Sunday, July 5, 2015

Read the Bad Stuff

By Rex Hurst

I try to hone my writing skills by reading a lot and observing how others writers put their words together. I do this quite regularly, to the point where I often have to reread a page because I spent so much time analyzing the structure that I didn’t pay attention to the actual meaning.

When one chooses literature, it is natural to gravitate to the great writers in history. Ones that we all hope to emulate and, perhaps, join the ranks of. We dip through Dickens’ characterization or untangle Faulkner’s impossibly long sentences, trying to fill our souls and pens with the joy of the best literature in the world.

But, in my opinion, it is just as important to read bad writers and bad literature, as it is to absorb the good stuff. The reason is simple: to see what not to do. It is good to have a reminder to not indulge in clichés, to see what an awkward sentence looks like, or to avoid using the same damn word over and over again (Word has a thesaurus function, probably one of the best new tools for aspiring writers).

Let me give you an example from a bad book, recently turned into a worse film, 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James. It is a book I eventually gave in and read after all of my students kept telling me it was “wonderful.” They and I obviously employ different definitions of the word.

“I line up the white ball and with a swift clean stroke, hit the center ball of the triangle square on with such force that a striped ball spins and plunges into the top right pocket. I’ve scattered the rest of the balls.”

Pardon me I think my eyes have melted. Here’s a fun little exercise, see if you can rewrite that passage in ten words or less and actually improve its clarity. It’s surprisingly easy.

Another example:

“And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain—probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells—comes the thought: He's here to see you."

A tiny part of my brain rejoices that I’ve learned not to overfill my sentences with extraneous adjectives. The other part has shut down with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people scarfed this book down and loved it.

Still the passage above, and many like it have served to remind me about what I do not want my writing to be like. I don’t regret reading 50 Shades of Grey because by analyzing its awfulness, it has perversely helped to make me a better writer.

My advice is to study these writings. The bad plots churned out for a paycheck. The twisted sentences and flat characters. Analyze these missteps of literature, these forgettable tomes, these purple prose troubadours, and remind yourself how not to follow in their footsteps.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Denissa: She’s Got a Mouth on Her

By Kimberly Johnson

Denissa is a friend of a friend. She has, umm, an unusual vocabulary. While eating from the riblet basket at Applebee’s, fantabolous floated from her sauce-ridden lips. Guess she was really hungry. Suffice it to say, I never heard that word before. Dino-riffic-ness. That one sprang to life after we left the late night viewing of Jurassic World. Needless to say, I didn’t see that word in Webster’s.  Frump-pah-lee. That one tickled the eardrums when she described an off-the-rack haute couture design that Kim Kardashian paraded around in at some event, somewhere in La La Land.  Not quite the word I would have used to describe the outfit. Denissa possesses a loosey-goosey lexicon that gets the point across to her listeners. Isn’t that what words are supposed to do? I found an article by Deborah Grayson Riegel, president of Elevated Training Inc., a communication skills training and coaching company. Riegel showcases the P.R.E.P. method, a way for “plain talkers” and “protracted talkers” to communicate to the rest of the world. I thought it was a reliable template for writers. (It could reduce the drafts and hair-pulling when writing the next American Novel.)
In this four-step process, you get to figure out where you tend to go long, where you fall short, how to organize your ideas, how to make a complete case, and how to keep from getting lost in your thoughts. As long as you remember which letter you’re up to (there are only four), you’ll always know what’s supposed to come next.”P:  Make your point. Make it clear, clean, and concise. It can include a point of view—brief doesn’t have to mean neutral.
R:  Reason. Justify your point. I think one robust reason is excellent, two solid reasons are good, and three are the maximum. After that you start to lose your listener, your ground, and your train of thought.E: Example (or Evidence, or Experience.) Bring it to life, and bring your life to it.P: Point. Restate your point. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Awesome Writers

By Bonnie Stanard

After reading Seize the Day years ago, I could hardly put together a sentence until I got over its effect. Saul Bellow’s novel is so insightful and culturally savvy, its impact on writers is a two-edged sword. Some are inspired to try harder. Others become disheartened and feel like throwing in the towel.

This is about vocabulary and language aptitude as well as the ability to construct meaningful associations from life experiences. Bellow had the ability to observe common phenomena we don’t notice ourselves and, by some stroke of magic, crystallize them into truths.

Ian McEwan is another author I read at the risk of becoming so intimidated my own work seems a waste of energy. At his best, he puts into words concepts that make us see ourselves in a different light. Several novelists come to mind whose talents have, at one time or another, poked holes in my ambition to write—Truman Capote, Annie Proulx, and Zadie Smith.

My failing in this situation is that I lose faith in myself. Faced with awesome novels, I forget that I am writing, not to be perfect, but to grow mentally and to try to understand people and the world we live in. At the same time, getting better at the game is vital to me. I write this knowing that the ambition to “get it right” thwarts what should be an adventure and constrains the exploration.

This category of “awesome writers” that I’ve made up for myself is a lofty cast. There are aspects of writing other than plucking truths out of daily life. Excellence takes a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s a well-written sentence. Or sharp dialogue. A captivating voice. And then there are the different genres that require altogether different expertise. As a professional, I need to recognize and value the quality of diverse skills.  

To a lesser degree and in a different respect, Don DeLillo’s White Noise gave me writer’s block. I feverishly underlined the explosive language of the first fifty pages. After a while, the plot sagged and the book became more about word acrobatics than substance. Likewise with the novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire. As well as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. These writers have a command of idiom and word technique that I can only dream of. On the other hand, in spite of the excellent wordplay I didn’t finish reading any of these books.

It takes courage to believe in ourselves. To take on the competition. Courage to submit our creations to the public. Courage to persevere in the face of rejections. Jessamyn West said it: “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary.”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Achieving Catharsis in Our Stories

By Kasie Whitener
After seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron, my husband and I sat in a restaurant quietly staring into space.

The film emptied us completely of anything we might have had to say.

From the opening scene to the credit roll, Joss Whedon delivers the highest form of art cleverly disguised as a multi-million dollar blockbuster superhero film.

Action scenes? Check.

Compelling characters? Check.

Computer-generated special effects? Check.

Loud. So loud.

Big. So big.


Why is a writer writing about a film on a writers’ blog? Because Age of Ultron reminded me what great art is really about.


Aristotle says catharsis in drama purges us of our own fear and pity. Cathartic art relieves us of what we were burdened by.

One of my favorite novels, Monsters of Templeton, provides catharsis through what David Coe calls the “Aha! Of course!” moment. When we finally learn who the narrator’s birth father is, we realize we knew it all along. When we finally learn the truth behind the mysterious lake monster that preoccupied the town, we realize the metaphor has been teasing us through the entire book
I believe really good storytellers deliver catharsis on accident. They know the character so well, the events unfold so naturally, and the story moves so beautifully that suddenly we feel satisfied and we’re not sure why. It feels like magic. Unintentional enlightenment.

Books that fail to deliver catharsis typically suffer from the stakes being too low. What really happens if this character doesn’t get what she wants?

The question, “What’s at stake?” is how we recognize the character’s commitment to the story. And when a character is totally committed, as in the stakes are as high as they can possibly be, then catharsis is imminent. Either the character will fail in a spectacular way and we’ll feel the pity Aristotle predicts. Or the character will succeed and we’ll rejoice in the triumph. But we don’t get to the edge of our seats unintentionally. A writer brought us there. There is intention in setting the stakes. Catharsis is simply the payoff. For the writer and the reader.

Can we plan such it? We don’t really know how people will connect with or respond to our character’s journey. We don’t know if people will give a fig that the character has achieved his goal.
We must make them care. The character must experience some kind of transformation as a result of the story. The end point for our characters provides the catharsis for our readers.

If we create the circumstances for high stakes and deep personal change, we’re likely to deliver catharsis. The Age of Ultron delivers catharsis because it keeps us looking, learning, and feeling for the full length of the film. It wears us out. Afterwards we are spent.

Good art provides catharsis. All storytellers have an opportunity to take viewers and readers on an emotional journey and leave them stunned into silence at the end.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Rex Hurst is a writer and a university instructor orginally from Buffalo, NY. After 30 years of attempting to write stories, he feels his talent has finally hit the right pitch to attempt to sell it. He also is trying to discover if one can grow wheat in a pot sitting by the window.

Waiting for Inspiration

By Rex Hurst

I often talk to my students or other aspiring authors about producing material. They ask me what I’m working on and I ask them about their routine; about how they go about the physical act of writing. I am one of those people who thinks best with a pencil, thus I write out everything longhand first. Many people seem to regard this as slowing the process down immensely. I see it as another level in the revision process, one where I take all the undigested bits of ideas and start to put them into a coherent form. A lot just want to dive right in. Nothing wrong with that, each writer has their own way of creating material. As long as you produce, there is no bad way.

That being said there is one phrase that I hear over and over again which almost guarantees failure: “I wait until I’m inspired before I write.” As anyone who has written a novel knows, a person’s enthusiasm tends to wane the more you have to work on a story. It ebbs away bit by bit, until you hit that 10,000 word wall and everything you’ve put together seems terrible. You question every single character, every plot point, every noun and verb, your ability as a writer, your very place in the universe! This is the precise moment when the joy of writing slips away and it becomes work. But that’s a fact you have to deal with if you want to finish a story.

There was a lady I knew who relied entirely on inspiration to spur her into action. She’d come up with an idea, then she’d talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it some more, then, in a burst of passion, feverishly clack away on the keyboard. Gradually the passion would fade and her typing slowed down, eventually stopping altogether. She’d save it and print a single copy to store away until she gained the inspiration to continue.

I looked at that file once. There must have been at least 50 stories in there, some very promising, none finished. All of that work for nothing, because she didn’t want to put in the effort to stay with a story until its conclusion.

We all get inspired to write. An idea strikes us, bells ring in our heads, and the words flood out. It is an excellent way to begin. But waiting for inspiration to finish a piece is folly. Once the initial excitement is over, writing is work, an honest to God job. Anyone can write when they’re inspired. The professional writes when they aren’t.

So write! No matter what! Set a daily pace for yourself and stick with it. Even when your head is clogged with confusion. Even when the pen is being a beast. Even if every syllable is torture. Write! Write! Write! Force yourself. Because that’s the only way to get the job done. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Art Responds to Black Lives Matter Movement

By Len Lawson 

Photo by Sumter County Gallery of Art

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry based on works of art. I recently gave an ekphrastic poetry reading at Sumter County Gallery of Art based on art by Antoine Williams. One of his works is an installation called “What It Look Like”. It includes elements such as tires, police caution tape, and flowers.

In my opinion, it’s like a juxtaposition of our diverse emotions in our bodies. Zora Neale Hurston said it this way in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.”

 But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a    wall in company with other bags, white, red, and yellow…On the ground before you is    the jumble it held—so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all  might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content any  greatly.

Every emotion in our brown bags has no business sharing space in the same body: love, fear, anger, hate, depression, disappointment, excitement, apathy. In the Black Lives Matter movement, every black body has purpose. Some may not appear as civilized or Americanized as others. Some seem barbaric and savage, but what else can be expected growing up in concrete jungles around our nation: environments where men in uniforms and suits relegate black bodies to fractions of a soul?

When the emotions from the brown bag become volatile from being caged by preconceived notions of blackness or even humanity, black bodies become known as thugs. The word thug originated as gangster terminology similar to the word goon, or hired criminal. Not every angry black body fits this description.

Perhaps if blacks were the ones who enslaved whites for centuries, then our culture would be the benchmark for an already fractured society. However, it already is now the benchmark. Black culture and rebellion is a cliché that white children mock as well as embrace. White children borrow from black bodies because they feel theirs is not enough. Having every opportunity as a dominant race is not enough to them.

How could they possibly believe this? It is because although black bodies have been crushed and cramped into thin sheets by the thousands in ghettos, prisons, and even classrooms, black bodies still bear a smile on the walls of their brown bags. Black bodies dance, sing, and laugh, yet on the inside, the contents within the bags decay in silence. They see blacks’ resolve and covet blacks’ resilience. Their parents call it uncivilized. Blacks call it culture and heritage. That is how a gifted black man can take what they call trash from the essence of himself and call it art.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tiffany’s Got The Writing Bug

By Kimberly Johnson

This won’t take too long. My cousin Tiffany has a summer reading independent book report and she wants me to help her with it. That’s saying a lot from someone who counts Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Zendaya as her social media buddies. Let me back up. 

Tiffany’s mom teaches 8th grade Language Arts-slash-English-slash-Writing. She wants Tiffany ahead of the curve so this is where the independent comes in. Tiffany has to read “The Classics” before entering the sixth grade. OMG—I remember that. It’s my job to help Tiffany organize her thoughts and notes. Best thing is, Tiffany likes to put pen to paper. She submitted articles for her class newsletter, she helped her mom with lesson plans, she even thought about writing an online letter to The State newspaper. 

Heck, with all that texting and tweeting, who knew she could compose complete sentences. I like this move Tiffany’s making. I believe that young people can become awesome writers. It opens the doors to critical thinking and creativity which will make them a valuable asset in whatever endeavor they seek out.

When I was her age and even younger, I liked to compose short stories and bind the loose leaf sheets with construction paper. I too completed those pesky summer reading reports. That started my writing bug.  I scratched the itch while writing for the high school newspaper; took a hiatus in college; and jumped back in with my first job after college. I worked for the Newberry Observer. From there, I continued feeding the writing bug with freelance opportunities.

Sorry, I need to leave you guys…Tiffany’s writing bug is biting.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Basic Novel Map

By Kasie Whitener

Most writing teachers suggest plotting your story by asking yourself, "What does this character want?"

If you're like me, you back into these analyses. I'm a pantser. I just write the story as it comes to me. Only afterward am I able to discern what exactly the character wants and what he's willing to do to get it.

So if that's the case, if you're not going to be able to answer those two crucial questions until the 4th draft (like me) then how do you plot the story without knowing the desired outcome?

You can use a basic map:

The Introduction sets the scene. Who is our protagonist and what are her current circumstances? What is different about right now in this person's life? Why didn't we start reading about her three days ago?

Turning Point 1 is the inciting incident. Maybe she's a reporter and she's just received an anonymous tip. What is the tip? Why was she chosen? What does she have to do now that she knows this tip information?

Turning Point 2 complicates the protagonist's journey. She's been in pursuit of something but now the stakes are higher. Maybe following this tip has put her at a conflict with her employer. Maybe she realizes she cannot trust her boss or his advice.

Turning Point 3 is the point of no return. It's here that our character either has the courage to plow ahead regardless of the consequences or where she tries to back track and undo what's already been done. Nothing can be the same after this point and some of the most engaging stories are where the protagonist realizes this too late.

The Climax is where the protagonist must make a permanent change in herself in order to move forward. She must choose either change and victory or cowardice and defeat. Characters who give up, drop out, or refuse to complete their quest are frustrating but they're real. It does not lessen the drama for the character to fail.

Finally, the Aftermath of our protagonist's choice. What fall out is expected and what actually occurs? Is there a happily-ever-after to be lived?

Plot is like a roller coaster that saves the biggest thrill for last.

Begin with a small hill, a small turn, maybe an upside-down or a corkscrew, but then a climb, always a climb, and a freefall to the bottom. Out of control and exhilarating, the plunge should feel like a payoff.

As a reader, if you've hung with this character through turning point choices, you are invested in the outcome. As a writer, reward your readers for hanging in there with an aftermath that satisfies.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Distractions or Inspiration?

By Jodie Cain Smith

My writing to-do list is long. A new novel needs to be revised and edited. The marketing plan for my first novel is incomplete. Short story ideas fill notebooks. A script begs daily for my attention, and novel number three wants to be started, but my writing distraction takes priority.

My distraction weighs fourteen pounds and five ounces. With big eyes and a wide grin that would melt the most heinous villain into a puddle of baby talk, Baby Boy beckons. When I lift him from his crib, he nestles his face into my neck, and his eyelashes tickle my skin. Time to write goes the way of the lullaby, disappearing gently into the stillness around me.

Anyone reading this may respond, “Of course, Jodie. He is a baby. He has to be your priority right now.” So, why did I, for weeks after giving birth, feel the pull of my laptop? Why was this pull so strong that I often felt guilty for holding Baby Boy while he slept in my arms rather than placing him in his crib so that I could write? The guilt came because I am a writer, and, must write. Everyday. Or do I?

Over the last four years since I stepped out of the government employee meat grinder in order to write fulltime, I have had plenty of distractions. Theatre rehearsals, social engagements, and weekend getaways with the hubby took me away from my laptop. Two weeks spent moving from one home to another left my laptop untouched other than to research new restaurants, gym hours, audition notices, and a much needed writers’ group, but I was not left with guilt from these distractions. I recently asked myself why not?

Then I remembered a conversation I had with a peer last summer. We discussed a mutual friend of ours. He is young, really young, in that way that people in their late thirties view college kids. So young. He’ll learn. I can hear my own inflated sense-of-self casting judgment. His writing skills are there. What he needs is life experience, my peer and I agreed.

Yes, I do believe having a rich, life experience to draw on is important to every writer. After nearly forty years on Earth, I am still trying to understand and fully capture in words the human experience. I look back to my childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood for inspiration. So, why did I forget that distractions are beneficial and that from distractions new inspiration will come?

Because I never knew until becoming a mother that some distractions are quiet, with only the tiny sound of two brand new lungs doing their job. Some distractions snuggle into the crook of an arm and coo as they drift off to sleep. And some distractions get pretty angry, if after Baby Boy has fallen asleep in my arms, I try to sneak him into his crib for his afternoon nap and tiptoe to my office.

Thankfully, and just in time for Mother’s Day, I have remembered that our distractions are what we actually write about. Without them, what stories do we have to tell? From the looks of the angel smiling at me from his swing, I will be distracted and inspired for years to come. I hope your distractions inspire you to write as well.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Predicament of Procrastination

By Julia Rogers Hook

If Shakespeare had had social media we might have never known Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or even the ever-charming MacBeths.

Email during the time of Dickens would have left the miserly Scrooge and sweet Tiny Tim buried forever with dear Charlie.

I just imagine such greats as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne scribbling by candlelight with their quills and ink pots and wonder what they would think of today’s fledgling writers like myself who are so easily distracted with posting photos of vacations or cute little pet tricks.

Today with the most modern techniques for writing at our fingertips, I can’t imagine how the scribes of yesteryear did it. With no electricity, no copy and paste and…oh merciful heavens, no spell check, these authors of classics sat in their drafty homes creating treasured stories with nothing more than a candle and their imaginations.

And yet I seem to always find myself procrastinating when it comes to writing.

I’m always in awe of my colleagues as they doggedly do whatever it takes to get their work out there and get their pieces published. I’m always happy for them, overjoyed, even. But I can’t help wondering how they do it when I seem to have so much trouble getting myself to “buckle down” and really concentrate on my writing.

“WHERE do they find the time,” I think to myself.

Do they get up early? Go to bed later? Write in the middle of the night? Go to coffee shops? Perhaps lock themselves away in a tower? These are published authors but they aren’t hermits. They have spouses and children and jobs.

They must know something that I don’t.

Are they perhaps members of a big underground club that I’ve not been invited to join?
Maybe there’s a secret formula or even a covert password or clandestine handshake that grants them passage into some writers’ version of a VIP lounge?

But I know the truth.

They simply make their writing a priority in their lives. They, as the shoe company says, “just do it.”

And they do it one page at a time or probably even sometimes one sentence at a time.

They write.

And review it and edit it and then rewrite it.

If we have 12-step programs for alcohol, drugs, gambling and even over-eaters, maybe we should come up with something for procrastinating writers. I’d be one of the charter members and even get there early to start the coffee and bring the cookies. I can see us all sitting in our circle of chairs and each person “shares” their tales of why they can’t get started on their book.

Of course…we could also all use that time to stay home and write instead of moaning about why we aren’t working couldn’t we?


“Hello…my name is Julia and I’m a procrastinator.”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Writing with Clabber

By Laura P. Valtorta

The best thing about filmmaking is the collaboration it requires. Shooting a scene correctly requires an experienced crew – director, cinematographer, lighting specialist, and sound person. Without those elements, the production values suffer. The audience notices distracting mistakes.

Screenwriting is also a team effort. “Workshopping” a screenplay can help, but the best thing is to write with a partner. Clabber and I work well together on screenwriting because we are so different. He has solid ideas. Mine are crazy. He prefers a polished effect. I like to take risks. The differences between us never end.

Clabber worships GOD and DOG. I’m an atheist who can’t abide animals in the house.

Clabber is short; I’m tall.

Clabber loves horror films; I can barely deal with Alfred Hitchcock.

Clabber takes five years to write his horror scripts. I take five months.

Recently Clabber and I sat down to make changes to Quiet on the Set. We only had 90 minutes. Everybody is busy. And Clabber had brought in a co-worker to give a third perspective on the script. Or maybe John was there to protect us from killing each other.

Either way, the meeting went well. I sat back and listened to Clabber’s specific ideas and John’s general thoughts on changing the script. Before that meeting, I was convinced the screenplay was finished. Now I realize that I need to edit. The polishing may take some time.

We’re headed in the right direction.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Intensive Workshop at Rock Hill

By Ginny Padgett
Next Saturday, April 25, is the ninth annual Intensive Workshop presented by the Rock Hill Chapter of South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. Each year the workshop has grown in number and strength. Last year after attending, our own Fred Fields reported it was the best deal going, $5.00 for day-long quality instruction and lunch. I plan to be there. Register now. It’s not too late.

To sign up and get details on the Intensive classes and instructors, go to

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Julia Rogers Hook comes to Columbia, SC after almost 30 years of life in Los Angeles where she worked as a journalist in radio, television, magazines and newspapers. She covered local politics, community events and national news such as the 2000 Alaskan Flight 261 plane crash off the coast of Ventura, CA and the 911 bombings. She also taught courses in broadcast writing at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA.

She has long had a burning desire to share the misadventures and wrong directions of her misspent youth to the reading world in book form and is currently working on her first book and possible syndicating her local column in “The Columbia Star” newspaper.

She is unbelievably happily married to the man of her dreams, Marty Hook and enjoying learning to be a stepmom to his son Van. While Van has his own apartment, Julia and Marty share their home with Whitman, a 95-pound standard poodle and two cats, Molly and Scrappy. They will all have their own stories in the book.

Grout vs. Greatness

By Julia Rogers Hook

Becoming a writer is not an easy task.

Oh sure…people will tell you that you “tell great stories” and that you should write them down.

“You should write a book!”

“You are soooo funny! You should write a book.”

“Did that really happen? You should write a book!”

I probably SHOULD write a book. I WANT to write a book. I also would like to learn to play the piano but I hate practicing my scales. Is it the same thing? Sort of. 

When the general public meets a published author, they tend to think it’s all been an easy ride ending with television shows and book signings with wine and cheese and photos in the local (and sometimes national) papers. It’s not.

As any writer will tell you, before the glitter and the glamour, it’s hours and hours and days and weeks of sitting alone in front of a computer screen and living in a world of your own making. Instead of having dinner with your spouse, your mind is somewhere in some anomalous place running for your life from the bad guys created in your imagination or engrossed in whatever story line you've created.

If you’re really into it, I've known writers who say they can go as far as to stay in their pajamas or sweatpants for days. They put signs on the door ordering their family to leave them alone. They cut off their phones and emails fall by the wayside, ignored and unanswered. Their only concern is what’s happening to the people in their pages.

OR…if you’re like me, you don’t sit at your computer and force yourself to write. You clean your house. You dust, you sweep, you mop, you get out a toothbrush and clean the chrome in your bathrooms. While you’re doing all this excessive tidying, you are definitely thinking about your story but you just can’t get those fingers on the keyboard until there’s no stain in your bathroom grout.
And therein as they say, lies the rub.

We all want it. We all want the fame, the fortune, the glamour and the glitz. But it’s the really true writers that persevere through the distractions and the interruptions that finish a project, whether it be a novel, a play or even a short story or a poem, who actually grab the brass ring on the merry-go-round of becoming an author.

A very wise published author once told me that the secret of writing was simply to write. He said to do whatever it took to write. Get up early or go to bed later. Whatever inspired you to write, he said to do it. As long as the words get from your mind to the page, that will be the day you become a writer. I've been trying to live by that advice and most days I manage to eek out a page or sometimes twenty.

Other days, the grout in my bathroom really does need a good scrub.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

When to Research and When to Revise Part II

By Kasie Whitener

Once you’ve nailed down the historical details and familiarized yourself with the conventions of the genre and criticism, it’s time to revise.

I’m a pantser which means I write everything “by-the-seat-of-my-pants.” I simply sit down and create. This is as opposed to planners who outline first and then write. Being a pantser is fun because the characters really can take over, hijack scenes, and turn stories into something completely unintended.

During revision, though, I tame the pantser and take a more organized approach. I’ve written about revision before so this blog focuses on revision within the scope of the research I’ve conducted.

Adding Historical Details

Many writers commit the crime of fact dumping, or pouring all of the historical information into a single passage. The location, political climate, costumes, and manners are all thickly embellished and saturate the story. Fact dumping is boring.

Including historical accuracies takes finesse. My approach is to write the passage as if it were happening today and then provide the historical accuracies only when required.

For example, my time-traveling vampires frequently smoke cigarettes. I explain how they light them using taper candles in 1816. I explain costumes when my narrator sees someone for the first time, or when he struggles with the intricacies of 19th century dress.

I used Lord Byron’s club foot to show the advancing trust he had in my narrator, Blue: at first Byron hid his limp, then he pronounced it to gain favor, then he showed the deformity completely, without shame, in an intimate moment.

Including Literary Research

The 1816 vacation at Villa Diodati is usually described as having included a storytelling contest. I included the literary research I’d done by having Byron read from Fantasmagoriana, a French translation of German ghost stories. Blue, the primary storyteller, declined to read the text because he does not speak French.

Byron’s sister translates as her brother reads and the intimacy of her whispered translation in Blue’s ear creates sexual tension between the two. Had I not chosen Fantasmagoriana in its French translation, I would have lost the opportunity to bring my lovers together.

Blue is a story teller. The framework for the novel is his recognition of the five types of stories vampires tell: origin, demise, transformation, redemption, and journey. Reading vampire fiction is what revealed four basic types. Blue is a student of literature and  the novel is his (and my) literary criticism of vampire fiction. The journey story is an original addition to the genre.

Understanding where my fiction fits in the spectrum of existing literature and criticism helped me identify a new position for my work. To have an idea of the landscape, I read deep into the genre and criticism. If I hadn’t, I’d have written just-another-vampire book. Snooze.

Revision is where I add depth and breadth to the story my pantser-self generated. Research helps determine the right details to include and the critical approach to take.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

When to Research and When to Revise Part I

By Kasie Whitener

Recently, when speaking with a writer who claimed to have penned a modern military novel, I asked, “How did you research the military aspect of the novel?”

Her response: reddit, documentaries, and Call of Duty (a military-style video game).

I’m a little judgey and I think these resources are insufficient. In graduate school, I learned the different levels of research credibility. From original source data to seminal theorists, I think I can spot the right kind of research.

Then again, I’ve also been known to spend a lot of time on Wikipedia because it’s easier to navigate than the tome Byron: Life and Works I got from the library.

So knowing all of the resources available, how does one determine which research is appropriate?

Ask yourself: What do I need to know?

Historical Details

I needed to know if people smoked cigarettes in 1816 and if so, how did they ignite them? When were matches invented?

Tobacco was regional and my vampire smokers are Yanks (a concurrent term) so they can smoke. But I don’t want my work to be discredited over a small error like the existence of matches. So a quick Google search brought up sufficient information on how, when, and why matches were invented. My smokers must use taper candles.

Lord Byron limped due to a club foot and the years of bad medicine associated with attempting to cure that malady humiliated and embittered him. In my novel, he pronounces the limp whenever he’s embarrassed or annoyed. Other times, he hides it ably, indicating years of suppression.

Literary Research

A bigger portion of my research has been about the conventions of the two genres I’m combining. I’m writing about time-traveling vampires. Both time travel and vampires are fantasy genres with their own conventions. I’ve been reading as much genre-pertinent  fiction as I can.

Unfortunately, the scholarship on pop-culture genres can be rather thin. Few literary scholars apply themselves to genre identification. Yet, it’s very interesting to me that most vampire novels spend at least some time on the origin story – how one became a vampire – and the rules – how they feed, how they die.

I consider anything with Byron in it to be an attempt at literary fiction, even if that same work includes vampires. So I’ve spent time researching the criticism on Byron (turns out he made frequent reference to vampires in his poetry) and on Dracula.

I may not have thought of the Byron connection to my vampires if it hadn’t been for the embedded link to The Vampyre in the bit of Byron’s Wikipedia entry that dealt with John Polidori. Polidori’s original story, mistakenly attributed to Byron, is known as the first Western appearance of vampires in fiction. It also happened to be written during the very week my vampires hung out with Byron and Polidori in Switzerland.

And what has all of this research done for me? It helped me get ready to revise. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

Last month I, along with more than 75 other authors, participated in Book ‘Em North Carolina, a day-long book fair. Lumberton proved to be friendly and supportive of us writers, beginning with the “Meet and Greet” on Friday evening at the Village Station Restaurant. We were treated to drinks and an appealing table of hors d’oeuvres. Owner Arnold West, as well as official hosts and the Lumberton Visitors Bureau, showed up to make us feel welcome.

For the last several years Robeson Community College has provided the venue. My husband Doug and I arrived at the A.D. Lewis Auditorium entrance Saturday morning and were met by volunteers who helped us unload our car and transport books and material to our table. They provided bottled water and offered to help with the set-up.

Each writer was given half of an eight-foot table to display and market his books. I promoted my books with posters of the covers taped to the wall. Since my novels are historical fiction, I placed on the table antique cast-iron irons (for ironing) and an old-fashioned vase with artificial flowers. Next year I’m thinking about displaying an album of 19th century photos.

At 9:30 AM when the doors opened to the public, attractive tables lined the hallways displaying a range of genres including poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and children’s books. The friendly atmosphere encouraged us writers to socialize and get to know one another. Writers (with guest) were treated to an upstairs Author Lounge where we could get complimentary snacks, drinks, and lunch.

Numerous panel discussions about varying subjects related to books and publishing were held every hour at three different locations. I, along with four other writers, discussed “The History Behind the Fiction” to a turnout of about thirty persons. During the day, several panels discussed self-publishing versus traditional publishing, reflecting the changing scene in the book business. Samples of other panel topics: “Promotion: The Other Side of Writing,” Memoir Writing,” and “Behind the Romance.”

A chat I had at my table with a lady has given me more to think about regarding my antebellum novels. I haven’t thought about them as having a political aspect, but my encounter with her (and hints from others I’ve ignored) is giving me pause. The lady asked me if I was proud of my Southern heritage. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but it became clear when she said most Southerners she knew were proud of their history of rebellion and the Confederacy. That hasn’t been my experience, I replied, though the subject of slavery isn’t one that comes up often in casual conversations.

The day ended at 4:30 PM. Doug and I said good-bye to the people we met and started the two-hour drive back to Columbia. I’ve already applied for a table at next year’s fair to be held Saturday, February 27, 2016. This is an annual event in which any published writer can participate, assuming his application is received before the spaces are filled. Writers are required to donate a percentage of their sales, which goes to support local literacy organizations. If you’re interested in being a guest author, you can download an application at the Book ‘Em North Carolina website.

“Book ‘Em North Carolina” to  -- 
Robeson Community College” to --

Sunday, March 15, 2015

He’s Not Fuuny – Blame It on the Writers

By Kimberly Johnson
Comedian X is not humorous. I will keep the blindfold on and not divulge his name. But, you know this prince of the punch line. He was the squire of the small screen, reigning for years. He’s currently the godfather for up and coming comics. He has a pedigree: played Saturday Night Live, Caroline’s, Vegas, Carson and Letterman (you get the snapshot).

I do not connect with his jokes, bits, anecdotes, tales and yarns. I made an honest attempt, but no dice.  Maybe it is his writing staff. I believe a chuckle king or queen needs a support cast that translates the jokes from the page to the stage. Chris Rock (SNL alum, TV and movies), Joan Rivers ("The Borscht Belt," Hollywood veteran) and Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) exemplify people who have employed writing staff that can translate the funny stuff into boundless laughs. I found three comedy writers that say it boils down to writing. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
Read your stuff out loud. Sometimes the way it reads in your head sounds different when someone says it. If you stick around, if you're a good collaborator, if you're open to new ideas and you keep trying, then you'll find there's a lot of different ways you can work as a writer. You can generate original material, or you can be a staff writer, or you can write about the comedy scene — all different things you might find you're good at if you stick around long enough.” Amy Poehler, comedienne
 “A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.”  Jerry Corley, The Stand Up Comedy Clinic “In my short time doing stand-up, I've learned that every room has its own vibe. Older crowds, younger crowds, hipper crowds, dumber crowds. You're not doing your job as a comic if you're blind to that. Although you might polish your set, you need to tailor your material to the people you're trying to get a laugh from. I'll admit that I don't really like that.” Gladstone, 6 Ways To Not Suck At Stand Up Comedy

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Zooilla and the Art of Non-Fiction Proposals

By Laura P. Valtorta

Some people live fortunate lives. I am extra fortunate, but not as fortunate as Zooilla, who has an agent, writes creative non-fiction, and teaches at the University of South Carolina. I call Zooilla “super lucky.” He makes a living writing about animals, and teaching the squirrels who attend USC.

Who does that? Who earns money writing about monkeys, opossums, and bees and gets free trips to India and Brazil thrown in? Maybe somebody who used to work as a shepherd but turned into a good writer.

Zooilla uses Immaculate Consumption restaurant as his office. When he’s in town, he cycles to IC and spends most of the day working on his computer. I assume he’s writing. If you ask him how to submit non-fiction proposals, he shrugs his shoulders. “Ask the publisher,” he says. Nothing about outlines, synopses, cover letters, or sample chapters.

If you ask him again, he turns into Zooilla – the Italian-Finnish-American guy who fights like a raccoon. Then he orders a coffee, packs up his computer, and cycles away. 

Zooilla is in Jersey now (the island in England), on sabbatical with his family. He says he cycles through windy days to the coffee shops and pubs with his laptop, writes his usual stuff about animals and then picks up his children from school. His wife is doing the real work – teaching. On the weekends, they all go walking on the beach.

Zooilla is a super lucky guy who wrote an excellent book entitled My Backyard Jungle. But don’t ask him how he got published.