Sunday, February 22, 2015

Writing Memoirs

By Deborah Wright Yoho

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite's warm, reassuring voice on his nightly newscast greeted our family every night. He was the Most Trusted Man in America. In retrospect his ironclad credibility seems surprising, because Walter reported relentlessly on the agony of Vietnam, the first war to beam straight into America's living-rooms during a period when the nation's sense-making of warfare was confused and divided.  His broadcasts punctuated our evening meal five days a week, every week from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies, except in the summer and on weekends, when Roger Mudd substituted so Walter could go sailing.

Cronkite's job as the CBS news anchor required him to announce the evening American death toll in Southeast Asia. “Today’s casualties numbered thirty-two Americans dead, seventy-one wounded and three missing in action," said Walter as we sat over our dinner, only the numbers changing with each broadcast. Of course we believed him.  No one ever questioned the truth of anything Walter Cronkite reported.

I've been thinking about this anew since Brian Williams, the evening anchor at NBC, was recently placed on unpaid leave for six months because he exaggerated about coming under fire when he flew in a Chinook helicopter a number of years ago in Iraq. Inquiring people want to know:  is Brian Williams a liar? News anchors are no longer credible just because they speak to us in our living rooms.

I write what I hope is non-fiction, putting to paper my memories of my own life. A haughty enterprise. Why should anyone believe a word I say? As I work to write an accurate account of events that happened thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, I find my memory is a very fickle tutor. Some recollections, significant and insignificant, come easily to mind, but my brain needs prodding to recall other things. So I pour over photographs, compare my memories to those of others who were there with me, and listen again to the music of the era. Ah, the music! For me, the Sixties and Seventies will always be about the music! Nothing evokes memories like music.

But I still can't be sure if every word reflects exactly what happened, especially the precise sequence of my personal story. Suppose, for an instant, that I possessed an eidetic,  lasting and reliable recall. Would my writing improve?  Become more credible, more interesting, more compelling? I think not.

A writer's offering of a personal account is fascinating to me not because it purports to be true, but because memoirs reveal how people, events, and locations conjoin to influence an individual's perspective on what is worth remembering, worth capturing in written language, worth presenting to the world in a published work. Reading a memoir, and especially writing one, creates opportunities to sift through my life to separate the wheat from the chaff.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Work of Revision

By Kasie Whitener

In October, at the SCWW Conference, I presented ten pages to a literary agent who represents the kind of work I’d done. She was not impressed with the pages, but she was impressed with the story as I described it to her. She told me to revise it twice and send it to her.
What does it mean to revise?
The easy part of writing is getting the story down. Bleed on the page. The real work is in revision. I’m not the first or only writer to say this. All really good writers know it to be true.

In my English classes I often break the word out: Re – vision. To see again.

A true revision should only resemble the original work. After revision, characters are more complex, settings are clearer, plot arcs are steeper, the stakes are higher.

Here is my tool box for revision in three parts:

First, map the story. I’m what’s called a pantser, I don’t plan the story first. I let the characters talk and write their stories as they tell them to me. It’s a magical process wherein unexpected things happen and new characters sometimes show up and hijack scenes.

But during revision, the story needs a map. What does the timeline look like? How are the chapters organized? Does something happen in every single scene?

The map can help determine if there are scenes that are superfluous. I love a good strip club scene, but if it doesn’t move the plot along, it needs to be cut.

Second, nail down the characters. All those people who wandered in have something to offer the story. Or do they? I heard a writer named David Coe refer to the character study as the ABC’s:
·         Attributes or what the character physically looks like, does he have a limp? A lazy eye? A scar?
·         Backstory or where the character has been, what he’d experienced, what made him who he is and
·         Circumstances or the current situation in which the character finds himself.

Map the story then map the characters and the two maps will work together to provide motivations for each participant in every scene.

Third, re-read the scenes. I like to print a hard copy in an alternate font. That way the work doesn’t seem like mine. The printed page enables me to look at the scene with fresh eyes.

Get distance. Take time away from the work so that you can be removed from your original intentions. Distance forces the work to speak for itself.

Revision is a long slow process.

Revision is the real work of writing. In revision, we use craft and structure to elevate our ideas from mere stories to written work.

As I’ve worked through the manuscript that agent asked me to revise, I’ve found the electricity that was missing from the first iteration. Sometimes I catch myself just reading my own work. Then I remind myself, it was good before, but revision makes it great.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

The Danes have an adjective: tilbageholdende, which means “reluctant,” or “holding  back.” This should not apply to a director promoting a film or a writer pushing a new book.
Following completion of a film – the final edit, and then uploading the file onto Vimeo – the post-production work begins. Two years of it. This part of the filmmaking adventure is almost as much fun as directing a shoot. It requires imagination, chutzpah, and hard work. This “hard work” includes traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico for a jazzy film festival; building posters, and emailing your production photos everywhere.

Ah, the life of a filmmaker! What I love about post-production is that the requirements change on a daily basis, because the filmmaking industry is in such as state of beautiful chaos. Today’s web series might be tomorrow’s television pilot. Some festivals prefer shorts over 15 minutes long, while other on-line events might prefer a two-minute short that plays well on an Iphone.

Everybody is looking for independent features.

            I recently put together a list of the necessary elements of post-production:
*           File of the entire film – for festivals and additional DVDs.
*           Promo or trailer.
*           Vimeo file of the entire movie, password-protected.
*           Vimeo file of the promo or trailer, open to everyone.
*           Copyright registration:
*           Still photos from the movie itself
*           Still photos of the director, producer, and screenwriter
*           Still production photos
*           Logline and synopses of the film, English, French, Spanish
*           Website with promo for film and bio of director/screenwriter
*           Master DVD, for copying purposes
*           Master Blu-ray disc, for copying purposes
*           Releases for the use of music and art
*           Promotion through Withoutabox, Imdb, and Film Freeway
*           Follow-up correspondence with festivals, usually by email
*           Personal meetings with distributors
*           Personal meetings at film festivals
*           Contacts at PBS and local TV stations
*           Advertising – cards, brochures, website, blogs, everywhere
*           Advertising – Facebook, twitter, Linked-in, Stage 32 (all social media                      within reach)

The last two lines on advertising are relevant for fiction and non-fiction writers. Any sort of advertising helps. I like to have premiere parties where the film’s participants can meet with fans and friends. Any day at Immaculate Consumption will see me handing out my Gatta Films postcards with instructions on the back about viewing my films on websites such as Shorts Showcase.

Shorts Showcase and other festivals such as Olive Tree have told me that my reach in social network is good. They appreciate when I go on Linked-in, Facebook, Stage 32, and Twitter.

Whenever something happens with my films, I try to tell the world.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review My Book! Please!

By Jodie Cain Smith

I know, I know, in a perfect world we the writers would write, and they, the consumers, would consume without any effort from the writers to bridge the two worlds. But this world is far from perfect. Upon the launch of my novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, I discovered the most evil of marketing tools, the Amazon Customer Review. Yes, whether five stars or one star, the customer review is evil.

It has been known to inspire evil acts. Type “sock puppet reviews” into a Google search bar and read what unethical lengths authors have gone to for an Amazon page filled with customer reviews. Desperate authors, under the cover of Internet anonymity, have created faux personas in order to get the review ball rolling. Despicable.

It has been known to cause obsessive behavior, forcing one new author to check her Amazon book page daily with fingers crossed. “Oh please, oh please! One more review!” No, she is not looking for her next illegal fix, just one more Amazon Customer Review. “Come on, man, I just need one more!” Sad.

So, why am I acknowledging this evil as necessary? What should we, as authors, do? Why would I encourage all of you to go to Amazon and begin typing immediately after reading this post?

The Amazon Customer Review is necessary because unless you are of J.K. Rowling author status, your book’s life depends on Amazon, and Amazon factors customer reviews into the algorithm they use to decide whether or not they care about your book more than the 3,000 (Forbes, 2013) others published that day. Yep, your book’s page will be highlighted by Amazon if filled with customer reviews or sent to the dark corners of the Kindle virtual warehouse if not.

So, how do we increase the number of reviews we receive without getting that dirty, begging-ain’t-pretty feeling? First, you realize that you want your book read and that royalties are awesome. Next, you buck up and beg in a classy way. Every copy of my book that I sell directly, I place a small card in the book encouraging the reader to review the book on Amazon. If someone comments on any of my social media platforms that he or she enjoyed the book, I thank them for their kind words and ask if they would post a short review on Amazon. I publish customer reviews from Amazon to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am currently reading Theo Rogers How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon in order to learn how to approach the Top Amazon Reviews. Yes, they are real, and they are powerful.

The most gratifying measure I take in order to boost the number of reviews on my Amazon page is reviewing other authors’ works. My goal for this year is to review two books per month on Amazon. This will increase the amount of time I spend reading in the evening rather than crushing candy on my Ipad and forces me to read critically, which will make me a better writer.  Finally, it will increase my tribe; my circle of authors who actively support each other, good writing, and the dream of becoming a slightly bigger fish is this gigantic ocean of books.