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Showing posts from August, 2011

The Gettysburg Address

Who thinks the language of texting is hard to understand? Oh, yeah? Try this version of the Gettysburg Address written in the vernacular of the sixties known as "Beat". You can thank Lord Richard Buckley , an American stage performer and hip poet who died in 1960. Now there's different kind of cats, you see. Now, like this here cat sittin' over there, he probably a George Washington cat, you see. He dig George making it across the stream with the ice and stompin' soldiers and all that. And that cat over there he probably a Benny Franklin cat, he probably - he's with Benny Franklin. But myself, I'm a Lincoln cat. That's me. I dug sweet old swingin', non-stop, heavy-headed sweet Abe. Used to call him Lanky Linc. That's what they called the cat back in them days, is Lanky Linc. Four big hits and seven licks ago, before our daddies swung forth upon this sweet groovy land a swingin', stompin,' jumpin', blowin', wailin&

Is the Publishing Sky Falling? Part Two

In part one of this post I began a list of reasons to have faith in the publishing industry even though it is suffering from the crucible of change. I pick up here substantiating my use of the word "drivel" with respect of much of what the agents see: • I know a lot of manuscripts are “drivel” because agents tell me so (okay, they used a saucier word). One told me that if you have a great story and a decent command of the English language, and submit a clean manuscript without dog-eared corners, you are already in the top tier (10%) of submissions. As a developmental editor, I see work all the time that is on the low end of the learning curve, yet the author has asked for that "final line edit." Even more than reduced publishing house purchases, this glut of unpolished submissions is the main reason for so many rejections. • Keep in mind that your manuscript is not competing with other submissions for bookshelf space. It is competing against the work of every a

Is the Publishing Sky Falling? Part One

I stole this title from an e-mail responding to the career travails of a young adult writer I’ll call Natalie (I’ve always loved that name). Natalie’s agent had left the industry because she couldn’t sell a thing. NowNatalie is resubmitting the same query that landed her an agent a couple of years ago, and it is going unanswered. This rattled the e-mail writer, who’d always equated getting an agent with “making it” past the industry gatekeepers. Against a backdrop of technology shifts, bookstore closings, and other manifestations of our unhealthy economy, this felt to her like an industry death knell. Can BRP’s resident optimist still find a positive spin on the situation (see my Ten Affirmations to Bolster Optimism , from 2009)? Of course she can! This is why. • The agent—the one who believed in Natalie—no longer believes in the industry. This makes her, hands down, the wrong agent for Natalie. An agent's job is to sell. By leaving the industry, she has freed Natalie to move o

Writing a Novel from a Radio Show

My guest blogger today is Mara Purl , author of the Milford Haven series, which started out as a radio show. She is making a stop today at the Blood Red Pencil on her national blog tour for What the Heart Knows . The traditional relationship between narrative fiction and screenplay is that book comes first, film comes second, as an adaptation of a popular novel. For me, however, this process occurred in reverse order. First, I created a radio drama. Second, I started adapting my scripts into narrative fiction. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived near its famous Farmer’s Market, a rambling collection of tented stalls selling everything from fifty varieties of fresh fruit juice to ethnic foods from thirty cultures. Of course, it had an espresso stand that served the most extraordinary latte in the city: the brew strong and bitter; the milk frothed almost to the consistency of cream; the cup thick and white, preferably with a small chip in the saucer, near the square cube

He did the Hokey-Pokey

The following is from the Washington Post Style Invitational contest that asked readers to submit "instructions" for something (anything), but written in the style of a famous person. The winning entry was The Hokey-Pokey (as written by William Shakespeare). We like to periodically share this for a little chuckle! O proud left foot, that ventures quick within Then soon upon a backward journey lithe. Anon, once more the gesture, then begin: Command sinistral pedestal to writhe. Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke, A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl. To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke. Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl. The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about. ( Written by Jeff Brechlin, Potomac Falls, Maryland, and submitted by Katherine St. John.) There are more than 800 assorted invitationals at this Washington Post link , one more creative than the next. Be sure to bookmark it for ongoing

Readin’, 'Ritin’, and ’Rithmetic

Readin’, 'ritin’, and ’rithmetic, Taught to the tune of a hickory stick… School’s starting again, and it’s come a long way from the little jingle that was popular decades ago. Is that a good thing? I suppose it’s a matter of opinion, but what’s interesting about the above is the reference to writing right along with the necessities of reading and math. That for a certainty has not changed. The hickory stick, on the other hand, has fallen by the wayside. Today, the ability to write well is just as important as it was in the pre-computer world. (Yes, there was a world before computers.) Emails and texting have replaced more conventional forms of written communication—and those come with their own peculiar abbreviations and acronyms—but the art of formal writing is more important than ever in our shrinking world - one that communicates less and less on a personal level. What does this have to do with going back to school? Dull and boring as many consider English class to be, it

Hyphen-powered Punctuation

I realize you all know this. I love hyphens. So needless to say, I use them often. It's a rare occurrence for me to take pause, stymied by the proper use of this lovely and under-utilized punctuation mark. But it happened to me just a few days ago. It wasn't a bad thing. I got to use my new, blue Chicago Manual of Style . Have I told you how much I love my new CMS? No? Oh, yes, I do love it. It's so wonderfully new and improved, including the cover color. How improved is it? Check out the changes in Edition 16 by clicking here . Included is a new and improved hyphenation guide! Now tell me if you've heard of anything cooler than that in the past week. So back to my hyphenation dilemma. I was editing a blog post which referred to a children's book written for 5 to 8 year olds. I knew that was wrong. 5 to 8-year-olds. Nope. Hmmm. 5-8-year-olds. Wow, that really didn't look correct. What does the CMS say? It states in the section about compounds and hyphenati

Nouns and Verbs

Here’s an exercise I borrowed a long time ago from Natalie Goldberg , that I’ve found keeps my writing sharp. Dull writing uses lazy nouns and verbs, those general catch-alls that tell and do not show. But sharp writing uses action verbs and specific nouns, and puts them together in unique or surprising ways. A good way to practice this is to make two lists. One list contains action verbs – not run, which is a general verb, but skip, or scamper, or dart, or lope – all specific kinds of running. A trick to picking good action verbs is to choose a profession – any profession – and ask yourself what this kind of person does. For instance – what does a boxer do? Well, a boxer thrusts, jabs, shuffles, weaves, bobs, and punches. Those are all action verbs. Or what does a psychiatrist do? A psychiatrist probes, nods, smiles, questions, listens, suggests. All action verbs. Or a dancer, or a chef, or a secretary -- you name it, and then tell what it does. The other list contains specific

Shitty First Drafts

This post first published in 2008, but I thought it was worth a repeat for our new readers to enjoy. Writing is a talent, a dream, an obsession, a release, a thrill, but it is also a craft. The words don't just magically appear on paper - all arranged at their finest. The words we love to read were painstakingly crafted by the author, paragraph by paragraph, line by line. Anne Lamott, a wonderful writer describes the process in her book, Bird by Bird , this way: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts." And further: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” What wonderful advice. No wonder her books are so good. A book can go through as many drafts as necessary, and every author has his o

Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot!

Here is another bit of advice from Jodie Renner. We always appreciate the fact that she is so willing to be our guest now and then and share some of her experience and expertise. You’ve spent months or years writing your novel. Then you’ve found a writer friend or freelance editor to help you polish it up and get it ready to send to agents and acquiring editors. Maybe you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a copy edit, detailed line-edit, or even thousands on a developmental or substantive edit. After many revisions, the manuscript is finally ready to send out to literary agents and publishers. The standard first approach is to submit a query letter and a synopsis. You’re eager to get the book out fast and you think, “Anybody can write a query letter,” so you whip one off quickly and send it around, with a synopsis you threw together. You wait. And wait. All you get back are a few form rejections. You know you’ve got a great story, well told, and your editor and/or writer friends have

Publishing on Kindle - A Tutorial

In keeping with our August theme of  "Back to School",  I thought I would offer some tips for those wanting to learn more about publishing and marketing e-books. This post is not going to be about how to format a book for the Kindle and other reading devices. Nor is it going to go into the details of editing and design and cover art - although all three are important and an author would be wise to make sure all three are professionally done. There are a number of resources available to take an author through those processes.   The ABCs of e-book format conversion: Easy Calibre tips for the Kindle, Sony and Nook By John Schember     How to Publish Your Own Amazon Kindle Ebook By Tony Bradley, PCWorld Or you can go directly to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) which also has information about CreateSpace for self-pubbing books in trade paperback.  For Barnes and Noble, their publishing arm is PubIt, and there are easy directions for formatting and uploading content,

Back to School for Business Math

When you decided to become a wordsmith, you may have thought you could leave the world of numbers behind. No such luck! Today’s authors are entrepreneurs: even if traditionally published, once sales are involved, your writing becomes a business. For a multitude of reasons often expounded upon at this site, one of your main expenses may end up being editing services. Why does editing cost so much? Since editing is my business, I hear that question all the time. I thought I’d embrace BRP’s “Back to School” theme to provide a business math lesson as applied to editing. “Back to School” isn’t just a late summer theme for me, it’s the theme of my life. To keep up-to-date on trends in the publishing industry, I’m constantly seeking out new learning opportunities. Here’s a peek at what I spend each year on my continuing education alone (previous investment in post-graduate college education assumed): Conferences $500 Workshops/Classes $200 Professional dues $120 Resource material

Are You Lying or Laying?

Once again we welcome Terry Odell with a guest post. We like her so well, we have invited her to contribute regularly on the third Tuesday of every month. In keeping with our August theme of Back to School, Terry takes us back to grammar 101. This was covered a couple of years ago in a guest post by Lauri Kubuitsile, an award-winning writer living in Botswana, but it is always good to revisit this topic. I was reading a book recently where a character saw the "break" lights on the cars. And someone was waiting with "baited" breath. Or the book where a character put "peddle to the metal." And one I've been seeing far too frequently: "peaking" where a character ought to be "peeking" – which is not the same as something "piquing" one's interest. Are these simply typos missed by copy editors? One would hope that's the case, because if your editors are using S pell Check (or if you are), these aren't going to g

Do Editors Use Red Pencils?

Someone recently commented that the red pencil on this blog doesn't have a red point. That's because when I created the blog, I used the same type of pencil I use as an editor, and the kind many, if not most, old editors use - one with a regular graphite point. A black pencil. Why? For the simple reason that it erases better than a red colored pencil. We do go back and change our minds and comments, you know! I have never seen an ARC from any editor that used a red lead. We are not school teachers grading papers when we edit a manuscript. There is no need for a red pencil. Besides, red won't hold a sharp point. In today's world, pencils (red, black, or otherwise) are falling by the wayside anyway. The shift to digital editing in the last few years has been dramatic, and most of the major publishers now insist their authors send manuscripts attached to emails, they review and edit using Track Changes and Comments, and then return the digital manuscript to the author fo

Cues from the Coach: Turning Writing-Rule Lemons into Literary Lemonade

As a word artist, do you find your imagination shackled by admonitions and restrictions from the grammar police? Do you struggle to remember the “rules” on • subject-verb agreement? • active vs. passive verbs? • show, don’t tell? • whether or not to put a comma before the conjunction in a series? • avoiding fragments, run-ons, and dangling modifiers? • substituting sharp, original expressions for perfect but forbidden clichés? Are your creative juices draining away beneath the pile of writing-rule lemons? These rules are not intended to hamper creativity, but to establish order, credibility, and clarity. Let’s consider the ones noted above. In any written material, the absence of subject-verb agreement becomes an instant bump in the reading road. Flow is interrupted, and the reader experiences a “huh?” moment. Example 1: Emma and Charles was seen running from the crime scene. Unless we’re inside the head of a viewpoint character who has had neither formal schooling

Agents and Conferences

Conferences used to be about learning to write. They had workshops on Editing, POV, Cutting the Passive Verbs, etc. Now it seems most of them are about finding an agent. The conference will have three or even twenty agents in attendance. Attendees can sign up to pitch to an agent. If there’s a pre-conference cocktail party, attendees show up in hopes an agent or two will be there and they can meet them and possibly fit in a pitch. But the truth is … the chances of you snagging an agent are small. During your pitch, for which in many cases you have to pay extra beyond what you paid to attend the conference, the agent may ask you to send 30 pages. Or he may not. There are no guarantees. Or an agent giving a talk may tell all the attendees in her class to send the first ten pages if they think their manuscript is ready. In either case, make sure your pages are stellar. You won’t get a second chance, unless the agent sees something in your story and writing that makes them ask you to r

O Sock, Where Art Thou?

There have been unsolved mysteries since the beginning of history. Did Atlantis really exist? How was Stonehenge built and what was it used for? What was the fate of the little Princes in the Tower? What happened to Amelia Earhart? But the biggest unsolved mystery of all... When two socks go into the washer, why does only one sock come out the dryer? I have a pile of socks waiting for their mates. I'm not talking about 2 or 3 socks, I'm talking about a lot . I know, however, the moment I decide to get rid of them, the other sock will materialize. I know this for sure. I've looked under beds. I've looked under and behind sofas. I've looked behind the washer and dryer. No socks. Where did that other sock go? There are unproved theories. The rings of Saturn are actually made up of single socks. The missing socks go into the same vortex as lost luggage. There is a compartment inside every dryer that sucks up one sock. If you find the compartment, you'll find

Leave a Tip Today on the Blood-Red Pencil

As on every second Tuesday of the month, it's Leave a Tip Day at The Blood-Red Pencil. I'd guess you know something about writing or you wouldn't be doing it. Maybe it's something simple you think isn't worth mentioning, because everyone else probably knows it. Think again. You may be surprised how many people don't. Or, it could be something clever that you've thought up or maybe heard from someone else. Whatever the case, please share. Your tips can pertain to any aspect of writing, publishing, or editing, and can be about any format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing. To share, just leave your tip in the comment section. You may also wish to leave one website or blogspot URL, in case our readers would like to find out more about you. If you want to, we'd also appreciate your telling us where you've heard of this blog. Here's my tip: If you're like me and feel the need to print out what you feel is important to keep i

Break Writer's Block: Become the Storyteller, Not the Protagonist

In Eric M. Eisenberg's "Building a Mystery: Toward a New Theory of Communication and Identity," one of the things Eisenberg discusses is the therapeutic approaches to rewriting personal narratives. He makes a comparison between being a protagonist and being a storyteller and how each role can either constrict a person's identity and his or her view of the world or help expand one's identity and view. Being the protagonist, for example, is safe--we know that story, we know the character, and even if we feel trapped by the role, the safety of it, the comfortability of it keeps us trapped within that identity. It can also keep us from seeing beyond the role to the world and other people that surround us. On the other hand, the storyteller, as Eisenberg asserts, "always keeps one metatruth in mind: I am not the story" (547). Not "being the story," the storyteller easily moves from story to story. The storyteller stays in a story long "enough

Busted!—Andre Dubus III Caught Adding a Late Entering POV

Authors can get away with breaking almost any writing rule if they do it artfully, intentionally, and without pulling the reader from the fictive dream. Today I bust Andre Dubus III for breaking his own rule—to wonderful effect—in his novel The House of Sand and Fog . At the outset of his book, Dubus sets this rule: the story will be told in alternating first person accounts limited to Behrani, an Iranian colonel who lost his money and stature in his native Iran and must start over in the United States, and Kathy, an alcoholic house cleaner. The two come together by administrative error when Kathy’s house goes up for sheriff’s sale for unpaid taxes, and Behrani purchases it for a song. The colonel is thrilled to provide a home for his family with his meager resources; Kathy is devastated to lose her inheritance and only connection to her deceased father. Here are the points of view Dubus adopts to tell his tale, pulled from each character’s first words: First page The fat one, the rad

Time out for a little fun

Sharing with us today is humorist, Tracy Farr, writing about the very first review of his book. This first appeared on his blog in May 2010 , and since he doesn't think more than ten people actually read the post, he thought it was okay for us to use it today. Enjoy.... J-Walk reviews "Never Trust a Goat" Holy Cow! Somebody other than my mother actually downloaded my "Never Trust a Goat" e-book and read enough of it to actually write a review. And the reviewer? None other than John Walkenbach of The J-Walk Blog! Okay, so let's cut to the chase and see what J-Walk thought of my little book: "Just a bunch of humorous essays. I got it because a few of the essays mention banjo. But, as it turns out, he plays a 4-string banjo. I'm pretty sure I could write a book like this." Plus, out of Five Stars, he gave me a Three! I mean, that's like a "C+" -- just enough to pass the class and not have to go to summer school. Hot Digge