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.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


George Long's mother instilled in him her love for language. He uses that love to express his own experiences into life-enriching lessons for children and their parents to enjoy. Just a Penny for a Pocketful of Dreams is the first of four," Daddy always Says" Books. His motto is: "Our goal is to enrich the the lives of those we touch."

 For ideas you may go to to view his the gallery of book-signings.  

Protecting Your Work

By George H. Long, Jr.

“The burden of proof is on the side of right,” said Judge Bill Smith. Your work is protected by US Copyright law the moment it is conceived. Whether written down on a napkin, or documented in your computer, the law says, it is yours alone. But what if the person who witnessed your napkin creation is the one who steals your story? How would you prove it is yours?

You could mail yourself a certified package and enclose your intellectual property. Sign for the package, and do not open it. Be sure to tape the returned proof of delivery card to the package. You may also email the text or art to yourself. The dated email is your proof. These are good ideas, but there is nothing better than to have your work registered at the US Copyright Office. If you go to: www. you can file on line for a fee of $35.

The cost of litigation is high. Each thing you do to protect your work may save you money.  

Hooray! You’ve sold your first story and just can’t wait to sign the contract. Not so fast. You may be signing away more of your rights than you think. There are quite a few profit opportunities connected to your intellectual property and each facet may be a point of negotiation under contract law. There are e-books, toys, international sales, language translations, TV rights, movie rights, play rights and merchandise rights just to name a few.

You must be sure of what you are signing, otherwise you may sign away some of your dreams and all the profit that goes with them.

Regardless of how you go about Protecting Your Work, take heed to the words of my friend Judge Bill Smith, “The burden of proof is on the side of right,”  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Writing Memoirs

By Deborah Wright Yoho

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite's warm, reassuring voice on his nightly newscast greeted our family every night. He was the Most Trusted Man in America. In retrospect his ironclad credibility seems surprising, because Walter reported relentlessly on the agony of Vietnam, the first war to beam straight into America's living-rooms during a period when the nation's sense-making of warfare was confused and divided.  His broadcasts punctuated our evening meal five days a week, every week from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies, except in the summer and on weekends, when Roger Mudd substituted so Walter could go sailing.

Cronkite's job as the CBS news anchor required him to announce the evening American death toll in Southeast Asia. “Today’s casualties numbered thirty-two Americans dead, seventy-one wounded and three missing in action," said Walter as we sat over our dinner, only the numbers changing with each broadcast. Of course we believed him.  No one ever questioned the truth of anything Walter Cronkite reported.

I've been thinking about this anew since Brian Williams, the evening anchor at NBC, was recently placed on unpaid leave for six months because he exaggerated about coming under fire when he flew in a Chinook helicopter a number of years ago in Iraq. Inquiring people want to know:  is Brian Williams a liar? News anchors are no longer credible just because they speak to us in our living rooms.

I write what I hope is non-fiction, putting to paper my memories of my own life. A haughty enterprise. Why should anyone believe a word I say? As I work to write an accurate account of events that happened thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, I find my memory is a very fickle tutor. Some recollections, significant and insignificant, come easily to mind, but my brain needs prodding to recall other things. So I pour over photographs, compare my memories to those of others who were there with me, and listen again to the music of the era. Ah, the music! For me, the Sixties and Seventies will always be about the music! Nothing evokes memories like music.

But I still can't be sure if every word reflects exactly what happened, especially the precise sequence of my personal story. Suppose, for an instant, that I possessed an eidetic,  lasting and reliable recall. Would my writing improve?  Become more credible, more interesting, more compelling? I think not.

A writer's offering of a personal account is fascinating to me not because it purports to be true, but because memoirs reveal how people, events, and locations conjoin to influence an individual's perspective on what is worth remembering, worth capturing in written language, worth presenting to the world in a published work. Reading a memoir, and especially writing one, creates opportunities to sift through my life to separate the wheat from the chaff.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Work of Revision

By Kasie Whitener

In October, at the SCWW Conference, I presented ten pages to a literary agent who represents the kind of work I’d done. She was not impressed with the pages, but she was impressed with the story as I described it to her. She told me to revise it twice and send it to her.
What does it mean to revise?
The easy part of writing is getting the story down. Bleed on the page. The real work is in revision. I’m not the first or only writer to say this. All really good writers know it to be true.

In my English classes I often break the word out: Re – vision. To see again.

A true revision should only resemble the original work. After revision, characters are more complex, settings are clearer, plot arcs are steeper, the stakes are higher.

Here is my tool box for revision in three parts:

First, map the story. I’m what’s called a pantser, I don’t plan the story first. I let the characters talk and write their stories as they tell them to me. It’s a magical process wherein unexpected things happen and new characters sometimes show up and hijack scenes.

But during revision, the story needs a map. What does the timeline look like? How are the chapters organized? Does something happen in every single scene?

The map can help determine if there are scenes that are superfluous. I love a good strip club scene, but if it doesn’t move the plot along, it needs to be cut.

Second, nail down the characters. All those people who wandered in have something to offer the story. Or do they? I heard a writer named David Coe refer to the character study as the ABC’s:
·         Attributes or what the character physically looks like, does he have a limp? A lazy eye? A scar?
·         Backstory or where the character has been, what he’d experienced, what made him who he is and
·         Circumstances or the current situation in which the character finds himself.

Map the story then map the characters and the two maps will work together to provide motivations for each participant in every scene.

Third, re-read the scenes. I like to print a hard copy in an alternate font. That way the work doesn’t seem like mine. The printed page enables me to look at the scene with fresh eyes.

Get distance. Take time away from the work so that you can be removed from your original intentions. Distance forces the work to speak for itself.

Revision is a long slow process.

Revision is the real work of writing. In revision, we use craft and structure to elevate our ideas from mere stories to written work.

As I’ve worked through the manuscript that agent asked me to revise, I’ve found the electricity that was missing from the first iteration. Sometimes I catch myself just reading my own work. Then I remind myself, it was good before, but revision makes it great.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

The Danes have an adjective: tilbageholdende, which means “reluctant,” or “holding  back.” This should not apply to a director promoting a film or a writer pushing a new book.
Following completion of a film – the final edit, and then uploading the file onto Vimeo – the post-production work begins. Two years of it. This part of the filmmaking adventure is almost as much fun as directing a shoot. It requires imagination, chutzpah, and hard work. This “hard work” includes traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico for a jazzy film festival; building posters, and emailing your production photos everywhere.

Ah, the life of a filmmaker! What I love about post-production is that the requirements change on a daily basis, because the filmmaking industry is in such as state of beautiful chaos. Today’s web series might be tomorrow’s television pilot. Some festivals prefer shorts over 15 minutes long, while other on-line events might prefer a two-minute short that plays well on an Iphone.

Everybody is looking for independent features.

            I recently put together a list of the necessary elements of post-production:
*           File of the entire film – for festivals and additional DVDs.
*           Promo or trailer.
*           Vimeo file of the entire movie, password-protected.
*           Vimeo file of the promo or trailer, open to everyone.
*           Copyright registration:
*           Still photos from the movie itself
*           Still photos of the director, producer, and screenwriter
*           Still production photos
*           Logline and synopses of the film, English, French, Spanish
*           Website with promo for film and bio of director/screenwriter
*           Master DVD, for copying purposes
*           Master Blu-ray disc, for copying purposes
*           Releases for the use of music and art
*           Promotion through Withoutabox, Imdb, and Film Freeway
*           Follow-up correspondence with festivals, usually by email
*           Personal meetings with distributors
*           Personal meetings at film festivals
*           Contacts at PBS and local TV stations
*           Advertising – cards, brochures, website, blogs, everywhere
*           Advertising – Facebook, twitter, Linked-in, Stage 32 (all social media                      within reach)

The last two lines on advertising are relevant for fiction and non-fiction writers. Any sort of advertising helps. I like to have premiere parties where the film’s participants can meet with fans and friends. Any day at Immaculate Consumption will see me handing out my Gatta Films postcards with instructions on the back about viewing my films on websites such as Shorts Showcase.

Shorts Showcase and other festivals such as Olive Tree have told me that my reach in social network is good. They appreciate when I go on Linked-in, Facebook, Stage 32, and Twitter.

Whenever something happens with my films, I try to tell the world.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review My Book! Please!

By Jodie Cain Smith

I know, I know, in a perfect world we the writers would write, and they, the consumers, would consume without any effort from the writers to bridge the two worlds. But this world is far from perfect. Upon the launch of my novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, I discovered the most evil of marketing tools, the Amazon Customer Review. Yes, whether five stars or one star, the customer review is evil.

It has been known to inspire evil acts. Type “sock puppet reviews” into a Google search bar and read what unethical lengths authors have gone to for an Amazon page filled with customer reviews. Desperate authors, under the cover of Internet anonymity, have created faux personas in order to get the review ball rolling. Despicable.

It has been known to cause obsessive behavior, forcing one new author to check her Amazon book page daily with fingers crossed. “Oh please, oh please! One more review!” No, she is not looking for her next illegal fix, just one more Amazon Customer Review. “Come on, man, I just need one more!” Sad.

So, why am I acknowledging this evil as necessary? What should we, as authors, do? Why would I encourage all of you to go to Amazon and begin typing immediately after reading this post?

The Amazon Customer Review is necessary because unless you are of J.K. Rowling author status, your book’s life depends on Amazon, and Amazon factors customer reviews into the algorithm they use to decide whether or not they care about your book more than the 3,000 (Forbes, 2013) others published that day. Yep, your book’s page will be highlighted by Amazon if filled with customer reviews or sent to the dark corners of the Kindle virtual warehouse if not.

So, how do we increase the number of reviews we receive without getting that dirty, begging-ain’t-pretty feeling? First, you realize that you want your book read and that royalties are awesome. Next, you buck up and beg in a classy way. Every copy of my book that I sell directly, I place a small card in the book encouraging the reader to review the book on Amazon. If someone comments on any of my social media platforms that he or she enjoyed the book, I thank them for their kind words and ask if they would post a short review on Amazon. I publish customer reviews from Amazon to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am currently reading Theo Rogers How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon in order to learn how to approach the Top Amazon Reviews. Yes, they are real, and they are powerful.

The most gratifying measure I take in order to boost the number of reviews on my Amazon page is reviewing other authors’ works. My goal for this year is to review two books per month on Amazon. This will increase the amount of time I spend reading in the evening rather than crushing candy on my Ipad and forces me to read critically, which will make me a better writer.  Finally, it will increase my tribe; my circle of authors who actively support each other, good writing, and the dream of becoming a slightly bigger fish is this gigantic ocean of books.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

In the ongoing disputes between Amazon and NY publishing houses, whose side am I on? Amazon and Hachette, the most recent combatants, reached agreement last November, at least for the time being. Why should I support elitist publishing houses that ignore and belittle writers like me? Haven’t they had too much power for too long? On the other hand, is Amazon trying to gain total control over the industry? And since it’s been pulling punches with Hachette, can it be trusted to treat self-published writers like me fairly? 

When the internet took off, Amazon came on the scene and did what major booksellers and publishing houses didn’t have the foresight to do. It sold books on the superhighway and opened up publishing to any and every writer. In the process, it put major booksellers out of business (Books A Million, Borders). With brick-and-mortar booksellers on the decline, publishing houses such as Hachette increasingly depend on Amazon as retailer.

Half the book trade (more or less depending on different sources) is now controlled by Amazon. A 2014 survey by researcher Codex Group found that Amazon controls 67% of the e-book market*. With statistics like these, I’m getting nervous. How big is too big?

I’m thankful for Amazon and the opportunity it has afforded me to self-publish, but in these changing times, my gratitude is tempered by unease. Unlike Hachette, which has the other big four publishing houses in its corner, there's no support for me if I have a dispute with Amazon.

From what I can gather from reports, the Amazon-Hachette negotiations regarding who has authority to set the price for e-books went public when did things such as refuse pre-orders for Hachette books and slow their delivery. Amazon’s tactics, meant to pressure Hachette in the negotiations, affected sales of the publisher’s books. 

The bad publicity Amazon aroused with its underhanded tactics may have impacted the negotiations. In simple terms, Hachette gained the right to set their e-books prices, and the new arrangement is due to take effect in 2015. Amazon pushed for lower prices while Hachette sought higher prices to protect its paper sales. Buyers can expect the cost of some e-books to go up, which won’t make them happy.

Last August Amazon introduced an innovation in the distribution of e-books which takes the Netflix model and applies it to books—in other words, a book-subscription market. It’s the Kindle Unlimited plan in which customers pay $10 a month to access a library of hundreds of thousands of books that can be downloaded free. What reader won’t like this? But does it sound like a good idea for writers dependent on royalties?

Some reporters have called this a struggle between the future and the past, the West Coast and the East Coast, the masses and the elite. Whatever it is, it will impact us writers regardless of whether or not we have a voice in the current fight. And if Amazon puts major publishing houses out of business, where will writers get the clout to deal with Amazon?

Sunday, January 18, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

Making films, especially documentaries, involves exploring the world and its surprises. I really cannot write an effective treatment or outline until filming for a couple of days. The story changes as I digest the subject matter.

On November 21, 2014, I set off with truck driver Milica Virag to experience life on the road. I brought two cameras and an open mind. The sun was shining and the temperature mild. Our first destination: Covington, Georgia. Then on to San Antonio, Texas, or so we thought. We had a load of truck parts: 30,000 pounds of trailer parts resting on the flatbed of a 47,000-pound truck.
Milica checked the security of the straps and the tire pressure. We climbed into the cabin and set off, making wide turns that hogged a lot of road space on either side of the truck.

“You see, It’s boring.” Milica was blasé. (I was charged with excitement). She lived like this most days of the year—using her tablet and laptop for directions as she talked to the broker and the destination (a car dealership) on her blue tooth phone and munched on a carton full of tangerines from Walmart.

Meanwhile, I was working two cameras. That kept my mind off safety, the cars darting ahead of us, and how someone can steer an International while peeling a tangerine, fixing her hair, and charging her computer. The truck chugged and bumped along. Down below, the angry, darting drivers looked like ants on the highway.

If we hit one of the cars, they would be smashed flat like a bug.
We arrived in Covington at noon. Milica was astonished that the car dealership could not give her compass directions, but used “turn right” and “turn left.” I admitted I was also directionally impaired.

The parking lot at the car dealership was filled with automobiles. Where were we going to park? One of the Head Bubbas waved us in. Stopping and parking in an 18-wheeler is no joke. The Head Bubbas complimented Milica for arriving exactly on time.

The Head Bubbas had called a Wrecker Driver who arrived about 20 minutes late.

For the next two hours, the Car Dealership figured out how to unload MIlica’s flatbed. First they used some chains and the Wrecker. Dramatic film footage. After about an hour, they discovered that the pieces could be lifted off more quickly with a forklift.

The white-haired Wrecker did all the work and all the figuring. Three of the Head Bubbas stood around and talked about lunch and about their diets with comments like – “you look great in that suit.” And “I need to lose twenty more.” It’s impossible, apparently, to lose weight when you attend a lot of football games and “eat like crazy.”

Two hours later the Head Bubbas said, “Goodbye, Sweetheart, drive safe,” and waved Milica toward the front of the parking lot. She turned around on a handkerchief of space and reached the entrance of the car dealership. “I’m going to stop here,” she said, “and finish the paperwork.”

So we stopped. Who was going to make her move?