Sunday, December 30, 2012

Free Downloads On Kindle

By Mike Long

Until recently I’ve steadfastly resisted giving any of my books away.  Sure, I sent copies to folks for reviews (with mostly good results) and even donated a case to a US Army aviation unit in Afghanistan – but that’s not the same as listing a book as ‘Free’ on Kindle for several days.  Why on earth would a sane person do that?

I’m not sure why sane folks do anything, but what pushed me to try a ‘free download’ promo was the fact that I just wasn’t selling many copies as E-books.  I had my first novel (No Good Like It Is) and the sequel (Dog Soldier Moon) available on Kindle, Smashwords, Sony, Nook, etc., but was only moving maybe twenty or twenty-five on each per month.

I’d already gone through the Kindle pricing drill, starting at $9.99, then $5.99, then 99 cents and finally establishing my ‘sweet spot’ as $2.99 per.  At that price or higher, the author gets 70% of each sale; below that, it’s only 35%.

And when Kindle offered their Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), I was slow to join up (why loan books for free, rather than sell them?) – until I learned that the KOLL program actually pays a little to the participating authors.  You do have to give Kindle an ‘exclusive’ on your books, but I’d never received a penny from Sony, Smashwords, Nook, etc. anyhow.  Another no-brainer, once I studied it.

And all that led me to the free download promo.  A friend explained that the folks who hold out for freebies on Kindle were probably never going to pay for one of my books – unless maybe they got the first one free and just had to have the sequel, especially if it didn’t cost much.

I ran my experiment Nov. 26-30 2012, after a good deal of mostly free advertising.  I used Facebook (all my groups therein) and LinkedIn, and found more than a dozen sites that would blog or advertise my effort for little or nothing.

There were over 6500 free downloads during that five day promotion; most (6200) were in the first three days, so a two or three-day promo is probably enough.  But what happened afterward is what has really surprised me.

In the nine days since I stopped the promotion, I’ve had over 220 paid downloads (purchases, KOLL Loans) of my first novel; the figures on the sequel aren’t in yet.  Remember, I was only doing about 22 of each per month before.  I don’t expect this pace to continue, but it’s sweet now.

And there are still 6500+ potential buyers for the sequel.  Write On!        











Sunday, December 23, 2012

'How To' Sells

By Fred Fields
"If you want to sell books and make money, 'how to' sells better than fiction, at least until you're famous." That's what an editor from a book publishing company told me at the South Carolina Book Festival.
She was right about selling more books.

Also, if you're a novice writer, as I was, and know little or nothing about your craft, 'how to' is much less demanding.  Your reader is more interested in substance than in form.

So the episodic biography that was expected to be my first offering was tucked away, and I wrote a book about how to play golf, a subject I had studied in earnest for almost sixty years.

The 'how to' book was self-published and listed on the internet. It sold a few copies, but not enough. In an attempt to increase sales, I invested in a course to teach me internet marketing, and the sales multiplied far beyond my hopes and dreams.

Looking at that book now, after two years of learning something about how to write, It's obvious that, although there are some good points to recommend it, the book really is not well written. There is more to professional writing than getting 'A's' in Writing 101.

Now, with more experience and knowledge of the publishing business, I am about to do what most neophytes do, ignore proven good advice. Within the next several months, I expect to publish the biography which was put aside earlier. My hope is that it will sell one-tenth as well as the golf book.

Now, profiting from lessons learned, I know two things that I didn't know at the beginning. The new book will have to be written much better than my first effort. And it will have to be marketed differently if it is to experience even minimal success.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Recycled Character

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

When it comes to character development, I have no problem coming up with the main character and the secondary or supporting characters.  I see them clearly in the office, at the crime scene or eating an ice cream cone by the river.  What bogs me down are the tertiary characters.  I don’t mean the throwaways ones like the guy who sells them their frozen treat, but the one who will contribute in some significant way.  I found myself spending way too much time sitting in front of the computer contemplating whether they are a man or a woman or simply picking their name. 
Then about a year ago I found a solution to my problem.  While with a friend, we ran into a co-worker of hers at the store, a woman I had never met, but I recognized her  co-shopper  as the mother of a child my son played T-ball with.  When you live in a town of twenty thousand residents you bump into people you know from one place or another all the time at the dry cleaner, the dentist or the dump.
That’s when I decided I could, and should, recycle my characters.
Everything I write takes place in the fictional town of New Grace, South Carolina, a town approximately the same size of the one I live in.  It seems so natural to cross over my characters.   The detective from my Rachel Shorte Mysteries is investigating a crime in my Reese Millridge novel.  The mother of twins in The Man in Black crosses paths with a serial killer in another work in progress.  Rachel Shorte’s law partner turns out to be the mother of one of the teenage girls in Transferred Intent.
The character’s history is not important to the roles I am now presenting them in.  A person reading Reese Millridge does not need to know about the complicated life of the detective’s girlfriend or  that the young mother was there when a hit man took out his target or that the attorney has her own problems with the Sheriff’s Department.
A friend reading Reese Millridge called to say she just came across the detective in the wrong series.  I knew exactly what page she was on.  When she finished the novel, we discussed his appearance in the book.   She told me having read books in both series the crossover was a nice touch and agreed if she hadn’t read the other book she wouldn’t have given him much thought other than his investigation.  She said she liked having intimate knowledge of his personal life; it was like reading a newspaper article in which a friend is mentioned. 
I am enjoying scattering my characters about town through my writing, but like anything else fun, it comes at a cost.  Now I need to keep a character sheet for people who were once throwaways, and not only must I maintain a meticulous timeline for each story, I need to make sure their timelines are in line with each other.
Actually sitting here writing this, I have to ask myself if my solution to tertiary characters takes up more of my time than I wasted staring at the computer screen before;  but it’s too late to turn back now, I’m addicted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Art by Art

By Laura P. Valtorta
Art begets art. Painting has intercourse with music and produces poetry. Playwriting marries the Philharmonic and their children are operas.

To jump-start my own creative writing, I may read, listen to music or see a movie. Maybe all three. For rapid inspiration, I visit an art gallery.

Two things recently helped grease the wheels of my memoir: Visiting Ginger’s house, and seeing the movie “The Sessions,” starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. Ginger’s House is a living art gallery – filled with painted walls, found objects, and junk sculpture. The house has a voice all its own.

“The Sessions” is a movie about love and disability that the directors thought about for many years and had trouble selling to the less-artful commercial world of Hollywood. When I saw “The Sessions,” I immediately understood something about hardship and compassion. Something better expressed in poetry or music, or tales about my clients and how they keep my spirit alive. “The Sessions” sends a realistic message about love.

All art is a rarefied form of communication, a direct pathway to the sensual side of the brain. Like a strong smell, art bypasses criticism and conversation. The best inspiration for a poem about a turtle may be one of Peter Lenzo’s sculptures about schizophrenia.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Is Poetry?

By Alex Raley

Often people, even in our writer’s group, say they don’t understand poetry, or they know nothing about poetry. How can that be? Recently, I took the time to read definitions of “poetry” from different dictionaries. They were remarkably similar. They included such things as words, sounds, meter and verses, but none of them defined poetry as rhymed verses. Perhaps that is because up-to-date dictionaries tend to define words the way they are currently used.

I particularly like a definition of poetry from Merriam-Webster: “. . . writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”

Edward Hirsch, in his introduction to Contemporary Poetry, says “Poetry is a stubborn art, and the poet is one who will not by (sic) reconciled. Who refuses to vanish – to let others vanish – without leaving a verbal record.”

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that what we do when we set about to write fiction or non-fiction? We may not be looking for rhythm, but we search for the words to describe the exact experience we have in mind whether that experience is from our lives or from an explosion in our imagination. How often do we write and rewrite to assure that the experience will not vanish but will live in words we have chosen? How often is our fiction filled with unintended poetry?

As Hirsch said, writing poetry is not easy. Don Marguis said, “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
Nevertheless, we keep turning experiences into words, either as poetry or as fiction and non-fiction.

Several writings read in our group are filled with poetry. One with a mother, who will not give up her long wait for her son, expresses her hopes by talking about her grandson. I have taken the liberty of putting it in verse form:

     That darling boy is my grandson
     And a godsend.
     And when my boy Dobey shows up here,
     That child is gonna pull him back
     Into the real world
     In a heartbeat.                                                    

Another writer ends her book about a female who finally escapes from her island of despair:

    In the expanse of water,
    The air seemed easier to breathe,
    Above them the moon was ending its journey.
    Stars seemed to fade away.
    . . .
    The island gradually disappeared
    And with it, Master Goodwin.

As to meaning in poetry, I think that is the rose petal we keeping waiting to hear echo in the canyon of our minds. I heard a lecture/reading by the well-known poet Galway Kinnell. He said that he is often asked to reveal the meaning of a poem. His stock reply is, “. . .shall I read it again?”

I challenge you to drop rose petals as you write. You might just hear an echo even in your fiction.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Exploiting Conflict in your Writing

By Chris Mathews

Conflict is the ticking time bomb in riveting writing.  We may not all be writers, but we are all amateur psychologists.  We understand and are entranced by people at odds with each other.  Moreover, it is when people are pitted against each other, each striving to get what he or she wants that character emerges and plot develops.  In the words of Uta Hagen, renowned actor/teacher, “If I know what I want and can achieve my objectives readily without any problem there is no drama.”  As writers, we must look for opportunities to exploit conflict in our writing.  I use the word “exploit” here to mean “take advantage of” or to “grasp the opportunity” not “to manipulate.”
In my play GARGOYLES, some high school students in a mountain community are acting in a dress rehearsal for a Halloween play, “Raising Spirits,” when the director receives a note from the principal of the school board’s decision to halt the production.   I chose not to have the cast all agree about fighting to present the play. By creating a different point of view for Bet who plays Sister Sabrina in “Raising Spirits,” I was able to develop her character and increase the tension of the scene.  Here is the scene:

CHRIS.    But it doesn’t make sense!  “Raising Spirits” is no ode
to Satan.  It’s a harmless, little Halloween comedy.  Haven’t they
ever seen reruns of Bewitched?
SHANNON.   Chris is right, Ms. Williams.  How do they even
know what it’s about?  They haven’t seen it yet.  Nobody dies.  The
warlock gets his just desserts.   He overdoses on candy corn, and
he’s banished to grade B horror flicks forever.
MS. WILLIAMS.   Shannon, remember where we live.     
MARC.     But they can’t control us, can they?  We’ve worked for
almost two months on this play.  Hey, it may not be Shakespeare,
but it’s got some good laughs.
            KARA.    Yeah, like when Chris sings.
CHRIS.   Hey, watch it.  I don’t sound that bad.
BET.   Well, I’m sick of this play.  It’s stupid and I’m glad we
don’t have to do it tomorrow in front of all the English classes.
JAMIE.    Oh, come on, Bet.  Just because you didn’t get to be
BET.   Yeah, well being an airhead in “Raising Spirits” is not my
idea of a juicy part.
SHANNON.    It’s a play, okay.  At least I’m an airhead and
not a pothead, like some people I know…in real life.
BET.  Aren’t we cute?  Little Miss Sunshine, spreading your warmth wherever you go.  Listen sister, just remember you don’t know me.  You didn’t grow up here, Miss Suburbia.  
JAMIE.    Just because she’s type cast.  The lady-in-black.  Ms.
Death Rock…  
            KARA.     …Leave her alone
MS. WILLIAMS.    Okay, that’s enough!   We’re all a little
uptight.  There’s no sense in going on now.  Sorry, guys.  Looks
like “Raising Spirits” has landed us in the pits(she starts to exit).

Come to a dead-end in your writing?  Look for opportunities to inject conflict in your work.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger

LEN LAWSON              

Len Lawson first began his writing career by winning 3rd place in a middle school poetry contest for Arbor Day and winning honorable mention for a high school essay contest on the American flag. Since then, he has been writing poetry and short stories and is currently writing a novel. He has earned a master’s degree in English from National University in San Diego, CA. He teaches grammar, composition, and literature courses at Morris College in Sumter, SC, where he was named the 2012-2013 Advisor of the Year. Len also teaches as an adjunct instructor for ECPI University and Limestone College both in Columbia, SC. His essay entitled  Back to the Future: Approaches to Best Practices in Reflective Teaching will be published by the Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC)  anthology in 2013. He is originally from Bamberg, SC, and currently lives in Columbia with his new bride Tiffany and her son Caleb. 

Why I Love the Classics

By Len Lawson

After high school and college, not many of us have the desire to read classic novels again or anything associated with classic literature because perhaps it takes us back to that educational setting where tests, homework, and studying—or the lack thereof—were the norm. In today’s society, we seem to want the hottest new book from the shelves; if the buzz is good enough about a new title or a new author, we as readers desire not to be left out. The thirst for the contemporary leads the masses to bookstores for the best titles and the best authors in the land. If our friends ask us—because we are writers—what the best book is to read right now, then we are expected to give them the book that everyone is talking about. We are compelled to offer an expert analysis if they ask, “Hey, writer, what do you think about that new Twilight/Hunger Games/Fifty Shades of Grey?”
Science fiction, young adult, and fantasy remain the gold mine for today’s writers because of the overnight success of books-turned-movies in those genres. Can I tell you that the classics were once contemporary? Classic authors became iconic because people connected with their work. Ernest Hemingway was regarded as a legend in literature and society during his time because of the early success of books like The Sun Also Rises and because of the late success in his career of The Old Man and the Sea. He was the James Patterson or the Tom Clancy of his generation. Even J. D. Salinger struck gold with his one-hit novel The Catcher in the Rye not because of high-tech, futuristic imagery or the ambiguity or pseudo-eroticism of vampires and werewolves. It became a cult classic because it brought controversial subject matter to the forefront of American culture.

In other words, the genre didn’t make them great. The works themselves were great! In today’s writing, authors seem to have to be in the right genre to even dream of any success—success not just as in million-dollar book deals; success simply as in publication. The classics are still timeless because they explored themes that are timeless. At the heart of Ellison’s Invisible Man is not only the struggle with race in a civil rights culture but also the fundamental struggle with identity. Everyone can relate to the questions: "Who am I?" and "What was I created to do?" The classics go beyond writing for profit, plot, and prestige; they attack the heart of the human condition.

In the tough world of publishers, editors, agents, and writers, integrity in our works sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of looking for the next big thing. I appreciate the classics for their simplicity and their complexity against the backdrop of their historical contexts. What will history say about our generation’s writing? Our best writing seems only to titillate the senses. The business of writing has become more commercial than controversial. I respect any writer who can capture a generation with his or her work consistently or even momentarily, but in my heart as a purist, I long for works that challenge our beliefs, question our culture, and upset the protocol. Show me a book that uses storytelling to do those things, and I will show you a classic!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Writing with the Birds

By Laura P. Valtorta

The backyard birds help me to write – especially the cardinals and house wrens (those brown birds that look as though they’ve been dipped in raspberry sauce). Birds calm the brain.

My family – the stentorian Marco, and the loquacious Dante – do not.

When I moved my writing space from the room upstairs (hot FROG) to the formal living room, I had to accept that people would be dancing around and shouting at me whenever they were at home.

Watching the bird feeder helps.  So do the big windows. I can see what’s going on outside – the birds, the leaves, and the neighborhood cats. There’s a squirrel that tries to get inside the sliding glass door. I get up to chase him away, which gives me more energy to write.

Exercise always helps. The running and the weight lifting must occur before sitting down in front of the MAC, because exercise gets the blood moving. Writing is impossible without some juice flowing to the brain.

Then there’s just the right music. My favorite writing music comes from the album i“Dimanche à Bamako” sung by Amadou and Mariam, because the songs are plaintive. (I wonder what’s going on in Mali). Art begets art.

Before I write, I must have ideas. Those come from work – the most obnoxious and irritating part of the day. I love my clients, but they’re going through hell. And some of that hell rubs off on me.

Then there’s Cliff – the “director” of my film about boxing. He quit working on my film to make political ads. How annoying is that? I spend a lot of energy holding myself back from driving to the movie studio and attacking him.

Thank goodness for the birds, the rose bushes, and my backyard, I’m grateful I belong to Gold’s Gym where they have Cardio Cinema. Without them I would not be able to seize my ideas, calm down, and write.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wanted: Agent

By Kimberly Johnson

Dear Classified Ads Manager at the Daily Bugle:

My television script is going to be the next big thing, you know.  I’ll move to Hollywood and live in the Hills.  I‘ll write for the hit dramas like Mad Men, Law & Order, CSI

I have one problem.  I don’t know the first thing about an agent or how to secure one.  I’m going to need some space for Friday’s newspaper.  Here’s what my ad will look like.  Look it over and tell me what you think:

Wanted:  Someone who represents my interests and to sell my novice TV script to the networks 
and cable. 

Young, aspiring author wants an intelligent and dynamic hipster who will sell my script to reputable outlets.   You need to represent yourself in a straightforward manner.  Police dramas like CSI and Castle are my specialty.  I want someone who knows the market and can put my script in the hands of the right people. I want someone who is a shrewd negotiator and is up-to-date with the film, TV and foreign contract rights.  I want you to return my calls and emails once we’ve signed on.  I want someone who is excited about my work.  After receiving feedback from the SC Writers Workshop, I am ready to work with a professional who sees the big picture and can offer positive feedback.

Here’s what I don’t want from you:
  • ·        Promising me a rose garden about selling my script to production companies like ABC Entertainment and HBO Films. (Apologies to Lynn Anderson)
  • ·         Giving me dirty laundry such as double-dealing about what you can do for me, discussing important ideas without telling me. (Sorry about that Don Henley)
  • ·         Telling me lies, sweet little lies to keep me on your roster, such as “I have a contact at NBC.”  “Let me schedule lunch with some heavyweights so they can take a look, too.”  (Forgive me Fleetwood Mac).

So, Mr. Classified Ads Manager, do you think an agent will respond to my ad? 


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Latest Addition


Dean and sister, Sharon
Dean’s adventuresome spirit has led him from stints in the Caribbean, where he spent nine years, to Berkeley and San Francisco, where he spent over ten years.  He has spent much time up and down the west coast, and currently lives points east.  His passion is for science fiction, both near and far-term, although he also writes dark fantasy, action-adventure, and metaphysical non-fiction texts. 
His initial sci-fi book is expected out in early 2013.  It is the first in a series of tomes, reminiscent of R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and Peter F. Hamilton’s larger works.  He plans to “rest up” afterwards by releasing smaller, more standard-sized sci-fi novels over the course of the year.  He participates in several critique groups, both in Columbia and online.   

Advice to a Beginning Writer

By Dean Croke

"Get into the flow," as Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi, author of  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, would say. Put aside your hyper-rational mind. There'll be room for that later come time to polish your work.

That said, if you're seeing the movie play out in your head vividly, and it's so real and captivating, this doesn't mean it's ready to go. Just that these scenes will likely make it into the book. They feel right on some level to you. Now it's a matter of making them make sense to the reader.

Now's a good time to pick up a book on narrative structure and see how the pieces you put down on paper fit together, how to glue the scenes together, and what missing pieces need filling in.

When you move from that "flow state", which is very right-brained incidentally, in which patterns are entirely clear to you, into "editing state", which is more left-brained, you begin to see how the reader might need more hand-holds, and suddenly how what was so obvious to you leaves the reader entirely lost.

Without three-act structure your reader is lost. But three acts is a lot more than beginning, middle and end. Did you know there are 15 chief beats that a good story must have according the Save the Cat by Blake Snyder? That's not a typo, the number really is 15. Now how many of those are in your story? If any of them is missing, your story won't feel right on some level. Your reader won't feel entirely satisfied, even if he can't articulate why.

You can read a million books on narrative structure and learn something from each of them, but not everything you need. Or you could read one very terse book, and even just a small section of that, and get what you need. Total investment of your time: 20 minutes. It's worth it. I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Save the Cat. So next time I ask you, where is your "all is lost" moment, you'll understand what I'm asking.

When I mention that your mid-point is a "false high" and so is your "act two climax", you'll understand why that's a problem.

And if I appear flummoxed by why you didn't start your story with a "hook scene", you'll go, "Oh, my God, you're right!"

Or if I say I can't tell the difference between your "fun and games" section and your "the bad guys close in" section in Act Two, you'll know right away what I mean and how to fix it.

Did you know that Act Two is an upside down universe relative to Act One? That the general three act structure follows this pattern: 1) thesis, 2) antithesis, 3) synthesis. So if I can't tell much difference from your act two world and your act one world, you already know that's a big problem.

Did you know that before your hero can enter Act Three, he has to make a decision on a strategic approach to winning the day? And that decision is based on lessons learned from the B-story? Not only does the theme usually come out in your B-story, that's where your hero gains a lot of the strength to overcome increasing obstacles throughout your story.

But again, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know if you've read Save the Cat.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vision Board for Writers

By Leigh Stevenson

I have created a Vision Board. I reveal this at the risk of sounding woo-woo to the uninitiated. My reason is not so much to “bring” the things on my board to me as it is to remind me of what I want to explore and create space for in my life. It has become a kind
of visual list.

All it requires is poster board, scissors and a few old magazines. If you are artistic, you can create your own drawings. You add to your Vision Board those things that elude you. Those things you never seem to have time for. Place it where you can see it on a regular basis.

As writers we are always dealing with the written word. That’s a given. To add depth and texture to writing, I believe in using all the senses. Thus I have my visual reminder. Some of the aspects of my board represent making time for friendships; reading books in all genres, not just my own; traveling; and exploring poetry. And as is, I believe, the way of the Universe, my life and my writing somehow now encompass these things.

One reminder from the Vision Board that has given me great pleasure is poetry and newly discovered poets. My mother was a poet and writer, and although I’ve been around poetry all my life, my knowledge of it is limited. There are the old favorites; Shakespeare (Goes without saying. The man wrote in iambic pentameter), Dickinson, Keats, Whitman, Rumi, Frost. The list is endless. But what has been a revelation is the newly discovered poets. Among others new to me are Ann Michaels and Mary Oliver. Their words astonish, surprise and often transfix me. Bonnie Stanard, too, of our own Columbia II Writer’s Workshop is not only a novelist but a very fine poet. Her images are fresh and haunting.

So, I must recommend the Vision Board. If only as an interesting exercise, it may have value for you. At best, it could create space for things you didn’t know were missing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to Write People: One Socially Inept Writer’s Hopeless and Sisyphean Struggle to Capture the Complexities of Human Social Behavior in Prose, Part II

By Shaun McCoy

In part I of this article we discussed how human relationships can be revealed by showing differing levels of reciprocation.  This article will take reciprocity one step farther by adding indirect speech.

When two people have different expectations of reciprocation we find conflict, and to cover up that conflict we find indirect speech. Almost everybody uses it, and readers intuitively recognize such cover-ups as natural sounding conversation. So let’s take a look at a real life example. 

Joe Bastianich was minding his own business, working for a paper reviewing restaurants in New York, when he was ordered to attempt to bribe maitre d’s to see if he could get seated without a reservation. Even though there was nothing illegal about such a bribe, Bastianich reported that he was extremely nervous about attempting this assignment. What he found was astonishing. Twenty dollars was about all that was required to get seated in even the finest of dining establishments. What is of interest to writers, however, are the things that Joe found himself saying as he offered the bribe. 

Upon being told that there were no seats available and that a reservation would be required, Joe would hold out his twenty dollar bill and say: “Could you check again?” or “Is it possible one might have just opened up?”

What odd things to say while offering a bribe. It’s not like he could pretend that he wasn’t offering the money! His words were indirect speech, a cover up for his request for a different level of reciprocity. By offering the exchange, Joe was trying to attain an exchange reciprocity.  Joe’s questions, however, maintain the fiction and feel of the maitre d’s dominance.

Now let’s take a look at indirect speech in fiction.

In the movie Fargo, Steve Buscemi is cruising down the road when he gets pulled over by a police officer. Steve hands the officer his wallet, ostensibly to show his driver’s license, but leaves a fifty dollar bill edging out of his bill fold. I’ll paraphrase below:

“I prefer to handle these matters as quickly as possible.”

He does not say: “Hey, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you make this ticket go away.” His speech maintains the fiction of the policeman’s dominance while he attempts the exchange. 

Indirect speech can cover up any level of reciprocity mismatch, and the speech doesn’t always have to be verbal. A wife in a patriarchal relationship might start vacuuming while her husband tries to watch football on TV. Passive aggressive behavior is almost always indirect speech, and in this example, maintains the fiction of the patriarch’s complete dominance while the wife secretly claims via her vacuuming that she has a right to be angry or ask for attention.

Let’s imagine a girl flirting with her waiter, or a boy with a crush on a girl on an elementary school playground, or a person assigned to torture a prisoner of war. What kind of indirect speech might these people use to cover up the relationships they really want to have?

If your sympathetic guard watches your prisoner be tortured, let’s say in Siberia, and then gives the prisoner a blanket, we might be touched. But imagine how much more poignant this scene becomes when the guard lies, saying “I hate dogs like you” while handing the blanket over. If the reader knows that the statement is a lie and sees that the guard is using indirect speech to cover their true feelings, the scene is no longer merely touching. It suddenly becomes real.

Watch for indirect speech in real life, you’re bound to see it at least once a day. It is yet another valuable tool for making your dialogue snappy, powerful, and realistic.

But wait, is there more? What other gems does cognitive psychology have to offer the writer? Find out in the exciting sequel: How to Write People: One Socially Inept Writer’s Hopeless and Sisyphean Struggle to Capture the Complexities of Human Social Behavior in Prose, Part III

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Writing Non-fiction with Panache

By Chris Mathews

Writing non-fiction does not have to be a dry, pedestrian venture. In fact, in today’s internet world, original ways of approaching real-life events can make the difference between prose that touches people and prose that bores.

In the piece that follows, I tried to inject the simple act of doing a project with my grandchild into a piece that captured the frustration and joy of the experience.

Excavating the Triceratops with Poppy and Granddaughter Sidney Grace

 On Saturday, August 18th, in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Poppy and his granddaughter Sidney Grace Mathews unearthed and reconstructed a triceratops, defined by Wikipedia as a genus of herbivorous ceratopsid dinosaurs which lived during the late Mesozoic period. Forget that scientists now think that this famous, fearsome three-horned triceratops was actually a younger version of the torosaurus. Forget that Ridgeland, South Carolina has never been known for its tarpits (in fact, it barely has a ridge). Forget that this monumental achievement will never be displayed in the Smithsonian.

Poppy and Gracie dug out a triceratops together, using only a small blue, plastic spade and brush. Gracie did most of the brushing, Poppy scraped with the spade. This joint expedition took place in the Mathews’ den atop a glass coffee table.

The team of Poppy and Gracie unearthed this find by extricating a clay egg enclosed in vacuum-sealed plastic labeled Dino World Fossil Kit. Excavating instructions were listed on the back in both English and Spanish:

1. While over an easily cleanable surface or newspaper, remove the dino egg from its wrapper. MarMar, grandma, suggested the kitchen table as the perfect location for this expedition but Poppy wanted a challenge, so he placed a poster sized “No Diving” sign on the clear glass wood-rimmed table.

2. Make sure that the egg is firmly held in place. Carefully, remove dirt using the excavating tools provided (the previously mentioned spade and brush) Wanting results, Poppy left out the “carefully”. After shaving slivers for a short time, he squeezed the clay to smithereens. Gracie reveled in the clay, fragments cascading off the table and onto the carpet, leaving her looking like a street urchin. Feeling the exhilaration of risk-takers, the two opted not to “WEAR EYE PROTECTION” as posted at the bottom of this step.

3. When done removing dirt, clean fossils using the brush. It is very important to remove all dirt from holes that are used to connect pieces to allow a more secure fit. Poppy discovered this important fact as Gracie brushed off the pieces and he tried to force the tiny nubs into the dinosaur’s torso. 

4. Never force the pieces together. If they are not fitting, check for dirt in the holes. Poppy jammed the nubs of the legs into the tiny holes, but only managed to reconstruct a three-legged Triceratops with tail and horned head. Each time Poppy wedged the last leg in its hole, another leg fell off. The plastic legs matched the light tan carpet exactly so finding one that dropped was not easy. After twenty minutes of dropping, picking-up, and twisting legs, Poppy had taken on the demeanor of a mad scientist. Sidney Grace, however, did not lose confidence in Poppy. She just kept playing with the clay, spilling a few crumbs on the carpet as MarMar gleamed with pride at the two with a look of “I knew it wouldn’t stay on the table”.

Finally, after blowing profusely in the holes and delicately washing and blow-drying these tiny orifices, Poppy assembled the Triceratops on four legs. Sidney Grace was impressed, even though Poppy failed to mount the two back legs in the two holes provided on the plastic stand shown in the illustration, deeming the stand “for nincompoops”. After the two proudly gazed at their tiny monstrosity, Marc, Sidney Grace’s dad and Poppy’s son, proclaimed “naptime” for the smudged-face waif.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing for Episodic TV

By Kimberly Johnson

Ba-ba-badaa. With those three beats, everyone in America knows that Law & Order is on the tube. Cue the fluttery flutes and wait for the get-down-with-it guitar riffs, and suddenly the men and women of law enforcement are policing the NYC streets for the next 60 minutes.

I’ll admit it—I watch Law & Order for the actors (Ice-T, Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth). I really stay tuned because of the thought-provoking storylines. Enter Rene Balcer, the Emmy-winning producer of the NBC crime drama. Balcer, a Montreal native, held several writing jobs on the set: a show runner, an executive producer and a head writer.
After watching a show featuring Robin Williams, I thought: How does journalist/freelancer/part-time wordsmith secure a gig in Hollywood?

I pulled up The Writers Guild of America’s website and clicked on the Writing for Episodic TV section. The WGA provided tips for my pursuit for fame and fortune:

Tip #1: I need a spec script. This is Hollywood talk for a work sample that has not been paid for nor commissioned. Opinions vary on whether I should write a spec for a TV show, a pilot or a screenplay or submit an original body of work. Glen Mazzara, a former executive producer of The Shield, sums up: “When I was trying to figure out how to break into the industry as a TV writer, someone explained to me that a spec TV script is your version of an episode of a show currently on TV. You pick a show that you like, that you feel you can write, and write your version to show as a writing sample. It has no connection with the actual series.”

Tip #2: I need an industry insider to read my spec script. For a fresh-off-the-bus type like me, a freelance writer must network. I found this WGA’s advice very helpful: “Resourcefulness and determination are common themes. Remember, all you have to do is impress one “right person,” a person who can hire you to write a script or who can put you in a room with a person who can hire you, and you’re on your way.”

Tip #3: I need an agent, I think. Writing a good spec script is the best way to pique the interest of an agent, according to the WGA. It provides a list of Guild approved agents and agencies for members and non-members.

Later on tonight, I’m watching another episode of Law & Order. But this time, I’m taking notes on dialogue, plot, conflict--you name it, so I can start work on my spec script. I’ll let you know if I need an agent.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Value Do You Give Your Writing?

By Bonnie Stanard

Way back in 2008, the Columbia II workshop took a moment during its meeting to write down advice we would give a person beginning to write. At that time, the Richland County Public Library had declined our request to reserve their large conference room, and we had begun a search for another place to hold our meetings (which is another story).

In giving advice, many of us took the opportunity to remind ourselves of things we already know but too often forget. My notes from that meeting include platitudes we’ve heard before but may be worth repeating.

1. Believe in the importance of your writing.
If you’re like me, you have often felt like you’re the only person in the world who cares about your writing. Discouragement is often subtle. Your well-meaning spouse tells you how to better spend your time. You get into an argument over space in your house for a desk. You can buy a new DVD player, but the budget can’t afford a writers conference.

To your friends and family, “writing” is never a good excuse. Your mother-in-law is offended if you write instead of visit. Your friends think you’re dodging them. Your neighbor suggests you’re a hermit. It’s a hard battle, and what makes it harder is that the fight is against people you love. And in the end, when you insist on your time to write, you’re made to feel selfish, as if you’re the problem.

2. Get feedback from folks who will give honest thoughts.
It’s hard to underestimate the benefit of a well-run workshop. People who write will approach your work dispassionately and are likely to give honest appraisals, since they have nothing to gain or lose. We get false readings from spouses and friends, who give us well-meaning comments that won’t offend us.

3. Spend more time with people who write and value writing.
I’ve found that as a subject of conversation, writing can’t compete with USC’s football team, golf, the latest way to cook a casserole, or where to go for a good hamburger. Not that I’m interested exclusively in writing, but the average person seems to have zero interest. Fortunately, I now have several good writer friends and I value their company.

4. Read current works in the genre in which you like to write.
If you’re a good painter, you know other painters and what they’re doing; a good banker knows other banks and what they’re charging; a good doctor knows other doctors and their treatments. A good writer knows what other writers are doing.

5. Write, write and then rewrite – every day, if possible.
We’re all busy. We hardly have time to eat or gas-up the car, so how can we find time to write? Write while waiting in line at the post office. Scribble while eating a sandwich. Spend your vacation alone with your computer. Give up cooking, gardening, and/or shopping. Let your spouse go to Waffle House for supper. Put the kids to bed with peanut butter sandwiches. Read number one again. Your writing is important.

6. Balance new writing projects with sending out submissions—both are vital.
I resent spending time with submissions, especially since 99% of them will be rejected. But as we’ve said in workshop, it’s really hard to get published if you don’t make submissions. On a positive note, making submissions is getting easier. Many journals are in the process of switching to online submissions managers.

Of all these suggestions, the most important one to me is the first one. When I lived in Chicago I had the good fortune to workshop with Eloise Fink, who gave me confidence. Even at that, for years I left my writing to suffer the slings and arrows of criticism without much support from me. It’s taken a long time, but I now feel that regardless of what anybody else thinks or says, my writing has promise. And it’s worth my effort.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

SCWW Conference - Special Labor Day Weekend Offer

By Ginny Padgett

2012 SCWW Conference – October 19-21 – Myrtle Beach

It’s that time of year again. School is back in session, football returns to fan-filled stadia and South Carolina Writers’ Workshop holds its annual conference.

Here’s the latest conference news. The early-bird registration rate ended yesterday (September 1), but if you register by September 15 and email me at and tell me you saw this blog, I will extend the $50.00 discount. Additionally, I’ll extend the deadline for purchasing a manuscript critique to September 15.

Registration remains open until October 17; however, you’ll pay full price and only pitch and query-letter critique appointments remain for sale.

I hope you’ll join us for the conference. It’s an excellent opportunity to network with other writers and industry professionals, hone your craft, expand your knowledge of publishing trends…and who knows, come away with a book deal! It’s going to be a great weekend for writers in South Carolina.

Take a look at the weekend activities that will mark the 22nd SCWW Conference. (See You can go to for all the information, including links to registering for the conference and making your Hilton reservations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eggs, Milk and a Keyboard: Ingredients Needed To Write for a Food Review

By Kimberly Johnson

I’ll admit it…I’m a foodie. I watch the culinary shows (even, The Chew). I download the instructional videos. I will spend my next-to-last-dollar on a cookbook.

Last Sunday, I perused the aisles of a local mega bookstore and ooh’d and ah’d over Lidia and Ming. And just before I got hungry, I forked over the cash for Jamie’s Kitchen (Jamie Oliver) and Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible.

At home, my kitchen turned into a full production set that would rival the one on Food Network. I tried out Paula’s Tomato Pie recipe. The ingredients were simple: four tomatoes, basil leaves, mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise, to name a few. The tools of the trade were modest: a deep dish pan, a grater and the oven. In Paula’s original recipe, she combined grated mozzarella, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. I substituted plain yogurt for the mayonnaise. The result was a tasty treat that I may fix for brunch. Suddenly, I realized that I am good at cooking, eating and writing. But, I wasn’t sure about selling my two cents to an audience. So I hopped on the Internet to discover ways to write a cookbook review.

The experts offered this advice for the beginner reviewer:

#1: Select two or three recipes from your favorite cookbook and sample them. This way, you can get a feel on the author’s cooking style to write a comprehensive assessment. I cheated. I tried just one: Not Yo’ Mama’s Banana Pudding from Paula’s Just Desserts book.

#2: Explain why the book is unique. That’s what Garrett McCord (blogger with Food Blog Alliance) does with his entries. “For example, how does the author explain the use of ingredients in baking better than other authors? By setting the author and subject apart from the overcrowded world of food literature you detail their importance.”

#2: Discuss the author’s flair, presentation and photo arrangement. Let the reader discover the best (or worse) part of the book and don’t give away too much information.

#3: Identify the format. Be sure to include the title, author, and the general theme of the cookbook. Comment on the quality of the photos.

#4: Summarize your impression of the recipes and cooking style of the author. Set a rating system.

Writing a cookbook review seems like hard work. I’m going put my keyboard and taste buds to the grindstone. And hopefully, I can get someone else to spend his or her next-to-last-dollar on Paula Deen.