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Showing posts from January, 2010

Resolution or Commitment?

New Year’s resolutions—no matter how well-intended—are made to be broken. Why so? Could it be that they are created on a whim and aren’t backed by the commitment that turns intentions into actions? Before moving into a smaller place recently, I spent days going through old files and eliminating bags full of no-longer-necessary papers. I even found several rejection letters I received some years ago when I sent out my not-quite-ready-for-publication first novel. Most were form letters, but one agent sent a personal note, commenting that the manuscript needed revision. He was right. I later pared over 20,000 words off the story, some of which I dearly loved. Letting them go met with more reluctance than I care to admit. What’s the point here? I had resolved to write a more compelling book than the ones I was reading, a story that kept the reader turning pages despite the missing sex and profanity. And I had indeed written a story—some 116,000 words of story. However, I hadn’t co


Nobody likes rejections, but we all get them. If you're a writer, you get them by the truckload. You get them from your critique group. Readers and judges of contests give you low scores or write mean-spirited or positive, but disheartening comments. When you start querying out your manuscript, you get rejected by agents. If you finally get an agent, then you get the pleasure of being rejected by editors. Your book gets published, and then it seems like the critics are out for blood. Even with good reviews, readers reject you, sometimes on world-wide bulletin boards or chat services, sometimes when you're sitting at a table in a store and hardly anyone even makes eye contact, let alone comes over. Book stores reject you--they don't want you for a signing, or you show up for a signing and they forgot to order copies of your book. And on and on. Constant, never-ending rejection. Why Do We Do This To Ourselves? Excuse me. Did I say that aloud? What I meant to say was: Reje

Busted!—John Cheever caught using potent modifiers

In a former post I showed how taking another look at multiple modifiers can lead to deeper meaning. The example I used was “long orange stringy hair”—it gives a brief visual, but not much more. In later drafts I suggested you might examine such clustered modifiers to single out the one that can contribute the most to your story, and then capitalize on it to create meaning. After posting that blog I happened to pick up an old copy of The Brigadier and the Golf Widow, a collection of short stories by John Cheever. Cheever is a master of the telling detail. I particularly enjoyed this passage from “An Educated American Woman,” in which Cheever introduces his main character, Jill Chidchester Madison, a woman who has light brown hair, small breasts, and brown eyes. Many authors would have stopped at this roll call of visual elements, which the reader may or may not later remember. Not Cheever. And rather than whittle down to one telling detail, he turns each of these attributes into a

Editor Interview: Barbara Warren, Blue Mountain Editorial Service

Barbara Warren, author and owner of Blue Mountain Editorial Service, lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks in Missouri with her husband Charles, a herd of cattle and an office cat named Rosicat, who was abandoned at their church when she was just a kitten. Rosicat manages the office. Charles and Barbara do the work. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. Barbara was my editor on Cowgirl Dreams, published by Treble Heart Books . Can you expand on your editing background--how did you get into it? Did you take classes? No, I didn’t take classes. I belonged to a writer’s group and we critiqued each other’s work. People kept urging me to become an editor, and after a while I took them seriously. I do read a lot of books on writing and have an extensive library of books about writing and editing. I keep studying, wanting to grow so I can do a better job for the writers whose books I edit. How long have you been editing? I’ve

Looking for the Right Writers' Conference

It's not always easy to find the right conference. You might want a one-day event, or a long weekend. Local is better if you can avoid a hotel stay. On the other hand, getting away from home provides networking opportunities you'll miss if you skip the evening events or hospitality room gatherings. For some, a focus on the craft of writing is preferred. Other conference attendees will want a variety of expert panels and an opportunity to pitch their completed manuscripts to agents and editors. For a series of informative articles about conferences from Writer's Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino, check out the Writers Conference category of his blog archives. One of the places to search for writers' conferences, workshops, and genre conventions is in Shaw Guides . All types of events are grouped together alphabetically, so it takes a long time to separate conferences sponsored by colleges and universities from those offered by writers' organizations from those sp

May I say a Word in my Defense?

In looking for some old posts to link to in a new blog post, I discovered that my post about what drives this editor crazy had 43 responses. Some of them made good points that encouraged me to rethink some of my editing pet peeves, a few were personal attacks -- but okay, I'm a big girl, I can take that -- and several defended the use of ordinary, common word usage.   One responder, who doesn't have a full Google profile wrote: "It seems editors feel they MUST be picky or they're not doing their job. The things you bring up are a matter of opinion. Some readers might enjoy flowery language and some don't have great imaginations and need things spelled out for them. Should we just ignore all those people and only write for the extremely literate? Should we only write to the level of editors?"   To her, and the others who said this is all just a matter of personal opinion, I remind you to think about the craft of writing. It is not enough to get a story down

Writing for Wikipedia – Background on Biographies

If you’ve decided to write a Wikipedia biography , you’ve probably selected a subject that excites you – an author whose books you love (or love to hate), for example. There are some points to keep in mind for all wikipedia articles that have special importance when writing about people. • Be factual – do your research, double check the facts, make sure the facts are independently verifiable • Limit the article to relevant facts • Keep your tone neutral, don’t state your opinions • Take care to link your finished page to other pages, otherwise your hard work will be orphaned Be Factual Remember – Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a collection of known, verifiable facts. You are also writing about a person and people tend to have families and friends who care about them. Your family probably would not be amused to read that you died three years ago in a drug induced frenzy during which you leapt from Grand Canyon rim while yelling “I believe I can fly!” Okay, maybe they would be am

My Computer's View of What I Write

Broncs? Steer riding? What IS this drivel? Oh my God, she’s writing a Western! Leaping lattes, the boys at H-P never warned me about this. They only told me I was being placed in the home of a writer. Here, I had visions of late-night literary discussions over a Corvaussier with a chap in a velvet jacket, smoking a fine Cuban cigar. Maybe a little Mendelssohn in the background, or at least Mozart. Egads, what is that noise? “Come a Tie Yi Yippee, Yippee Yay”? Cover my speakers, please. No Mozart? Cowboy songs? Humph. Back to my literary dream. Together—this fine author and I—we would create the modern Dickensian masterpiece, or at least a significant sonnet or two. Ah, the power of the written word… Dadburned? Consarned? Dropped “G’s” all over the place? I try my best. But she just ignores those red underlines. What does she think that is, anyway, just a pretty color? And the grammar. Acres of green. Ignored again. Her manuscripts look like a Christmas tree. What’s a computer

Interview With An Editor -- Denise Dietz

This month's featured professional editor is Denise (Deni) Dietz. Responsible for using her fine-tooth comb on many of the mystery manuscripts (including both of mine) submitted to Five Star Publishing , a Division of Cengage , Deni is an experienced professional who teaches her clients as she edits their work. Deni has just accepted a position with Tekno/Five Star and will be the Associate Editor in charge of all mystery and romance authors who are submitting to Five Star for the first time. Authors should look for her as the Tekno/Five Star representative at writers conferences. Also an author of mystery fiction as well as romance, Deni’s books include Eye of Newt and the Ellie Bernstein mystery series (latest release: Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread , 2009). Writing as Mary Ellen Dennis, Deni received a Booklist starred review for The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter , a novel based on The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Deni’s next Mary Ellen historical, Stars of Fire , is

Great Book Discussion Questions

Book-club discussions are important to many readers, including me. I participate in online books discussions regularly through a mystery listserv , and sometimes I even led the discussion. So I have some experience in coming up with thought-provoking questions, and I’m finally getting around to writing discussion questions for my own novels. Every novel has specific events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion, so I included a few of those. (Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not?) Then there are the standard questions that work for almost any novel. (Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?) My favorite questions go beyond specific settings or events: Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussio

As Time Goes By - Morgan Mandel

Time can change according to circumstances. Here are a few examples, which you may find true. 1. Lunch hours and breaks go by faster than the same amount of time spent in a dentist’s chair or at a doctor’s office. 2. At the beginning of a vacation, there seems to be a lot of time, but by the end, you didn't do everything you wanted to do. 3. Getting an agent or publisher to accept a manuscript can take longer than to write one. 4. A Facebook hour goes by faster than a synopsis hour. 5. The older you get the faster time seems to fly. If you’re still young, you won’t notice this right away, but it will happen. 6. Similar to the one above - What seems to have happened last year actually happened at least five years ago. 7. Busy people make time to do more, while those who are not busy can barely do what they already do. 8. If you quit your day job, you’ll find more time to write. Someone, tell me, is this one true? I threw it in as wishful thinking. It hasn’t happened

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part Two

In addition to examining the characters in your story to trim unnecessary material, you can also look at your scene development. As I edited the VBB, I saw a major need for the client to edit scenes. Back in 2008, I wrote a short piece titled “ Developing Scenes ” that’s worth a check out. It’s important to remember that scenes don’t have to start at the beginning. Now, what does this mean? Let’s say you wanted to write a scene in which your main character’s conflict was revealed. You plan to do this by having the conflict blurted out during an argument between the main character and her boyfriend. In your scene, you start with allowing us to see the main character driving home, then she walks into her apartment, then she checks her mail and phone messages, then she takes off her clothes and puts on something comfortable, and then after all of that the boyfriend comes home, and there’s a lot of conversation about nothing before we even get to the argument. This would be considered a ve

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part One

Every year, I edit a slew of manuscripts – short stories, flash fiction, novellas, novels, etc. The biggest book I had ever edited before this time was about 200,000 words, and that story was about 80,000 words too long. A lot of slash-and-burn occurred for that literary baby. But in 2009, I met my biggest adversary: a book that was over 330,000 words. No, this was not a Twilight saga. No Harry Potter. No The Lord of the Rings . This was a contemporary novel, a blend of street, urban, and literary fiction. It was, by far, one of the cleanest reads I have ever read. The writer is extraordinarily creative and talented. Despite these glowing praises, the book was way too long. Typically, I would have helped the writer slash and burn the book down to a nice length, but it was difficult to do so with this project because everything in the book “seemed” to belong there. After reading the book once before editing, I realized that two problems hindered this VBB (very big book) from being a go

Things That Drive an Editor Crazy Revisited

Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy here . She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used: she answered she explained she asked she read she questioned she stated she quizzed she requested she inquired she exclaimed she replied she interjected she rallied she spoke up she frowned she added she stated she commented she shuddered she inferred she mused she purred she advised she argued she wailed she pouted she shrugged she shouted she implored she clarified she rallied she begged Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flatly, proudly, and even jokingly. That's just our female romantic lead - the hero was just as amazin

Multiple Modifiers: A portal to deeper characterization

As you read back through your story looking for ways to improve it, stop and question each set of multiple modifiers. If all they provide superficial detail, as many such word sets do, reconsider their usage. Because if you let them, they can provide a window to deeper characterization. All you have to do is climb through. Let's say the first set you come to says that your character has “long stringy orange hair.” In your first draft, that visual image was enough—the movie of story was unreeling in your mind, you saw the character, you took notes. By applying three modifiers your subconscious suggested that this character's hair was a detail worthy of further consideration. In this draft you have an opportunity to do just that—and in doing so, uncover deeper meaning. Long. Stringy. Orange. It is unfair of you to ask your reader to sift through your verbiage to arrive at meaning. How is she to know what is the most important information if you as author don’t? Try paring tha

Printing Bookplates on Adhesive Labels

Yesterday we looked at how to create a simple bookplate , either for your own library or to use as a promotional keepsake that your readers can download and print from your website. Today we're looking at printing on adhesive labels. Bookplate Setup You will need a box of labels of a size that will fit the smallest books for which you intend them. Check the website of the label manufacturer for pre-made Word templates for the specific labels you’ve purchased. (Avery is a brand available in many countries and their website features a range of templates.) Another option is to check Microsoft’s website by connecting through New Document, Templates, Templates on Office Online. Here is an example of a Microsoft pre-designed bookplate template . (Word 2007 users will probably find templates for most labels already available under the File, New... menu.) Using Tables to Set Up Your Labels If you’re unable to find a suitable blank template you can construct your own using tables

How to Create Your Own Bookplates

A bookplate is a label stuck in a book originally with the purpose of identifying the owner of the book. More recently bookplates have become an item for authors to autograph and send to fans who cannot attend a book signing in person. Designing and printing your own bookplates is fairly easy, but depends on your personal tastes and design skills and how elaborate you want your design to be. Bookplates for Autographing If you are an author you might want to design a bookplate that you can autograph and have available to hand out or post to fans who request one. Another option is to scan and convert your autograph to a digital image and offer a bookplate template on your website that your fans can download and print out themselves. Commonly such bookplates include an image of the book cover and might include either a scanned autograph or white space for your autograph and possibly space for a message or the recipient’s name. Designing Your Bookplate You can use a program suc

How Far Can You Go? By Morgan Mandel

As I was walking to work in Downtown Chicago and doing my best to bypass the slippery remnants of the latest snowfall, I realized how distance can be relative. Here are a few examples: 1. Temperature – What would ordinarily be a short walk seems endless on an extremely hot or cold day. Even a drive is torture, if the heat or air conditioning in the car won't function when needed. 2. Terrain – A few steps can take forever if you're trying to negotiate an icy patch. I know this for a fact. (g) Swimming a few feet against the current can seem like a mile. 3. Injury or Illness – If you’ve hurt your hip, leg, foot, ankle, etc., walking a short distance can be time consuming. If you’ve injured your shoulder, arm or hand, lifting that member or moving it a few inches can be a nightmare. It may seem like traveling to the end of the world for someone with heart disease or bad lungs to walk across a parking lot from the car to a store or restaurant. Even if they're dropped off