Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How To Write and Then Some

Some writers outline their books using index cards or Excel; they jot notes about every scene. In other words, they’re plotting their books scene by scene. I don’t know if they do the entire book all at once or if they go as far as they can before they stop to write to the end of their list of scenes.  When they feel the need, I guess, they start with the scene by scene outline again. Seems like an incredible amount of detail work to me, but I can see where it would be effective. Basically, who, what, when, and where are addressed in each scene. Actually, this method of outlining makes writing a novel seem pretty easy, doesn’t it?

There are so many ways to plot and write a book. The fine-tuning and layering is a whole other matter. Don’t even get me started on subtexting. There are so many things we need to know and learn and do before, during and after we have a finished product.
My question is: do you think a writer can “over-educate” himself to the point any natural talent he has might be warped or distorted by all the rules/how-to/book learning? Does this question even make sense?

My answer to my question is: I suppose we should read, write, study until everything we need to know is second nature when we write.
Yes, I often talk to myself.  
What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A New Complication for Writers of Online Content

I received the following email alert this morning and believe it's worth sharing.

An alert from Wooden Horse:

Be careful if you write online and quote other sources, even in comments. In a recent blog post we highlighted a company called Righthaven LLC - a business founded solely to monitor and sue small websites and blogs.

To find out what Righthaven and other "copyright trolls" have been doing, read the Wooden Horse blog and then please, please, warn others. You have our permission to post all or parts of our blog post where appropriate, as long as you credit Wooden Horse Publishing at http://www.woodenhorsepub.com.

Wishing everybody safe and successful online publishing,

Meg Weaver
Wooden Horse Publishing

(503) 338-4300


This message was sent by Wooden Horse Publishing, PO Box 53, Astoria, OR 97103, (503) 338-4300, www.woodenhorsepub.com.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


What’s the first thing you do when creating a new character? Choose a name? Identify certain traits? Physically describe him or her?

I read somewhere that characterization never stops through the course of the novel. Our fictional characters come alive for us and our readers through our description and their reactions to other characters—as well as how other characters react to them. Our characters are supposed to change during the course of the book—grow, learn something, get their commuppance if they’re bad guys.
TV sitcoms are great for teaching us how to write good dialogue and characterization. I can remember an editor telling me she wanted dialogue like Maddie and David in Moonlighting.   If you’re not familiar: Moonlighting  aired from March 3, 1985 to   May 14, 1989—66 episodes  not counting the pilot that’s split into two episodes. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd were private detectives and boy, did they clash. According to Wikepedia, Moonlighting is considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy-drama, or "dramedy", emerging as a distinct television genre. Recently, I tried to watch some Moonlighting. I’m afraid I found their banter more annoying than I did when I was in my thirties.  So on to another TV show that speaks to my type of characters: FridayNight Lights -- The trials and tribulations of small town Texas football players, their friends, family, and coaching staff. 
This year Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series and Jason Katims took an award for outstanding writer in a drama series. Both were well-deserved.
In each episode, writer Jason Katims shows us everything we need to learn and know about writing our novels—not only how to pull together strong, three dimensional characters but how to create/make us love and hate the same character; how to show the good and bad side of characters; how to create empathy and tears.  He gave all the characters in Friday Night Lights universal qualities, emotions, and motivations. If I didn’t say that Friday Night Lights (so much more than a TV show about football) didn’t put fear in every parent’s heart, I’d be wrong.  Aside from fantastic writing, casting played a huge part in Friday Night Lights. In my mind, no one—absolutely NO ONE—could have played Coach Taylor except Kyle Chandler. No one else could have made those wonderful facial expressions. The actors knew their characters so well that we fans knew the moment a character got OUT OF character. Successfully, every character in Friday Night Lights had his own integrity—and it worked. It was believable. Each character earned his happy ending—though for some, I question whether the ending is truly happy. FNL characters will stay in our minds and in our hearts for a very long time.

It has been said that Friday Night Lights had a fanatical following. Yeah—and I was one of those fanatics. I haven’t been so involved in a series since the early years of Dallas. I watched and listend with my heart pounding and a knot in my gut, wondering who was going to screw up, who was going to ruin his life forever, who was going to make an unfixable mistake.

Friday Night Lights is a character study for writers. Wipe your calendar clean and settle down to learn something. There are only 76 episodes and each one is worth your hour.

 Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose

Friday, September 16, 2011

Surrendered Sleep, A Biblical Perspective by Charles W. Page, M.D.

I sleep like a log unless I have an early morning out-of-town appointment that causes me to worry about oversleeping. This title got my attention because my daughter has always had trouble sleeping through the night. I believe you'll admit, the theme of Surrendered Sleep is fascinating. Medical Doctor Charles W. Page "challenges you to wrap your mind around the concept of a God who is just as active during your sleep--or sleeplessness--as during your wakeful hours."

Surrendered Sleep is filled with interesting statistics and solutions, beautiful scriptures, and prayers. It's not a how-to book even though it's written workbook style. Surrendered Sleep guides the reader into "turning off" when we "turn in" -- clocking out and transfering all control to God.
Book Summary
Sleep Clinics. Sleeping Pills. Sleep Systems. With all the focus on sleep, it’s obvious to anyone breathing (or not—in the case of sleep apnea) that sleep disorders are on everyone’s minds. Can’t fall asleep. Can’t stay asleep. So many problems, but so few zzzs.
Dr. Charles W. Page has been plagued with sleep deprivation his entire adult life. Whether from the rigorous unpredictable lifestyle of a general surgeon or dealing with obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Page sees sleep as a precious commodity. Many of his surgical patients also report sleep problems on their medical histories. It’s certainly a widespread problem.
Although there is extensive medical literature regarding sleep, insomnia and sleep disorders, there is little instruction about these issues from a Christian worldview. Sleep was God’s idea—why shouldn’t we go to the One who created rest in the first place for answers to our sleep problems. One of the reasons Dr. Page wrote Surrendered Sleep was to heighten people’s awareness of the spiritual side of sleep issues, which often goes neglected in health and medical literature.

Author Bio:
Dr. Charles W. Page is a sleep-deprived surgeon. He completed medical school and residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and serves as surgeon in rural Texas. Dr. Page is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. In addition to his involvement in the teaching ministry of his local church, he has participated in medical mission trips to Cameroon, Pakistan, Milawe, Niger, Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua. He and his wife Joanna live in Texas with their five children.
 This book was provided by Kathy Carlton Willis Communications in exchange for my honest review or participation in a blog tour. No monetary compensation was exchanged.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Something to Think About

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. ~ Ernest Hemingway
For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey takes me. ~Jack Dann

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

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Plotting at Killer Nashville

I’ve had to put aside blogging and some of the books I’m reading to meet deadlines. My attention is so easily yanked from one interesting subject to another. Robert Dugoni’s The Jury Master came yesterday. I thumbed to the first page and moments later realized I’d read three chapters and lost all sense of time.  He’s got an excellent writing style. Excellent storyteller. Last night I stayed up until midnight again—went to YouTube and looked for every interview I could find with Dugoni. Watched them all. He’s such a likable guy and he always shares something valuable.

I’m a terrible note-taker. When interviewing I always take tape recorders with me. Yes, tape recorderS. Just in case. My notes during the Killer Nashville conference are sporadic and abbreviated, to say the least. Out of all the good stuff P.J. Parrish said on the plotting panel, I have one thing beneath her name: “Plotting is nothing without good pacing.” I got caught up in all she was saying, but too, I guess that’s what resonated with me the most. I see myself as a weak plotter and if I'm not careful my story will move at a snail's pace.

I have much written beneath  Debbie Henson’s name: She said she identifies three climaxes in her story. I take that to mean three major plot points, then she builds her book around those three.  The first climax occurs during the first third of the book, the second climax is in the middle and it changes the game, offers the big twist that moves the book forward. Then there’s the climax that offers a race to the end—the finish. She uses a bulletin board, writes her three climaxes on index cards and builds her story with scenes.
We each have to do what works for us and I think the reason Debbie’s method appeals to me is I did pretty much the same thing when I wrote my first book. I took 12 sheets of paper, each symbolizing a chapter of the book. I outlined on each sheet/chapter—loosely. I started writing. As I wrote, I filled in my pages. It worked. That book got published—and I’ve never, ever used that method again or sold a book. For some reason, I’ve became a seat of the pants writer. What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ll have more posts on Killer Nashville but on another note:

I’m writing a short piece on Walker Percy for Southern Writers Magazine. I can’t begin to tell you how enamored I am with this man. I can’t possibly use all the interesting info I’ve collected about him and hope to do a blog post too, but for sure I want to tell you now that a Walker Percy symposium will be happening October 14-16. The conference will take place on Loyola University campus in New Orleans. That;s located in the Uptown area of N.O. across from Audubon Park. This is going to be very interesting. Wish I could go--Check it out HERE.
Did anyone watch the Walker Percy documentary? It's for sale HERE.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robert Dugoni - Killer Nashville Guest of Honor

On Sunday, our last day, I attended Robert Dugoni’s writing workshop. Dugoni was the Guest of Honor at Killer Nashville and he was truly the icing on my Slimfast cupcake. His was one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended. His words echoed with honesty when he told us we have to do four things:

We have to Persevere. We have to be Patient. We have to be Persistent. We have to Pray.

Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve heard it a thousand times, but sometimes we hear it and it doesn’t sound like someone trying to sell us a lake house in the desert.

 Several things Dugoni said resonated with me: One being “don’t get too concerned or caught up in the idea. It’s all about the character.”  I’m afraid for me it’s always been about the idea. I had an editor tell me once not to try to be so different; she was talking about my ideas. They're over the top. They (and you know who they are) always tell us to write what we want to read and that’s what I do. Okay, so I get a little weird. I suppose I need to take a closer look, rework them so they’re all about character. {sigh}
Remember the saying by Somerset Maugham—“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Dugoni says there's only one rule:  It Must Work.” Whatever we do, whatever we try, whatever we write--it must work.

He said that nobody can teach you how to write; they can only teach you how to teach yourself how to write. 
I like that.  

I've ordered Dugoni's first book--The Jury Master. If I like his writing style, I'll buy all the others. Now, go HERE
to see why I like this guy so much--without having read one word he's written.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Mystery of the Perfect Pitch

I’m puzzled over querying and pitching to agents and editors. There's no way to get it absolutely right. I’ve taken a number of online classes teaching the how-to of the perfect pitch/query but every teacher has a different take on it. One agent says don't open your query with what you think is a provocative question; another says she likes the so-called provocative question opening. For sure, it's akin to sending out resumes with cover letters; we have to tailor each query to that specific person or house. And we have to make sure we spell the editor/agent's name correctly. It's the kiss of death of we don't. If we don't know if it's Jody or Jodie, we'd better spend time finding out. If we don't know if Jody/Jodie is a guy or a gal, we'd better spend time researching to find out. Believe me when I say, Google is our friend.

I sort of expected agents and editors to be united in what they want to see in queries, pitches, synopses. At Killer Nashville, what one liked the other hated. There was quite a heated discussion on likes and dislikes. One thing for certain: they do NOT want queries that read like text messages. Yes, they're actually receiving them. Here's a question for you: what's your definition of common sense? :)

Agents Jill Marr, Jeff Kleinman and Kathleen Ortiz joined editor Deni Dietz and publisher Martin Shepard on a panel that discussed pitching. Jeff hates the word pitch. I came away with the impression that he wants a ‘visit’ – just sit and talk about the book in a casual manner and that we should talk about ourselves too. Of course, the women leaned more toward structure (don't we always?) though they all encouraged us to relax and not be fearful. Easier said than done. I hate pitching. If I could be an anonymous writer living in my attic with no FB, no tweeting and no getting out in public, I'd probably be okay with that.
Here’s something I’ve never heard before so I guess I learned something new at Killer Nashville. Martin Shepard, The Permanent Press publisher, hates synopses! Can you believe it? Don’t you want to yell, hey- join-the-club-we-writers-hate-them-too? Martin likes to start reading a manuscript with no notion of the ending. He likes to watch the story evolve. I’ve always thought this was the better way to read and judge a book, but then I’ve been under the impression that editors actually read manuscripts. I’m not so sure anymore. Martin isn't greatly concerned about word count either. If he likes the manuscript and it falls a little short, he'll just use a larger font when publishing it. Sounds like a writer's dream, doesn't he? Add to the dream--this publisher is very picky about his likes.

This weekend, browse the websites and blogs of the following editors and agents. Educate yourself. If you're looking for an agent, Jill, Jeff and Kathleen are good choices. As for publishers: The Permanent Press is a small press that publishes mysteries. They deal in hard copies only. Their books hardly ever go out of print. Deni  Dietz is with Five Star, an imprint of Gale (not to be confused with the self-publishing Five Star Press. Five Star-Gale publishes hardback and they are distributed to libraries only--but you can purchase them online. Many first time mystery authors get their start at Five Star-Gale. They have specific submissions guidelines. Check them out.

The following links can help you educate yourself.
Kathleen Ortiz

Martin Shepard and The Permanent Press

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Donald Bain: Murder He Wrote at Killer Nashville

Killer Nashville had a couple of very interesting keynote speakers. One was Donald Bain, author of the Murder She Wrote books.

Bain has written more than 100 books—mysteries, comedies, westerns, biographies and investigative journalism. Because of contractual obligations, he can’t publicly take credit for some of the novels and nonfiction books he’s ghosted.

Mr. Bain advised conference attendees to “Say no to nothing. Be open to everything.”

He also told us that “A good writer should be able to write about anything.”

One thing he keeps in his mind while writing is: “This is the most important thing I’ll ever write—and it may be the last.”

I like his philosophy—and the way he motivates himself. He said he used to be a morning person, but now he enjoys his leisurely mornings over coffee. (Me too, but since I gave up being a morning person, I've never quite found my writing groove.)  Bain writes seven days a week.

To learn more about Donald Bain, you might want to check out his autobiography: Murder He Wrote: A Successful Writer’s Life.

And remember: Be open to everything.