Sunday, November 30, 2008

Writer's Block

By Ginny Padgett


Writer’s block is the result of exposure to literary kryptonite. Apparently the walls of my den are lined with it!

I love words! I love the way they look on a page. I love the way they feel in your mouth. I love the way they sound in different combinations. I love painting pictures using words as my preferred medium. Nothing gives me the same feeling as writing. So, what’s the impediment to writing if I have this great love affair with words?

I’m afraid I have nothing to say that is of interest to anyone else. I submitted an entry to a writing contest in the novel-in-progress category. The components required were a detailed synopsis and a writing sample up to 50 pages. I figured out every plot detail for my eight-page synopsis. I finished the first chapter and epilog of my thriller. I sent it off with pride. Of course, it didn’t win; I really didn’t think it would. However, I didn’t expect what happened next.

I began to finish the second chapter, and I couldn’t. My story had been told in the synopsis, and it seemed to me that any more words on this project would be a waste. Not only that, but when I reread my shining example of literature, my thriller no longer thrilled me. Additionally, I have a couple short stories in various states of completion. I was excited about them when I wrote them, but now they seem lackluster. And my poetry is for my eyes only!

I suppose one of the only bits of my own writing I have ever been pleased with consists of five lines from a diary. I happened across it a while back and wondered about the origin of this prose. I was struck by its vision, its wisdom, its unsentimental emotion, its beauty. Then in a flash of memory, I was transported back to the time when I wrote this passage. I had experienced abject disappointment and felt disillusioned. This writing still had legs, and I could scarcely believe I had been the writer!

I have also been pleased with some technical writing I’ve done. I liked the clarity and efficiency I found there. I have been pleased with some 30-second advertising spots I used to write. I have been pleased with thank-you notes and letters of condolence. So what can I learn from these experiences? I have a short attention span? I’m easily bored? I’m a lousy storyteller? I require terrible emotional upheaval as my muse?

Gee. I don’t know. I am beginning to think fiction may not be the canvas for my art (“art” being another way of saying creative self-expression). Maybe I’m a much better reader than writer. Maybe…but I only enjoy reading. I love writing. So I guess I’ll pull up my big-girl panties, find a kryptonite-proof suit and keep trying.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dialogue Sets the Pace

By Beth Cotton


Writers must use dialogue to advance the story and develop character. Without successful dialogue, neither of these things happens, and soon the reader loses interest and closes the book. If the dialogue does not set the pace, it is simply taking up space on the page and does not belong there and/or it keeps the story from moving forward.

What, then, is "good" dialogue? It must contribute to the telling of the story and provide dramatic impact to move the story and its characters forward. Dialogue should promote action which shows rather than tells the reader what is happening on each page. Good dialogue causes the reader to get immediately involved, and the reader then begins to develop a kinship with the characters. If done well, the writer can make the characters become real to the reader with dialogue. The reader can get inside the characters’ heads by what is being said.

For example:

"Tommy, answer the door, will you? I have to finish putting the cheese on the casserole and get it back into the oven." She hears the door open and Tommy talking to another child. Tommy comes running back into the kitchen with a big smile on his face.

"I’m sorry Tommy, but you can’t go outside to play because you haven’t finished your homework."

"Please, can’t I finish it later, Mom? This is the first time Johnny has asked me to play since we moved here."

"How much of your math assignment do you have left to do?"

"Only two problems. And they are easy. I can do them really fast."

"All right, go to the door and ask Johnny to come in while you finish those problems and then you can go with him, but you can’t be gone a long time because dinner will be ready shortly. Maybe Johnny can call his mom when the two of you get back and ask if he can stay for dinner."

"Thanks Mom, you are so cool!"

What can the reader surmise about these two characters by the dialogue? Each line tells us something about the person speaking; the mother is a homemaker and cooks economical family meals, Tommy is a child who is polite and obedient to his mother, he does not have many friends because they have recently moved to town, the mom wants to help her son socialize with other children so that he will make new friends and will soon adjust to living in a different neighborhood. It shows her love and concern for her son. It shows Tommy is excited about the chance to make a new friend.

Is the reader curious? Does the reader want to know if the mother is single or divorced? Or widowed? Why is she not working? Who is Johnny, and how does he fit into the future story?

Their conversation is real, but it is not just conversation, it is dialogue which has a purpose in developing the characters and advancing the story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Interview with Kalayna Price

By Vikki Perry



Tell us about your book, Once Bitten.

Once Bitten is my first book and the beginning of a series following Kita Nekai, a calico cat shifter stranded in a city full of hunters--hunters who are after her. A rogue shapeshifter has been littering the city, Haven, with bodies, and Kita has a serious case of wrong place, wrong time. Accused of creating the rogue, her life is forfeited if she doesn’t find and stop him in two days. Helping her in her search is a vampire with a little too much curiosity, particularly about her, a mage who thinks she is guilty, and her ex-lover who is determined to drag her back home.

I know you write urban fantasy. What is urban fantasy?

My favorite genre. Oh, you want a technical answer. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy because it deals with fantastical elements (like elves, werewolves, vampires, magic, etc.) but unlike, say, high fantasy, UF places these fantasy elements in a contemporary (typically city) setting. Usually UF is told from first person and includes a healthy dose of mystery and a helping of romance. Some of the superstars of the genre include Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, and Karen Chance.

You're being published by Bellebridge Books in Atlanta, how did that happen and what do they publish?

Bellebridge Books is the new fantasy imprint of Belle Books. The parent line specializes in Southern fiction, but the new line, which launched this past August at Dragon*Con, is focusing primarily on Urban Fantasy and YA. I’m biased, but I think the line has a lot of attitude, and I can’t wait to see the spring line up. If you’d like to check out BelleBridge Books, you can find out more information at www.bellebooks.com.

Your book was a product of Nanowrimo 2005. How did Nanowrimo help you finish your book? Does the book resemble that first draft?

I’ll answer the last half of that first. No, the first draft and the published draft look nothing alike. I think at this point, my scrap file of what has been cut out of the book or completely rewritten is longer than the actual book, and the book is 100k words. That said, if I hadn’t written that (awful) first draft during NaNo, I would probably still be sitting around with another story that puttered out after a couple thousand words. After all, that is what I did for years. I wrote for over ten years without finishing anything. Mostly because I suffered from two problems: I only wrote when ‘struck by the muse’ (which was typically only once or twice a month), and I always edited and fretted over every word, every sentence. So, I never finished. NaNo forced me to sit down every day and write. I put the internal editor in her box and dragged myself to the computer day after day even if I didn’t have a clue what to say, and lo and behold, at the end of thirty days, I had a first draft completed. “Butt in Chair, Write” is now my writing philosophy whenever I am working on a new draft, and I really do owe that to NaNoWriMo.

What do you have planned next?

Well, the next book in the Haven series will probably be out in late 2009 or early 2010, but I don’t have a firm date on that yet. I also have another series I am just starting to shop around. I’ve received a couple requests so far, so we will see. Hopefully I’ll have good news to report on that front soon.

Visit Kalayna at www.kalayna.com.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Submission Service

By Bonnie Stanard


Last week I received three rejections from literary magazines. I compared the rejection slips with my record of submissions. I had a rejection without having submitted a manuscript. Huh? What did I send to them? As meticulous as I try to be in keeping records, I’ve been forced to make a file of “mystery rejections.”

That’s one reason I contracted with a submission service. Writers Relief does the paperwork for me. As a client, I can go to their web site and see exactly what I’ve submitted and when; the responses (including personal comments from editors); and the dates these responses came to me.

The service has a schedule of six cycles per year, each of which produces about 27 submissions. This is an inflexible schedule, and I have to pay even if I don’t use a cycle. Writers Relief provides some editing, primarily punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. They have not identified things like clich├ęs, misquotes, inaccurate information, or illogical passages, in my submissions.

Their label lists are more generic than targeted to genre or subject matter. Many publications on my lists are literary magazines, often published by colleges. In particular, I’ve found that their labels for children’s stories and historic short stories don’t do enough to target publishers with those interests. Obviously, some markets are hard to find, but that’s one reason for going to a service for help.

At the end of each cycle, they mail me a final draft of my manuscript, cover letters addressed to 27 literary magazines, and corresponding labels. When their packet arrives, I go to Kinko’s to make 27 copies of my story (or poems), sign the cover letters and put labels on large white envelopes, which I provide. I then prepare the mailing by placing the cover letter, a copy of my manuscript, and an SASE in each labeled envelope.

When the responses come in (“not right for us,” “we get hundreds of submissions,” “try us again”), I mail them to Writers Relief and forget about them. If there’s an acceptance, I sign the agreement and mail it to the magazine.

Writers Relief comes at a cost, usually about $387 a cycle, or about $2,340 per year. I’ve never figured out how much it has cost to get my work published. I don’t want to know, for it’s in the hundreds of dollars per story/poem, not counting postage and Kinko’s charges. The service even charges clients for their office supplies—postage stamps (priority mail) and copies. My last invoice included $15 for copies. My suggestion that they keep computer copies instead of hard copies wasn’t appreciated.

In addition to being expensive they are surprisingly inflexible. I asked that they delete a couple sentences from my cover letter, and they agreed to do it to the tune of $25.

They send out cheery notes to their many clients about what their office staff is doing, as if we’re one big happy family. I wish some of that friendliness came across in email exchanges when I have a question or complaint.

As far as I can tell, we writers have this one choice if we want help making submissions. Two other writers in Columbia II have used this service, one was satisfied and the other wasn’t.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conference Thoughts

By Janie Kronk


The SCWW conference was great again this year. I attended mostly sessions on craft, my three favorites being Jeanne Leiby on "The Art of the Short Story," Irene Goodman's session on "Narrative Drive," and Forrest Gander's session on "Eco-Poetics."

Leiby crammed "an entire graduate semester into an hour-and-a-half," focusing mostly on that construct commonly known as the story arc. What I took away from Leiby's presentation was what she called "the crisis," the moment that occurs just before the climax. She says this element is often missing in much of what she sees come across her desk at the Southern Review--as well as in most contemporary, mainstream movies. This is the "no-turning-back" moment, when the character must make a decision that leads to the climax. As she said, "When Hamlet is preparing for a duel with Laertes, he has to make the decision to fight. What can't happen is that Hamlet puts down his sword and says, 'You know, I don't really feel like doing this right now. Let's go have a beer.'"

Goodman took us line by line through the openings of Gone With the Wind and Rosemary's Baby, explaining why, in her opinion, each phrase, each paragraph, pulls us along to the next. The session was an interesting dissection of what creates suspense, and how the reader can be pulled along even by planting small questions in their minds: "If she's not beautiful, then what makes Scarlett so charming?" and "What will the inside of Guy and Rosemary's new apartment look like?"

Gander's session satisfied my need to be a geek, listening to theoretical discussions on philosophy, geology, and poetry, all wrapped up into one session. We even translated an ancient Chinese poem, starting with the Chinese characters. He emphasized the writer's need to create awareness of the environment we live in, the importance of our connections between each other, and the places we live. This was a great message to end the weekend on.

By the way, Laura, Bonnie, and Beth made great roommates during the conference and were also great sources of information and inspiration.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conferencing Is Fun and Helpful

By Alex Raley


Great conference. Well organized. Good presenters. Wonderful critiquers.

Jeanne Leiby is a certifiable personality, vivacious, but to the point. She critiqued my short story from a fully edited manuscript. I knew she had read every cotton-picking word. Leiby even googled some information to check on the year I used for an event. She thought I used a wrong year. Of course, she was correct. Her remarks were helpful, and she did all of this without making me feel I was not a writer.

Forrest Gander pulled no punches within his calm personality. One is immediately relaxed with him. He had copious notes on all six of the poems I sent him. Again, I knew he had read and considered every word. He occasionally put a line beside a passage and wrote simply, “Alex.” I can still hear him say, "Alex, Alex, do you really think we will let you get away with this after those two strong opening verses?" This was a nice way to point out what he thought was strong and what he thought was weak. I definitely will be working to create those stronger images.

I must say that my day was made when someone walked up to me and told me how much a poem I read on open mike had meant to him. The catcher? I read the poem three or four years ago.

Conferencing is fun and helpful. I highly recommend it.