Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ten Ways to Get the Most from a Writers’ Conference

I recently attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in Denver, so the benefits are fresh in my mind. In addition to the educational and networking opportunities at these conferences, there are often manuscript critique workshops and appointments to pitch your work to agents and editors. Here are my ten suggestions to get the most from any writers’ conference you attend.

1. Become a member of the organization sponsoring the conference. If that organization has a Yahoo! Group, join it as well. It’s the best way to make contacts before the event and find the volunteer jobs I mention in #3.

2. If you have an area of expertise useful to authors, send a workshop or panel proposal for the conference committee’s consideration. At Colorado Gold, some of the well-attended sessions were presented by unpublished writers or others with knowledge of e-books, e-readers, digital publishing options, police arrest tactics, blogging and social media, and publicity.

3. Volunteer to work before and/or during the conference. Volunteers assemble registration materials, work at the registration tables, moderate panels and presentations (which includes introduction, timekeeping, Q&A moderating, and room cleanup), gather donations for the hospitality room, and other duties.

4. If there’s a critique workshop included with the conference you choose, and if you have a manuscript ready for critique, sign up for the workshop, even if it costs a little extra. This is especially worthwhile if the workshop sessions are moderated by agents and editors, as are the Friday afternoon sessions at the Colorado Gold Conference.

5. If pitch appointments are available, and you have a completed manuscript, sign up. If it’s your first time, don’t be afraid. There will probably be a Pitch 101 session at the conference. If not, ask another attendee to help you prepare. Do not pitch your book to editors or agents at inappropriate times, but don't be afraid to chat with them during social events.

6. Study the program before you go to the conference so you have a good idea which workshops and panels will be most useful to you. At Colorado Gold, sessions were ranked beginning craft, advanced craft, special interest, etc. to help attendees decide.

7. Arrive at the conference with a smile. Pay attention to people. If you see someone wandering or sitting alone, start a conversation. Listen. Exchange business cards. Make a point of talking to at least one new person at every session you attend.

8. Find out where your conference hospitality room is and make an appearance there each day, even if you don’t stay too long. While some rooms will be non-alcoholic and open all day, others will be small and noisy late evening events with a bar. Either way, editors and agents may be present. Be on your best behavior.

9. Colorado Gold provides a book of handouts with the conference registration materials, which is helpful for note taking. Be prepared to take additional notes during a workshop or panel.

10. When you get home, follow up on the contacts you made. Read your contacts’ blogs and leave a comment, or e-mail them. If an editor or agent invites you to submit a partial, follow through.

The next conference I’ll be attending is Northern Colorado Writers’ Conference, to be held March 25-26, 2011 in Fort Collins, Colorado. This conference is for all writers, not just those who write fiction.

Remember what I said in #2 about presentation proposals for those who have special expertise in a writing-related topic? Here’s your chance to follow through. The director of the NCW conference has put out a call for presenters. I hope to see you in Northern Colorado in March.


Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting authors in several genres, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Role Play to Better Writing

To become a better writer and student of the craft, many writers take to buying books on character, plot, voice, and setting; take to attending workshops; and take to consulting with writing coaches.

None of these things are bad; in fact, I do many of these things, and I also coach writers and write articles to help them in many of the areas regarding writing and publishing.

However, there is something that we all can do that doesn’t cost much, if anything, except for our time and will give us opportunity to develop our writing: role play.

The connections between role playing and creative writing can be fairly obvious. Both contain the following elements: setting/worldview, conflict(s), characters/players, context, action/enactment, resolution/outcome, and rules. To be a good role player, you have to be able to understand and work within these elements; the same holds true for the creative writer.

I’ll talk about each of these elements briefly below.

In its basic definition, setting is a story’s time and place. Setting can help illustrate an historical moment or create a story within a particular social context. Setting can also create mood. A story set in Maine in January has a different feel than a story set in Louisiana in August, or Paris in the spring. The first could help create a mood of entrapment as piles of snow fall upon the state, closing people in, perhaps giving them cabin fever. In the third scenario, a writer might find the perfect opportunity to illustrate a romantic story as Paris in Spring “gives off” a romantic air. In some way, characters have to interact with the story’s setting, and their interaction can reveal characters’ traits. Oftentimes, setting is developed within narrative description; however, writers can show setting through character’s thoughts, action, and/or dialogue.

For any good story, in role play or in fiction, there needs to be conflict. A character has to want something but not be able to obtain that want. This usually propels the story into action as the character works to leap obstacles in order to resolve the conflict.

Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary [], there are over twenty definitions of “character”. Here is one that is particularly important to us writers and role players: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.”

Throughout the course of a story, your character [main character(s)] will undergo change(s), and it is through his/her features and traits (the things that make up the character) and his/her actions and speech that will illustrate the change(s) for the reader.

Context is slightly different for fiction and for role playing—kinda. In role playing, context involves what a participant learns about the game; this can include background on the world, on the inhabitants, on the conflicts and issues that are currently being played out in the world—information that helps to inform the participant of the playing space he or she is about to be a part of. In turn, a participant can develop his or her character so that the character seamlessly fits into the world and its goings on.

In fiction, these same things apply, but as a writer, it is your job to develop the space in which your story will be told so that the characters can do what they need to do within that story.

The Writer’s Process/Enactment
This element is interesting in that it’s an ongoing process for the role of writer/role player. In regards to enactment, there are activities that players participate in that entrenched them into the game and also develop their expertise and connection with others within the role playing community. A role player is only as good as his or her connection to the world and the players within it: to be a part of that world, the player may have to research the world, research his or her character and may have to participate on Web sites and blogs or in discussion forums during his or her time within the world.

In regards to fiction, I liken this to the writer’s process. Even while writing a story, a writer is constantly tapping into other sources and venues to gain insight into how to write better. A writer may join online writing communities for support, they might head to websites, such as The Blood-Red Pencil for great writing advice, they might share their writing with other writers for editorial assistance, and they might definitely have to do research, especially if say they are writing a historical. They would research the time period to understand its context.

One difference that can occur between fiction and role playing is that fiction typically comes to an end. There is a beginning, a middle, and an ending to a story; whereas, many role playing events are continuous stories with multiple layers. Having said that, both forms have resolutions and outcomes. In fiction, we read the resolution and close the book; in a role playing event, we see the outcome of a particular conflict only to find many others left to explore or new ones cropping up.

Initially, I wasn’t going to place this here, but I realize that rules are integral to role playing—not to keep participants from being imaginative, but to keep the story and storylines that have been created in place. Fiction has its set of rules, too, and we often find them within the genres we write. The structure of say a romance novel typically wouldn’t flow like the structure of a mystery or thriller. The rules are not there to keep a great story “out,” but to let the imagination bloom within the story you want to write or the role you want to play.

There are many virtual worlds that offer role-playing and fantasy sims to explore all of these components. I've been an active member of Second Life since last October, and just creating my online persona there has led to interesting thoughts and angles for story ideas in general. I'm about to start visiting RP and fantasy sims in Second Life to see other worlds, other characters, other storylines that might also further develop the way I think about those fictional concepts.

My SL persona, Shon Charisma, is the one in red.

Considering most virtual worlds are free to join and cost little to nothing while in-world, you only need to bring some time and imagination to the party.

As writers, we need the imagination, so that's a good thing.

As for the time, you can at least call it research for your writing endeavors.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making Bumblebees Buzz

Ghostwriting is all about encouraging people to take what is inside them – their thoughts, ideas, and stories – and get them “out there” so they can enrich or illuminate the lives of others. But many people don’t believe that what’s inside them is worth anything. It is part of my job to convince them that this is not so. We all have something to contribute. I know this is true because my mother showed me it was.

When I was about 4 years old, I wrote a poem about a bumblebee that my mother thought was the best poem any child had ever written. She copied it out in her prettiest handwriting, using a pen with thick black ink, and adding many flourishes and curlicues. She used her best white stationary, not the newsprint I originally wrote it on. And then she illustrated it with her own fabulous drawings (I thought they were fabulous because her bumblebees really looked like bees, not dots, and her flower like flowers, not smudges.)

She hung this creation inside a real frame, on the living room wall, not on the refrigerator. Everyone who came into our house was taken to see the poem and it was read aloud to them. Mom always followed the reading with, "And she's only four!" Many nights that year, when the house was dark and silent, I would get out of bed and tiptoe into the living room so I could gaze at my framed poem hanging in that place of honor. I have won other honors since then, for which I am grateful, but none of them have given me as much satisfaction as my bumblebee poem in my mother's handwriting.

Most of us still have a four-year-old inside us somewhere. It is my job as a ghostwriter to encourage those four-year-olds to come out and play with me, so I can make their bumblebees real.


Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Don't Like It? Too (Redacted) Bad

My upcoming novel, The Summer Son, includes approximately 71,900 words. Of those, an even 50 are the F-word, or one of its colorful variations. I know. I just counted.

In light of my buddy Jim Thomsen's recent Insta-Poll on this topic, it occurs to me that some readers might find this number a bit distasteful. And with all due respect to individual sensibilities, delicate or otherwise, let me say this:

I don't f-ing care.

For much of the book, my protagonist, Mitch Quillen, searches his past and present for a way to get close to his father, Jim, an itinerant well digger who put a decades-long breach between father and son in one violence-drenched summer in the late '70s. Most instances of the word in question fall from Jim's mouth, either in present day or in Mitch's memories. As those exercises in expletivity migrated from my fingertips to the page, I had to satisfy just one standard: Did they ring true?

The answer, in every case, is yes.

For proof, I suppose I could direct a skeptic to my own father, a retired itinerant well digger and the occupational model for Jim. In these days of his mellow dotage, Dad can still string together a cringe-inducing string of F- and S-words when he's agitated or, conversely, when he's feeling particularly good. I spent many, many days of my boyhood in the presence of men who talked to each other this way, and my intention in the book is to take readers into that world. I have no interest in artfully alluding to such language; in this case, if you buy the ticket, you take the ride.

Now, lest anyone think that I just randomly flung objectionable words at the wall, let me assure you that I did take a critical eye to each use, and in some cases I was challenged to justify it.

One of my beta readers, author Kristen Tsetsi, said, "The arguments between Mitch and his Dad seemed a little 'F-word you!' 'No, F-word YOU!' I understand that's their relationship, but there was something about reading the exchanges between them that left me wanting more from their arguments, and the kind of more that would make someone's 'F-word you' have impact." (Kristen, by the way, did not actually write "F-word.")

On her fine advice, I did some amending to give the exchanges greater emotional heft, including this little bit at a particularly contentious juncture:

I could match him "(really nasty word) you" for "(really nasty word) you," by that didn't matter much when they were the only words we knew. I'd said it behind his back for years, and now I'd proved I could say it to his face. A useless skill. Here we were, poles apart.

I hope we can agree that there is some literary and emotional value there beyond the harsh words. I remain indebted to Kristen. A little f-ing perspective is always helpful.


Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and is a finalist for a 2010 High Plains Book Award. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Frozen In Their Attitudes: How Sh*t Got Vulgar

"In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty."
--Owen Barfield

Conquerors write the history books--and determine the language in which they will be written. This is as true today as it was in 1066, when William the Bastard (so called because he was an illegitimate son—a “bastard”—and not because he was a mean, underhanded character) crossed the English Channel and defeated England’s King Harold at the Battle of Hastings to become William the Conqueror.

For England’s commoners, the change was profound. Before William, advancing to a job in the castle had always meant learning a skill of some kind--cooking, cleaning, child-minding, or, if one was of a clerkish turn, sums or, in rare instances, reading. After William, advancing required learning not only a skill, but the new language of culture, of status, of the law, and of the new ruling class--Norman French. And so it was that good Old English mothers set about seeing to it that their young ones learned French, eftsoons, or right speedily. When my mother once washed my mouth out with soap for saying “shit,” she was following a thousand-year-old tradition— reinforcing an old prejudice dating from the day that William decided to change his last name from Bastard to Conqueror.

Before William, little children were praised for saying, "Gotta shit, ma," shortly before soiling their breech clothes rather than shortly after. After William, they found themselves receiving slaps, and the stern injunction to use the French or Latin word for the function, rather than the "vulgar" word, the word used by the "common" people. The very words "vulgar" and "common," which had referred collectively to the vast majority of the people, became insults.

Previously widely-accepted Old English words like "shit" became markers for lack of achievement, for stupidity, for dirt under one's fingernails, for, in the words of the auto manufacturers, those who must shower after work, as opposed to those who choose to shower before work.

Our linguistic history has marked our perceptions. We still regard “common” and “vulgar” things as low-class, not middle-class. And, as my own experience bears out, mothers are still punishing their children for using good Old English words not because the words themselves are “bad” (though that is often the justification) but because using the words frozen in “low” attitudes often brands us in public opinion, as well.

Which isn’t to say that we don’t need those words. As a wise scholar once said, “Shit happens.” As writer, nice lady, and reluctant chicken farmer Betty MacDonald says in her book The Egg and I, “Sometimes a ‘son of a bitch' rolls trippingly off the tongue.” If the day ever comes when shit no longer happens and Mrs. MacDonald is proven wrong about what rolls off the tongue, perhaps the words will fade away. But until then, it's best to choose one's audience carefully before airing one's archaic references to bodily functions. Take it from an old soap-eater.

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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cussing tips

I can give cussing tips because early experience made me somewhat of an expert.

When I was young my sister and I were allowed to walk the block to our elementary school to play on the outdoor equipment. My favorite set of monkey bars stood beside a court where older boys played basketball. I’d scramble up as high as I could then perch there to watch. And listen. And learn.

After warming up the boys would remove their shirts. Around each neck the sun glinted off a gold crucifix pointing downward toward the slight swale between their adolescent pectorals. Their mouths loosened up with their muscles and my vocabulary lesson began—effing this and sh*tting that. Sometimes they dribbled the words effortlessly; sometimes they shot them with force.

But for me this was also a lesson in characterization: Catholic boys cuss.

Eventually I learned we all cuss in one way or another. From Dennis the Menace’s “Creepers, Mr. Wilson” to characters that roll about in a virtual verbal manure pile, we reveal ourselves through the language we choose. Hopefully, your novel will have a situation in which your character is pushed to a stressful extreme. When that happens, what will come out of his/her mouth?

My favorite example of cussing is from a 1946 children’s book by Elsie Church, Slappy: A Little Duck with Big Ideas. Slappy does not like being a duck; he wants to be a “pusson.” But when he goes out into the great wide world its challenges make the frustrations of quacking and swimming lessons pale in comparison. Slappy is always making up imaginative cuss words. “Oh whiffenpoof and tripe!” “Fishcakes and flyboots!” The book is fun to read aloud and my sons and I would laugh every time we read it.

What can Slappy teach us about the use of cussing in literature?

Choose cuss words consistent with your character. Slappy was wrestling with identity issues that resonate with adults—but he was so young he hadn’t even completed quacking lessons. His imaginative experimentation with language here is spot on. Even without using the standard lexicon we know he’s cussing, which is what makes it so funny.

Choose words acceptable within your genre. Adults are capable of choosing books whose language falls within their comfort level. Kids love evocative language, period. So genre guidelines aren’t dictated by the reader so much as by the gatekeepers—parents and publishers. All of Slappy’s words are acceptable for a young audience. The use of cussing in young adult novels is much debated, but since we all know young adults both hear and use these words, their use is realistic. If you come across cussing in a YA book and hope to use cussing in yours, jot down the name of the publisher as a submission possibility. Some publishers put language guidelines on their websites. And my youthful conclusion about Catholics aside, you might consider toning it down for most Christian publishers.

Foreshadow its use. Slappy was a feisty little duck facing some major challenges—we are not surprised when he cusses. But can you imagine Miss Marple letting the "f" word fly? Neither can I. Characters steeped in a culture of violence and sex, however, will naturally use harsher terms in their everyday speech.

Give careful thought to overuse. Slappy cusses only a handful of times in his book. This restraint is so seductive my sons asked me to read it again and again. In a novel for older audiences, a character who is always angry might always have a reason to cuss—but is that character well-rounded enough to be of interest to the reader? If “whiffenpoof” showed up on every page of Slappy’s tale it wouldn’t pack the same punch.

Craft question: share your ideas

Cussing is typically evocative of high emotional states. If your character cusses indiscriminately throughout your story, how would you escalate the emotion when push comes to shove?

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years, she now writes literary women's fiction.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bad Words in Books: A Different Perspective

Today, vulgarities abound. There’s no longer a distinct “polite society” where certain words are never spoken in public. To use a couple of clich├ęs, we live in a world of “no holds barred” and “anything goes.” During my lifetime, I have watched a new-fangled invention called television (with very few channels) go from I Love Lucy in which no one was allowed to use the word “pregnant” to a multi-channel medium that entertains viewers with exactly how she got that way and which may be presented in the most vulgar, demeaning terms.

We all know that profanity exists, sex exists, horrific violence exists. But must we wear that knowledge like a badge to show the world we’re privy to it? Or does it make more sense to aspire in our works to something different? I’m not suggesting a “Pollyanna” approach to writing; we don’t live in a “Pollyanna” world. The books I write allude to sex, profanity, and extreme violence. They’re realistic but not overly graphic, and they do not include vulgarities.

Someone noted that “serial killers do not say gosh, golly, gee.” And that’s right. But is it vital to the story to quote them? Or can a scene’s POV character be the victim who’s aghast at the killer’s language and even more so at his (or her) intent? Does the power of the scene lie in the vulgarity? the pending violence? Or is it in the victim’s emotionally-wrenching perspective as she (or he) comes face to face with the imminent end of life? How does the language affect her? What can you show the reader that will pull him or her into the scene and drive home its true horror?

Let’s consider an example. A young kidnap victim sits alone in a room with her abductor, and she knows in her heart what’s about to happen. Get inside her head and extract her emotional trauma, spreading it out in all its agonizing terror for the reader to experience. Do we need to hear the kidnapper’s bad words? Or is there a more compelling way to present this scene? Does great writing depend on vulgarity to underscore its quality?

Based on this brief description of what’s about to take place between these two characters, write the scene. Use either point of view, but do it without bad words, graphic sex, or gory violence. Limiting adverbs (“ly” words) and passive verbs (especially forms of “to be”), grip the reader in 150 words or less. Or write it two ways, with and without the vulgarities, to see which one has the most power. Then share your scene(s) with us.

As writers, we have many choices in telling (showing!) our stories. And the vast majority of us want to sell books. Knowing that a certain segment of the reading population will not choose to buy a book that contains vulgarities (among other things), why would we want to limit our sales to only those who don’t care about bad language? Why not grow as writers and learn more compelling ways to keep our readers turning pages and waiting impatiently for the release of our next book. What do you think?
Writer/editor/publisher Linda Lane works with writers to help them create powerful, compelling books. Her first love is fiction, but her editing team includes an award-winning nonfiction editor to assist those who write nonfiction. Linda's first writing venture into the world of the psychological drama was released this summer. You can learn more about her and her work at and

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To What Extent Do You Tolerate The "F-Word" in Fiction?

I asked this question of my Facebook friends a few weeks ago, and a surprisingly lively conversation thread broke out — aided and abetted in no small part by my author friend Mary Guterson, who jumped in unexpectedly and got everybody's blood pressure rising. Mary's two novels, We Are All Fine Here and Gone To The Dogs, feature generally intelligent, well-educated women who drop f-bombs like kids drop candy wrappers.
But overall, in 46 responses, opinion was fairly split down the middle. Which just goes to show, I think, that there's no one right answer. Either your personal aesthetic and the perceived aesthetic of your target audience demands that you keep such language out — or that you keep it in.

A sampling of responses:

• Christy K., a 37-year-old Seattle author: "Any word repeated too often gets boring, especially if it seems forced or unnatural. It's not a moral thing. But if it's in character, let it fly."

• Jessica R., a Florida resident and former newspaper journalist in her early 30s: "My reality doesn't include prolific swearing. So I tend to choose books that don't include the language. It distracts me in the same way as writers write in regional language, making the story almost incomprehensible as you try to slog through the prose."

• Rabecca L., a Bellevue, Wash. wife and mother in her early 40s: "Big turnoff for me, whether in a book or in conversation. Occasional use is fine but frequent use is lazy and seems trashy."

• David H., mid-30s, computer tech in Portland, Ore.: "The F-bomb definitely has its usefulness in specific circumstances where nothing else will adequately do justice to the situation."

• R.J., a Maine author in her early 40s: "Reality is my guide. If the story is set where the people don't know or use a wide range of adjectives, then the characters shouldn't. It isn't lazy. It's accurate."

• Mary Guterson, 52, Los Angeles author: "My characters know a million adjectives. They just prefer the word fuck, as it works every single time."

• Janet R., Texas resident, late 30s: "Doesn't bother me in the least. The word can be used in many colorful ways. Overuse of it, or any repetitive word, does become dull and annoying, though. As if the character has a very limited vocab or a general lack of intelligence."

• Amber M., Montana resident, early 30s: "I agree that when an author is redundant by virtue of laziness or lack of talent that my interest wavers. However, if you wanna' see me get REALLY bored RE...ALLY fast, give me a book full of "characters" whose soul has been shaved away by a writer trying to protect his own delicate sensibilities or that of his readership."

• Donna M., Bremerton, Wash. resident, early 40s: "I have a fairly low tolerance for it in both literature and life."

So ... insta-poll for you readers: What's the takeaway from this sampling of people and responses?


Jim Thomsen is a news editor at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash. He also is a partner in Proof Positive, a manuscript-editing and media-services business, and maintains
Reading Kitsap, a blog about the local literary scene. He can be reached at ... or found, almost 24/7, on Facebook.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Potty Mouth?

 The first mystery I wrote, Doubletake, was a collaboration with a woman who was … how can I put this delicately…very hard around the edges. Margaret had been around the block more than a few times and could hold her own with any sailor or truck driver when it came to colorful language. At that time, I was a mother of young children who had worked hard to never say anything harsher than "hell" lest my little darlings hear things they shouldn’t.

The way Margaret and I worked on the book was to each write a chapter and then get together to trade pages and  add our touch to what the other had written. Margaret looked over my first attempt to write something from the killer’s point of view and said, “Maryann. A deranged killer is not going to say, ‘Gosh, golly, gee.’ He’s more apt to say, #(#*#*&,  @)*$&$,   #*@&#.”

“But I can’t write those words. I’ve never even said them.”

 Margaret grabbed me by the hand and took me out behind her barn where she made me repeat certain words over and over until I no longer stammered and turned as red as a tomato.

Sometime later when the book was published, I gave a copy to my mother and she called one day to tell me she had read the book. I asked her if she liked it and she said, “Yes. For the most part. But I was wondering. All those dirty words I told you not to say when you were a kid. Did you save them up and put them in the book?”

As I went on to write other books and screenplays that had characters who used rough language, I always reminded myself that it is the character who is saying the words. Not me. We do have to separate ourselves from the characters so they can truly be who they are meant to be, not a reflection of ourselves and our values.

I  use colorful language as sparingly as the story and characters will let me. We don’t have to be using the rough stuff in every other line of dialogue just because that is the way that a lot of cops talk, or that is the way a lot of bad guys talk. When the language is used sparingly, it has a much stronger impact. For instance, I still remember the first time I ever heard my father use the f-word. He had never said anything stronger than damn in front of us kids, so for him to say that really underscored the significance of the incident that spurred him to say it.

Now if I could just get my central character in my mystery series to clean up her potty mouth....

Posted by Maryann Miller, who has been on both sides of the editing table and appreciates a good editor. Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little ranch in East Texas.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Need Help? Get Help

A couple of days ago, I visited a creative-writing class at Montana State University Billings, invited by an instructor who is kind of enough to have me come up once a semester to meet with her students.

The instructor, Sue Hart (so complete a repository of knowledge about literature of the West that she ought to be a national treasure), told me that this class, in particular, was lively and engaged on the topic of writing.

She wasn't kidding. In a rollicking 90 minutes, we covered a huge range of subjects related to writing and publishing. Of those, two stood out as particularly salient in this time when those who aim for traditional publishing are facing intense competition and those who lean toward independent publishing confront a huge marketing challenge.

To protect the innocent, I'll identify the question and not the questioner:

Since a publisher provides editors, how much do I have to worry about grammar and punctuation?

An honest question deserves an honest answer: You should worry about it greatly. In fact, if you don't worry about it, your chances of having an agent or a publisher or an editor are heavily compromised.

Now, this doesn't mean that you need to be conversant in the dative case or be able to fling cognate objects around. Generally speaking, the good, solid grounding in grammar that most of us received in the middle school years will serve you well. If that level of proficiency eludes you but you're still interested in writing, get help. Freelance editors stand by, ready to assist you in elevating the quality of your manuscript. A writing group, particularly one with some editorial-minded members, can be of great assistance.

The bottom line: If you're writing with the expectation that you'll submit the material for publication, you need to have grammar and punctuation locked down.

I'm reluctant to turn my work over to an editor because I worry about the lack of control. What can I do?

The good news: Self-publishing has never been easier, so if you want to lone-wolf it, go right ahead.

The bad news: Your work is likely to languish among the hundreds of thousands of other half-baked self-published titles, and all the while you're promulgating the biggest stigma on self-publishing: that it universally sucks. Those who most assuredly don't suck and in fact are making a tidy business out of it will not be particularly pleased with you.

The landscape is changing quickly. Established writers, ones who have successfully placed books with traditional publishers and built readerships, are in many cases migrating to independent publishing. If you want to compete, you'd better be damned good.

It's simple, really: Good editing is a vital piece of the publication process. If you have the do-it-yourself spirit, go forth and prosper.

But be warned: You have a better chance with an editor in your corner.


Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and is a finalist for a 2010 High Plains Book Award. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

“The first thing that makes a reader read a book is the characters.” – John Gardner

Your novel can have a great premise and riveting plot, but if your characters are weak, boring, or undeveloped, your book will be quickly rejected by agents and acquisition editors. As Elizabeth Lyon points out, “Characterization is the bedrock of fiction and the reason most people read it. What endures in our hearts and minds over time is the heroes, heroines, and villains. Less often do we recall their plots. ” (A Writer’s Guide to Fiction)

Unpublished authors very often have written a good story, but have neglected to develop their characters sufficiently. Your protagonist needs to be likable, charismatic, and complex enough to be interesting. He needs emotional depth and a few flaws and insecurities. And he needs to be able to draw on inner strengths and resources to take on adversity and overcome odds. If your character is annoying, boring, too perfect, or a wimp, you’re dead in the water. And don’t make your villains 100% evil, either.

No annoying protagonists, please!
Your main character can and should have a few faults, but overall, she needs to be sympathetic and likable – not whiny, ditzy, cold, immature, or annoying. Your reader wants to be able to identify immediately with your lead character. If the reader doesn’t care about your protagonist and what happens to her within the first few pages, she will put down the book and go on to another one. As James Scott Bell says, in fiction, “readers will respond only if they are connected, bonded in a way to the lead character.”

In his Revision Checklist section, James Scott Bell has these questions to ask yourself about your protagonist: “Is my Lead worth following for a whole novel? Why? How can I make my lead jump off the page more? Will readers bond with my lead because he:
  • cares for someone other than himself?
  • is funny, irreverent, or a rebel with a cause?
  • is competent at something?
  • is an underdog facing long odds without giving up?
  • has a dream or desire readers can relate to?
  • has undeserved misfortune, but doesn’t whine about it?
  • is in jeopardy or danger?
A perfect character is insufferable.
Don’t make your main character too good to be true. Nobody likes a “goody-goody two-shoes.” As Mittelmark and Newman so aptly put it, “Perfect people are boring. Perfect people are obnoxious because they’re better than us. Perfect people are, above all, too good to be true. Protagonists should only be as nice as everyday people are in real life. Making them nicer than the average reader will earn the reader’s loathing, or make her laugh in disbelief. (How Not to Write a Novel)

No cardboard characters, please!
To avoid flat, superficial characters, you need to create an interesting backstory for each of them, including their secret fears, insecurities, and desires, as well as their strengths and triumphs in life. As Randy Ingermanson says, “Characters are the most important part of any novel, and the time you invest in designing them up front will pay off ten-fold when you start writing. For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:
  • the character’s name
  • a one-sentence summary of the character's storyline
  • the character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • the character’s story goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • the character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • the character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
  • a one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline."
It’s also important to get to know your character’s fears or insecurities, secrets, attitudes, quirks, talents, likes and dislikes. Elizabeth Lyon gives some specific advice for deepening your characters:
Diagnosis 1: Underdeveloped characterization that produces inadequate depth, dimensionality, believability, or interest; in other words, flat, boring characters.
Treatment 1: Check and revise for these key areas of character development: a clear story yearning, a traumatic past and a near past; a prominent and heroic strength and primary weakness; a host of unique personality traits, habits, likes, dislikes, talents, hobbies, attitudes, and quirks; strong emotions and motives; fears and secrets, and one or several contradictions that can be explained.
Diagnosis 2: Insufficient relationship, chemistry, contrast, or conflict between characters.
Treatment 2: Increase the relatedness of your characters, and you raise the level of emotions and potential of conflict. Think Peyton Place, where everybody is involved in everybody else’s business. Make your characters essential in each other’s worlds.” (A Writer’s Guide to Fiction)
In addition, a sure-fire way to deepen your characters is to have them react more to events. Show how they’re feeling, through their words, actions, and body language.

Your protagonist needs charisma.
“Grit, wit, and it.” — That’s James Scott Bell’s answer to the question: “What makes a great lead character?” Here are a few of his points about each of these essential attributes:
Grit: Let me lead off with the one unbreakable rule for major characters in fiction: No wimps!
A wimp is someone who just takes it. Who reacts (barely) rather than acts. While a character may start out as a wimp, very early on he must develop real grit. He must do something. He must have forward motion. Grit is guts in action.”
If your character starts out as a wimp, don’t go on for too long about it, or you’ll turn your readers off and they’ll put down the book in disgust. No one wants to read about someone with a million different phobias or who’s wallowing in self-pity or afraid to make a move to improve their life. As Bell says, “Know your character’s inner lion. What is it that will make her roar and fight? Bring that aspect to the surface early in your story and you won’t be hampered by the wimp factor.”
Wit: Wit can rescue a character from a moment that can become just maudlin self-pity, or be overly sentimental, almost sappy, and will enliven even a negative character. As Bell says,
“Find an instance when your character can gently make fun of himself. Work that into a scene early in the book. This makes for a great first impression on the reader.”
It: It means “personal magnetism, sex appeal as well as a quality that invites admiration (or envy) among others. Someone who walks into a room and draws all the attention has ‘it’.”
Bell gives several suggestions for making sure your lead character has “it”, including:
“Work into your novel an early scene where another character is drawn to your lead character. This can be because of sex appeal, power, or fascination. It can be subtle or overt. But this will set 'it' in the minds of the readers.” (Revision & Self-Editing)

So don’t model your hero after someone you know. He needs to be stronger, braver, more resourceful and more intelligent. As Jessica Morrell puts it, “fictional characters venture into physical and emotional territory where most of us would fear to tread.”
In conclusion, make sure your protagonists aren’t boring, perfect, annoying, or wimpy. Give them charisma, flaws, likeable traits, and above-average moral and physical strength and inner resources.
Jodie Renner is a former English teacher and librarian with a master’s degree and a lifelong passion for reading, especially fiction. For the past several years, Jodie has been running her own freelance manuscript editing business, specializing in fiction. She is also the copy editor for two magazines. To find out more about Jodie and her business, please visit her website at

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Point of View

Patricia Stoltey recently discussed various points-of-view (you can read the post by clicking here), and today we welcome Susan Wittig Albert to discuss an unusual and little-used narrative POV she employs in her Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series. Welcome, Susan, on this tour stop for the seventh book in the series, The Tale of Oat Cake Crag, and thank you for sharing your insights with us.

The Narrator and the Reviewer

In Mystery News a couple of years ago, Diana Vickery wrote a review of The Tale of Hawthorn House that made me smile. “Much of the book’s appeal,” she wrote, “was its twinkly third-person narrator. I could imagine her speaking voice—sweet, breathy but firm—and her personality traits: finely honed sense of both propriety and humor. And when she speaks directly to readers, they sit up and take notice.”

Hey, I thought. This reviewer really got it. Because this is very close to the image I have in my own mind of the narrator of these family-friendly mysteries. (I might add “school-marmish” to the list of descriptives.) And I do hope that readers sit up and take notice.

The Narrator’s Voice

In most modern fiction—and especially in mysteries—the narrator is so far offstage that you’re almost never aware of him/her. The chief exception is the first-person narrator. Examples: China Bayles, in my other series; Kinsey Milhone; Sharon McCone. These narrators are in charge of the story, up close and personal. They say “I” a lot, and nobody minds. First-person narration aside, however, the narrator in most modern fiction is both invisible and neutral. The story seems to tell itself, without any intervention by a story-teller.

The Narrator in The Cottage Tales

But stories haven’t always been told that way. Victorian novels, for instance, were narrated by somebody who had an opinion about something, and wanted to let the reader know about that. And even a few modern authors (John Fowles, for instance, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, one of my all-time favorite novels) adopts the omniscient, outspoken, manipulative narrator as a device to tell the story.

I wanted to tell the stories of The Cottage Tales in that Victorian style, partly because it’s reminiscent of the period in which the Tales are set (1905-1913), and partly because I wanted to involve the readers in the story, which is a good job for a narrator. And also because I wanted to add complexity to the storytelling.

Here’s an example from the first chapter of The Tale of Applebeck Orchard (Book 6, just out in paperback). The characters (the village animals--yes, gentle Reader, these books are full of talking animals) are discussing the central problem of the book. A farmer has closed off Applebeck Footpath, which is the shortest way people could walk from one hamlet to the other. Here’s what the narrator has to say about this:

Now, the closing of a footpath may not seem very important to you and me, since we depend on automobiles to take us here and there. Why, we even drive the two or three blocks to the grocery store! But it was a crisis of great significance to the residents of both Near and Far Sawrey, who mostly walked where they needed to go. To understand why it was so important, you might take a moment to glance at the map at the front of this book. You will see that the path through Applebeck Orchard shortens the distance between the two hamlets by over a half-mile. This is a great improvement in any weather (as I’m sure you’ll agree), but especially when people are loaded with baskets or buckets or schoolbooks and when it is raining or snowing or very warm or very cold. For as long as anyone could remember, the Applebeck Footpath had saved people hundreds of extra steps every day. They would not be happy to find it blocked.

Can you see what I’m trying to do here? The narrator has pulled us out of the story for a moment to remind us that, while closing a path may seem like a trivial thing to us, it’s a terrible thing for everybody in a Victorian village--important enough to get really angry about and maybe even try to get even with that farmer. In this context, the narrator is like another character, a guide to help the reader negotiate an unfamiliar time and place.

Throughout all the books in the series, I use the narrator to present characters and events and comment on them in this chatty, informal way, as if you and she (I do imagine the narrator as a “she”) are sitting together, discussing the story over a cup of tea and a plate of scones.

For example, in The Tale of Hawthorn House, when Beatrix Potter discovers a basket on her doorstep, she thinks someone has left her an eggplant. But the narrator and you, dear Reader, know more than Miss Potter knows: “Now, you have been reading this story,” the narrator says rather archly, “so you know what the basket contains (at least I hope you do!), and who put it there and why.” Readers who have been paying attention suspect that the basket contains a baby, and that it was put there by the character who stole the baby.

I also use the narrator as a stage manager, to move the action from one scene to another. Here’s an example. Jemima Puddle-duck (the star of Beatrix Potter’s children’s book by that name) is a character in Hawthorn House. Jemima is hiding in the barn, sitting on a secret nest of very odd eggs, which are taking an oddly long time to hatch. The narrator finds it necessary to tell us Miss Potter’s tale of Jemima’s near-fatal seduction by the fox, remarking at the end: “Now that you have heard the full story, perhaps you can appreciate Jemima’s desire to redeem her reputation. Perhaps you can understand why she was determined to have another go at motherhood… But it is well past the 28th day, when duck eggs hatch, and Jemima is still sitting. Why? What’s happening here? Whose eggs are these? Where did Jemima get them? What’s going on?”

But the narrator refuses to let us ponder. She wants to direct our attention back to Miss Potter and that mysterious basket on the doorstep. (Remember? The basket with the baby in it?). “But even though you are quite right to raise these questions,” (the narrator says) “and I very much hope they are answered at some point in the future, we must not anticipate. So let us leave our duck sitting patiently on her nest . . . and open another chapter of our story.”

Stage management. Getting the reader from one place to another in the book, creating connections between the various story lines, planting anticipations, refusing to give immediate answers--all interesting tasks that this narrator likes to take on.

I’ve also used the narrator to create what I think of as a kind of Jane Austen sort of tone, especially where the characters are a little too serious and full of themselves and the scene needs to be lightened. Here’s a dramatic scene from Applebeck Orchard, for instance (p. 267, if you have your book handy). Will Heelis has just asked Beatrix Potter to marry him, and she has said no. Oh, dear. Here’s how the narrator tells it.

The polite response, of course, the one we should expect [Will] to offer, is the murmur of some sort of brief, apologetic phrase: “Thank you, my dear Miss Potter, and do please forgive my impetuousness. I fear I am not quite myself this evening. Shall I see you home?”

To which Beatrix might be supposed to reply very politely--something on the order of, “Oh, please do not apologize, Mr. Heelis. It is of no consequence, no consequence at all. We shall not speak of the matter again. And I beg you not to trouble yourself. I can walk home easily from here. Good night.”

But Will has long since left the familiar country of formulaic phrases and conventional actions and has crossed the border into that bewildering no-man’s-land where people behave in the strangest, wildest, most utterly unpredictable things. Perhaps you have found yourself in this sort of situation before, where it is absolutely impossible to know what you are going to say or do until it is actually said or done, and then you are astonished at yourself.

And so is Will. He is amazed to find himself taking Beatrix’s hand, looking directly into her face, and asking a completely irrational question in an entirely rational tone: “My dear Miss Potter, how is that?”

“I beg your pardon,” she says, and is so startled by this unexpected question that she lifts her eyes to his.

“Tell me how you would choose to live your life--if you were free to choose.”

And with this impertinent, insolent, and terribly cheeky request, Will Heelis has opened a whole new chapter in his life, and in Miss Potter’s.

Why is it a new chapter? Because shy, polite Will Heelis for once in his life has refused to take no for an answer, and Miss Potter, for once in her life, is challenged to say something besides, “My parents would not approve.” As I read this passage and consider the narrator’s contribution, I can see that she knows more about the characters than the characters know about themselves. This omniscience allows me (the author, not the narrator) to create a much more complex, multi-layered scene, where accident and intentionality, statement and commentary, are interwoven in a way that reveals a great deal more than if the scene had been connected as a straight-up drama.

Oh, by the way, I am very happy to tell you that, in Book 8 (The Tale of Castle Cottage, the final book in this eight-book series), Miss Potter and Mr. Heelis do get married, just as they did in real life.

This is a long post, and if you’ve managed to read it all the way to the end, I’m delighted. I hope you’re intrigued enough to read several books in the series and discover some of the other ways I’ve used this narrator.

But you doubtless have other things to do and you want to get on with them. So I’ll just remind you that we’re having a drawing and that you need to click on this link and enter your name. We’ll be giving away a copy of the latest book The Tale of Oat Cake Crag. You may also be eligible for the grand prize drawing, which will be held at the end of the Cottage Tales Blog Tour.

Find out more by visiting The Cottage Tales website and Mystery Partners for information about other books by Susan Wittig Albert. You can visit Susan at her Lifescapes blog by clicking here.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Word Play Tuesday Is Here

It's the second Tuesday of the month, time for Word Play!
I'll pick words that sound alike, but don't look alike. You can use them in phrases, sentences, or more. The trick is to include as many of them as you can and still make sense, or be silly if you wish. Playing with words instead of worrying about how or where to use them is a great way to wake up a sluggish imagination.

Here's the first batch:

Would - A conditional verb form - Would you care to donate?

Wood - A noun - His head is like a block of wood.

And More:

Weigh - Verb - I won't weigh myself today, maybe not tomorrow either.

Way - Noun - Show me the way to go home.

And Lastly:

Write - Verb - Tell me, why do I write?

Right - Noun first, adjective second here - It's my right to be right.

Okay, now go ahead and play in the comment section below.

Morgan Mandel

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Monday, September 13, 2010

The First Page

Back in the day (and by "in the day" I mean a few years ago), many books on writing pitched the idea of having a killer first chapter. Now, people want greatness quicker, right this instant, NOW. Screw the first chapter, we want to be hooked on the first page, the first paragraph, even first sentence.

Well, how do you do that, you might be asking.

A big chunk of it comes from your literary brilliance, obviously. However, another chunk comes from where you decide to begin your story. Many people think to start their stories from the very "beginning" of everything and follow a logical, chronological flow. Now, that's fine if that's the best way to tell your story, but if you're looking for a way to begin your story that will create the biggest punch for the reader earlier on, then consider thinking about all that goes on in your story and selecting a scene that creates that punch and pulls the reader into your story. What this mean is you will probably have to play with the movement of your story, working on flashbacks and flashforwards, etc., so that you can create a first page, a beginning that is strong enough to pull your reader in and at the same time, not feel "added on" just for the sake of intriguing your reader...only to deflate them in the rest of the story. It's hard work, but it can be done. It is done, every day; there are a lot of books out there to show you that this is true. Take some time to peruse some of your favorite novels, to check out new novels. How do you like the first page? The first couple of pages? The first chapter? Where are the authors starting their stories, and how might those "starts" add to the strength of the story overall? It might even be interesting to ask how might the story have been different if the story started in another way.

Bernice McFadden is my favorite author, and her novel Sugar has been on my top ten fave books since it was released over ten years ago. I was hooked on her book after the first line, but the first page is even more stellar:

JUDE was dead.

On a day when the air held a promise of summer and people laughed aloud, putting aside for a brief moment their condition, color and where they ranked among humanity, Jude, dangling on the end of childhood and reaching out toward womanhood, should have been giggling with others her age among the sassafras or dipping her bare feet in Hodges Lake and shivering against the winter chill it still clutched. Instead she was dead.

She'd been taken down by the sharp blade of jealousy, and her womanhood-so soft, pink and virginal-was sliced from her and laid to rest on the side of the road near her body. Her pigtails, thick dark ropes of hair, lay splayed out above her head, mixed in with the pine needles and road dust. Her dress, white and yellow, her favorite colors, was pulled up to her neck, revealing the small bosom that had developed over the winter.

The murder had white man written all over it. (That was only a half truth.) But no one would say it above a whisper. It was 1940. It was Bigelow, Arkansas. It was a black child. Need any more be said?

No one cared except the people who carried the same skin color. No one cared except the parents who had nursed her, stayed up all night soothing and rocking her when she was colicky. Applauded her when she took her first steps and cried when the babbling, gurgling sounds that came from her sweet mouth finally formed the words Mamma and then later, Papa.

The first sentence alone kept me keep reading, but each sentence after it layered itself upon that short, simple, "need to know more" sentence. In just this one page, we are invited to partake in the time period of the story, the type of people who live within the pages, the setting, the layer of pain that lingers over the black folks in the story, etc. It opens the story for the reader much like a wide shot at the beginning of a movie encapsulates place, time, setting before coming in close to the characters in the movie. What's interesting is the very first character we meet is already dead, yet she lives, like a ghost throughout the entire story, floating through the lives of her parents and the people of the town. The majority of the book takes place 15 years after Jude's death, so McFadden could have cut the beginning and started well after the death, detailing Jude's death later in the story through exposition and flashback, but it would have changed the entire story in a drastic and (for me anyway) negative way.

We need to be able to see our stories in such a way that we, too, can draft a first page that evokes as much of the story's essence as McFadden does.

And we can.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Pet Peeves

I assume anyone taking time to read this blog has some sort of vested interest in language. We write, teach, or edit. For that reason, I also assume we each probably have our personal grammatical pet peeves. You know what I mean, those words or phrases that, when used incorrectly, run chills up your spine. We get our peeves from different places. Some of our peeves we inherit. My mother was always annoyed when anyone used the word ‘podium’ when they meant ‘lectern.’ She always said, “One stands on a podium, one stands behind a lectern.” So, of course, I don’t care that Merriam Webster and Random House dictionaries both say the words are interchangeable. In memory of my mother, I still roll my eyes me when people use ‘podium’ for anything other than the raised stage on which a speaker stands.

Some of our linguistic pet peeves were instilled in us by teachers. ‘Can vs. may’ is traditionally a favorite of first and second grade teachers and often sticks with kids into adulthood. And some of our pet peeves just develop as we expand our vocabularies. Some of you may have have had that boss who used the phrase ‘mute point’ when he meant ‘moot point’ and so that has been added to your list of annoyances.

I try not to be too obnoxious about my pet peeves. I seldom correct anyone when they say ‘the person that’ rather than ‘the person who.’ I would just annoy the person rather than educate them. However, many of you are in positions where your linguistic authority is requested and respected. I encourage you, use your power for the good of the world! Please use your editing skills to keep people from saying the flag was at ‘half mast’ when what they mean is ‘half staff.’ Please never let the word ‘irregarless’ pass by your red pencil. And most of all, please don’t let the word ‘literally’ come to mean anything other than actually or exactly. I will literally die if you do!

What are some of your pet peeves? I need to know so I don’t use them in future posts.

Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian and doing coursework on a doctorate. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends. The written and spoken word has always fascinated her and, though she embraces technology, she worries that it is moving us away from appreciation of the power of the written word. In her teaching, storytelling, and writing, she tries to inspire and empower students to learn from great authors, old and new, and to find their own voice on the page.

Stretch Your Body To Revive Your Writer Mind

I’ll say this as nicely as I can: writing is not a physically strenuous profession. You know it, I know it, and most others know it. That notwithstanding, writing can take a major toll on your body, thanks to sitting at a desk or balancing a laptop on your legs for hours on end.

Here’s were the relief part comes in: do yoga. Yep, yoga – the twisting, leaning, stretching stuff. At first glance, you may think that yoga has nothing to do with writing. How about a second look: most seated postures are awful for the body, putting strain on sensitive joints and cramping major muscle groups. Yoga helps you get up & moving, strengthening and releasing those muscles tendons, and joints.

Anyone can do yoga, and I mean anyone. No matter your age, sex, weight, religion, or overall physical condition. Here are a few yoga poses especially for us writers, tested on many occasions by yours truly. Give yourself a 5-minute break that you most certainly deserve and try them out – no equipment needed:

Eyes - Eye Warming: Sit up straight in your seat, feet flat on the floor. Rub the palms of your hands together vigorously to create heat for 10-15 seconds. Close your eyes and place your palms directly over your eyes and face (the palm-side of your knuckles should be over your eyes). Take 5-10 deep breaths with your eyes closed and hands in place.

Wrist – Wrist Rolls: Sitting up straight, reach both hands out in front of you, interlacing them together with palms touching. With elbows slightly bent, bend your wrists so that your hands move to the right (you should feel a stretch on the outside of your left wrist); holding for 10-15 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat on both sides 3 times.

Neck and Upper Back – Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Modified): Sit up straight in the middle of your chair (your back should be 5-6 inches from the back of the chair), knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Exhale and twist your body to the right, placing your straight left arm on the outside of your right thigh & your right hand behind your butt. Inhale while looking to your right, shoulders down and relaxed. Exhale and turn your neck so you are looking behind you (or as far as your neck can turn). Make sure to keep your chin parallel with the floor, looking straight out. Hold this position for 5 long, deep breaths. Release, slowly returning to your original, forward-facing position. Repeat on your left side.

Lower Back and Butt – Standing Forward Bend (Modified): Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Exhale and bend forward from your hips (not your waist), leaning over as far as your can. Cross your arms so that your hands are holding the inside of your elbows. Release your neck and let your head hang down towards the floor. If you don’t feel the stretch in your back or butt, bend your knees just a little bit. Hold this stretch for 7-10 deep breaths. Release your arms, round your back, and roll up slowly to standing with your head being the last thing you lift up.

Take a deep breath, open your eyes, smile, sit down at your computer and let your fingers do the talking (if they can keep up).

As a writer who sits for long periods of time with a high focus on creativity, yoga helps revive your body and spark ideas. Yoga encourages you to focus on the present moment both mentally and physically, crumbling mental blocks and  loosening tension. Take the first step with 27 Things to Know About Yoga - a casual, easy-to-understand guide to the world of yoga; stretchy pants not required.

Victoria Klein is a freelance writer and yoga practitioner who also dabbles in photography, crafts, and running. 27 Things to Know About Yoga is her 1st book; her 2nd book, 48 Things to Know About Sustainable Living, will be released in late October 2010.