Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, American Version

By Laura P. Valtorta

Lisbeth Salander does not care what the world thinks of her, nor would she ever fix coffee or breakfast for anyone. She is the hero of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel, Man som hatar Kvinnor (Men who Hate Women). The American screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, fails to realize this, while the Swedish screenwriters of the 2009 film, Nikolia Arcie and Rasmussen Heisterberg, got it right on target.

Everyone should read all three books and see all three Swedish movies before they watch the American imitation.

The American film hands too much power to Michael, Lisbeth’s counterpoint. It was LIsbeth who solved the mystery of the bible verses in the book, not Michael. The American film turns that around.

The American director, David Fincher, also takes away one of Lisbeth’s key scenes. When Michael comes looking for Lisbeth, who has been hacking into his computer, he confronts her in her tiny, messy apartment sleeping with her longtime lover, Miriam. In the Swedish version (and in the book), Lisbeth stands there staring hard at the intruder. She does not care what Michael sees, and she allows him to drink spoiled coffee, which he spits out into the sink. The American story has Lisbeth ashamed of her lover and practically cowering, as Michael chases Miriam out. The Swedish Lisbeth would never allow that.

The real Lisbeth would never make breakfast for Michael, either, but strangely, that happens in the American film after they make love for the first time. In the Swedish film, Michael makes the breakfast and Lisbeth wolfs it down.

The worst indignity of this American imitation film is when Lisbeth asks permission to execute the murderer. In the book, Lisbeth allows him to die, but Michael chastises her for it afterwards.

Great acting saves the American film, despite the misogynistic screenplay and bad directing. Thanks to Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, this film is worth watching. Even Robin Wright is fun to hate. Lisbeth’s costumes are excellent as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Power of the Written Word

By Ginny Padgett

Last week I attended my mother's family's Christmas get-together. There are six siblings; their parents have been gone for over 35 years. This year their number was down by one very important member. Their baby brother lost his battle with brain cancer earlier this year.

Before the meal, my mother read a story she had written about an incident from their childhood. As I looked around the room while my mother read, her sister and brothers nodded in agreement and interrupted once or twice with exclamations of veracity. Their rapt attention told me they had been transported to another time and place.

Applause and lots of hearty thanks punctuated the conclusion of my mother's reading. When she said she had copies for her siblings, they were delighted. Hers was a gift that was the right size, color, and appreciated in a different way by each recipient.

We write, write, write to perfect our reach our goal of have an impact on the world. This experience reminded me that all writing matters, not the size of your audience.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Picked The Pepperoni Off My Pizza — My Foray Into Food Blogging

By Kimberly Johnson

Yes. I picked the pepperoni off my pizza and tossed them in the cardboard carton that they came from. I don’t like them, anymore. They betrayed me and my taste buds. They attacked the flavorful veggies and punched the tomato sauce square in the gut. I just couldn’t stomach the brutality, especially on a Saturday night.

Don’t get me wrong. I like pizza. But this time, pizza was the catalyst that empowered me to wax and wane about food. I got street cred--I collected recipes from dear old granny and I downloaded recipe cards from Food Network royalty.

My next step: To create a food blog.

My reality: How in the heck am I doing that?

My goal: To do some research.

I jumped on the Internet food highway. To begin with, I sought advice from culinary blog writers. They said stuff like: learn about food, attend local seminars or watch food tv shows. Some said: learn the basics like the different cuts of meat, types of fish and cooking methods. A lot of them said: become a home cook, collect cookbooks, and learn from mishaps. Others said: write articles, become a mystery guest taster, start a blog.

After the advice, I clicked over to several blogs to scout the competition (pardon me, I just finished reading Gordon Ramsay’s bio). Here's what I found to showcase a really scrumptious blog:

Item 1: Have a focus. Talk about the cuisine and cooking style that interests you.
Item 2: Use a free blog service. It is user-friendly. And you should be, too.
Item 3: Upload photos as a mainstay sidekick with your writings. Show your audience your culinary masterpiece or master mistake.
Item 4: Use social media’s real time postings to attract your friends, family and the foodie community.
Item 5: Write. Write. Write. Have guest bloggers join in your food melee.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


The son of a war historian turned college professor, Chris Mathews, born in 1949, grew up in Arlington, Virginia, his family moving to Asheville, North Carolina when he was a senior in high school. Chris attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in English. While at North Carolina he took an introductory course in drama taught by Tom Parker, the man who helped get Andy Griffith his start on Broadway in No Time for Sergeants. He pursued his new-found interest in theatre at Wake Forest Unversity, receiving his Master’s degree.

After graduate school, Chris taught drama for over 30 years in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He was awarded the secondary schools Teacher-of-the-Year for North Carolina by the North Carolina School of the Arts (1999). His drama program at Asheville High School was the N.C. representative to the American High Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland (1997), performing Look Homeward, Angel. He collaborated with students at AHS to produce Endangered Species, a play about the challenges facing African-American males which featured a multi-racial cast, toured local schools and churches, and was performed at the International Thespian Festival in Muncie, Indiana.

His one-act play Gargoyles was published by Baker’s Plays in 2005. His favorite moment in theatre: with his wife Mary Anne watching his former student Chris Chalk (Cory) perform on Broadway in Fences with Denzel Washington (Troy) the summer before last.

Chris has three children (Marc, Erin, and Jenny) and one grandchild, Sidney Grace. Currently, he is the executive director of Turning Pages, the greater Columbia Literacy Council. He hopes to continue his love for writing with the help of the South Carolina Writers' Workshop Columbia II Chapter.

Chris's first post follows.

Vanquishing the Gila Monsters of Writing: Reflections on Staying in the Moment as I Walk My Dog

By Chris Mathews

What advice on writing can I add to the nebulas already out there. I am just now beginning my own journey as a writer (although I have published a one-act play Gargoyles) and continue on the more important quest to become a better person. What is a writer but a person who has trained himself to be more aware of the world? By learning to live more in the moment, I hope to make my two journeys as a writer and a person coalesce. Maybe my words will help you in some way vanquish that writer’s fear of fears, that Gila Monster of self-doubt-- the blank page.

Staying in the moment, a concept so crucial to theatre is also a technique that any writer must practice. I believe all human beings should learn to live in the moment. For me walking my rat-terrier Little Bro allows me to do this. In fact, I have begun to practice this concept by writing what I call Broems, poems about my moment-to-moment journey with Bro.

I believe all of us in this increasingly complex, technological whirl of a world need to soak up the moment—not allow all our free time to be taken up with thoughts of work. Electronic devices and multi-tasking have only left us with tunnel vision—the inability to see what is really all around us. Tunnel vision is the enemy of good writing and good living because we are locking out our senses—the vital organs of all good writing. I am not proposing that writers don’t need focus, just that they need to be able to take in the present with their senses so that they can keep the reader alive in the moment and not sidetracked outside the world they are creating. Writers and all people should spend time living in the moment.

I manage to do this with varying degrees of success when I take Little Bro for walks. These little jaunts have become for me a time of great discovery and pleasure. In a real sense, I am practicing a skill that I can apply to my writing, which I want to resonate with readers. First, however, I must relearn those ways of perceiving we all had as children.

Here is a “Broem” where I have tried to practice staying in the moment.

Night Clouds

Night clouds envelop the moon
Its swift passing upwards
Not to my dog
Little Bro.
He doesn’t know,
As he tests the blades of grass
Each one
For forgotten whiffs.
This one smells like chickweed.
This one sassafras
No, maybe not.
He doesn’t know those words
Only the smells which
Circulate through
Celestial chambers
Layers piled upon layers
Of ripeness and rightness.
He pees.
The moon rises
Time goes on.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Get an Agent

By Belise Butler

As I retired from my second career and entered a third, I also re-entered the field of writing. I had success in most things I pursued and had experienced life from many points of view; I assumed writing fiction would be a breeze. (Not)

I had written non-fiction manuals for law enforcement, taught classes on bullying in the workplace. A few years back I was voted one of the top speakers for my workshop entitled “Who do You Think You Are.”

I lived and taught in three countries. Surely I could write a novel. Yeah, RIGHT! What an eye-opener.

As a professional speaker I could ‘tell’ stories that would inspire so I started writing. I wrote short stories putting each one in a ‘maybe’ file. Then I threw them all out and wrote a 400-page novel. The novel sold.

However, I must confess my writing did not sell the MS. The content did. I hired a highly recommended editor who read my material and then charged me for an additional two days where she bruised my ego many times over, changed my focus and reduced my bank account greatly.

I want to share her words; maybe they will help someone else.
Most writers believe they have a story that only they can tell and the world will love it. It’s not true. It’s never true. Even an excellent story in the hands of an unprepared and/or unequipped writer will almost never be picked up by an agent; furthermore, few people can write and publish without the help of an excellent editor who KNOWS THE ROPES.

Learn the skill of showing not telling and remove this thought from your brain. ‘If I write it, agents will fight over it.’ Forget the ego, millions of people write, few sell their work. Learn the ABC’s of writing or your MS will never get you an agent.

A. Always understand that what you write about might not have an audience. You may like it …but no one else may. Family and friends won’t tell you the truth.
B. Before you write … learn HOW to write.
C. Cut the crap out and write the REAL story.

Accepting my check, she boldly said: “Your content is unusual and exciting. Your writing needs an overhaul.”

Now I realize that just because I could ‘say things’ which could change lives, I knew nothing about writing fiction. I also realize that a writer doesn’t ‘get an agent.’ New and exciting material that is well presented creates a reason for an ‘agent to get you.’

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Fred was raised in Morgantown WV, but attended and graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA.

After college at West Virginia University, he moved to Phoenix AZ, where he learned the construction business. He started as a carpenter, and worked his way up to become a licensed general contractor. Working in the family construction and apartment management business, he was sitting in his office one day in 1960, when he was told of a town of “...100,000 people that doesn’t have a single apartment that you or I would live in.” Columbia, SC.

The next day, his father was on a plane to Columbia. Two weeks later, he returned to Phoenix, having bought an eleven story office building on the corner of Main and Gervais Streets, across the street from the Capitol building.

His father and mother immediately moved to Columbia, while Fred stayed with his cousin, managing the business in Arizona.

In 1966, Fred, his wife Irene, and their two young daughters moved to Columbia. In 1975, Fred’s father died. From then until 1998, when he sold out, Fred managed the family business. Over the years, they had managed over 2,000 apartments in the Greater Columbia Area.

Fred’s main hobbies are reading, poker, and golf. He has written and published a “How To” book on golf titled, How Short Hitting Bad Golfers Break 90 All the Time.

Fred's first post follows.

My Conference Experience

By Fred Fields

Over the weekend of October 21-23, I attended the SC Writers’ Workshop Convention in Myrtle Beach. The convention is considered by some to be the best of its kind in the United States. This being my first ever convention of the type, I can not compare it with any other. However, I can certainly attest to the exceptional quality of this meeting.

The location at the Hilton Hotel left nothing to be desired. The rooms, the views of the beach and the ocean are glorious.

The faculty was more helpful than I had expected. They were knowledgeable and willing to spend extra time giving counsel and advice. At other conventions I have attended in other industries, the speakers often fly in, deliver their paper or seminar, and fly out on the next plane. These advisors stayed the entire convention, participating in not only their own seminars, but visiting others and offering assistance when requested.

They were visible at meals and social events, too, and mingled with the conventioneers easily.

I was quite impressed with the information they were happily dispensing, and writers of any genre could profit from their help.

The site, the information were all wonderful. My wife and I had only one complaint. The food left something to be desired. One meal, for example had three choices of meat, all pork. That wasn’t kosher.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Conference Experience – The “Different” Dilemma

By John May

The education sessions at the SCWW Conference were interesting and helpful but, for me, the conference was mostly about the critiques. For those who did not attend or look at the website, let me explain the process. Writers could purchase critiques from the faculty (agents and editors). You submitted either 10 or 30 pages (for different prices) a few weeks in advance. On the first day of the conference, you met with the faculty person who presented a marked-up submission and then discussed it with you for twenty minutes.

I’m trying to finish my novel soon and I felt having some professional feedback would help in writing the last few scenes and in the final edits, so I purchased four critiques from four different faculty members. The other thing I wanted was at least one invitation to submit additional material to the reviewer for representation consideration. So, my conference goals were feedback and a bit of validation.

In her recent blog, Laura said she thought the agents knew just what they wanted in a story. In my critique meetings with agents, I got the same impression—laser focus on whatever they thought could sell in quantity, and absolutely no interest in anything else.

Then, at the Friday night dinner, I sat at a table with two agents. The novel The Hunger Games was discussed. They both agreed that, had Suzanne Collins not been a bestselling author already, she never would have gotten anyone to represent nor publish what became a mega bestseller and one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. They thought it was just too “different” for an agent to understand the potential market. They also agreed agents have become extremely selective about which manuscripts they choose to read, much less represent.
This hyper-selectivity was certainly born out in my meetings. One agent who had a large pile of critiques had decided to request only one manuscript submission. Another reviewing agent indicated only a tiny percentage of critique submitters were going to be asked for manuscripts.

I did get some very useful edits and encouraging feedback from the agents. Also, I was fortunate enough to get four requests for manuscript submissions (I’d like to thank the group for the many improvement suggestions over the last few months which I’m sure helped).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Two of the agents said their interest was partially because my premise was marketable and also different enough to be interesting. They’re tired of seeing the same old plots and character types rehashed for the umpteenth time. So there’s the dilemma—if you want an agent, you need to be different, but not too different.

P.S. Some of you won’t be surprised to hear the most common edit request I got from the agents was to, earlier in the novel, round-out the villain character Francine (now where have I heard that before?). So, I’ll be reading some new “round-out” passages at future meetings.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

SCWW Conference, October 21-23, 2011

By Laura P. Valtorta

Every year the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference has been rewarding, but this year it was particularly friendly and fun. The writers and the agents seemed more relaxed and more willing to talk than usual. The highlights of this conference were the dinners -- Friday and Saturday night -- because Bonnie and I sat with agents who were wiling to talk: Jessica Regel from the Jean V. Naggar agency) and Mollie Glick (Foundry Literary + Media).

Jessica lives in Florida and works on-line for her New York agency; as a teenager, she worked as a fashion model. Mollie’s husband works for an ad agency and they travel a lot. These insights into the agents’ lives showed whether or not we might like to work with them, and what sorts of things interest them. Bonnie enjoyed quizzing everyone about the new, tough world of publishing where e-books are only this year becoming less horrifying. Last year, every agent grew pop-eyed at the mention of electronic publishing. Not so much this year, because the prices have gone up.

When I described my water-rights fight, each agent responded “Erin Brokovich.” It was like a word-association exercise. Agents need catch phrases and quick ideas that spell “money.” What amazes me, always, is that these young people, who haven’t worked in the industry for very long, can, in about 30 seconds, describe what they want from a story: what they believe will sell.

Thanks to Carrie McCullough, Ginny Padgett, and their team, the setting was marvelous, and the food was conference-quality. I can’t imagine a prettier setting than a South Carolina beach in October. On Saturday at noon I walked to the pier and back. It was a perfect beach day. Forget the writing; I wanted to become a photographer.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 SCWW Conference Review: My Perspective

By Ginny Padgett

October 21-23, 2011 was the date of the 21st annual SCWW Writers’ Conference. As SCWW President, Conference Co-Chair and conference volunteer, I have a behind-the-scenes perspective on the conference.

As the conference ended on Sunday, I heard enough feedback to say with reasonable certainty that it was a good one. Many conference goers told me that this year's was one of the best, citing our excellent faculty. We have Carrie McCullough, Conference Chair, to thank for that - along with just about every other detail pertaining to planning this event.

The conference wouldn’t have been as successful without the efforts of Kia Goins, Conference Co-Chair, and Kim Blum-Hyclak, Silent Auction Chair. They worked like Trojans to make Conference 2011 an enjoyable, informative, seamless and financially-viable endeavor.

Then there are the 20 volunteers that gave up a good portion of their conference time to insure that attendees and faculty were comfortable and on time to their specific sessions and appointments. This was accomplished with smiles and enthusiasm. In addition, there were many unnoticed chores shouldered by these members.

After the last session on Sunday morning, a 19-year-old man stopped to pass on his thanks to SCWW and our annual conferences. He said he had been attending them since he was 15 years old and owed his writing career to SCWW.

Later, I asked an attendee as she was leaving if she'd enjoyed her weekend. She paused at the door, placed a hand over her heart and with a blissful expression sighed, “I have been inspired.”

Here’s a quote from an email I received Monday morning following the conference. “I sat beside a writer from NY Saturday night and I asked him how he discovered our conference. He found it online, a site that reviewed conferences in the USA and ours was listed as NUMBER ONE!”

Also, I spoke with an attendee the next day who said, “I am busy putting to work some of the things I learned this past weekend. I expect better results than I’ve had.”

And lastly, I received this email from Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary and 2011 faculty member.
I want to extend a quick and heartfelt thanks once again for inviting me to be a part of your conference. I participate in six to eight conferences each year , and while I almost always enjoy them and find them worthwhile, it's been a long time since I've been to one that left this much of an impression on me. It was top notch all around, both for presenters and for attendees. Truly, not many conferences have such heart and soul, professionalism, and value. Your selection of speakers/agents/faculty was fabulous (even I left energized!), the attendees were open to suggestions and very eager to learn, there was a feeling of respect and excitement over being in the world of books and writing -- and none or very little of the doom and gloom that is present at so many conferences.

So from my perspective, the 2011 SCWW Writers’ Conference was a brilliant success.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Writer's Platform, Part II

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

For a writer, getting accepted in the publishing industry today means having a presence in the literary world before you are published. If you are famous in your field, are a household word or a serial killer you can consider yourself known. For the rest of us, it’s not so easy.

The first step for most is a web presence, unfortunately the problem many writers face is that they don’t believe they have anything to say. They ask themselves, “Have I published anything substantial, no, so why would or should someone listen to my expertise? Everything I have to say is second, third or fifty-eighth hand. The last thing needed on the net is more information by people who are just regurgitating something that may have been said by someone even less qualified than I.”

The number of websites offering writing advice is too high to count, the number of websites by those with no expertise in the field is nearly as high. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write about writing, but write about your writing. Tell the reader how you approach your work. Do you outline like crazy (as I do) or do you just sit down at the computer letting the words flow from your fingers and see what comes out? Do you plan your characters out in advance or is your character formed as your story develops? Have you any idea how the story will end before you start or do you like to be surprised like the reader? Get personal, tell your story.

When I say tell your story, I mean the story of how you write, be very careful in sharing the story you are writing. There are many writers who rush to build their platform before they have the necessary experience and knowledge of their craft. They place work of poor quality on the net, only drawing attention to an inability to write well. This often occurs when a section of the novel or a short story is posted that is not ready for public display. Unfortunately the website does not have the intended results. Instead of drawing in a loyal reader who will return to read you again, the chances are you will turn off your target, or worse, get many unwanted hits when the first reader refers your site to others for a good chuckle. My advice: before you post a portion of your manuscript, make sure it has been edited and edited and edited to death.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What’s a Page-Turner?

By John May

When I first started writing a novel a few years back, I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle, Washington. The session I remember the most (thanks partially to good notes but mostly to content) was a Panel Discussion involving seven prominent agents and editors who dealt with all types of adult fiction. Someone asked the panel, “What’s THE number one thing that would entice you to represent or publish a fiction novel.” I was surprised when they all agreed they wanted the same thing, no exceptions:

Page-turners-—novels that compel the reader to read.

Naturally, the next question was, “What makes a novel a page-turner?” Here, it got even more surprising. I was certain there would be lots of different answers and that the answers would tend to vary based on category. After all, what works for science fiction can’t possibly work for a literary novel and vice-versa, right? Wrong. After much vigorous brainstorming, the panel came up with one consensus answer they felt applied across all adult fiction types:

In the typical page-turner, the reader experiences a story presented in a competent, suspenseful, and entertaining manner about interesting, strong characters who have important, clear goals and who must overcome significant resistance to their vigorous efforts to achieve those goals.

As part of the process, each of the individual attributes (experiences, story, competent, etc.) in the definition was discussed and defined precisely by the panel. The exact words and definitions are important— alternatives for each word were considered and discarded. For example, the reader is not “told a story,” she “experiences a story presented,” which is a very different animal.

In addition to exact wording, the panel felt strongly that all the many listed attributes should be present, not just a majority. They felt that if even one were missing, the likelihood the book would be a page-turner went down dramatically. And, with each additional missed attribute, come further dramatic drops in page-turner potential.

The above page-turner description was accepted unanimously by the panel but not by the audience. Some of the aspiring literary novelists felt it was “write-by-numbers” and that no one had the right to tell them how to achieve their artistic vision. The panel’s response to this went something like, “You’re correct. No one can tell you how to write. You only have to write this way if you want us to spend the time and money it takes to get you published.” The panel did admit there have been exceptions, but held they were few and far between. The odds of publication success (getting published and selling well) are enormously tilted in favor of the type of page-turner described.

Many of the attribute definitions and their subtle nuances are not self-evident. I’m thinking the next few times I’m up to bat in Blog Town, I’ll go over the definition in detail, discuss what each of the attributes meant to the panel and go over the nuances we discussed. I think there are some surprises here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Opening Sentences

By Bonnie Stanard

We’ve had the lesson hammered into our heads that the opening of a book has to hook the reader. It’s so important San Jose State University holds the Bulwer-Lytton competition every year to name the worst opening sentence for a possible novel (

According to Brian Klem in Writers Digest* we should also establish tone in the first sentence. His definition of tone goes a long way to explain something that’s hard to describe. He says tone in a book is like a soundtrack in a movie. I can relate to that. The background music is something you’re more likely to notice if it’s bad. When it’s good, you’re too engrossed in the movie to notice it.

As I surfed first sentences of books, I wondered if we could pick out best sellers by their first sentences. I’ve come up with six sentences, three from best sellers. The remaining three are not best sellers. To get them, I searched titles for the word “dark,” which has to be one of the most overworked words in English literature. Surprisingly, the search turned up a number of Stephen King’s books among the 59,500 findings.

Which of the following first sentences are from best sellers? Can you detect a tone? Klem describes tone as the author’s attitude toward his subject, i.e. grave, amused, scientific, intimate, aggrieved, authoritative. I would add angry, laudatory, repelled.

1. “So, you would like to know your future?” the old fortune teller asked.
2. Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960.
3. Under normal circumstances, Charlie Flint would have consumed all the media
coverage of the trial of Philip Carling’s killers.
4. While a late-summer storm bashed against her single skinny window, Lieutenant Eve Dallas wished for murder.
5. Vincent was feeling tired but instantly snapped awake the moment he thought he heard a slight swishing sound against stone.
6. As she gazed out the bay window in her bedroom, Mary McAllister knew this night would be her last.

Finding the winners here is more of an exercise in identifying the losers. I have low expectations of Number 1, which is about as innovative as “It was a dark and stormy night.” Any fault, such as one unnecessary word, signals that the author is careless with words, which is my view of numbers 3 (all) and 5 (which deserves a bad writing award). If I were Number 5’s editor, I’d suggest: "Vincent felt tired but snapped awake when he heard a swishing against stone." Add another negative to Number 3 for opening with an awkward conditional past perfect verb. If you haven’t figured out already, even numbered sentences are best sellers.

And tone? It’s hard to credit these sentences with any tone. What can you tell from the first note of a soundtrack?

Whatever my attitude toward my characters, I try not to judge them. Some of them behave badly, but it’s not up to me to tell the reader they’re scoundrels. Whatever the foibles of our characters, if we care about them, our readers will too. That goes a long way in setting a tone that engages the reader.

Book titles and authors: (1) Dark Tomorrows by J.L. Bryan, A. Hocking; (2) The Help by Kathryn Stockett; (3) Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid; (4) New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb; (5) Storm of Prophecy: Book 1, Dark Awakening by Michael Von Werner, F. Diroma; (6) The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan
*7 Ways to Perfect Your Writing “Tone” by Brian Klems, on Writer’s Digest website (

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dealing with Rejection

By Shaun McCoy

You did it! You wrote that story. You sat down there in front of that accursed word processor and opened up a soul-vein. Your soul poured out of it like an artistic geyser of prosaic verbosity, blasting plot, character development, and witticism into the greatest story ever written by un-unaided mortal. More than that, you found someone to send it to. Someone who says they like character driven stories. Someone who has a professional looking website. And you sent your baby off.

…And you waited…

You're response: a form rejection letter.

Thank you for submitting your story, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work for us. It's not you, it's me. Really. You've got a very special editor out there, alone in the world, who can appreciate your story for who it truly is.


What? Didn't they read it? Stupid editor probably went for some leather wearing, motorcycle riding, bad-boy story. Some manuscript who wears dark sunglasses and treats editors like Chihuahua poo. How dumb could that editor be? I mean, they say they like character driven stories, but look at that other Labrador doodoo they publish? Editors never say they want what they really want. Nice stories finish last. It's time to go home, drink and prepare your story for a life as an old cat lady.

But wait…it doesn't have to be this way. This story is a good story. But what can you do? Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and meet that agent your mother always talks about. Or perhaps internet or speed dating?

Internet or speed dating? Durn right!

It's time to go eHarmony on those b$#@tches.

While it may be inappropriate to ask out every dude at a bar, that strata"gem" will only help you in the attempt to shop around your writing.

What we need is a system. We need to email out that manuscript like it’s a snuggie on the QVC. We need to turn your home computer into a spam server that will make lolsec look like an 85 year old AOL user.

The first step is to make a list. Find a slew of Agents/Publishers where you can send your manuscript. You can find them with Google, a website like duotrope, a Writers's Guide from a semi recent decade, or any other source. Then map your story's path. That's right, assume rejection. Be ready for it. Relish it like it's Laura's Crème Brulee. If the editor rejects it, pass it on through to the next one in line. Unless they give you some advice on how to improve the story, or you see a problem, send that puppy right back out there into the rain. Keep those birds in the air. Don't let that story sit un-submitted for more than a day. Simultaneously submit whenever possible.

…And write more! The biggest lie about publishing you'll read on the internet is that it isn't an odds game. Well, maybe not if you're already a fancy schmantsy uber writer, or if you're so bad your work gets rejected from fan fiction websites. For the rest of us, there are many editors which would say no to our stories, and a handful who would buy them. You've got to find the handful amidst the unappreciative masses.

Don't wait with just one. Keep writing and keep learning, and then get those birds in the air.

As a personal example, I calculated that if I were to only submit one story at a time, that I would have to wait nearly three years in-between short story publishing. With ten stories in the air I get one published every three months.

On the internet they'll tell you trite things like "don't take it personally." Pansies! Rejection is weakness leaving your manuscript, what doesn't corrupt your computer's hardrive makes your story stronger. Get back out there on that horse and date the prom queen! Get your story a motorcycle and sunglasses. And whatever you do, under no uncertain circumstances, don't stop writing—or get drunk.*

*Unless you've had your work rejected by a fan fiction website. Then it's time to start drinking.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Like Rick Steves…Go Where the Action Is

By Kimberly Johnson

For those who don’t have the Travel Channel, but watch a healthy dose of PBS-- Rick Steves is the King of Backpack Trekking. And I am his servant—in a gotta-watch-it-because-one-day-I’m-gonna- go-there type of way. I’ve logged a lot of frequent flyer miles with Rick. I trekked through the ancient streets in Seville; marveled at the Byzantine wonders of Istanbul and enjoyed a sleigh ride during Christmas in the Swiss Alps. What’s my takeaway from these television escapades? You gotta go where the action is--if you want to learn.

The same can be said about going to conferences. Finding the action in Myrtle Beach on October 21 – 23 is definitely is an opportunity to learn. The writing faithful will converge on the Grand Strand for the SCWW annual conference. Unfortunately, I will not be one of them. So, I took my misfortune to the SCWW website ( and navigated through what I could have learned.

What I could have learned is from Matthew Fredrick’s The Four Ps of Non Fiction: Platform, Proposal, Prose and Purpose. Destination: Platform. So, I jumped on the Orient Express (the Internet, of course) and made the following stops along the way…

Destination 1: Cultivate an identity before selling your book to an agent. Organize a personalize media kit that includes: a press release, a fact sheet about your book, and a DVD of your media clips.

Destination 2: Develop a relationship with an audience – public readings, social media, writing groups. Increased attention or buzz about your work sell an agent on your marketability.

Destination 3: Provide information on your ups and downs. Blog about how you were rejected. Tweet about your acceptance to a local or national publication.

Destination 4: Generate an email tagline or signature that is memorable.

Destination 5: Go old school—create business cards and pass them out.

Destination 6: Make audios and videos. Take advantage of YouTube and the like. Sell yourself on podcasts and videos.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Writer's Platform

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Much has been said about the need to have a Writer’s Platform. For those who have missed the buzz, a writer’s platform is a way to make yourself known in the industry and to the readers, hopefully before your book is published. Often it consists of a website and/or other presence in the virtual land of cyberspace combined with the real life experiences of speaking engagements, professional awareness and physical networking.

Building a website and launching it on the net is a good place to start. I have spent a lot of time reading the websites maintained by new or unpublished authors. It is often the case a writer takes the first step to developing their platform and never takes the second. Unfortunately so many of these websites are placed on the net by the author who never comes back to work on them again.

This is a missed opportunity. A writer will never develop an audience if the reader stops returning because there is nothing new to read. A website must offer new information in order to keep the attention of the viewer. That does not mean that every page must change every day. What it does mean is that you must find something new to say about once a week. It doesn’t have to be long, just a short blurb such as: Review a recent book that you read or give your opinion on a classic. Discuss a blog that caught your eye on a subject related to writing. Post a short section of your work in progress.

Whatever you choose to write, keep it on point. Remember the reason for a writer’s platform is to present yourself as a professional in the field. Unfortunately sometimes the author of a website forgets that the reason they developed it was to promote themselves as a writer and to showcase their written work. It is fine to have an “About the Author” page where you tell a little of your history, a bit about your significant other and display a picture of your four legged friends. It is not the website to blog about the obnoxious barista behind the counter, the mysterious water gathering in your basement or the constant battle between your cats Montague and Capulet. If you really feel the need to purge your mind of such non-related information then you should start a personal blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memoir Treasure Trove

By Laura P. Valtorta

As I write my memoir, I find there is no lack of subject matter, especially when I want to make things comical. I study the people around me and ask, “Who’s funny?” The answer: everybody.

My husband, Marco – we call him “Ocram” when he’s flapping his arms in disgust over some picayune problem. My son’s band director, who thinks that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the United States. My friend, Cathy, who is in-your-face competitive and -- surprise –- an attorney. Not to mention the priest who calls Polish people “PO-loks” during a homily, the “Christians” who hate Obama because he’s African-American, and my son who brushes his teeth obsessively because of some apparent competition among 11th-graders over who has the whitest teeth.

Hilarious. All of them. And this isn’t even including my legal clients. They keep me rolling in the aisles. The hip-hop clothes. The “we hate all federal benefits” toothlessness. The colloquial expressions. The inability to pronounce my last name. When someone’s first name is “Kwajelyn,” she should be able to pronounce “Valtorta.” Is this some kind of an onomastic face-off? I am not “Ms. Victoria,” not “Mrs. Ventura.” I’ve never been the Queen of England nor married to a wrestling politiican. It’s Val-TOR-ta. All phonetic. It means “twisted valley,” just like the landscape of my life.

I don’t know where to begin with the “comedy jokes.” I do know that when I begin writing about my wonderful, beloved Writers’ Group – the funniest ones of all -- I’ll have to figure out whether to read the stuff aloud and how to change the names.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My was-were-had-as-ing-ly Edit, Part II

By John May

In this continuation, we’ll look at some other words and word types often worthy of slaughter.

As and ing: Two problems. One, hack writers love ‘em and sprinkle ‘em out with abandon—not exactly great company. Two, they weaken action. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, another widely acclaimed book on craft, Renni Browne and Dave King state, “…both of these constructions take a bit of action (She pulled off her gloves) and tuck it away in a dependent clause (Pulling off her gloves…). This tends to place your action at one remove from your reader, to make the action seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.” They admit that some usage of ing and as are occasionally necessary to allow more structure variety and, sometimes, to avoid overly complex constructs but say, “… avoid the hack’s favorite construction unless you have a good reason for using them.”

While I sparingly use as and ing for variety or reduced complexity, I try to make sure they relate to the less important action in the sentence and use an active construct for the more important action. Example: As they made their way back to the helicopter, she ignored the deputy’s calls. The fact that she was ignoring the deputy is much more important and revealing of her state of mind than the simple act of returning somewhere.

Ly adverbs: The worst of the adverbs—as in: he said grimly. Again, from Browne and King, “Ly adverbs almost always catch the author in the act of explaining dialogue—smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself. If your dialogue doesn’t need props, putting the props in will make it seem weak even though it isn’t. There are a few exceptions to the principle—almost all of them adverbs that modify the verb 'said' such as he said softly or she said clearly. After all, you don’t say something grimly in the same sense as you say something softly. The grimness comes across by what you say and do—through word choice, body language, context—not by how you say it.”

I try to avoid as many adverbs (not just ly) and adjectives as possible. A noun that has a needed adjective built in is more vivid and reads faster than an adjective-noun combo (e.g., hovel vs. small, wretched home). This holds true for verbs with built-in adverbs (e.g., hurled vs. threw it hard). A wonderful tool for finding vivid words is Choose the Right Word by S.I. Hayakawa. A thesaurus on steroids. It doesn’t just provide a list of synonyms, it discusses in some depth the connotations and emotional and/or physical implications of each synonym—in essence, what are the built-in adverbs or adjectives?

Summary: It’s easier to write using lots of was-were-had-as-ing-ly words. Replacing them requires better writing—which is harder—and a larger vocabulary. Personally, I feel the edit is worth the effort.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Blogger


I spend mornings trading currencies on-line, afternoons working on my medical suspense thriller.

In addition to writing, I enjoy being a student of writing. You either have talent or you don’t, but craft can be taught; and it can be the difference that determines which talented writers are published (or sell a lot if self-published) and get to share their art and which don’t. It always amazes me when I hear some writers say studying craft stifles their creativity. Yes, it’s an art, but it seems to be the only art where practitioners expect to simply start doing it and somehow become expert. True, every few hundred years or so a Mozart level genius in some art is born but I believe the rest of us have to pay our dues.

So, I read a lot of books on the craft of writing. And, a while back, I hired a very good professional editor to line edit a few chapters of an earlier version of my book. I ended up taking the book in a slightly different direction and none of those chapters survived, but the experience was still well worth the effort. While at times painful and humbling, I believe I learned as much from that exercise as I did from all the many craft books I’ve read. Also, after the blood-letting was over, she gave me a document I’ve found invaluable in my self-editing sessions. It’s a multipoint Editor’s Checklist of ways to increase your manuscript’s chance to be published—in essence, a professional editor’s succinct list of to-do’s and not-to-do’s. The edits I describe in my first two blogs come from just a small portion of that Checklist.

I grew up in New Orleans, have an MBA from the University of Houston, and have lived in many parts of the country ranging from Seattle to the Columbia area. My work background is varied also. Among other occupations, I’ve been a hospital administrator, management consultant, and computer software product manager. Two of these occupations required extensive travel and I’ve been to every state in the Union and a host of foreign countries.

My beautiful and wonderfully understanding wife and I currently live in Elgin with our two dogs and my elderly mom who recently came to live with us.

My was-were-had-as-ing-ly Edit, Part I

By John May

Whenever I finish a chapter, I hunt for certain words and types of words with my word processor and then try to kill as many of the varmints as I can. In this installment, we’ll look at the first three, was, were, and had:

Was and were: In Techniques of the Selling Writer, one of the most acclaimed and bestselling books on craft ever, Dwight Swain holds that to be verbs, which describe a static state of existence, rob a story of vividness and action. “Your story stands still in any sentence that hangs on such a verb. Nothing happens. The situation just is, and, for its duration your reader must in effect mark time, shifting wearily from one foot to the other while he waits for the story to get back under way. ‘She was unhappy’ may be true enough but where does it go? What’s ‘she’ doing? Active verbs are what you need, verbs that show something happening.”

Had: Again from Swain, “Worst of all the to be’s forms is the past perfect tense. You can recognize it by the word had—a red flag of danger in your story every time. For had describes not just a static state, but a static state in the past. Each had makes your story jerk, because it jars your reader out of the present action and throws him into past history. …eliminate as many as possible, within the bounds of common sense.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Swain that to be verbs suck the life out of passages that involve immediate action or dialogue. I once hired a professional editor to look a couple of chapters in a much earlier version of my novel. She claims extensive use of passive voice is an excellent way to get a manuscript rejected. I know I invariably like my action and dialogue scenes better after I round up the to be varmints and slaughter them.

However, when writing introspection, scene setting, or historical exposition, I believe to be’s, while mostly undesirable, are not always life suckers. In this group, to be verbs are a bit less intrusive (there’s no immediate action to interrupt) and, since the purpose can be to give history, sometimes even necessary. So, while I try hard to avoid to be verbs wherever possible, when writing a passage that involves any kind of immediate action or dialogue, I really really really really really try hard to avoid them.

Of course, if some reason, you want your story or a particular passage to feel sleepy and meandering, then passive verbs are the ones of choice (note how much faster and stronger the last clause reads in the active form: “then choose passive verbs”). As I’m currently writing a work of commercial fiction I hope to publish, I can’t afford to sound sleepy and meandering very often.
In the next installment, we’ll look at some other less than desirable words or word types.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


By Amanda Simays

If a Snapple iced tea cap tells me that average humans eat eight spiders in their sleep, I can roll my eyes and move on. But it’s harder to dismiss a statistic that I’ve had drilled into me during three separate job-related trainings, through speakers, handouts, quizzes, and public speaking videos.

I’m talking about the 7-38-55 rule, the one that states that 7% of communication is the actual words we use, 38% of communication is the tone we use, and 55% of communication is our body language. And I just couldn’t believe it.

I’ve lived through enough misconstrued text messages and emails to attest to the fact that tone and body language play a vital role in communication. But accounting for 38 and 55%? Really?

My hang-up over this statistic connects to my writing. I sprinkle details about tone and body language into my dialogue, but for large chunks I rely solely on the quoted words to deliver my message. If this 7-38-55 statistic were true, it had some scary implications. Theoretically, the dialogue I wrote often communicated only 7% of what I meant.

The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous that seemed. Did the 7-38-55 rule mean that writers should spend 93% of dialogue text space describing tone and body language? Or did it just mean that with every single statement a character spoke, I needed to illustrate the tone and the body language so the reader could understand what I meant?

According to the way my trainings presented the 7-38-55 theory, readers would only get 7% of what I intended if I wrote:

“I am so fed up with your attitude!” Jane said.

Add some body language for almost two-thirds of the gist (62%):

“I am so fed up with your attitude!” Jane said, stomping her feet.

Then all I would need to do is throw in a helpful adverb to acknowledge the tone, and then the readers get 100% of the message:

“I am so fed up with your attitude!” Jane said angrily, stomping her feet.

Ohhhh….now they get the point.

The 7-38-55 rule bugged me enough to do some research, and I found several websites exposing the “7-38-55 myth”…a frequently misquoted statistic. The 7-38-55 rule originated with an experiment conducted by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, and the numerical conclusion only relates when you’re forming a like-dislike attitude of the speaker, not whether you understand the message. Bottom line: no official scientific study ever claimed that the words you use comprise only 7% of the information you communicate.

I like to partially blame residual effects of being brainwashed by that statistic for times when I don’t trust the words on the page to stand on their own, overusing adverbs, obtrusive speaker attributions, or clichéd body language. On the other hand, there is a kernel of truth buried in the 7-38-55 rule—the fact that I can’t rely completely on the quoted words to portray meaning. I still have to remember to visualize how my characters act, what faces they make, how their voices sound, and what they think about while they speak.

Finding the balance isn’t easy, and it’s something I’m working on. But I’m relieved to know that I can count on the words I use in dialogue for more than 7% of the legwork.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Be Like Kim Kardashian

By Kimberly Johnson

You’d think she was water--she’s everywhere: a cover girl on magazines (People, Cosmo, Glamour), a reality TV titan (Keeping Up With the Kardashians), a fashion designer and a social media goddess. Heck, she authored a book with her sisters (Kardashian Konfidential).

That’s right; Kim Kardashian is a household brand. How did this 30-something do it? The easy answer: She makes money.

The other answer: She’s out there—I mean, her name is synonymous with what’s happening with pop culture. Oh, did I tell you? Her mom, Kris Jenner, is her manager. Kim’s PR team knows a thing or two about savvy marketing. Simply put, marketing determines what products interest the customer—and gives it to him. Marketing identifies, satisfies and keeps the customer.

Is your short story ready to become a bestseller--like Kim Kardashian? If the answer is…well, maybe…I dunno. Here are some concepts I found on the Internet to promote yourself. And become like Kim Kardashian.

First: Cultivate your identity. Who are you and what do you offer?
Second: What makes you so special? Communicate who you are and what you do, quickly. The public attention span is short. Think Twitter.
Third: Develop a relationship with your audience. And keep them interested with ongoing dialogue, date nights, hand-holding, walks in the park…you get the picture. Think YouTube, MySpace, Facebook.

Do Now: #1 - 3: Create a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a blog. Shamelessly talk about your writing projects.
Do Now # 4: Check for blogs and magazines that are open to submissions.
Do Now #5: Surf the Internet for a podcaster looking for an author to interview.
Do Now #6: Take part in a writing workshop. Meet and greet and get feedback.
Do Now #7: Word of mouth. It takes a village to promote your prized work of fiction or nonfiction.

Sources: How to Promote Yourself and Your Book, Jess Haines,,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Keeping Our Illusion Honest

By Bonnie Stanard

I’ve just put down a novel of 368 pages after reading to page 179. I was interested in the story, so why did I call it quits? In a nutshell, I couldn’t take another erudite word from a 12 year-old. Dictum was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House is historical fiction, my favorite genre, and has been praised by such as Robert Morgan. The first half of the book spans the time from 1791 to 1797, though the novel continues through 1810. The story develops around Lavinia, a seven year-old white girl who is orphaned when both her parents die on the ship taking them to America. The captain carries her to his plantation where, as an indentured servant, she lives with the slaves. Tension develops as Lavinia sees the negros as her family, though she is expected to behave as a white.

Lavinia, in telling the story, says things like:

I brought Sukey for a visit, for she elicited a vivid response.
…those excursions ceased as an increasing lethargy overtook him.
With the security of the past two years, I had become more sure of myself…Yet an underlying anxiety always stayed.

All of this from one page in the book. A few slips here or there can be overlooked, but the tone becomes that of an educated adult with 21st Century sensibilities, which, in my case, created a fault that shattered the fantasy.

Finally, Lavinia says “I often heard her state how she felt obliged to help the less fortunate, and there was no doubt that my welfare was included under that dictum.” What 12 year-old living in the 1790s would say this?

Grissom took on a double challenge when she chose not only an 18th century narrator but a child as well. Obviously the reader doesn’t want a tale told in simplistic language. The key is to sound simplistic without actually being simplistic. It’s in the tone, that ephemeral quality that doesn’t lend itself to a simple reduction.

As Shaun so capably reminded us in a previous blog, our characters can do unbelievable things only as long as we respect a consistent “reality,” which may be a far cry from what is really real; i.e., we can get away with any absurdity in our alternative reality, but if we violate the rules of our creation, we risk losing the reader.

In like fashion, the characters we create need to speak the language of the alternative reality we give them. Their words in many ways define them and can either reinforce or undermine their validity. Especially in historical fiction, contemporary language and sentiment can transport the reader out of the story.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

At Intersections with Point of View

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

I’d like to revisit Alex’s June 26 post about point of view (POV), which I read with great interest because I, too, have been questioning POV with the two protagonists in my novel. (Background note: At the beginning of the novel, neither person knows the other, and each character is from a completely different socioeconomic background. Yet, in each chapter, they are physically situated in close approximation, and individually they struggle with identity issues and a haunted past. It’s not until later in the novel when their paths cross, that their friendship leads to powerful and dangerous complications. At least, I hope it comes across that way!)

The story is told with alternating POV chapters—the male, then the female character. When I began the chapters, I used third person close narrative for both characters, which felt rather natural for the male character, but awkward for the female. I had been struggling for months with her voice. I know what she thinks, believes and how she acts, but why wasn’t it coming across on the page?

I thought I knew her. I drew up what I felt was a fairly good character description as background to help get me inside her head. But on the page, her voice, her actions―her very being―seemed measured and pedantic. Then I experimented: I put her in first person, and suddenly, everything about her and around her seemed to come alive. I could see her struggles, her doubts, and her flaws so much more clearly. There was an immediacy and an urgency about her. I found her voice!

Does it matter whether I have alternating chapters with alternating POV? I think not, at least not right now. I’m also not concerned with transitions between the chapters, since the locations are common reference points for the characters. The other connective thread is that each chapter begins with a very short backstory, thus creating a type of second story that unveils the characters’ troubled past. Basically, I’m going with my gut instinct on what feels right for the character and then worry about how it reads once I revise and then workshop.

That said, I’m constantly trying to keep in mind Alex’s superb take away from Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter―to “make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself.” Well said!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

DANGER: Memoir Ahead

By Laura P. Valtorta

For a while I resisted falling into the memoir trap. Among our “compagni” in Writers’ Group, Debbie seemed to be doing an excellent job with her story of growing up in the Philippines, but she was an exception. Most attempts at memoir-writing seemed to be boring, unfunny, and self-centered.

But a story needed to be told. A woman came into my office and as I stared at her, I was staring into my own problems. She told her son to keep quiet and I understood her psyche completely. I wanted to tell my own weird story to help others like her. How to survive life as a bitch.

But most of my life is pretty normal. I might like to THINK I’m weird, but that’s posturing. I’m married, I have a son and a daughter, and my husband is a professor from Italy. What about this stolid normality would people like to hear? Running my first sprint triathlon? Yawn. Living as a staunch atheist in the Tea Bag South? Maybe. Running my own law office?

Bingo. People like to hear about jobs. They don’t really care about family life. After sticky stories about romance, they most want to know how we earn a living.

As an attorney, I think in terms of lawsuits. And actually, there is a lawsuit I am itching to initiate. It’s a lawsuit related to writing, stealing ideas, and copyright violation. Maybe this will interest people.

Lawsuits are about stating a position, sometimes. Maybe I can stand up to the Big Suits and win. Maybe I can be a bitch who cares about justice and triumphs.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I’m a Gossip Girl

By Kimberly Johnson

The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) For President…it got me thinking.

Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez sing karaoke…it got me humming.

Hugh Jackman has a ripped body and he’s revealing the secret…it got me staring.

I’ll admit it—I like to read about fluff and stuff; especially online. That’s why I save the links to TMZ, Entertainment Weekly and ETonline (Entertainment Tonight).

A true gossip girl can tell you the name of Kate Hudson’s baby (Bingham).

A true gossip girl can give you the 411 on Kim Kardashian’s wedding plans (Vera Wang is not talking.).

A really, true gossip girl can tell you about Kesha’s escapades at The Box in London.

I like scouring the Internet freeway, searching for the 411. Yeah, I know…it may not be Pulitzer Prize writing, but it does draw you in. I’ve even gone overseas to scour the British newspapers. The UK’s Daily Mirror’s 3AM Celebrity online page has everything you want and don’t want to know. This week’s headlines blurt out about Megan Fox, Kelly Osbourne and Leona Lewis.

Here are five reasons why I read the online gossip pages:
· A smokin’ hot headline that draws my attention.
· A juicy lead sentence that makes me want to read more.
· Scintillating details that make say “Oooh.” or “No, he didn’t.”
· A simple conclusion.
· A hint of humor with a dash of skepticism.

What are your reasons for reading the gossip pages?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dave’s Deadline Dissection

By David Sennema

I subscribe to Poets and Writers magazine, not because of all the high-toned “success” and “how-to” stories, but because of their multi-page “deadlines” section which is up-to-date and thorough enough to be useful. After reading the July/August, 2011 version, I thought it might be interesting to do an analysis of the descriptive summaries. I counted 42 of them stating entry fees, prize amounts, eligibility, and a few with free trips to lecture to students or attend writing seminars.

Twelve of them were for poets only, and ten wanted only short stories. Seven were interested in receiving poems, short stories or creative non-fiction; four wanted only novels; two wanted only creative non-fiction; two wanted essays; one wanted only short-short stories; one wanted memoirs; and three wanted some combination of the above.

Thirteen of them described limitations on who should submit. Some of those were limited to people from a particular city, region or state, others were limited by gender or by publication experience or by the length of the work to be submitted. The most interesting limitation was stated by the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia which indicated that grants are given “to women and transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, and Two-Spirit poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in the Philadelphia area who need financial assistance to work on a project involving art and social change.”

Most of the 42 are located in the USA, with two from England and one from Ireland.

According to the policy of the magazine, “We list only prizes of $1,000 or more, prizes of less than $1,000 that charge no entry fee, and prestigious nonmonetary awards.” I found that entry fees ranged from “0” to $25.00, and that prizes ranged from $500 to $40,000, with most of them around $1,000.

Some of the summaries call for chapbooks or collections of poems or short stories, rather than single entries. One of them offers an all-expense-paid trip to several colleges in Michigan, “each of which pays an honorarium of at least $500, to give readings, meet with students, and lead discussions and classes.”

I’m looking for places to send a 6,147-word short story, which is longer than most places are looking for, so with all the limitations taken into consideration, of the 42 summaries I found, there were only three for which my submission would be appropriate. Most of those asking for short stories want no more than 3000 words. Looks like my story just forgot to tell me when to quit!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reality in Fiction

By Shaun McCoy

I'm a writer, and I want you to believe in a pixie. She's about 3.7" tall—though admittedly that's in heels—and she's buzzing through the forest, her little wings beating as fast as a humming bird's, trying like hell to make it home in time for the Laker's game. She's a big fan of Kobe Bryant's.

Do you believe in her? I do.

As readers, it's easy for us to believe in this pixie. In fact, I once believed in Bruenor Battle Hammer, an angry dwarf who's resistant to magic spells. I did, that is, until one day he pretended to be sick in order to convince his best friend to help him on a quest.


I wasn't buying. I almost put down the book. My battle-tested-celtic-faeriefolk-derived-mountain-dwelling-tough-man, playing practical jokes? That was too much. Never mind that his best friend was an elf.

So what is it about stories that can cause readers to call foul? It certainly isn't plausibility. In order to engross a reader fiction does need to be realistic and internally consistent, but how can this be achieved in a story where so much is obviously fiction?

Well, don't forget, the majority of your audience actually believed in Santa Clause. I mean, this shouldn't be too hard. The reader left some of their disbelief at the door. You only really have to fool their inner child. Their adult is already on vacation.

Let's take a look at the earlier lessons a human child learns about reality. If we can satisfy these basic expectations our reader should be able to ride along with us without pulling his suspension of disbelief muscle.

Lesson 1: Object Permanence
According to Piaget (he's a famous psychologist, btw), one of the first things we learn about the universe is Object Permanence. That is, that objects exist even when you're not looking at them. While this understanding may forever ruin your games of peek-a-boo, it's very helpful in finding your car keys. Let's take a look at our Pixie. She's late for a game that is happening where she is not. This makes her tale more believable. Satisfying your reader's unconscious need for object permanence can make your narrative very appealing indeed. It's the new peek-a-boo. Remember that love potion in chapter 11? Peek-a-boo, the Prince is in love!

Lesson 2: The Difference Between ‘I’ and ‘You’
Also according to Piaget (he's still a famous psychologist, btw), the next big step we take towards understanding reality is that the universe is in itself separate from you. That there are other people in that universe who want different things. So many writers talk about character driven stories. Well why are these so compelling? Many of us lean heavier on the knowledge of the Ego than on Object Permanence. Stories that satisfy this particular subconscious need can be more compelling for readers whose reality "lens" is more focused on people. Let's look at our Pixie. She's a Laker's fan. Being a sports fan automatically enacts this I/You principle. By acknowledging that she likes the Lakers, we are also acknowledging that there are other people out there who also like the Celtics (see Philosophical Differences).

She's also not Kobe Bryant. He is the you, and she is the I.

Lesson 3: Philosophical Differences (bonus points)
In Piaget's last developmental stage, we realize that people whom we truly think are evil (democrats or republicans or communists or socialists or capitalists or misandrous pigs) truly believe that they are good people. They actually think that we're evil! If we can see their perspective, we can see that they are often as right about us as we are about them. These philosophies are varied, and not always didactic. I may believe that kinesthetic intelligence is integral to team building. You might not, but we're not likely to have a knock-down drag-out fight about it. This section is optional for a few reasons. Not everyone makes it to this stage, Piaget tells us, so our audience is going to be limited. Also, we left our disbelief at the door, remember. You don't have to fool the adult's sensibilities; they already know its fiction. We just have to have enough to fool the reader's inner child.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

POV and All That Stuff

By Alex Raley

Very early in my writing fiction, POV jumped up to challenge me. There was a constant battle between us. There was a story to be told. Who cared from what head it came? Finally, truth began to rule: the reader gets thoroughly confused when many voices try to tell the story. If not a tower, a book of Babel contorts the story. The reader is left to sort out the confusion or to take to the shelves for another book if he doesn’t have an e-book reader. All this can leave the writer a Prisoner of Viewpoint, while being prodded by colleagues to control the POV. Do we give up or find a solution?

Dwight Swain suggests that the purpose of viewpoint is to get the reader into the skin of the character. The reader then sees and feels everything as the character does. This lets the reader become attached to the character. The bond that is established, whether of admiration or revulsion, drives the reader to stay with the story. Many writers are successful in telling the story only through one person’s eyes. This doesn’t mean that there are no other characters in the story, but they exist only as the main character sees, hears and reacts to them. Any interpretation of what is seen and heard from the other characters is in the imagination of the main character and the reader.

For many writers, secondary characters are as important as the main character. That presents a host of possibilities and pitfalls. I began a novel that is still in progress because I realized that the story would make no sense at all unless the reader knew the inner thoughts of several characters. After trying many approaches, I settled on giving each important character a complete chapter, actually several chapters for the two most important characters. One of the problems with this approach is to have a smooth transition from one chapter to another. This became my nemesis. I tried writing transitions which simply added unneeded words. The next try was to pick chapter titles that would indicate the point of view. Some novelists have done this quite well. I zeroed out.

Then I read Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a 2010 New York Bestseller and Edgar Award Nominee. Franklin has two main characters. Each character has his chapter at the appropriate times. The chapters are simply numbered. Readers know in whose skin they are by the way Franklin jumps immediately into the chapter with the character in action. What does this say to me? Get in there and make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing a Bio

By Bonnie Stanard

“I can write something about almost anything, but when it comes to a bio, I don’t know what to say.” If you haven’t said this yourself, you’ve probably heard somebody else say it. Kia Goins, SCWW’s vice president, recently wrote in the Quill, “It’s my turn to write a brief biography. This is far more difficult than I imagined.”

If you’re submitting your work to agents, journals, or publishers, a short bio of sorts appears in your query letter. This is where you provide credentials that say you’ve been published, won awards, or been recognized as a wordsmith by some authority other than your family. It’s where you provide evidence that you’re qualified to write a book. If it’s nonfiction, you’ll sink or swim on your education, experiences, and/or qualifications to address the subject of your book. A novel is different, for the imagination needs no college degree. Assuming you have imagination, the focus becomes your writing skills.

What to do if you have no published works, i.e., no obvious credentials? One possibility is to show that you’re serious about writing. Recount writer organizations you belong to, such as the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW) or Romance Writers of America. Add a note about conferences that inspired you or list conferences you’ve attended.

Do you contribute to a writer’s blog (such as this one)? That’s another way to show that you are working on your skills and trying to improve. You may want to provide the link to the web address as well. Don’t underestimate the importance of an online presence (consider where you’re reading this…). Have you participated in other exercises that show your commitment to writing, such as the November Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?

Another possibility is to explain how you came to write. As a child, did you love “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” (or some such story) or Laura Ingalls Wilder (or some such author)? A love of reading and/or writing that dates back to your youth demonstrates depth. If you can appear well-read, all the better, e.g., comment on authors you admire or emulate.

If you have no writing background to speak of, tell of the passion that inspired you to write the book. Even without credentials, you can win over readers if you write passionately and intelligently. Perhaps you haven’t solved a mystery, but you’re a Sherlock Holmes junkie. Maybe you don’t know Shoeless Joe Jackson, but you know his date of birth and next of kin. In other words, if you’ve written a western, sound obsessed with westerns; if a football story, let your ardor for the game show.

Unless your bio is part of a letter, write it in third person and provide contact information. Most bios are no longer than a paragraph, so make fewer words say more. Try for clear sentences that get to the point.

Occasionally a biography will say: “Eva lives in the Lowcountry with her three cats.” Or dogs, or goldfish. Am I the only person who doesn’t want to know about a writer’s pets? When handled well, personal information may personalize or provide insight, but there’s a fine line between purposeful information and useless chatter.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Devil’s in the Details

By Ginny Padgett

I’ve never understood that adage, “The Devil’s in the details.” I think details are important, especially in fiction writing. When an author enters into an unspoken contract with her reader to suspend belief while engaged with her story, she should reciprocate with verifiable details (or in the case of fantasy, consistent details) to transform imagination into reality.

I am reading Scott Turow’s, Burden of Proof. Early on in this long novel, he tells us about a woman who has recently worked in her garden (100 or so miles west of Chicago) in early spring to tidy up the gladiola foliage left behind from last summer’s growth. It ruined the entire story for me because gladiolas totally die back by fall, even here in the much warmer climate of Columbia, SC.

This made me distrust the entire world Turow created, much of which revolves around trading futures on the stock exchanges, resulting grand jury proceedings and the pursuant court case. The plot is framed on the inner workings of financial markets and legal maneuverings, and if I’m going to slog through these specifics, I want them to be accurate.

Turow broke the contract between him and me. I think less of him because he seemed to think I wouldn’t notice that he didn’t do his homework when he added details to develop this character. The growing season of gladiolas is a minor detail in this book of 515 pages, but it was enough for me to reclaim my suspended belief.

I guess that’s how I came to be known as the “detail person” in our critique group. Maybe it’s my training in journalism that makes getting the facts right so important to me, or maybe it’s just my personality. In any case, I think, “Successful fiction writing is in the details.” I challenge you to get them right. Does that make me the Devil?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet Our Newest Blogger


A Connecticut native, and the son of two librarians, I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut and a research assistant at the University of South Carolina where I study geology. My initial foray into writing occurred around the age of five when I started emulating my mom, Claudia Wyche, who is herself an avid, though unpublished, author. During the following decade, writing continued to be a hobby for me that eventually progressed into a full-fledged passion and it was around this time that I concluded that long prose was an outlet that best resonated with my manner of thinking. Since then, I have made my main creative focus novel-writing, drawing inspiration and insight from the interesting people I have met or contacted, including employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Fish and Wildlife Service and Central Intelligence Agency. I have also spent some time performing scientific writing for the online toxicology database and was its 2008 featured editor. More recently, my creative endeavors have chiefly been in the form of screenplays and I am currently working on a screenplay for a feature-length superhero film. My future in writing is wide open as far as I'm concerned. I don't know what I want to try next but I know I want to introduce stronger abstract concepts into my stories. I'm tired of simply performing magic tricks to tell a story. I want to transform the reader. My other hobbies include studying math and physics, meditating, running, amateur filmmaking and designing random machines.

On the Subject of Nemeses

By Gregory Wyche

As a writer, I have long considered Michael Crichton my nemesis. I first became disillusioned with him around senior year of high school when I decided he was lazy, had improbable characters and cut corners. Case in point: the ending of Sphere. In the novel, these scientists find an alien artifact that endows each of them with the power to manipulate reality with their minds, with generally terrible results. Their unpredictable subconsciousnesses wreak havoc. Okay, that’s an interesting premise. But then, when you’ve finally gotten to the end, Crichton’s resolution is to have the characters use their reality-altering powers to make themselves forget that they have any powers. Uh… okay. Then there is this exchange:

“…We won’t remember anything but this [made up] story.”
“And we won’t have the power any more?” Beth said, frowning.
“No,” Norman said. “Not any more.
“Okay,” Harry said.
Beth seemed to think about it longer, biting her lip. But finally she nodded. “Okay.”
When I was younger, this passage really bothered me and I suspect it was because it seemed so much like a deus ex machina. These characters spend the whole book unable to control their thoughts and now they're going to do it on command?

All these gripes alone aren’t too annoying. Plenty of authors just aren’t good. But Crichton was different. Somewhere in there, I always knew there was a genuine talent. So why then did he try so little, so often? To me, it was disrespectful to the profession, especially considering how well his books sold and how hard it is for new authors to get published, regardless of their skill.

And then I found out he had died of cancer. And it was like I'd swallowed a marble. An old friend brought it up, figuring I’d appreciate the news. But I didn’t. Suddenly, I was forced to confront my long-held prejudices. I had never actually finished State of Fear or Timeline

Perhaps Norman's certainty in Sphere that his final solution would work was meant to plant the idea of inevitability into his comrades’ subconsciousnesses. Perhaps I had simply missed the point. Perhaps, I needed to reread Andromeda Strain, or Sphere, or Airframe or the Lost World. Perhaps... it didn’t matter anymore.

At the time, this news was particularly resonant because I had fallen into a funk with my own writing and wasn’t really producing anything anymore. Suddenly, I felt like I had no purpose. But most of all, I just felt sad. Crichton obviously had a passion for writing. Sometimes… And now he could never write again.

Since then, I’ve been more tolerant with other authors. After all, they’re only human. As I finish this, I wonder whose ire I’ll inspire with my own idiosyncrasies, and what colleagues I’ll make in the process. I picked up a copy of Prey yesterday and got about a hundred pages into it. It’s pretty good.

Goodbye, Michael Crichton. My friend. My greatest enemy. Rest in peace.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Getting the Setting Right

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Regardless of the genre of a story, all writers must decide on a setting where it will unfold. Picking a setting is too important to leave to a random dart tossed at a map. In order to be believable, the setting must make sense for the characters and for the story itself. The writer must consider several things in order to choose the setting.

Physical Location: Where on the globe, or in the universe, the story will take place influences who you can write about. If you want your main character to be the Chief of Surgery, on the Board of Directors for the symphony and drive a vintage Jaguar then you need to place your story in a city, not some remote section of the rain forest in South America.

Timing: Setting also refers to the time frame of a story. Although you may write a tale of little green people coming to earth in 400 BC and interacting with the natives, if you want your reader to believe that they were welcomed with open arms and lived happily side by side, the story might be better set after the industrial revolution.

Climate: Often as writers we use weather to indicate the passage of time, “She woke to the sound of rain on the tin roof.” Then later we will say, “The sun warmed her back as she worked in the garden.” But if the climate itself is a necessary element it needs to make sense. If the story is about main characters recovering from the loss of their home due to a hurricane, the story should take place on the coast as opposed to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

As a writer picking the right location for my series of Rachel Shorte Mysteries was a difficult decision. At first I thought a large city would be the best choice, someplace familiar to me. I love New York, grew up there, but it seemed too big for my character. Paris, which to me is New York in French, would be fun but my use of the language can only be described as abuse. Then I thought Miami, lively and colorful. I could drive down for research and Mojitos, but being a tourist I didn’t think I could capture the true feel of its energy. Other cities came to mind, I rejected each for one reason or another.

Finally, I decided on the fictional town of New Grace, a suburb of Columbia, South Carolina. Although it is a combination of a few real towns that surround that city, it has its own attributes. I declared it “The Rhododendron Capital of the World.” Of course, first I made sure no other place held that honor. The main roads through town are all named after trees, such as Oak Boulevard and Maple Street. It has the added benefit of being right outside the state capital so my character can take advantage of The Arts by going to museums and the ballet. I like the freedom that creating the environment gives me. In fact, I like New Grace so much that I have chosen to use it as the locations for almost everything I write, whether or not it is a Rachel Shorte Mystery.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

“Bing, I’m a Beast!” and Other Lessons I’ve Learned from my Eighth-Graders

By Amanda Simays

It’s the end of the school year, the time when middle schoolers have to reflect on what they’ve learned, and it always means a lot when my students tell me that I’ve helped them with their writing. It occurred to me that it’s been a two-way street—my kids have also taught me a lot about writing too.

From Ethan (Names have been changed): Get into it

Some of my favorite moments at school have been working with Ethan, because he gets into his writing. Whenever he finishes a paragraph or writes a line he’s particularly proud of, he’ll shout, “Bing, I’m a beast!” and then we’ll high-five and fist-bump.

I love watching the way he can ride on the high of what he’s already written to help himself write some more. It makes me want to apply that to my own efforts. I don’t literally punch the air and yell, “Bing, I’m a beast!”, but there’s something to be said for privately celebrating that moment when you finally get the word you’ve been looking for, or you mentally land on the missing piece in the plot puzzle.

From Crystal: Persevere

Crystal has amazed me with her ability to persevere with her writing. It’s happened often that the bell will ring for her to switch from English to Art, and she’ll choose to give up the fun elective class to stay in the library because she’s on a roll. She’ll sometimes continue pecking away at her essay on the computer for a two-hour stretch. A couple months ago, we collaborated on a contest together, and she uncomplainingly came in every day during recess to write with me.

I think about her a lot on nights when I feel too tired or lazy to write. If a fourteen-year-old can give up recess and her elective class to write school assignments, I should be able to find the motivation to sacrifice my own time for writing too.

Keisha: Share your work

Keisha was bored by her latest five-paragraph theme prompt: “If you could have any wish granted, what would it be and why?” What she really needed was a change in perspective, so I tried to get across to her that a wish could be anything—a job, a vacation, a superpower…

“I could be invisible!” she said suddenly, and then we started laughing over the awesome things you could do if you were invisible—spy on people and play all sorts of practical jokes. Keisha’s pencil started flying across the paper. She was so excited about her opening paragraph that she dragged me around the school so she could show her essay to her seventh grade English teacher…her sixth grade English teacher…her band teacher…the hall monitor…

Writing is a solitary activity by nature, but helping Keisha with her “invisible” essay made me think about why a writers’ group is so useful…It both gives you that fresh, external perspective that illuminates aspects of what’s right in front of you, and it satisfies one of the most basic reasons why we write in the first place…to have readers.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Give Us Dirty Laundry and a Headline

By Kimberly Johnson

Yeah. It feels good, in a seedy-Boogie-Nights (the movie) kinda way. Dirty never felt better.

That’s right. I flip through the pages of The Enquirer and Star magazine when I am in the checkout line at Piggly Wiggly. Where do you think I get my news about Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan?

I blame my fascination on the nameless editor’s well-scripted headlines. British-based The Sun is king of the trashy tales. Check out this headline: “Lusty Louise lured boy 15, for sex.” Here in the States, The Enquirer is prince of all rags with titillating titles like “Oprah Hits 246 pounds” and “Winona ‘Sticky Fingers’ Ryder at it again” (2010). My favorite is the duke of the dirty dish, The Globe, with headlines such as “Hillary’s Claw Marks” (1999) and “Nastiest Divorces of 2010.”

Let’s face it, tabloid articles are a long way from being credible outlets of information. I thought about it…Is there a book or something to teach you how to write like this? Because, somebody has to be writing this stuff and getting paid for it.

The answer is yes. The book: Tabloid Prodigy: Dishing the Dirt, Getting the Gossip and Selling My Soul in the Cutthroat World of Hollywood Reporting. The author: Marlise Kast. While surfing the Web, I found a 2007 National Public Radio’s podcast in which Kast details trade secrets and questions her moral compass. She recounted how she applied for a writing job at the Globe magazine as an unemployed college graduate. Despite no journalism credentials, Kast emerged as a quick study and learned the cunning craft of rag writing.

Here’s an excerpt from an encounter with Madeline, the editor. In this scene, Madeline gives the novice writer some advice.

“ …I like your enthusiasm. But you've got to think headlines. Headlines, Marlise! Like here, for example.

She pointed toward my idea of an interview with Anthony Hopkins about his upcoming role in The Edge.

“Obviously Hopkins is not going to give us an interview, nor would we want one. Find out something else that is going on around him. I think you're headed in the right direction."

"Marlise," she said, shaking her head. "We are a tabloid magazine. We want scandal."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Family Cauldron

By Laura Puccia Valtorta

This afternoon I returned to South Carolina from my father’s memorial
service in Watertown, New York. There was a burial of ashes followed by
an afternoon drop-in at the local Italian-American Civic Association.
Both the burial and the memorial gathering afterwards were meaningful

I hadn’t seen some of those relatives in 20 years. My fourth-grade
teacher showed up, and about 15 of my dad’s colorful co-workers. Family
members were exchanging genealogical research. I discovered that one
second cousin had made a trip to Reggio Calabria at the invitation of
common relatives there I never knew existed. They treated her royally.

I could write two books on my first cousin, David, who recently sold a
profitable produce business and lives in our grandparents’ old house.
The details of his life are like a soap opera and very entertaining –
to me.

The question is - should this family stuff be written down? Almost every
fiction writer begins by telling the story of his or her family. I did
it in Family Meal. D.H. Lawrence did it with his first book, Sons and
. Pat Conroy seems to do nothing but write about his domineering
father and mentally ill mother. At some point the reader baulks. Enough
already’! Everyone THINKS he or she has an interesting family. Not many
people do.

People who write memoir have a different task. They seek meaning in the
timeliness or the universality of their experiences. Memoir writers
don’t pretend to take the theme any farther than that.

The problem arises when a fiction writer tries to turn her living
relatives into metaphors. The temptation is great because the
descriptions are so real and easy to come by. The character is large
and loud and standing right there! The author can question the
character. This is too easy.

Maturity in writing comes when we can create characters that are
entirely fictional – not based on a relative or neighbor. These
characters, such as Carmen in my novel about the future, possess a
freedom that yanks them from the quotidian and places them in a
fabulous world full of meaning. Greater meaning than we see at the
office everyday. When we can write this we become more like the great
Haruki Murakami - fiction artists.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Man and His Passion

By Ginny Padgett

Recently HBO aired a remake of Mildred Pierce as a mini-series, starring Kate Winslet. Many of you will recall the 1945 Joan Crawford version. During the credits I noticed the movie was based on a novel. Since I had mistakenly thought this script came from an original screenplay, I was curious about the author of the original work. Quick research yielded more surprises.

James M. Cain, the author of Mildred Pierce, (the first ever block-buster novel) wrote several other novels that were made into big movies: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Serenade. In addition, I found a collection of his short stories entitled The Baby in the Icebox and Other Short Fiction, which I checked out from the library.

His introduction to this book of short stories was more interesting to me than his fiction. His father was president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. The younger Cain graduated from that college at seventeen, after which he spent the next four years drifting from one job to another, including teaching grammar at his alma mater. One day in 1914, “out of the blue…he heard his own voice say: ‘You’re going to be a writer.’”

He was not successful at first, but he was committed and kept writing. He enlisted in WW I, came home and spent three years as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and began to work on his first novel. After three drafts, he threw them all away. While he was writing a column for the “Metropolitan” section of the Sunday World, his short works were published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, the American Mercury, the Bookman, and the Saturday Evening Post. When the World folded, Cain went to the New Yorker magazine where he was very unhappy.

Upon the advice of his agent, he accepted a job as a screenwriter at Paramount Studios and moved to California. He was let go after six months: another failure. However, he decided to stay on the west coast and try to make it as a free-lance writer.

He found his voice and his characters in California, and he enjoyed his highest success as a novelist during the 1930s and ‘40s. Eventually, his work fell out of favor with the public and critics. He moved back to Maryland in 1953 and wrote twelve more novels – but only five were published before his death in 1977.

James M. Cain is my new hero because he never stopped writing, even when it became unprofitable. He felt that “those who can write must write.” I’ve adopted this as my personal motto. In addition, his experiences speak volumes to me about determination and passion.

I leave you with his quote about the practice of writing, recorded during the time he was working on his memoirs just before he died. “It excites me and possesses me. I have no sense of it possessing me any less today than it did fifty years ago.”