Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flashing Back to Go Forward

By Chris Mathews

One of the most important but overused tools in the writer’s pouch is the flashback. Although flashbacks dig up the past, they should always move the storyline forward. Too often, they do not really advance the plot or the characterization.

Another challenge with using flashbacks is integrating them into the story. Too often they stick out, sidetracking the reader and giving her an instant case of ADHD. Given the challenges of this technique, I believe flashbacks can still be used to good effect.

In my short story, “Funerals in Small Southern Towns,” a beloved mother, Mary Elizabeth Jardin, has suddenly died. Driving the story are the family conflicts that take place over the three days leading up to the funeral between the Stuckeys, Mrs. Jardin’s inlaws, and the Jardin children, notably Ashby Jardin, Mary Elizabeth’s son.

Charlotte, Mary Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, is married to Roy Stuckey.  They live in a nearby town and Ashby lives three hours away.  In the opening passage of the story, I set up the difference in the backgrounds of the Stuckeys and Mrs. Jardin. Only Mary Elizabeth's social skills have enabled the two families with differing backgrounds to coexist.

Although an omniscient narrator tells the story, Ashby’s point-of-view is primary. The reader hears his inner thoughts, mostly in flashbacks.  Here is a flashback of Ashby’s that takes place during the phone call from his sister Charlotte informing him of his mother’s death.

“Ash, I have some bad news,” Charlotte began.
“What?”
“Mom…didn’t make it.” Charlotte’s voice sounded unnaturally deep.
“What are you saying?”
Ashby’s relationship with his mother had not always been good … Close in age, Ashby and his younger brother Jackson fought constantly. One particularly contentious fight took place in the basement one school night when Jackson would not relinquish the telephone so Ashby could call his girlfriend. Mary Elizabeth unfortunately interceded just as Ashby had thrown a punch at Jackson. When times got tense between her and Ashby, she was not above reminding him that he had once broken his mother’s noseAll Ashby could think of at this moment was her broken nose, even though she had long since forgiven him.
“She didn’t make it out of anesthesia,” Charlotte continued, “her heart stopped.”
“Oh, my God!” Ashby let loose a torrent of sobs and wailings.

I deliberately chose to interrupt the conversation to show Ashby’s first thoughts about her death to build suspense and to provide some background about their relationship, emphasizing Ashby’s sense of guilt surrounding his mother. The flashback carries the story forward by putting Ashby’s reaction to his mother’s death on hold while it develops Ashby’s sometimes complex past relationship with his mother.  The attempt was to allow the past to enrich the story in an unobtrusive way. I believe the flashback works.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

MY SACRED SPACE

By Jodie Cain Smith

I’m aggravated. Something isn’t right. In fact, this is all wrong.

I should be typing away at my desk, surrounded by all the objects that motivate me: Notebooks stacked four high full of ideas for future writing days, words of inspiration pinned to bulletin boards, the most brilliant phrases ever thought or spoken scribbled on scratch paper resting beneath paperweights.

But I am not at my desk in my writing space; the space I didn’t realize was sacred until today. I am on my couch, squeezed out of my office by a visit from my in-laws. The young woman traveling with my mother-in-law needed space to sleep. In my 1,500 square foot apartment with only one guest room, the only available space was my office. I thought I would be fine with her suitcase, air mattress, pillow, and blankets filling the open spaces of my writing space. I was wrong.

My space has been invaded, blighted, bruised. I want to burst through the door and promise my space that soon she will be healed. I will purge the stranger from her carpeted floor and plush armchair with matching ottoman, remove the shrapnel of shoes, tank tops, cell phone chargers, empty water bottles, and dirty socks. I will gently wipe the makeup particles from her wooden desk. But instead, I sit on my couch, do nothing to protect my writing space, and wait for the invasion to end.

My personal violation is not the young woman’s fault. The stranger in my house doesn’t know what it’s like to create, to write. She doesn’t understand the intimate relationship I have with my writing space. In her mind, the room is just an office, a place where work is done and mail is sorted and bills are paid. She doesn’t know that hidden in that space are my darkest secrets, my vulnerabilities, and my wildest fantasies. She doesn’t know that of everywhere on Earth, I am my truest self in my writing space. Risks are taken, worlds are explored, and lives are created in my writing space. And in that space, I decide if anything I create will be allowed to escape beyond the walls of my office and take the greatest risk of all – be read by someone other than me.

As any good daughter-in-law does, I opened my home and my life to people other than myself. The in-laws and anyone they bring with them is part of the “I do” package. I just never considered that they would land in my sacred space. And until now, I didn’t realize that it would bother me this deeply.


Yes, my room will return to its former glory soon. All evidence of the occupier will be removed. The room will be cleaned, and I will retreat to my space to create another world from the inner workings of my mind. If only I could create a world where screaming, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” wouldn’t result in a rift between my mother-in-law and myself that no amount of carefully thought out words could fix. If only…

Sunday, July 13, 2014

ARE WORDS FREE?

By Bonnie Stanard

Years ago when I first moved to a duplex in Uccle, Belgium, my French landlady, who spoke no English, ordered her dog around. It returned to the house or followed her or got into her car on cue. I was embarrassed that the dog understood commands I didn’t.

In the four years I lived there, my French never improved enough to understand slang or contemporary idiom. As a consequence, I wasn’t perturbed by the incomprehensible curses of a driver who thought I had taken his parking spot. Sounds are innocent until attached to meaning. Therein lies their potential for power.

Recent news reports belie the adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Donald Sterling had the misfortune of being secretly recorded saying something as hurtful as it was politically incorrect. (Whether or not the recording was an invasion of his privacy hasn’t been an issue.) His quote raged in the media for days and got him fined and banned by the NBA.

Juan Williams lost his PBS job for saying he became nervous “if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims.”

Towson University art professor Allen Zaruba was fired for saying in class that he was “a nigger on the corporate plantation." His unfortunate word choice landed him out of the job he was bemoaning, a part-time faculty member without tenure.

Colorado congressman Doug Lamborn made media headlines and apologized for saying “…I don’t even want to have to be associated with him [the President]. It’s like touching a tar baby and you get it, you’re stuck, and you’re a part of the problem…”

Simple words aren’t so simple. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is campaigning to ban the word bossy. The word purportedly is a put-down to young girls and discourages them from taking on leadership roles.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel recently discussed slut slamming. The word slut never had so much attention. As an aside, our thesaurus is decidedly sexist. It has a host of terms for a female sensualist, most of them derogatory, while the male synonyms are not only fewer in number but less disparaging (if at all disparaging).

The government is getting involved in cleaning up the English language. The terms citizen and brown bag are no longer used in official documents or discussions by Seattle city workers. They are to use the terms lunch-and-learn or sack lunch instead of brown bag. The word citizen is avoided because many people who live in Seattle are residents, not citizens.

The New York Post reported in March 2012 that the city’s Department of Education avoids references to words like dinosaur, birthday, and Halloween on city-issued tests. Dinosaur suggests evolution, possibly offensive to fundamentalists. Birthdays are not celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Halloween intimates paganism.

The internet is rife with warnings about politically incorrect words. Lists include Swine flu, oriental, founding fathers, black sheep, and senior citizen. There are even dictionaries to tell you which words will get you into trouble.

I can think of nothing so fragile and powerful as words. Our culture, delineated by the media and government, is exerting its control by banning the use of controversial words. Whether this is a step forward or back is a debate that is ongoing. Few people will deny that some words are demeaning. Unfortunately, when politics enters the picture, the choice of unacceptable words becomes subject to influence by strident organizations. I personally find the politically correct policemen as threatening as offensive language.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

THOUGHTS ON REVIEWS

By Mike Long


Anyone reading this is either published or hopes to be, and therefore is or will be interested in getting reviews on the completed work… or will be wishing the reviews had never been written.

Here's how it frequently goes: you finish your novel, do some sort of launch, get it on Kindle, then wait for the reviews. And wait. The first eight or so will be from family and friends plus a few authors who know how important these things are. And they are important. Not only do prospective buyers actually read them, some professional reviewers/bloggers won't even consider your work until you have ten reviews with an average four-star rating. All you need to suppress your average is your Uncle Joe (who thinks a one-star is good, and a five-star is bad), or an idiot who didn't like your subject/genre (and who knows nothing about the writing craft), or, Heaven forbid, several intelligent people who recognize your writing as awful (and don't know you well enough to fib or simply pass on the review).

Let's assume your writing is excellent. If you've gotten it past your SCWW peers, it probably is, so what's the problem? Well, Uncle Joe, of course; with him you can explain the rating system, slowly and distinctly, and hope he gets around to that retraction/correction. I still have one of those one-star ratings; he said he couldn't wait for the sequel. I haven't given him a copy. I also have a two-star zinger from a 'professional' reviewer who wrote that she couldn't finish the novel because of the violence. In my online rebuttal I pointed out that she was part of a paid service, wherein she'd read the synopsis explaining it was a WAR BOOK, and that she had then asked to review it. Her response was that she was just getting started, and that I was mean-spirited and made her cry, and deserved whatever I got.

My advice is simply never respond to a poor rating. Never. After my first free Kindle promotion, some troll blistered my first novel. Knowing he'd paid nothing for it, I responded (for all to see) "So sorry you didn't like it; give me an address and I'll refund the entire $2.99." Cute, right? WRONG. His response (for all to see): "Oh no. You can't buy a retraction. I stand by my rating."


Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Have Not Yet Begun to Write

By Len Lawson

I was asked recently a familiar question to authors...

So how do I go about writing a book?

Below I leave tips for aspiring writers to use for getting that first book from the brainstorming to the finalizing stage.

1) Start writing. Stop talking to everyone about wanting to write something and actually do it! It doesn't matter what you write or how it is arranged or organized. When I began my first book (a fiction novel), I thought I was writing what I considered to be the first chapters. After visiting with a professional editor, it turned out to be the fourth or fifth chapters. I would add to this tip the phrase

2) Don't think--just write. Don't worry about being Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham, or whoever your favorite author is. They have years of experience, and writing a first novel makes you a novice. Writers usually have to push these nagging questions to the back of their minds until the work is finished.
A. Is this good enough?
B. Will people like it?
C. Am I on the right track?

3) Don't read your favorite author's work while writing. While a common tip for writers is to "read everything you can", this can be a detriment to your individual style that distinguishes your work from millions on shelves everywhere. You are not trying to be the next Ernest Hemingway; you want to become the first [insert your name here]. Furthermore, your readers will appreciate your uniqueness.

4) Keep writing. Remember this statistic: 95% of people who begin the same writing journey as you this year will quit. Therefore, how do you maintain your stamina for an entire book? Well, it's a bit like staying in shape.

A. Write every day. Don't tell how many things you have to do in a day or how many distractions there are. Every writer faces those same temptations. Out of 24 hours in a day, you can carve out at least 45 minutes to one hour to focus on your craft.

B. Develop a plan for writing and stick to it. Whatever your plan turns out to be, don't deviate from it. If you happen to get off track, then get back on quickly.

C. Stay focused during your writing time. It is so easy to let the distractions/temptations (TV, social media, Internet, cell phone, etc.) creep into your writing time. Eliminate these during your writing time. This takes time to master, but remember your goals and just say no to the temptations.

D. Create the right environment when you write. What works for me is to play an instrumental track of my favorite music while I write so that my brain is locked into what is flowing on the pages. Alternatively, I prefer silence. Find the right ambiance for you to create your masterpiece. Also, don't be afraid to alter this space if necessary.

Finally, the one thing that has improved my craft more than anything is learning from my peers and improving from the critiques I have received in my SCWW writing groups. I hope these tips will help anyone ready for their writing journey to pursue it with confidence.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Q & A: What’s So Punny?

By Kimberly Johnson
  
I’m always looking for a good laugh. I tried watching Last Comic Standing on NBC. I parked my remote on the Comedy Central with no results. I found my funny a couple of Sundays ago via Youtube. CBS Sunday Morning featured the 37th O. Henry Pun-Off Championships (It was a free event, 11a -3p). Reporter Lee Cowan traveled to Austin, Texas to interview entrants and the 2014 winner Alexandra Petri. (She made puns of every US president in chronological order).

In Romania I made hotel reservations. I was so tired I had to BUCHAREST.

I’ll admit it—I’m not well-versed on puns. So, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission:

Q: What is a pun?
A: Informal definition: A play on words and their meaning. Formal definition: A joke exploiting the possible meanings of a word.
Function: A pun shapes how the reader interprets the text.

The pigs were a squeal.

Q: Are there different types of puns?
A: Yes. Homophonic puns feature word pairs that sound alike but have different meanings. Homographic puns spotlight words that have the same spelling but have a different sound and connotation. Homonymic puns use words which are homophones and homographs. A compound pun uses two or more puns at a time.

Nothing makes me SYCAMORE than some guy using all those cheezy pickup lines like a DOGWOOD.

Q: Who uses a pun and why?
A: A writer can demonstrate a character’s quick wit. William Shakespeare is a famous punster.
“Winter of our discontent” was “made glorious summer by this Son [son] of York.” (Richard III)

How to be a punster?
Listen closely when your friends are talking. Find a play on words that you can use to construct your pun. Keep it in the context of the conversation.

Want more information? Try the O. Henry Pun-Off website, http://punoff.com. It features cool stuff like Noose You Can Use and Punslingers.

Sources:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Observe. Create. Write. Repeat.

By Leigh Stevenson

I am often asked by non-writer friends where I get my ideas. “Do they come from real life? Do they come from your imagination? Do you take notes? Are you always looking for a story? Do you do extensive research?” The most accurate answer is all of the above. But my truest answer, if I’m honest: I try to pay attention.

In the beginning, I scribbled ideas on scraps of random bits of paper, napkin wedges and backs of receipts. More often than not, I would promptly lose them. There were also the middle-of-the-night brilliant ideas that I was sure I wouldn’t forget but inevitably did. My solution came in buying two notebooks, one that I try to keep with me at all times and another one for beside my bed. Sometimes I go back to read these notes and I can’t decipher them. But that doesn’t matter. Mostly, I do remember and it encourages me to pay attention.

I am endlessly curious about people. Most every person I encounter is fascinating in some way. Everyone has a story and I believe you can learn something from each individual. Maybe it’s a piece of wisdom or just a fragment of information. It might be the observation of a baby‘s intense concentration while trying to pick up a bug or that one cheerio on a slippery tray. It could be the way someone holds their hands while listening to criticism. Notice the gait of say a minister when compared to that of a car salesman. What do your fingers look like after sticking them in a bag of Cheetos? After washing blackberries? Observation is an essential element in the writer’s toolbox. Every observation adds texture to your memory bank. Even if you are writing non-fiction or a self-help book, observation is crucial. You have to observe how your audience is doing something incorrectly, to tell them how to do it right. Right?


Every bit of information and observation informs your writing. Tuck it away. Observe. Create. Write. Repeat. Not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Author Website Bonus Materials: Online Stalking & Tasty Treats

By Jodie Cain Smith

Fred Fields pointed out in his post “Website Tips” that a website is critical to an author’s success. However, if you want to fully capitalize on this inexpensive and, in some cases, free marketing device, gone are the days that a stagnant online business card would suffice. Today’s author websites must offer readers much more than a bio and purchase links. If you want your readers to buy more, invite them through the looking glass, or rather laptop screen, to get lost in your bonus materials. After several minutes, or even hours, your customers will emerge from the rabbit hole filled with the inner workings of your brain and, hopefully, with a lighter wallet.

So, how do you turn your author website from stagnant to engaging? Add content! In addition to a regularly updated bio (Seriously, surely something has happened in your life in the last ten years. And when was that picture taken? 1993? Nice claw bangs.), available titles, contact information including all social media links, and event/appearance schedule, get creative with bonus materials.

1. Create a Virtual Inspiration Board

Allow readers to explore your world. What music do you listen to while writing? Does it change according to the specific project? Do pictures inspire you? Do you save research from past works? Share short posts and images that include anything and everything that inspire you. Divide your inspiration according to specific titles, so the reader can click on the title of the book you wrote that he is now obsessed with and dying to learn more. Feed his obsession.

2. Create Flash Fiction

Introduce yourself through short works. If the customer likes the appetizer (a brief story of 750 words or less), she may say, “Well, that just made me hungrier. Must eat more!” Before she knows it, her literary hunger pangs have resulted in binge clicking, purchasing everything she can make her little mouse icon grab.

3. Encourage Voyeurism

Emily Giffin, one of my favorite authors, includes a “Twenty-five Things About Emily” list. I read the list and decided that we should be close friends. Of course, moving to Atlanta in order to “accidentally” meet her would be costly and could land me in jail, so I downloaded her latest release instead. Our friendship may be imaginary, but her voice is part of my life regardless. Victory!

4. Blog and Share and Blog and Share and Blog and Share

Yep, this part is never ending, but it is the easiest way to keep your website fresh. And fresh content is the best kind to share. Would you offer a friend a spoiled apple, rotting and covered in fruit flies? No. So, why would you expect your readers to come back to the table time and time again for apples so old that even moronically naive Snow White would refuse a bite? That’s just gross and mean and your readers crave something new.


What other bonus materials can you think of to include on an author website? Share your ideas below.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Join Us!

By Ginny Padgett

This blog site is the domain of Columbia II, a chapter of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. During the three years I served as president of the organization, it was my joy and privilege to foster two new and successful chapters, Columbia III and Sumter.

Recently, I have been involved with the formation of another SCWW chapter in the Beaufort area. This week I received a call from the leader of the fledgling chapter. She asked, “My prospective members wonder why we’re paying dues to SCWW if I’m doing all the work of organizing a chapter?” My answer included these points.
  • Liability insurance – This is the most important advantage for groups to become SCWW chapters. If something were to happen at a chapter meeting, SCWW insurance would cover the damage.
  • Website support and information: http://myscww.org/
  • Market yourself and your work through the SCWW website
        Work: http://myscww.org/members-published-works/
        Member website and blog site: http://myscww.org/members-websites-and-  blogs/
        Speakers Bureau: http://myscww.org/speakers-bureau/
  • Monthly e-newsletter
  • Exclusive opportunity to be published in SCWW’s annual anthology, the Petigru Review
  • Discounted reading fee for Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards
  • Discount on conference registration - Our conference has been ranked as one of the top ten in the country.
Most of all, we’re a network of writers, novice and established, who come together regularly on a local level to critique each other’s work and provide a means of accountability. In addition, we share information that will further us on our journey toward publication and support each other in that common endeavor.
There are 18 chapters across the state, and the Board is looking into the feasibility of forming virtual chapters for those members who reside outside SCWW areas. If you’ve wanted to find an environment to nurture your creative growth, consult the website for a chapter that best accommodates you. http://myscww.org/chapters/  Don’t see one in your locale? Email me. We’ll start one.  ginnypadgett@att.net


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Making My Peace with the N-Word

By Len Lawson

As an English professor, every year I offer my students an argumentative essay based on the topic, "Should the n-word be used in today's society?" This comes from Gloria Naylor's essay, "Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean?" In the essay, the author describes how hearing the word used toward her in elementary school by a white student transformed her understanding of race in America. In the classroom, discussions on both sides of the argument among my students have been intense, visceral, and down right incendiary. Each year a student will ask, "Mr. Lawson, what is your opinion on the issue?" I always reserve my opinion to keep the sides moderate.

As a black man, I have had the n-word used around me by white people--once as Naylor did in elementary school at a cafeteria table surrounded by white students and several times in a relationship used against me to get me to retaliate (unsuccessfully). Between these two instances, I have known that the word meant nothing good for any black person, and I never used it. However, the onslaught of hip hop music in our society presented an astounding blacklash against the word's origin. Although many African Americans use it as a term of endearment, I never enjoyed hearing it because I always associated it with something negative regardless of its intention.

As a writer, I have struggled with the perception of using this word in poetry and fiction. I have come to the conclusion that in order for characters to remain authentic, in many cases the n-word cannot be taken out of the mouths of characters who would use it in reality. The integrity of the characters will be maintained and not compromised. Moreover, the fiction will resonate with readers if they are fully acquainted with what type of characters--perhaps even narrators--use the n-word in their speech.

I realize some may say that I am hereby giving people a license to use such language in their writing and even in their own speech. However, as illustrated above, no one needs my permission to use the derogatory term. Our society has already indicted some of its own precious characters for using the word. Nonetheless, regardless of its efforts, our culture cannot contain the parent that uses the n-word around his children and even teaches them to use it. Our culture cannot stop anyone else bold enough to utter the word from grabbing it with his fist and hurling it with hate at anyone who happens to be his target. We can all see this in movies as well. If we didn't care for the n-word, then why did we not see anyone boycotting such films as 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Roots, and others for its use?


In conclusion, authenticity remains a valid excuse for writers of any race to use the word. However, each individual must search his own soul before penning the n-word on paper before seeing it in print beneath a cover with his name on the front. The word itself is history, yet as a society, we simply cannot seem to keep its sensual, polarizing, forbidden fruit out of our mouths in the present. Therefore, we leave the debate to be reconciled by subsequent generations. As for me, when I see the word or even write it, all I see is hate--never love--and perhaps never peace.

Monday, May 19, 2014

STAGESTRUCK


By Laura P. Valtorta

I don’t suffer from writer’s block. Too many ideas. But I do suffer from format block, style block, and diarrhea of the pen.

There’s a Puccia family story that needs to be told. Everybody has that story. The bitch mother. The renegade father. Children who take risks and tear your heart in two.

Readers don’t care about my family. Why should they? And yet, these family sagas have been told for generations, and somehow they capture audiences’ attention.

Last week Marco and I saw two plays: Hamlet at Drayton Hall on the University of South Carolina campus, and Blindsided: the Wedding put on by New Life Productions at the Booker Washington Community Center. Both were delightful. Both were about families. My family. That’s why I was interested. I saw myself on stage with those actors.

Hamlet at Drayton Hall immediately felt like home. It was set in an insane asylum. One of the main characters was a horrible mother. She let her son down. She couldn’t keep her farthingale on. Not to mention her partlet and her bumroll. Hamlet went mad over this. Angry at the betrayal of his mother.

In Blindsided: the Wedding, we saw a talk show host , portrayed by my actor friend, Pat Yeary, (she was in my short film entitled Disability) who set out to trick her guests into reuniting with their mother – another nut case – who had abandoned her children when they were babies. Entertaining. Lots of audience participation and laughs.

These shows inspired me because they managed to portray family issues without losing my interest. In real life, nobody cares about Bruce’s overachieving children or Sally’s annoying grandkids. Nobody wants to hear that my children are extremely good-looking. That’s for me and Marco to discuss in private.

For entertainment value, in the outside world we want to know about the disasters. How a family can weather all the emotional bullshit and survive. Or die of poison, one after another, inside a creepy castle in Denmark.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Who is Writer’s Block aka The Block?

By Kimberly Johnson
Aaagh. I cannot break through this peat-filled bog—I’m trapped and I cannot craft an introduction for this blog. In the hopes of replenishing my creative engine, I cranked up YouTube and viewed an episode of Sherlock, the British thriller, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe a change in scenery would help me. It did. Afterwards, a conundrum vexed me:  What is this fiendish fellow called Writer’s Block? I ran to my closet and found my Sherlock Holmes’ chapeau (it was a baseball cap) and ferreted out this dastardly time-stealer.

In my opinion, The Block is the 50s creature, The Blob. It’s odorless and shapeless. When it takes over your mind, you’re powerless. Blogger Charlie Jane Anders believes there is no such animal as Writer’s Block. It is just a creative slowdown with causes and solutions. Anders features them in her blog, “The 10 Different Types of Writers Block and How To Overcome Them.” I have number 8: You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey.

What does It feel like? When does this malady occur?

To me, it feels like a blank space—nothing coming in, nothing coming out. One fiction writer characterized it as annoying and scary. Another writer conjures up the monster-under-your-bed scene from childhood. As for showing up, the Block rears his head when you run out of petrol with the storyline.

How do you end It? Hmmm. Watson, that’s not so elementary.

So I went to the experts to solve this quandary.

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’— Maya Angelou

You hear of writers having such a tough time. They say, 'I can't make it work', and I always think, 'Why not?' I don't believe in writer's block. I've only been stuck briefly but then something will interrupt my day. I'll focus on that and when I go back to my work, I'm not stuck any more.  — Elmore Leonard

I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. — Barbara Kingsolver

Sunday, May 4, 2014

REAL EDITING

By Mike Long

Author Richard Prosch and I are fortunate to have short stories in the new Western anthology from High Hill Press, namely Rough Country. Richard asked me for a brief look back on how my piece, “Choteau's Crossing,” came to be.

It all started when Brett Cogburn invited me to have a drink at the Western Writers of America Convention in Las Vegas in 2013. We talked some (drank more), and some time later he called. He said he'd read my first novel, No Good Like It Is, and that there was a scene in there that he especially liked. In it, some unlucky Texan bandits attack a lonely trading post on the Canadian River up in Indian Territory and find out there are some irritable buffalo runners inside.

Brett went on to say that he was putting together an anthology of maybe 15 stories, and that he kind of liked my style, and that if I could turn that scene into a stand-alone short story, and if it well pleased him, he might include it. He said he was "pretty daggone picky," but I was welcome to try. Now, I'd like to tell you he was just being cute and precious, maybe exaggerating a little, but that would be a Black Lie.

He was being the dark soul of understatement. I understand that some authors stood up to him and wrote whatever the hell they pleased, but I'm old and small and feeble, not to mention trying to get noticed. The result was that over the next several months Brett twisted and squeezed me like a wash rag until he got that story the way he wanted it. I'd be home, feeling “pretty daggone” good about what I'd just sent him, and the phone would ring. Here'd come this loud Oklahoma twang saying, "Hey- you got your big boy pants on?"

I put him on hold, poured myself a stiff one, and bent over. See, I didn't have a real editor for my two novels, so it was a new and sometimes painful experience for me. Thank goodness for scotch. Merely remembering it gave me a chill, so I just now went and fixed myself a delicious Rob Roy -- three kinds of liquor but it does have ice. I will never lose weight if I keep writing.

Anyhow, he encouraged me to try 'first person,' and I found I liked it. I put myself into the head of a simple sixteen-year-old poor boy from Weatherford, Texas, out on a lark with some other dumb-assed teenagers who run into reality and ensuing trouble. That wasn't too hard to imagine for a former eighteen-year-old, who was afraid of heights, went to parachute school, then Viet Nam and never advanced much mentally. Finally we came up with a story we could live with, and I was ”pretty daggone” proud. Try it and let us know what you think. 

All books are available at www.amazon.com and www.mckendreelong.com.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

AMATEURISH WRITING

By Bonnie Stanard

At workshop we critics often disagree about what makes good/bad writing. Some of us defend poor grammar and punctuation as creative license. “We aren’t writing themes for English 101.” Others accept point of view (POV) discrepancies. “Best-selling writers do it.” Illogical plots either engage or alienate us. Repetitious words either provide emphasis or tedium. We divide on whether characters are developed or half-baked.

Perhaps the most valid criticisms of our work are those that point out amateurish writing. But what separates amateurish from professional?

It would require a book to address subjects such as coherence, clarity, dialogue, tone, etc. But we can touch on what makes us appear amateurish. Let’s give this a mega/mini treatment. 

MEGA—THE BIG PICTURE
—Duplication of what has already been published. Will savvy readers recognize your plot or characters from other novels? We may be copying a story from a book we’ve read. Years ago, George Harrison was sued and found guilty of subconscious plagiarism of an earlier tune. The point is, we may be unaware.

—Unnoted shifts in point of view (POV). I’ve heard writers argue that POV is irrelevant. Might as well argue that plot is irrelevant, or dialogue or setting.

—Untrustworthy fabrication. When you create a fictional world, it has a “reality” that you created. To break with that reality, even in little ways, is to lose faith with your “truth.”

—Lack of knowledge about language usage. What makes people think skills acquired through instruction and practice aren’t necessary for a person to become a writer? Unlike, say, a surgeon? Okay, anybody can write a blog, you say. Yes, and if I can pull out a splinter, I can remove an appendix.

MINI—THE DETAILS
Let’s get to the mini with a list. You may say generalities are useless when it comes to creativity, but they can coach those of us learning the game. According to an issue of Writer’s Digest* that I found in my office, if you open a story with one of the following, you’re an amateur: 
action that turns out to be a dream
an alarm clock buzzing
a phone ringing
little or no dialogue for three pages
unattributed dialogue
alternatives for said
the villain, if it’s a mystery
outlandish names like Sky or Zebediah

Because we get numerous suggestions in workshop about what to change, it’s up to us to figure out which criticisms to accept and which to reject. As we participate in critiques and hone our work, we’re becoming more skilled in recognizing amateurish writing. In large measure, that skill comes from reading what others write. And that’s why we often hear the advice from professionals to read, read, read.
* Writers Digest July/August 09


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Using Images to Sell Your Work

By Jodie Cain Smith 

Unless you want your book to die a lonely, dusty death, rotting on the shelf until the pages decompose, selling your book is up to you. But do any of us really want to turn off the creative side of our brain once the writing is done and focus on marketing techniques? I say, “Don’t!” Bring your natural born creativity to your marketing plan.

Post “Buy my book! Now!” on Facebook and I’m sure your momma will comply. Heck, she might even tell the other members of the local orchid society to buy her baby’s book, but beyond that, you will likely fall short of your sales goal. Create a beautiful author website with your latest headshot, book description, and link to the Amazon Kindle store. Then watch only your inner circle click “buy now”. Keep pinning and tweeting your brains out about summer fashions and perfecting your brownie recipe, or use social media and your super-human, creative brain to sell your book!

Did you know that 80% of the content on Pinterest is images that have been re-pinned over and over again? That’s right. There are people all over the world trolling for pretty pictures. Why not create your own picture to be pinned?

Idea #1

My novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, mentions my grandmother’s love of cooking. Among the many delicious treats she fed me over my childhood, her fried okra was my favorite. Her secret was fresh okra and a little bacon grease. (I dare you to resist okra cooked in bacon fat.) How can I use this to sell my novel? I make Granny’s fried okra, snap a couple of pictures (okra frying in my cast iron skillet, okra on my bright, red serving tray) and upload the picture to Pinterest. When the image is clicked, the link will lead to the recipe posted on my author website written within a childhood memory of Granny. Just below the recipe the reader can click on a link to purchase the novel.

Idea #2

Have you, like me, saved every shred of research you did for your novel? The research that you did enriched your work and was a fascinating treasure hunt. Make your research work for you again. From my research for The Woods at Barlow Bend, I have pictures, court documents, newspaper articles, and census reports. Using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, I will publicize these items along with teasers from the book and, of course, a link to purchase the book. Here’s a little “for example” nugget to be posted on social media along with an image: Can you believe what Hubbard was arrested for? Find out what happened after the arrest in The Woods at Barlow Bend (hyperlinked, of course, to Amazon).

What other images could you create in order to publicize your book? What interesting and innovative content could be used social media? Telling people to buy your book is not enough. You must show them why they want to buy your book! Share your brilliant ideas below in the comment section below.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whodunit: I Really Don’t Know But I’ll Keep Reading


By Kimberly Johnson

Uncle Sunny done it. The Frank Sinatra-singing Lothario choked the life out of the old ladies with Venetian blind cord. Afterwards, Shorty and Moe put’em in the dumpsters around Trenton. Cops were stumped on this head scratcher. Leave it to Stephanie Plum--full time bounty hunter and part time private eye-- to stumble on this beloved killer in Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty

I missed that one. Evanovich kept me guessing until the end when Uncle Sunny croaked while Grandma Mazur was performing a pole dance. I don’t keep a lot of mystery novels on my bookshelf because I can figure it out. Now, I can add one.

I had two suspects: the peach-Schnapps-drinkin’ butcher or some geezer at the Senior Center. On top of that, Uncle Sunny is a mobster with family ties to Stephanie’s boyfriend who happens to be a cop. Complicated, huh? I enjoy reading these tales—the characters are regular people with plenty of drama.  I attribute the keep-me-guessing part to character development. Who could go wrong with Ranger? The sexy knight in shining armor rescues Stephanie from being tossed over a bridge by Shorty and Moe. Or Lula? She’s the sidekick who wears too much spandex and buys lettuce for a runaway giraffe. I found three writers who give pretty good advice on suspense:

Ron Lovell: Set up false leads and red herrings all along the way to throw reader off as to who the killer is. Be fair with readers—lead them to the solution of the crime methodically, planting clues, and don’t bring someone out of nowhere that the reader does not know or care about. 

PD James:  Usually, there is a murder, a closed circle of suspects with means, motive and opportunity for the crime and a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it. 

Chuck Wendig: In real life, people get run over with cars, shot with pistols, and decapitated with ancient swords. Take down your victim with all the creativity you can muster.

So, the next time I read a Stephanie Plum mystery, I’m going to double-check the false leads and fish out all the red herrings to untangle whodunit.

Sources:

Monday, April 7, 2014

South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Website Improvements


By Ginny Padgett


The SCWW website has some great advantages for members beyond general information and conference registration. Recently in accordance with member requests, new pages and a number of improvements were made.

Members’ Published Works Page (http://myscww.org/members-published-works/):  This page isn’t new but it's been upgraded. A slider feature continually rotates books so all work is visible, regardless of when it was posted. (At the present time, only five books are sliding, however that technical glitch should be rectified within the week.) Also on that page there is now a button to find work by genre. If you have work to add to this page, go to the web address above and follow the guidelines. Note: While work continues on this page, the guidelines are not visible. However, they may be found on the Quill Bulletin Board. Issues are available on the website for reference (http://myscww.org/category/quill/).  Please follow the guidelines carefully. 

Members’ Websites and Blogs (http://myscww.org/members-websites-and-blogs/):
This page is not new or improved. If you’d like to add your information, follow the guidelines on this page.
SCWW Blog (http://myscww.org/category/blog/). I bring this page to your attention because this is where our Cola II Blog Vote Winner goes each month. The innovation on this page is content. In the past, blogging responsibility was handled mainly by SCWW Board members. This year there is an emphasis on posts from the general membership and outside guests.

Speakers’ Bureau Page (http://myscww.org/speakers-bureau/): This is a new page where members may offer their services to speak to groups based on the author’s area of expertise. If you’d like your information to be included on this page, the guidelines are available on this page. Note: It is most important to follow the guideline closely.

SCWW Board of Directors Meeting Minutes (http://myscww.org/board-of-directors-meeting-minutes/): This is another new page to keep the membership abreast of the workings of the organization.


Not a SCWW member and your interest is piqued? Join us. There’s a website page for that too: http://myscww.org/join-us/

Sunday, March 30, 2014

CLARA'S HOUSE

By Laura P. Valtorta

Boubacar Traore. Amadou and Miriam. Tinariwen. Sure, the Malian music playing at our house is cool and helps me write. The best place to write, however, is inside Clara and Ross’s house in Austin, Texas.

The cool white tiles and the big windows out into the yard help me. Plus the sense of being on vacation. I don’t have to worry about the meals. Clara and Ross will take care of that. Give me some French press coffee, pressed by Clara, and the hope of Thai take-out, and I’m happy.

The place where we write affects us: the ambience. Place affects mood.
Even a quiet hotel can be inspiring when you’re on vacation. I got tons of work done at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC when Marco and I were there in February. Most of the creative work took place in my head. We went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw the winners of the portrait competition (Artist builds self-portrait from rice-- sculpture; Musician goes crazy in Whole Foods – paper-mation). Visual art always heats up my literary imagination. Then when we returned to Chapin, and while it snowed for four days, the words poured out of my fingers.

While we were in Austin, we attended some of the South By Southwest free shows on the side. Frankly, the music in Austin is usually a lot better. This time, the SXSW festival sucked up all the good acts and we were left with the crumbs and a bunch of beer guzzlers on the street. One exception: the Andrew Combs band from Nashville. It’s nice to see a cute young man playing some hipster- pleasing country swing music with his friends.

On Saturday night, there was a Tinariwen concert outside. I was hoping for more inspiration. No such luck. We got to see what the singers looked like (skinny French-speaking Touaregs in burkas, dancing scared like deer in the headlights) but their sweet folk music was RUINED by the horribly stentorian amplification. Yikes.


In order to write, the background must include the right kind of sound. Not a beer-blast concert. Not Marco yelling at me and flapping his arms. Yes – Sonia Jacobsen’s album, "Avalanche." Yes, Marco cheering a soccer match in the other room. Yes, Clara making French press coffee and the tropical sounds of birds in the background in Austin.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Did You See Her Dress at the Oscars? Describing the Action Can Make You Money


By Kimberly Johnson

Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o wore a gown at the Oscars that fashionistas are still talking about.  

Here’s some blog chatter: 
When Lupita stepped onto the carpet in that sparkling, sky blue silk georgette gown that was custom made for her by Prada, she looked absolutely breathtaking… In Lupita’s red carpet interviews Lupita said she chose this shade of blue because it reminded her of her native Nairobi and quickly #NairobiBlue became a trending topic. .(Nicole Gibbons, SoHautestyle.com).

The “It girl” of this year’s awards season, Twelve Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o made her Academy Awards debut in a custom Prada robin's egg blue gown. … Nyong’o—who brought her mom, Dorothy, along for the night—topped off the winter wonderland fairy princess look with a gold and diamond Fred Leighton headband. (Josh Duboff, Vanity Fair) 

My sideline interest is to write about the haute couture frocks, chapeaus and zappos worn by the Hollywood elite and the up-and-coming. I thought about it – turning a descriptive phrase can be rewarding (financially and creatively). I checked out Paula Rollo’s blog, "How Much Do Bloggers Really Make?, Part 2."  In her post, she lists poll results in which she queried bloggers about pay, time spent on the blog and monthly page views.  I found out that just-getting-started writers put in over 20 hours each week on content and the pay ranges from $10 to $500 per month.

Recently, I’ve been bouncing this sideline thing around to a friend or two. One worrywart said, “Will people take you seriously, writing about what so-and-so wore?” My take on this seed of doubt is that a blogger is no different from a New York Times reporter: conduct the research, become a subject matter expert, find refreshing angles to present the facts and deliver the message. It is like the advice of a high school English teacher: Tell a story about a moment/event that means a lot to you. Get right to the action. Describe the action and use all five senses.

Nick Levitan’s blog, "Is It Time To Take Fashion Bloggers Seriously?," crushes that seed of doubt and sums it up pretty well:
…Because of the ever-growing power of bloggers, and the decline of traditional fashion magazines, it is likely that bloggers will become more powerful than ever. It is true that with the fast pace of modern fashion, a once a month magazine is simply not able to keep up with the evolving trends and changes that occur in fashion seemingly overnight. The day of the fashion blogger is now, and if everyone does not take notice, they will be left behind.
Sources:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

TRUTH AND HISTORICAL FICTION

By Bonnie Stanard

As a writer of historical fiction, I am disturbed by Andrew Delbanco’s claim that a novelist using historical characters and settings has no obligation to factual reconstructions.  Delbanco, in a review of a novel on Abraham Lincoln, says:

The novelist … can take liberties—suppressing this, embellishing that, even inventing situations, characters, and words that were never actually spoken … A novel is beholden to no external measure of truth; it must only be true to itself.*

Only true to itself! Why write historical fiction if you’re only going to be true to your imagination? When I place my characters in history, I have freedom in defining their thoughts and motives. Their acts and the events surrounding them are restrained by historical fact. The defense that some writers pose of “capturing the spirit” of the truth doesn’t give them the freedom to alter facts.

Think of it this way, should we create distortions that may change our readers’ perceptions of historical people or events? What would you think of novels in which:

John Brown’s army wins a victory at Harpers Ferry
Hitler has a love-child with a Jewish mistress
Alexander G. Bell beats his wife
Al Capone is elected mayor
Henry Ford murders his brother
The Wright Brothers bash a gay bar

In the same vein, I would assert that movies have a similar responsibility to history. When script writers create events contrary to proven (as opposed to speculative) history, they break faith with their audience. For example, in The Patriot is a scene in which British soldiers burn down a church filled with families, an event with no supporting historical evidence. In cases such as this, the fabricated excitement arouses misguided feelings of insult or mistreatment.

I can’t agree more with Edward Rutherford, author of Sarum and other historical novels, who said in an interview :

My fictional characters are free to follow their personal destinies; but I never alter the historical record just to suit my convenience, or my prejudices. Novelists and movie-makers are sometimes tempted to do that and maybe they believe it doesn't matter. I think it does matter.

… so much political propaganda is based upon the falsification of history. An extreme example would be the medieval blood myth told against the Jews, that they kidnapped and sacrificed Christian children … It seems to me that those of us in the business of storytelling, in books, plays or movies, have an ethical obligation not to mislead our audiences over the historical record, especially when subjects may be emotive and affect our attitudes to others. The bigger the audience, the greater our responsibility; and I don't think we can evade that responsibility, whether we like it or not.**

Because our stories have the power to create myths, we writers of historical fiction have a responsibility to the record. We can distance ourselves from propaganda by sticking to a framework of facts. If that’s too much of a burden, other genres are less demanding, such as scifi or fantasy.

*The NY Review of Books on Gerome Charyn’s novel I am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War.