Sunday, January 30, 2011


By Suzanne Roberts

I’ve collected some ideas in my attempts to make my writing more natural and clear, so that the reader can see and feel what’s happening in the story and know the main characters well.

Dialogue must be accurate, and, since I can’t always remember exactly how a person spoke, I carry paper and pen with me. When I hear people talking, especially in a southern or country dialect, I listen and write down what they are saying and how they are saying it. This, for me, is the best way to make the dialogue authentic.

When I was in Charleston in a restaurant recently, my friend and I sat near a group of people speaking in southern drawl concerning religion, marriage, abortion, and myriad of topics. It was like I’d discovered gold. I took out my notebook and began writing their dialogues. Noticing what I was doing, my friend said, “You know, you can get into trouble for that.” So I turned away from them, placing my notebook on my knee. What’s a better idea for recording dialogue? A hidden tape recorder? I’m sure that wouldn’t cause any problems.

Read. Notice the style, vocabulary and methods used by the writers to make their books real, exciting, suspenseful. When I am writing I highlight passages that I think are particularly well written. This helps me see how they are crafted, what works and what doesn’t.

Description - Become aware of everything and everyone around you. Look at the clouds. Are they white and full, floating in the blue sky, or grey and threatening, racing across the shadowy sky. How does the wind feel? Is it cold and harsh or warm and soothing? Consider your character’s point of view. If she is angry, the sun might be a blinding beam of light making it hard for her to see and irritating her eyes. If the character is happy, the sun could be luminescent, sparkling on the water, and bringing out the color of the flowers.

In Bad Dirt, a brilliant book of short stories by Annie Proulx, she describes a game warden traveling through an area of Wyoming.

On a November day Wyoming game and fish Warden Creel Zmundzinski was making his way down the Pinchbutt drainage through the thickening light of late afternoon. The last pieces of sunlight lathered his red-whiskered face with splashes of fire. The terrain was steep with lodgepole pine giving way on the lower slope to sagebrush and a few grassy meadows favored by elk on their winter migration to the southeast.
Observe the people you meet, notice their appearance, movements, speech, idiosyncrasies. Do you see anything you could use for your characters? Add only those that will help the reader see and understand the characters.

Don’t write to publish. Write about what interests you in your own style, which might be erudite or simple. Both styles work. Worrying about publishing makes writing more difficult and less enjoyable, and, probably, in the long run, less publishable.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Digital Downloads

By Monet M. Jones

One of my favorite artists performed one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Many years ago, Carly Simon sang: “That’s the way I’ve always heard it should be.”

The tune seems to depict one whose strength and will is continually held down by a covering of hopelessness, until a volley of drums lifts the person and her melancholy to great heights; briefly. But the tune is only part of the message; the lyrics tell of her parents’ loveless marriage and her doubts that her marriage will be any better. In the end, she decides that she will marry because that’s the way she’s always heard it should be.

That pretty much describes how I feel about traditional publishing. I don’t want to send off query letters. I don’t want people interested in only the moneymaking aspects deciding whether to publish my book. I don’t want to be obligated to attend book signings or promotional tours.

I don’t want my story bound in hard cover, sold for three times what it is worth to people who will likely never read it, and buy it only because of heavy advertising. That’s not why I write. I write to share my ideas and dreams with a reader. I write to enrich another’s concept of life.

In our current marketing environment, I feel the only reasons for traditional publishing are vanity and “that’s the way it’s always been done.” I believe we are moving to a time when it will be unnecessary to put 'books' in hard copy. The exchange of ideas by words and graphics will occur in digital downloads to e-readers and other computing devices.

Whether or not one applauds this change is immaterial. As we have seen with music sales, the wave has begun; current authors can only ride it or be drenched.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Foreshadowing is a writer’s way of giving the reader hints of events to come, an incentive to keep turning the page. For mystery writers foreshadowing is essential as it is how we give our audience clues which they will need to solve the puzzle presented in the story.

Foreshadowing can be obvious, for example – "When Harry woke up on Monday he had no way of knowing that by Friday he’d be dead and buried." The reader has no doubt here, that Harry is going to meet his demise.

Foreshadowing can also be subtle, the reader may not even be aware that a clue has just been revealed, for example – A detective is investigating a missing person by interviewing a neighbor. The writer describes that the room has a frayed oriental rug, a coffee table with elephant tusk legs and a dusty upright piano. When the missing man’s body is found, forensic testing shows he was killed with the kind of gun used for big game hunting. Now the reader sees that the clue to the killer was not in the interview, but in the furniture.

Psychic visions, curses on artifacts and threatening notes received in the mail are just a few things a writer may use to hint to future events.

Two forms of foreshadowing are the flash-forward and the flashback. With the flash-forward the author jumps ahead in the story and tells of a future event, then returns to the original point in time. The author makes a promise to his or her audience that if they continue to read the story will move to the future point. With the flashback, an odd term for foreshadowing, the writer tells of a prior event which occurred in the character’s life, or in history, before the beginning of the book. It is important that the author connect the flashback with both the present and the future storyline.

Another type of foreshadowing, which is extremely useful to mystery writers, is the false clue (a red herring) that leads the reader to believe information which is misleading. A writer must be very careful using this form of foreshadowing. The false clues must make sense to the story and the assumptions the audience is led to must be valid. If they are not, the reader will feel that the author has cheated.

Foreshadowing is not easy, it’s a balancing act. The writer must carefully spread the clues throughout the book. If too many clues are presented at one time readers may believe they have solved the puzzle, lose interest and put the book down, never bothering to see if they were right or wrong. On the other hand, if the writer leaves too many pages between clues the reader may feel that the book is moving along too slowly, lose interest and put the book down, not caring if the puzzle ever gets solved.

The most important thing to remember when using foreshadowing is that it is a promise you make to your reader of events to come, it is a promise the author must keep.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Common As Pig Tracks

By Bonnie Stanard

In writing a story about slaves and plantation owners, I have enjoyed rummaging around old words and expressions. I can only wonder why some seemingly serviceable words fall into disuse. Why not say yesternight, nightfall, forenoon, naught and shant? Did these useful words have social problems that put them in decline?

I am learning to be aware of changing connotations. In an excerpt I took to workshop for critique, I wrote of joint grass in the corn field, a common complaint in antebellum diaries. When one of our writers asked if the slaves were digging up marijuana, I realized the word joint had so changed in meaning from 1857 that it couldn’t be used without causing confusion. Take a look at how these words appeared in antebellum times: I don’t truck with his kind; One of his boots flew off and lit on the roof; The woman was sold as a tolerable good cook; He didn’t have the lights to feed the pigs; She couldn’t marry without leave of her father; I have four plugs of gold in my teeth.

Expressions come into fashion and go out. Though you probably wouldn’t use any of these in your everyday conversation, you can figure out what they mean— Don’t set store by him; He was obliged to lay by to recover; and I was too sparing in my praise.

If clichés are dated, does that make them acceptable, if not commendable, in historical fiction? After all, the gist of the era may well be captured by clichés. I haven’t used these in my writing but that’s not to say I won’t: don’t care a scrap; diked out; greased lightning; fit to kill; not worth shucks.

Many plantation owners who left diaries excelled in using urbane language. At the same time, the slave narratives contain some of the most colorful descriptions I’ve ever read. From my notes, I’ve taken miscellaneous quotes from slave narratives (first line and every other one) and plantation owners (second line and every other one) for this nonsensical dialogue which, I hope, illustrates the wealth of imagery in their conversation.

She’s about to drive him crazy and he don’t have far to go.
Him? He can’t manage a turnip patch.
He’s powerful mean when he gets riled.
Her hair is curled so tight she can’t open her mouth.
They wrassle and hug and carry on awful.
She cooks up some terrifying mixture of victuals.
But not enough to feed a cockroach.
As one of my characters might say, I dassen write any more, for I’m nigh on to the master’s word count, and I gainsay go over the limit. For the nonce I’ll bid adieu.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The On-going Saga of the Self-Published (Sign of the Cross) Author

By Mike Long

I continue to hone my marketing skills, as there is zero marketing support for a self-publisher. This may not be all bad as I read that 'successful' authors are expected to do more and more by traditional publishers.

Some things I've learned:
(A) Advertising through magazines is a great tax write-off and little else, unless it's preceded or accompanied by an article/interview/review. Who ever bought a book because of an ad?

(B) Do not trust a magazine to write the article/interview/review after you've paid for their ad. Three have stiffed me; nice ads, no follow through. The response is, "Sorry, I do ads. Someone else handles those things. Yes, I know they referred you to me, but I only do ads. Would you like to order another one?"

(C) Book signings are great sales venues, especially in book stores. Surprising as it may seem, people come there to look for books. Gun stores, furniture shops, your best friend's boutique may not be so great. People visit them to buy something else.

(D) Even better venues are clubs (Rotary, Sertoma, Lions, Civil War Round Tables, Daughters of the Confederacy, etc), where talks turn into sales/signings. If the talk is okay, about a third of the attendees will buy a book. The club officers responsible for booking speakers like to have someone (like me) readily available to fill in for a cancellation.

(E) Enter your work in as many contests as you can. Winners and finalists enhance their portfolios. You can then put little gold stickers on all your book covers: Winner, 2010 Spur Awards, or Finalist, 2011 Southeast Vampire Shootout.

(F) Speaking of vampires, put some in your book to really spice up sales, even if it's non-fiction stuff on Centipede vs St Augustine grass. Really. I wish I had.

(G) As I've said many times before, keep your day job. Just keep writing.

(H) The problem with Publish On Demand publishers is that they have no 'return policy' and neither Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Borders, nor Waldenbooks will stock your book (even with vampires) unless there's a return policy. And if they don't stock it, you can't do a signing there.

Now-feel better? Write on.