Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

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.