Sunday, June 27, 2010

Setting: It's All in the Song Title

By Kimberly Johnson

I’m on the interstate (I-20 E) and I’m thinking about the topic for this blog. My radio’s on 97.5 FM and my AC is on 5. All of sudden, my foot starts tapping (the other foot that is not on the gas pedal) along to Tulsa Time by Don Williams. It got me thinking:

“What does Tulsa look like in the summertime?”

“Is it hot as Texas Pete hot sauce on a fried chicken leg?”

I mentioned that episode to get you to ponder the setting of your next fiction piece or nonfiction masterwork. Setting is the time and place in which a story takes place. The purposes are 1) to create problems for the characters, 2) to provide a background for the events and characters, and; 3) to help understand the characters and their conflicts. For me, setting is truly important; I spend considerable time conjuring the perfect city, state and zip code for my good and bad guys to duke it out in. Sometimes I feel like a production manager on a MGM musical from the 1940s.

As always, the Nashville sound is a great template to bring into play when you begin to write the backdrop for the next Great American Novel. So, the next time you are driving on the interstate, switch over to the country station. Think about how you can produce an action-packed plot or weave a tale of romance. For inspiration, try these songs, the drama is built into the titles:

All The Gold in California, The Gatlin Brothers, “…all the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills, in somebody else’s name, so if you’re dreaming about California, it don’t matter at all where you played before, California’s a brand new game…”

Cowboy Casanova, Carrie Underwood, “…He’s a good time cowboy Casanova, leaning up against the record machine, looks like a cool drink of water, but he’s candy-coated misery. He’s the devil in disguise, a snake with blue eyes, and he only comes out at night ...”

Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, “…See the alligators all a-waitin' nearby, sooner or later they know I'm gonna try. When she waves from the bank don't you know I know, it's goodbye fishin' line see you while I go. With a Louisiana woman waitin' on the other side, the Mississippi River don't look so wide…”

Alright, Darius Rucker, “…Don't need no five star reservations; I've got spaghetti and a cheap bottle of wine. Don't need no concert in the city, I've got a stereo and the best of Patsy Cline. Ain't got no caviar, no Dom Perignon, but as far as I can see, I've got everything I want…”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Writer


I am currently a member of the SC Writers’ Workshop, and participate in several online writers’ groups. I retired from teaching high school technology courses, twenty-five years at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, and am now involved in writing full time. I live with my wife Kathy near the small town of Elgin, SC.

Kathy works in Columbia as an accounting assistant. Each morning before she leaves for work, we usually hike with our dog, Max, on a two-mile trail near our home.

Max is a toy poodle and my constant companion, if our granddaughter is not around. Our cat, Annabelle, more commonly known as “Mow Mow,” makes an appearance on the walking trail or in the home whenever the notion strikes her. Both pets have been the inspiration for several short stories.

My favorite activities, other than writing, include reading, walking, watching and feeding the birds that cluster to our back yard, singing in the church choir, and helping my son Nicolas with the planting and harvesting of our vegetable garden.

My first novel, Rehoboth, is in the final stages of self-publication, and I hope to have it published by CreateSpace in July of 2010. I welcome emails

Monet's first blog entry follows.

Writing Is Like Gardening

By Monet M. Jones

As I approach the nether years of life, I have learned that the best way to garden is to let my son do it while I give him sage advice and praise. However, gardening is still an important part of my life and the obvious similarities with writing intrigue me.

A serious gardener is always planting seeds into small peat pots in anticipation of the next growing season.

A writer is constantly observing and cataloguing characters and situations in anticipation of the next story.

A gardener must decide where to plant. This decision is contingent on many factors: available land, sunlight, drainage, etc.

An author must decide what to write. This decision is contingent on many factors: area of expertise, audience, saturation, etc.

A gardener plants more seed than needed; this necessitates thinning (the very painful process of destroying some of the precious babies simply because they are too many).

A writer writes much more than needed; this necessitates self-editing (the very painful process of destroying some of the precious babies simply because they are too many).

A gardener prunes the vine for better fruit; this involves cutting away part of the vine.

A writer submits his work to peer review; this involves cutting away part of one’s soul.

A gardener must contend with insects and disease.

An author must use proper grammar and a spell checker.

A gardener must eventually destroy the plants and till the soil.

A writer must eventually submit to the ministrations of an editor.

A gardener with a good crop enjoys the fruits of his labor, and preserves food for the coming year.

A writer with a good story submits it to a publisher, who casually tears it apart and tosses it into the trash, then chortles as she sends a form letter of rejection, indicating that the company is not interested in publishing such a story at this time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What Does Your Bookcase Say About You?

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Yesterday I went online to and did a search on one of my favorite topics, “books - writing - fiction,” to see what if anything was new and interesting. As usual I put several books in my shopping cart so that later I could review them and decide if I want to make the purchase.

With about fourteen books placed in my cart I settled into the task of further evaluation by clicking on “Look Inside” and reading any and all available reviews. When I came to the third book something about it seemed familiar. I thought to myself, “Have I read this before?” or worse, “Do I already own it?”

I got up from my snuggled-into position on the couch, walked into my home office and looked on the shelves of my bookcase. Sure enough, there it was. So I printed out my shopping list and did a cross check with what I already owned and to my surprise, or dismay, four of the books already adorned my shelf. I decided then that before I did any more shopping I should take a full inventory of what I already own.

Now I have most of the basics by my desk for easy access: the largest dictionary that I can pick up, a thesaurus for when I desperately need another word, a few books on proper grammar and style. Of course, there are the other standards for a fiction writer such as books on developing a scene, the importance of the first five pages, writing effective dialogue and how to prepare a manuscript for submission.

All of those books are normal for a fiction writer, but it is the genre of my writing that makes my top shelf so peculiar. There is a variety of reference books with titles such as: Making Crime Pay; A Complete Guide to Poisons which rates toxicity level from 1 to 5, describes the symptoms of the poison and how to mask it if possible; Guns, Knives and Other Weapons of Death which dedicates a bit too many pages to antique weapons for my stories; Cause of Death : A Writer's Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine, which is self explanatory.

It made me wonder, if someone came into my office and only looked at my top shelf what would they think? Would they assume I was in law enforcement, or would they fear I was a hired assassin, slowly back out of the room and make a nonchalant exit from my home?

Take a few moments, look over your collection and ask yourself, “What does my bookcase say about me?”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Luxury of Being Understood

By Deborah Wright Yoho

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "It is a luxury to be understood." Perhaps this is the reason a writer is a creature who craves feedback. We want to know we have communicated what we meant, that our words are received with all the nuance and meaning we ascribe to our efforts in our own minds.

We all want to be understood. Emerson noted the rarity of that privilege. The writer strives for the Holy Grail, an elusive instant that is precious. How can we know the reader 'hears' what we 'said'?

We have to ask. The SC Writers’ Workshops provide structured opportunities for readers to share what they 'heard'. As writers, we hope this is a reflection of our own voice, and if we are fortunate indeed, perhaps the reader's mind is challenged to follow our mental pathway toward something new.

I find that I get the most out of constructive, sincere feedback only after I reach a level of personal satisfaction with what I have written. So I don't share my work with anyone until I sense a fair chance that it is good enough for someone to 'hear' what I am trying to say. Like Emerson, I know the luxury of being understood. Perhaps I need to develop a thicker skin; it strikes me that writing is a risky business.

So if I don't really value what I have written--if it hasn't cooked long enough, or doesn't have enough ingredients yet, hasn't marinated to a richness at least in my own mind, I don't bring it to the workshop. I feel I can't expect a reader to value my writing (enough to give my words serious consideration and help me improve) if the selection isn't already close to the best I can do without the reader's feedback. If I want to grow tomorrow beyond whatever level I have reached today, I have to do my best first, and only then seek out the "luxury of being understood."