like any good writer, I spent a good deal of that time procrast…um…proactively researching and formulating ideas. Then I hit a major stumbling block – life got in the way. Actually, it was death.

My mom had passed away in April of 2012. After “going through the motions” during the funeral week, I was hit more and more by her absence during the subsequent weeks and months.

Not only did I neglect to write this guest blog post, but I also shoved aside my magazine assignments and let my newest manuscript take a rest. A long rest. Matter of fact, I was avoiding my office. I had gone back to my part time job but couldn’t get myself to sit at my desk and do any writing when I was home. I still read books. I answered email from my iPad or phone. Of course, as many of you know, I still spent many hours on Facebook – but not in my office.

Then it dawned on me that the phone call about mom had come when I was sitting at my computer working on my manuscript – on a scene that took place in a funeral parlor. I now knew the reason for my paralysis, yet couldn’t park my butt at the computer to write.

Okay, now what?

I emailed my agent, Jill Corcoran (jillcorcoran.blogspot.com). Surely she would give me that “kick-in-the-pants-tough love” advice that I needed, right? Wrong. Her answer surprised the pants off of me instead. In her infinite wisdom, Jill said I should wallow in it. She told me that if I rushed back into it before I was ready, then that would show up in my writing.

So there I was with my bona fide Permission to Procrastinate. I did just that for a while but knew I couldn’t continue indefinitely. Change was in order. First came a complete office makeover. My husband helped me switch around the furniture and reposition everything. While I was at it, I even cleaned and organized. (In some parts of the universe, I’m sure that could be considered a form of procrastination.) I did manage to slowly squeeze out a few more pages of that particular manuscript but it wasn’t a happy reunion. Being a writer of humor, I needed happy.

Figuring that more change was in order, I tried some new things. My friend and fellow creative soul, Art Fyvolent (www.SquirrelVentures.com), was developing a fabulous concept for a pet rescue website. I helped him tweak some of the writing and did a bit of proofreading and editing. It was for all those sweet, innocent dogs after all – I couldn’t say no. So yes, that is why you see lots of dog rescue posts on my FB page now, as a way to thank the pups for helping me get back into writing. This wasn’t my usual shtick, but hey – I was writing again. My paws were stepping in the right direction.

I also joined an in-person critique group in my area with several children’s writers I had met through NJSCBWI. Yay – deadlines, since my goal was to bring new pages to each of our meetings.

The next big change was taking a TV Scriptwriting class taught by Alan Kingsberg (www.alankingsberg.com). Yay – more deadlines! But this was totally out of my comfort zone. I had never done any writing for TV. So I was spending money to schlep into NYC each week to undoubtedly make a fool of myself in front of people who knew what they were doing. Or as my teenage son pointed out: “Mom, you’re the ‘scrub’ of the class.”

Long story short - I loved the class. The ‘scrub’ did quite well, and signed up for another session. I now have a fun pilot episode based on one of my chapter book manuscripts and I intend on writing more TV scripts. The course helped me punch up the humor, along with making every word count since there are strict time constraints for television. Everything I learned is now helping me strengthen my book manuscripts as well.

Bravo to all of those people able to continue their normal writing routines even when life’s big problems get in the way, but if you just can’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Perhaps taking a slow detour will lead you up a path that is the perfect place for you.

Have I finished that manuscript with the funeral parlor scene, you ask? Nope. But there’s no expiration date on that one and I’m having a blast with other projects. I’m happy and productive with my new critique group. I love the way my office is set up now, and couldn’t be happier with my newfound love of writing TV scripts. (Okay, I lied. I’ll be happier when I actually start making money at it.) I’m grateful that I had the time to help with some behind the scenes animal rescue, and grateful that it helped me get a jumpstart back into my writing chair at the computer. Lastly, I finally managed to get this blog post written for Dixon - phew!

No doubt, Mom would be proud.

Connie has sold over 60 articles and 100 photos to publications including Highlights, Fun For Kidz, AppleSeeds, and Faces. She is currently developing a TV pilot script for an animated kids series.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Saying for Writers #158 - Samuel Johnso

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

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” – Samuel Johnson

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tip O'Day #434 - A Stumbling Block

Guest blogger Eve Paludan on Ten Ways to Bust Writer's Block...by Writing!

Writer's block is a stumbling block to productivity. Once in a while, it hits almost all writers, even the ones who are passionate about the craft. Since writers are introspective, emotional creatures, external forces, such as financial worries, illness, conflict with another person, or lack of sleep can stall the best writers and cause their motivation to go AWOL. Here are some tried-and-true methods that I use to break through a serious halt in my productivity.

1. Ensure that you always have more than one project in progress. If you get tired of working on one project, switch to another one for a day or so until you find yourself longing for the project that got stalled. Then go back to it with a fresh eye and a renewed passion.

2. If you are itchy, cold, hungry or annoyed, take your laptop to someplace where you don't usually write. Make yourself comfortable and write in that new place, whether it's McDonalds or the kitchen table, until you are tired of it and want to get back to your usual writing location. Sit in a different chair, take your laptop to the couch, go hide under a shady tree, or sit in a recliner chair. Move your office for a little while and write something. Then, when you get antsy again, return to the usual place where you write.

3. If you are stalled in a fiction project, then write a little nonfiction to get your hands moving on the keyboard again. Some examples are guest blogs, twitter tweets about your books or a friend's books, book announcements on Facebook, or book review for someone else's book on Amazon. The idea is to go through the motions of word creation, even if you are in a different head space about your novel manuscript.

4. If a particular scene of your work-in-progress is the cause of halting and scratching your head because you don't yet know how to handle the scene, write a note to yourself in the manuscript, such as insert love scene here and then go onto the next scene where you DO know what you want to write. You can always return to write the hard parts later. Keep your writing productivity in motion!

5. If you usually write without music, put on some music, especially something instrumental, and let it inspire you. I do not suggest turning on the television as it seems to engage all of the senses, instead of just the ears. I think TV is too distracting, but that's just me.

6. If you know where the keys are without looking, type for a few minutes with the lights off or with your eyes closed. Just channel the words and let your automatic writing take over. Wild things can happen on your pages! Peek every so often to make sure that your fingers are on the right keys.

7. If you usually type and hit writer's block, try using pen and paper for an hour or so. My favorite place to write longhand is at the beach or on my front steps. Or if you usually write longhand, try using your computer. The idea is to write something using a different physical process.

8. If you hit a plot wall, then work on writing quick character sketches of the hero's or heroine's physical, emotional and intellectual traits.

9. Write your Amazon catalog description of your book or what you would put on the back of a print book. Without giving away whodunnit or howdunnit, write five to seven sentences that describe the characters, main conflict, and obstacles that your hero or heroine must overcome. Jazz it up with some excerpts of book reviews from readers.

10. Read your characters' dialogue out loud, without any dialogue tags, and expand their conversation by typing it while you talk. Keep it going as long as you can until the scene plot points are resolved or lead into more questions or another chapter.

Oh, and about number 10 – I once had my front door open and was reading dialogue aloud, not realizing my landlord was kneeling in the flower bed out front, listening. I got up to go check on my laundry and he was startled when I found him right outside my front door. Apparently, my characters' dialogue brought him to his knees.

Good luck with these writer's block busting tips. I hope they work for you, too. Feel free to add some of your own tips in the comments below.

You can check out Eve’s novels and stories here and her newest novel is Finding Jessie: A Mystery Romance. You can also connect with Eve on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saying for Writers #157 - William S Burroughs

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

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” — William S. Burroughs

Burroughs' breakout novel was Junkie. The author of over twenty-five other novels, short story collections, essay collections, and interview collections, he was one of the most prominent figures of the Beat Generation. Some consider him the most innovative writer of the past century.

This is a photo of Glacier National Park, snug against the Canadian border in NW Montana. The air is so pure there, scientists use it to compare environments across the rest of the planet. You should come visit - and then go back home.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Saying for Writers #156 - Ray Bradbury

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

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.” — Ray Bradbury

Living in Montana within sight of the Continental Divide, I never tire of views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. This photo was taken by local friend Sherri Gerek.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tip O'Day #433 - Surprise!

Guest blogger Edward McKeown on how your characters can catch you unawares.

The Fenaday Trilogy was a constant source of surprises to me. The first and biggest was that it was a trilogy. I set out to write one book, the story of as ordinary a man as I could plausibly use to accomplish the adventure I was setting before him. Something immediately became apparent; if he was an ordinary man, he would need motivation to leave his homeworld and plunge into danger and death.

He was not a professional hard case, a military officer or true mercenary, not a thug or an adrenaline junky. So why would he do this? The thing that struck me as being the most believable motivator for such sacrifice was love. His wife, a naval officer, had gone missing and his love for her was such that he would throw aside any security he had and search the stars as a privateer for her. So now we had Robert Fenaday, son of a wealthy merchant family, with the resources and know-how to start this adventure.

How would my everyman survive the adventures of Was Once a Hero, Fearful Symmetry and finally Points of Departure? He was not born to, or well-suited to the quasi-criminal world he was descending to. The answer came in the first of many surprises, a genetically engineered woman warrior named Shasti Rainhell. She was fleeing her past and her own homeworld. They would shelter each other, he with his ship for her, and she with her deadly skills with him. Together they would run the Starship Sidhe through its initial perils.

More surprises awaited me. Shasti demanded to be more than a sidekick. She was a powerful voice with her own realities. This demanding past became the backdrop to Fearful Symmetry, the second book. Fearful was a book of intrigue, adventure and self-awakening as Robert and Shasti sought to free themselves of their pasts so they might embrace a future that held each other.

But the past has a way of reaching out for you and some ghosts are not easily laid to rest. That gave rise to the third book, Points of Departure, which is due out later this year. As for that tale…well, no spoilers here. Hope you enjoy the work.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tip O'Day #432 - Singin' Them Rejection Blues

Guest blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres on “Submitting to Literary Journals? Expect, then Conquer Rejection.”

Rejection and discouragement: if you are submitting your work to literary journals, chances are you will experience both. There’s no way around it – rejections happen, and they happen a lot. Not every editor is going to love your work, and the chances of hitting the right editor on the right day at the right journal are slim. However, those chances improve greatly if you research the journals you are interested in, get to know the type of work they publish, send your very best work, and pay careful attention to the journal’s submission guidelines.

Even after you get hardened to the process (which is likely after you’ve been submitting for a while), it can be tough to read those dreaded words: “Thank you for sending us your work. Unfortunately, it does not suit our present needs.” Each time you get this message, as hard as you try not to care, it will probably feel like a kick in the gut. After a while you might get so used to this feeling, in fact, that you’ll do that odd thing that writers do – distinguish “bad rejections” (form letters) from “good rejections” (personal notes from editors, rejections that invite you to submit again, or, let’s face it, anything that isn’t a form letter).

I started submitting personal essays to literary journals about three years ago, after I completed my degree at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. The first year of submitting was torture; after one acceptance from a magazine, I received rejection after rejection from literary journals. I used to write to my former teachers in despair, only to have them respond by saying something to this effect: “Keep writing and keep trying.” Remember, they said, the only way to guarantee failure is to give up.

The first time one of my essays was accepted by a literary journal, I nearly missed the news. I was so sure I was receiving another rejection that I had to do a double take and re-read the editor’s note. I was riding in the passenger seat of our car (my husband was driving), and I put my hand over my mouth and said, “Oh, my God, one of my essays was accepted!” I think I was in shock.

Thankfully, over time, more acceptances arrived. For me, as for most writers, there continue to be many more rejections than acceptances. I maintain a spreadsheet in Excel to help me remember what piece I submitted where (and when). The sheet is color coded: plain black for submissions in play, red for rejections, blue for rejections that invite more work, and green for acceptances. Red far outweighs every other color (although the blue is getting more prominent with time). Green is the least common color on the sheet (when a submission turns green, I happily allow myself put the type in bold).

Like many writers, I have very thin skin. I can’t deny that it has been a huge challenge to stay confident in the face of all of those “Thanks but no thanks” rejections. Occasionally I even give myself a break from submitting just so I can catch my breath.

I once read a piece of advice from Joy Castro (www.joycastro.com), one of my faculty mentors and the author of several books, including the recent crime thriller, Hell Or High Water. Joy wrote: “You wanted this. You chose it. Get back up.”

Stick with it. I’m rooting for you.

Faye’s website is www.fayerapoport.com and her blog is http://blog.fayerapoportdespres.com/. Her essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Hamilton Stone Review, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, In the Arts, Fourth Genre, and The Writer’s Chronicle.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part VI

This is Day Six (and Last) of One-Sentence Writing Tips Week, with Facebook writers and other book lovers sharing writing and publishing advice with a dash of panache and a pinch of brevity.

Jennie Gardner Spallone: Hire a developmental editor, not just a copy editor, to look over your manuscript before you submit it to a publisher.

Mark Terry: Think more, write less.

Troy Wilkinson: Write about something you dreamed of as a child, before you knew it wasn't possible.

Kristen Wood: Only in humility can we ever truly learn and only in learning can we ever truly write.

Finally, my favorite one-sentence tip from last year, by RomCom author Kathy Dunnehoff: Say ‘yes’ to caffeine.

Thanks to all the kind folks who participated this week. Hope you had fun.

Friday, March 22, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part V

This is Day Five of One-Sentence Writing Tips Week, with Facebook writers and other book lovers showing they can be both profound and concise.

J.T. Sather: Writing a book is the easy part, selling it however...not so much.

Paul M. Schofield: Write, write, write...right?

Laura Schultz: Pay close attention to everything and everyone around you, as some of them could become great characters.

Literary agent Michael Snell: Eschew obfuscation and sesquipedalian anfractuosities.

Screenwriter Mike Snyder: Most writers are banned from TV or movie sets because they insist every last word is deathless prose; that's just not gonna happen, at least not in North America.

Unless your genial host gets flooded by last-minute submissions, these one-sentence tips will end on Saturday. Tomorrow’s scheduled tipsters: Jennie Gardner Spallone, Mark Terry, Troy Wilkinson and Kristen Wood.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part IV

This is Day Four of One-Sentence Writing Tips Week, with FB writers and other book lovers combining advice with brevity.

Jackie Pelham: It will never see daylight if you stick it in a drawer, so submit, submit, submit.

Jimmy Pudge: You need at least one asshole in your story for it to be good.

Freddie Remza: Read dialogue aloud to be sure it sounds natural.

Dixon Rice: Find ways to get extra eyes on your work before it’s submitted or published – but not anyone you sleep with.

Linda Robinson: How to cook a novel: stir together a house of lives, a lot of love, tons of troubles, wonderful words, and a rash of revisions, then 'beat' well and bake until done.

These one-sentence tips will continue Friday and Saturday. Tomorrow’s featured folks are J.T. Sather, Paul M. Schofield, awesome Laura Schultz, lit agent Michael Snell and screenwriter Mike Snyder.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part III

This is Day Three of One-Sentence Writing Tips Week, with FB writers and other book lovers offering concise writing or publishing suggestions. (I’m going to let Lucinda slide on the extra periods, just because I’m that kinda guy.)

L.C. Hayden: Never say never.

Danny Johnson: Go ahead and leave that manuscript in the drawer -- your children will sell it when you're gone.

Vickie Johnstone: Set your imagination free.

Fifi Leigh: Expose the truth through an educational but fictional story.

Lucinda Hawks Moebius: The. Best way. To be a better writer is to write.

These one-sentence tips will continue all week. Tomorrow’s glory belongs to Jackie Pelham, Jimmy Pudge, Freddie Remza, Linda Robinson and yours truly.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part II

This is Day Two of One-Sentence Writing Tips Week - Facebook writers and other book lovers boiling down their writing or publishing suggestions into one simple sentence. Okay, sometimes a compound sentence.

Jonnie Comet: No good writers are purely Romantic since they believe in the hard work of critiquing, editing, and revising; all art is deliberate and that’s what makes it 'art.'

J.M. Cornwell: Read, listen, write, and read some more.

Valerie Douglas: Just write!

Jacquelynn Gagne: Books are judged by their covers and writers by our words.

Linda Lee Greene: Get your head out of your arus and use your thesaurus!

These one-sentence tips will continue all week. Tomorrow’s turn in the barrel: LC Hayden, Danny Johnson, Vickie Johnstone, Fifi Leigh and Lucinda Hawks Moebius.

Monday, March 18, 2013

One-Sentence Writing Tips, Part I

I invited Facebook writers and other book lovers to share their concise suggestions for achieving literary glory. Or at least getting published somewhere, somehow. Whatever. Their one-sentence writing tips will appear here all week.

J.C. Andrijeski: When it comes to writing, don't listen to other people...except when you really need to listen to other people.

Maxine Arnold: Finish, finish, finish.

Greta Burroughs: There's more to being a writer than just writing a book.

Lynne Cantwell: Read – a lot.

Connie Travisano Colon: Never let the reader detect you or it will bring them out of your story.

On Part II tomorrow, we’ll hear from Jonnie Comet, J.M. Cornwell, Valerie Douglas, Jacquelynn Gagne and Linda Lee Greene.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tip O'Day #431 - Look Out Below!

Guest blogger Gerald G. Griffin on two categories of writers within the third group of writers. Ouch, my head hurts.

"A lot of people think they have a book inside them, but for those who try to write it, they usually fail," a friend once commented to me. "Why is that?"

I shrugged, giving him an are-you-kidding look. "Hell if I know!"

If answering him now, I'd probably say this: Let's start by dividing novice or would-be writers into three groups. First, there are those novices who can write great stuff immediately, as though born to it, and have little trouble getting published. Second, there are those who haven't a chance in hell of ever writing a book because they lack the creative aptitude, imagination, passion, dedication and discipline to do so. Third, there are those who fall in between the first and second groups.

Let's divide this third group into two categories. The first involves those who might squeak through a book, but it won't be published, and they skip the Indie route. The problem with these writers is that they write as though they are part of some freakish high wire circus act as he or she leaps haphazardly from the swing, twisting spasmodically into thin air, then frantically grasping outward toward his or her catcher's hands just at the moment their partner is suddenly seized with severe dizzy spells killing any semblance of timing.

"Look out below!"

The second category is a crazy one. These novice writers manage to finish their books. Then, by hook or by crook -- including the Indie route -- they have their books published. Their work is usually mediocre but the writers are convinced it's fantastic and will sell big if only it has the correct marketing. So enter the marketing scene, with all its madness! These writers are likely to be totally unprepared to deal with it but leap into it helter-skelter, the marketing madness enhancing their delusions.

Subsequently, these writers are prey for promising marketing schemes invariably failing to deliver, including social networking and engines leaving them in a mire of their own delusional madness. These novices are forever seeking that elusive, flashy review of their book that will turn that formidable trick leading to literary glory, never realizing that glory is beyond their reach.

Finally, for most of these writers, after suffering through all of this, their books not selling, their book signings a bust, libraries and book stores not carrying their works, their exhaustive madness having worn them down to the bone, they are left glassy-eyed, their literary salvation gone, leaving them with the stifling prospect of a mind numbing, everyday job.

Oh, what could have been!

To learn more about Gerald G. Griffin and his novel, check out this link. Among other things, it discusses the making of Of Good And Evil into a movie, and where the book can be ordered. The book can also be ordered on Gerald’s blog at http://geraldggriffin.blogspot.com/ or from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saying for Writers #155 - Leigh Brackett

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

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion — that’s Plot.” — Leigh Brackett

The Montana Rockies captured by friend Sherri Gerek.

One-Sentence Writing Tips from my Facebook friends will be featured here on the Wredheaded Writer blog all next week -- if you feel inspired, there's still room for more.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Interview of SciFi author Mary Fan

The genial host of Wredheaded Writer blog, Dixon Rice, interviews author Mary Fan about Artificial Absolutes, her newly released SciFi novel.

Dixon Rice: Mary, I love that you originally developed the Jane Colt character as a protagonist in another genre. When that didn’t work out the way you wanted, what made you decide to send her into outer space?

Mary Fan: I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction for ages, especially space operas, and I always knew I wanted to try my hand at the genre. One thing I noticed about most space operas is that they tend to center on either a well-trained, experienced fighter or a Chosen One. Meanwhile, we never really get to hear about the not-so-special people who occupy the rest of the galaxy. They are treated as extras—props, almost. Still, every person has a story. I was thinking about all this, and meanwhile, I had this relatively ordinary character without a story. I thought, why not combine the ideas?

DR: The kidnapping of Jane’s friend seems to be the key that starts the story’s engine. Caring for a friend - that’s a surprisingly personal trigger for a SciFi tale. What made you pick that event, rather than a more typical “saving mankind” premise?

MF: When I set out to write Artificial Absolutes, I knew I wanted to write a different kind of space opera. Like you said, saving the universe is a pretty typical premise. I’ve always wondered about the lives of those who weren’t out to stop the apocalypse, those who inhabit the expansive and fascinating worlds of the future.

I also wanted the story to be more personal than a lot of what’s out there. In the grand scheme of things, the stakes in Artificial Absolutes are pretty low; it’s one girl’s life out of trillions that’s being affected. On the other hand, in her personal world, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Those are the people she cares about who are in danger. That the rest of the world will go on turning while hers falls to pieces is a source of great aggravation for Jane.

DR: After Adam is kidnapped, Jane’s older brother Devin is framed for murder. Hmmm, another relationship trigger. How important are relationships in your life?

MF: Relationships are, of course, important to me. Our experiences lose significance without people to share them with. Relationships drive the things we do and the way we think. Even the most independent people are influenced by the people around them, often subconsciously. The things people say have the ability to invade our thoughts without our notice. These kinds of influences are at the core of Artificial Absolutes. What the characters do influences those they interact with, often in ways they don’t realize.

DR: Transplanting Jane Colt from another genre into SciFi – one might say you wrote a SciFi story by accident. Do you intend to repeat that mistake?

MF: Oh, definitely. Science fiction is one of my favorite genres, both to read and to write. It transports a reader to a different world and allows a writer to explore the infinite what-ifs. I wouldn’t say I wrote a SciFi story by accident, but the story I ended up with is rather different from what’s expected from the genre.

DR: The concept of artificial intelligence has been around since the robot stories of the 1950s, maybe earlier. What’s new and fresh that you bring to AI?

MF: I can’t say too much without spoiling Artificial Absolutes, but I can tell you this: much of what I write concerning artificial intelligence has little do with technology. I use the idea of artificial intelligence to explore broader themes, such as consciousness and the nature of artificiality, as well as influence and perception of self. The more we learn about neuroscience, the more philosophers and scientist debate the nature of consciousness. If so much of who we are is printed in our genes, controlled by chemicals in our brains, and influenced by external forces, then how real are any of us? How many of our thoughts can we really call our own? Artificial intelligence is used as a metaphor as well as a plot point.

DR: What’s with all the musicians and songs? Do you whistle while you work?

MF: I love music. So much, in fact, that I studied it in college. Music wasn’t part of the original plan for Artificial Absolutes, although the struggle Jane faces about whether to pursue her passion or to take the smart career path was in the earliest versions. I found music to be a more natural subject for me to write about than her original dream job (painter). Once I made that change, music just wove itself into the fabric of the novel. It’s a part of Jane, and so it became a part of her story.

And while I don’t whistle while I work, I do find myself staring off into space and humming when I’m stuck on a particular passage.

Mary Fan’s SciFi novel Artificial Absolutes is now available as paperback and eBook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Saying for Writers #154 - Annie Dillard

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

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tip O'Day #430 - Fighting Past Rejection

Guest blogger Elizabeth Hoban writes on the turning points in a writing career.

One percent inspiration and 99% perspiration was originally scribed by a writer, had to be.

For many years, I perspired when it came to writing. After what seemed like forever, I submitted my clever thriller over and over, and was rejected enough times to compile a lengthy book with Sorry-not-for-us letters. I didn’t understand this disconnect. Mine was a perfectly polished manuscript from the moment I typed The End. Hadn’t I spent enough time on this? Every favorite word and riveting sentence that ever ran through my mind was in that tome. I had whole sections memorized verbatim. I didn’t need to revisit it until I received the galleys, right? I had completed the writing of a book and I deserved to see it published.

When a well-known agent at a prominent writers conference announced to her audience that the odds of winning the lottery were better than getting your first book published, the audience gasped. I may have cried. Before I requested a conference refund, the author/speaker went on to explain that surprisingly the odds in favor of publication grew dramatically with the second novel before a first novel saw publication, then the third before the first two, and so on. My novel, my opus, my first born had taken me ten years to finish, meaning I’d be taking the dirt nap before I could write another book. After condemning everything from my second grade teacher to the alphabet, I begrudgingly put my opus in a drawer and began a second novel. After all, I had raised two kids, owned a second home. In fact, I was a second born and writing may be my second career, so why not, why couldn’t I write a second book?

Two years later, I was amazed to realize how much smoother the entire process went with this child. Like an athlete or musician, I was becoming quite practiced at writing. My grunt work was getting done while I enjoyed the creative process. Dare I say I was becoming a seasoned writer? My therapist thought so, when amidst the conclusion of my second novel, I started a third. Say what?

All writers who persevere have had that moment, that career turning point when they want to sit and rest on their laurels and someone pulls the chair out from under them. Here I wanted to pitch my great book to agents and turns out they were only considering second book ideas at that conference. According to the pitch boss, publishers wanted writers with more than one idea. Needless to say, that conference was my wake-up call. Sometimes the advice that’s the hardest to take is the exact advice you should take.

Both my first book and second book are traditionally published. My second book was the first to receive a publishing contract. Coincidence, I think not. Write on!

Check out Liz Hoban's hardcover true WW2 tale, The Final Mission here and The Cheech Room, her fiction suspense-thriller here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Saying for Writers #153 - Sandburg

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

“Beware of advice — even this.” Carl Sandburg

Sunrise in Montana, captured by my friend (and fellow soccer nut) Sue Haugan.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tip O'Day #429 - The Numbers Game

Guest blogger Jacquelynn Gagne of Ambrosia Arts on “numeric numbers versus alphabetical numbers in fiction.”

Have you ever read a novel published by a big publishing house such as Penguin or Random and seen a lot of numeric numbers?

Unless the book is about numbers somehow or an educational book, then you rarely will. At most, you will only see a numerical number if it is a year (even then sometimes it may be written out alphabetically) unless it is a ridiculously long number such as 86,346,249. Writing out eighty-six million three hundred and forty-six thousand two hundred and forty-nine can just be confusing. One other exception is when it is in reference to a sign or a time of day. (Times we will discuss in a moment)

Take for example a road, such as I-149. However this could also be written as interstate one-forty-nine, and written as such is perfectly acceptable. Using numerical numbers may be considered unprofessional in the case of a standard novel. It can be considered lazy. It can be difficult to remember if you are already in the habit of going for the number key.

Let’s take a moment and discuss how to properly write times. If we are giving a general time of day, we would write it alphabetically every time. Eight o’clock in the morning, five o’clock in the afternoon, three o’clock in the morning - the time was seven a.m., the hour was two p.m. If you are being specific you can write this out alphabetically but depending on the type of book it may be accepted numerically as well but it is always advised to write your numbers alphabetically in a novel. Example: 4:39 a.m. Example four thirty-nine a.m.

On a side note, since we are discussing times I constantly see a.m. and p.m. written incorrectly as am or pm, You must include a period (dot) after each letter. If your sentence ends with a.m. or p.m. you do not add an additional period dot. As you can look in the paragraph directly above, the last two sentences are examples of this.

This may not seem like a big deal and I am not trying to say that it is. However it can make a difference in you looking professional or amateurish. If that doesn’t concern you, then you may wish to reevaluate your priorities and decide how you wish to be viewed, not just by readers but in the literary community as well. Our words are how we are viewed as writers. Books are judged by their covers and writers by our words. The plus side of this is that unlike a bad hair day, we have complete control over our writing.

You can follow more writing tips with a subscription to Ambrosia Arts e-magazine at http://www.ambrosia-arts.com/index.php/more/subscribe or learn more on Facebook.