Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Little Too Much Description!!!

By Fred Fields

Since his death in 2001, 23 new novels have been published in Robert Ludlum's name. Tom Clancy and James Patterson rarely write the new novels attributed to them; WEB Griffin, one of my favorite authors, has turned his writing chores over to his son, William E Butterworth IV (WEB).

I mention these facts to demonstrate a new era in publishing, one that causes some pain to readers when the substitute authors don't meet the standards of their originals.

Here is a demonstration of the quality of Butterworth's writing, and why I no longer look for Griffin in the bookstores. The following is a synopsis of eight pages, early in the book, Double Agents, by Griffin (Butterworth IV).

Bottom of  Page 17: President Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomes General William J. Donovan to the Oval office, followed by a description of Donovan.

Page 18: Begins with two paragraphs commenting on Donovan's recent promotion from colonel to brigadier general. This is followed by two paragraphs about what Donovan thinks of Roosevelt's happy state of mind, and that he is sorry to be bringing bad news. Donovan says how happy he is to note the President's good mood. Roosevelt thinks Donovan looks unhappy. The next paragraph discusses Donovan's experience in World War I.

Page 19: Continues Donovan's record, including partial wording of his Medal of Honor citation, followed by eight paragraphs describing the two men's original meeting and subsequent friendship.

Page 20: Six more paragraphs about the friendship. Four paragraphs about what FDR is thinking about the lack of coordination of intelligence gathered during World War II.

Page 21: The whole page is devoted to the history of interagency warfare between intelligence services and the formation of the department of Coordination of Intelligence, headed by Donovan.

Page 22: More on the Coordination of Intelligence Department and its transition to the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services.

Page 23: History of the President's desk, (yes) along with a description of its contents, including FDR's stamp collection and how the State Department saves foreign stamps for his collection. A paragraph describing the Oval Office. Roosevelt looks out the window at his rose garden, rolls his wheelchair behind the desk, and asks about Donovan's family.

Page 24: Five paragraphs about the Donovan family condition. Two paragraphs about Major James Roosevelt, USMC. Donovan goes back to discussing his son's military activities

Page 25: In paragraph two, General Donovan finally delivers the news that the Germans have nerve gas in Sicily! On the ninth page after we learn that General Wild Bill Donovan has important news for the President, we finally find out what the news is.

BORED TO SLEEP? ME TOO! By this time, I have put the book down and decided no longer to search for Griffin books in the bookstores.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cultivating Readers

By Fred Fields

I used to be a public speaker.

The first thing one must learn when speaking to a group, is "Don't put your audience to sleep". Keep them involved, wanting to hear more.

The question is, "How do you do that?"

Every good speaker knows there are two tricks to the trade, humor and good stories. Make your audience laugh, and make them want to hear the rest of the story. And if you can slip a little message in there, so much the better.

President Kennedy said, "Open with a joke. Get the audience on your side, if that's possible."

Zig Ziglar was probably the most famous public speaker in America for years because he had the talent to wrap his message in humor.

The same is true of writing, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. When I start a paper, whether it's a short blog or a novella, my first thought is, "Who will be interested in what I'm writing, and how long can I hold their interest?"

Of course, humor is not always the answer. A textbook, certainly, won't have a lot of humor. But if the writer is inventive, it may contain some.

For example, a textbook about the Civil War might include the story of President Lincoln asking his cabinet for a vote on the wisdom of enacting the Emancipation Proclamation. Every cabinet member voted against, with Lincoln alone, voting for the Proclamation.  President Lincoln's ruling on the vote; "The ayes have it."

When we write fiction, we hope that the story is a good one, one that will keep the reader involved until the last word. Much fiction is humorous, but even the dreariest, saddest, most serious piece should have a humorous quip or two to relieve the tension.

Right now, I'm considering a book of historical fiction about Simon de Montfort, a thirteenth century English earl who led a revolution that took over the government of England from Henry III for a year. And in that year, de Montfort invited the first commoners to participate in the English Parliament. My question is "How many people would read a book about some unknown figure from eight hundred years ago?" Simon was a unique, interesting, exciting man, but can I write his story well enough to generate that interest?

So you see, choosing what to write about is as important as how to write about it. It will be a waste the time and effort writing a book, if no one is going to read it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Mix of Business and Pleasure

By Bonnie Stanard

Writers are artists. Even in a league that includes musicians, painters, dancers, actors, and sculptors, we’re near the bottom when it comes to getting respect, whether that be media coverage or invitations to dinner. Some of us (read that Bonnie) were na├»ve enough to think our published book would be greeted with uproarious approval (Yes, uproarious…) with scores of sales and devoted fans (YES, fans!). My imagination got me into this absurdity.

Something I often forget is that art and business are partners. Even an inferior book can sell if it has the right business management. And a superior one can flop without it. We get respect not for writing a book, but for selling our ideas/inspiration/dreams to a general public. This is where the fat hits the fire.

The writer in me says I don’t want any part of business. I have to make an effort to participate in the writer’s life—the conferences and author events. I don’t like to make time to read book reviews and best sellers in my genre. The writer’s life, however, is where we grow professionally and gain the respect of our peers.

With the media promising us instant celebrity, we forget that most success stories start small and local. With that in mind, there are ways we can support ourselves and our community of writers. Columbia’s annual Book Festival, coming May 17-19, is a good example. If you miss a convention center filled with people who love books, you’re missing more than just the Festival.  

Hub City in Spartanburg ( is a bookshop, writers organization, and publisher. It has a history of promoting local writers with contests, readings, and other events. If you’re writing poetry, you may want to move to Charleston where The Poetry Society of SC ( not only holds regular meetings but sponsors poetry contests and readings. Upcoming the weekend of October 26 our own SC Writers Workshop ( is sponsoring a symposium in Columbia on writing for publication. This is but a sample of ideas. The point is to become involved in not only writing but the profession.

The Free Times newspaper is doing us a favor. Charlie Nutt, who took over as publisher in December, has introduced a feature in the newspaper’s arts section dedicated to books either by local authors or about local topics. At the time I’m writing this, they feature six books on topics ranging from hospital reimbursements to Italian graffiti to a novel inspired by a 1909 SC court decision. Several weeks ago, I contacted the paper with information about my novel Kedzie, and they published a picture of the cover with a descriptive paragraph.

Whatever the difficulties we face today as writers, it’s not a time to be discouraged. This is the best time to write, the best time to be published, the best time to promote a book. As Fred Fields reminds me, we have “good stuff, like self publishing, not needing the approval from publishers, etc., as our predecessors had to have, free internet advertising, easier-to sell cheaper e-books, availability of associations like SCWW and a few good guys like Charlie Nutt.”  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sarcasm: A Conversation at Downton Abbey

By Kimberly Johnson
Full disclosure--Maggie Smith’s acting is the reason why I watched Downton Abbey. The acclaimed actress plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the PBS period drama. Smith dispenses stinging sarcasm to her cast mates better than an angry honeybee attacking a brown bear raiding its honey tree.
Here’s proof:
Lady Grantham (Smith): “You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.”
Mrs. Crawley (Penelope Wilton): “I take that as a compliment.”
Lady Grantham: “I must have said it wrong.”
Here’s more proof:
Mrs. Crawley: “What should we call each other?”
Lady Grantham:“Well, we could always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham."
I take my fedora off to writer and creator Julian Fellowes for his interplay of mockery and cynicism in keeping the dialogue so fresh and so uniquely British. The finest scenes are when the Dowager and Lady Crawley trade barbs. I think that sarcasm bridges the gap between the two spirited women who have nothing in common, yet have to get along for the sake of the family. Fellowes uses the confrontations to create tension which is a great way to construct conflict.
With this in mind, I researched how a writer can use ironic or satirical remarks as a writing device to lure readers into his text. I found blogger David Hartstein of Wired Impact. He blogged a satirical post that received mixed reactions—mostly negative. He concluded:
#1: Writing sarcasm to an audience that doesn’t know you personally will probably fall flat. Focus on the message that you want to deliver to the reader.
#2: Sarcasm is in the delivery, according to Hartstein. “It’s about your inflection and emphasis. This requires a bit of extra thought when you’re trying to convey it in writing.” Use bolded words and italics for emphasis.
#3: Sarcasm is in the eye of the beholder and someone may take offense to it. Hartstein adds, “In fact, chances are you’ll come across as a jerk. The feeling of it being something of an inside joke is actually what makes sarcasm worthwhile. You just have to craft your delivery to make as many people feel like insiders as is possible.”  
I wonder does Julian Fellowes go through the same thing.                    

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Who Killed Fred?

By Laura P. Valtorta
All of us who attend South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, Columbia II, have thought now and again that Bonnie would make a great detective. The round glasses, the penetrating attention to detail, the no-nonsense hairstyle. She could be another Miss Marple. Hercule Poirot.  A LIsbeth Salander – American-style.

Fiction writers are often tempted to steal characters from the world around them. It’s so much easier to describe the quirks and wardrobe of a real, living person than to invent someone imaginary. Woody Allen explores this phenomenon in his masterpiece movie, Deconstructing Harry. The women in his life become homicidal after he tears them apart in his fiction. The fictional characters Harry creates are better looking but internally the same as the people around him. Harry makes little effort to disguise them. “Jane” becomes “Janet.”

Borrowing characters from life can be constraining as well as disconcerting. If I were to write a mystery in which Ginny killed Fred, I would be limited by the real Ginny and the real Fred. Ginny, the killer, would have to be demonic. It might be difficult to fit the real Ginny into that mold. Fred would have to morph into a victim. And nobody wants to see Fred go down in flames.

When writing is going particularly well, the characters are almost completely fictional. My wine-growing motorcyclist named “Otis” is an invented character – and he’s freer than many of the other characters in that novel. I can bring out parts of myself and embody them In Otis more easily than I could if I wrote about Sarah, the FBI agent or Mike, the Inside Trader.

As tempting as it might be to cause Shaun to earn his living as a balloon artist, or force Leigh to explore the Amazon, it’s much better technique to fashion a personality out of thin air.

Every character we create is a part of ourselves. If we squeeze that part into the friends that surround us – like fitting meat into a sausage casing -- the effect is less convincing than building an imaginary friend.