Sunday, February 27, 2011

Can you keep a secret?

It is a tremendous relief that Saturday, the 26th, has come and gone. It is very hard to keep a secret from a good friend, and we were all in on a big birthday surprise. I couldn't help feeling, when the party had ended, that it was such a relief that we could finally go back to living lives of transparency in which we didn't have to watch every word for fear that we might give something away.

Transparency is freeing. It's transparency that an artist or writer has to be willing to achieve when becoming a creator of something. First he has to come face to face with the secret ideas, stories, or images deep in his heart. Then he has to be willing to expose them, like laundry hanging on the line, for everyone to see. That can be hard, but I think it is worthwhile.

So here's to transparency. Aren't we thankful for all the great writers out there who decided to be transparent, writing their hearts out and touching ours in the process?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It is a small world after all

Something I find continually fascinating about the internet is it's ability to take you anywhere in the world with a click of the mouse (or keypad). Sometimes when I'm blogging, it's so cozy creating posts here in my living room that I tend to forget there's a big world out there in which other people also zipping around on the internet.

In light of this, I was checking the stats for our blog today, and I was amazed by what I found. Next time you're posting on your own blog, think about how small the world has become.

Since stats were made available to us concerning our own blog's traffic, we've had visits from not only the U.S.A (2897), but also Germany (88), Russia (80), the Netherlands (36), Brazil (26), Poland (23), the U.K. (15), France (14), Canada (13), Spain (13), Bulgaria (7), Australia (4), Japan (3), India (2), and Latvia (1).

So, welcome to all of you who have visited the blog from other countries. I hope you have enjoyed our posts and found something either encouraging or helpful in them. We'd love for you to leave a comment telling about your own writing journey, too, if you have the time.

Thanks for stopping by. : )

Monday, February 21, 2011

The gloomy Monday that ate Chicago

Actually, there is no such thing as a day of the week that eats cities, but it's just a mood I'm in today. It has reminded me of many things.

• I do not like rain when the temperature is 32ยบ.
• I do not like cold, squishy, cooked green vegetables.
• I do not like freezing cold non-flannel sheets at bedtime.
• I do not like finding strange gooey substances stuck to the bottom of my chair.

On the other hand,

• I do like rainy days when I have a good book to read and nothing else to do AND no interruptions. (Okay, so there aren't any days like this for me, but that doesn't mean I don't like them.)
• I do like picture books that make me laugh.
• I do like emails from editors and agents who are interested in my manuscripts.
• I do like to paint and draw. (Today I'm feeling like doing some dragons. How about you?)

Anyway, this isn't a deep post. It's just a post because Monday rolled around before I knew what to do about it, and I wasn't ready.

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I'm Late! I'm Late for a Very Important Date!

This is the Disney musical version of the original lines spoken by the White Rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" I like the Disney musical version better, because even though I am late with this post, I am not too late!

I remembered that I forgot on Wednesday. Then, I promptly forgot again! On the positive side, I have been so busy with my novel all week that all other thoughts seem to have vanished. One night, I even had a dream about my novel's characters, and clearly saw my least likable princess. She was very pretty, as I have never had any doubts. And a little more delicate than I had pictured -- the very type the mean step-sisters disliked in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical:

"Why would a fellow want a girl like her?
A frail and fluffy beauty?
Why can't a fellow ever once prefer
a solid girl like me?!

She's a frothy little bubble
with a flimsy kind of charm
And with very little trouble
I could break her little arm! .."

Ah! Jealousy! Unpleasant enough in real life, it makes for some wonderfully bad choices in a plot!

Happy writing!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thankful for Kristi Holl

I'm thankful for the writers out there who share their knowledge on the internet. One of the first blogs I happened across was Kristi Holl's. This week's post is about keeping the dream of writing alive. Click on the link to check it out and enjoy.

: ) Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are you a good guy or a bad guy?

In the westerns, it was always easy to spot the good guys and the bad guys. Good guys had white hats (don't ask me why, since they're so hard to keep clean) and bad guys had black hats. In a critique group, the line between good and bad guys gets hazy. What makes you either one? Are you a bad guy when you discover issues with a manuscript that you have to critique? Are you a good guy because you thought a story was perfectly written?

In a critique group, is telling all (and I do mean nicely telling all, with specific suggestions about how to improve the writing) a bad thing? Does it make you a bad guy with a black hat if you let the other writer know what you really think?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The secret of writing good dialogue: those tricky tags

Okay, so it's not really a secret, but it was so helpful that I wanted to share it.

I've been thinking about dialogue a lot lately. What are its secrets? What makes it work? At 31k and counting for my novel, I've been getting the feeling that if I write "he said" or "she said" one more time, I'll scream. There must be another way.

One thing I've done to work on my dialogue problems is to read Dialogue by Gloria Kempton. It's a great book and I'm enjoying it, but Friday I stumbled across a blog post by Sharla Rae on Writers in the Storm that gave me a fresh revelation of how dialogue tags could be made to show rather than tell.

Click on the link if you'd like to take a look at it yourself. Enjoy. : )

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

He said, she said—an inside job

A dusty gloom pervaded the abandoned building on 5th Street. I checked the address scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper in my hand. This was the place the anonymous tipster had directed me to. My footsteps echoed as I walked down a hallway toward an office door standing ajar at the end. Strange. The title on the door read, "EDITOR IN CHIEF."

I pushed the door open and stepped through. "Hello?" I called.

There was no answer.

A few slivers of sunlight shone through the drawn vertical blinds, illuminating an empty desk and leather chair that I guessed couldn't have been used for years based on the layers of dust covering them. I was halfway across the room when a woman's voice behind me startled me.

"Don't turn around."

I jumped, and it took all my willpower to keep from spinning around to see who had spoken. A shiver ran up my back.

"What do you want?"

"I needed to talk to you. Alone."

I stared at the tiny white specks floating above the desk in a single ray of light. "You sent me the message to meet you here?"


"What do you want?"

There was a shuffling behind me and a floorboard creaked. "The new character in your book. I want you to shut her up."

"What?" I gasped.

"She says stupid things."

"How could you know what she says? I haven't even shown that manuscript to anyone yet."

"No questions. Just trust me when I say that I know. I'm telling you, from now on, she's through. No more dialogue."

I searched my memory. Who could have gotten into my computer? My husband? My kids? A hacker? Who on earth would know what was in my first draft? The truth was, I was having enough trouble with this character without some shadowy figure second guessing me. Sometimes I was afraid that my dialogue was trite and silly. I was trying not to let it bother me, because it was just a first draft, after all.

The floor creaked behind me again. "I'll be leaving now, but remember what I said. I'll be watching. If you don't do what I told you to, I'll know."

A spark of anger ignited inside my gut. Writing is not an easy job anyway. Who was this moron to tell me what I could and couldn't write? I whirled around. "No!"

A dark figure wearing a ski mask leaped for the door, but I grabbed her arm before she could get away.

"Hold it right there. This is my book!" I yelled. "I have the perfect right to write lousy dialogue if that's the best I can do in my first draft! Believe me when I say I'm not going to let anyone scare me into writing pages of mind-numbing narrative because I didn't have the guts to let my characters talk!"

I yanked the mask off the figure. Yellow number two pencils clattered to the floor, falling out of the bun of hair at the back of her head, and I looked into the surprised eyes of my inner editor. I stood, jaw sagging in disbelief, as she rushed out the door and down the hallway.

I shook my head as I left the old building, knowing it was my own fault. My fear had given the inner editor an inroad into my brain. Gloria Kempton was right in her book, Dialogue. As a writer, you've got to let your characters talk. Let them be silly. Let them be melodramatic. Let them be overbearing. It's just a first draft. You can fix it later.

How about you? Do you ever have trouble with your characters to such a degree that you're afraid of letting them open their mouths? Are you afraid of what they'll say?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Hidden Life of Winter

Winter can seem like a dead time of year. Green plants are nowhere to be seen - evergreens don't count. White snow covers everything, and the cold keeps people inside. It feels like nothing is happening. Everyone and everything is just waiting for the warm air to return and for the snow to go away and stay away.

But that appearance is deceptive. Because in barns and sheds and even the occasional field, there is a great deal of new life. This is lambing time. It is amazing to me that baby sheep can be born in a barn where the temperature hovers just above freezing and then survive. Yes, heat lamps can help and veterinarians, but to think of a newborn forced to face the most difficult time of year immediately, that is awe inspiring.

As writers, we need to bring our ideas to light - to give them birth. The circumstances may be less than ideal. But, ideas won't wait. Some may die, but some will live and grow strong. Our literary skills may be rough, but like a well-groomed sheep ready for the summer fair, our stories can be groomed and fattened and prepared.  Let the ideas be born - get those thoughts down in words. Then you can nurse and fatten and groom. Winter is a great time for new life and new ideas!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brutal honesty, the best policy

Last week I got a rejection notice which practically burned up the internet, it zipped back to my computer so quickly. I read it, appreciated it, but found it slightly puzzling. The agent, the first of his kind to actually respond with a personal note to one of my queries, said that he didn't connect with my writing, but that the idea was adorable. He made some interesting suggestions and thanked me for my submission. I've had a few comments from editors, but as I said, this was the first from an agent. It's extremely rare to get any kind of personal response when submitting manuscripts, so I was pleased to have that, but I wasn't entirely sure what he meant by "not connecting" with my writing. Was it awful? Was I telling and not showing? Were my characters flat? What?

Most of the writers in my two writing groups agreed that it was a positive response. Overall, I believed they were right. It seemed to me that the agent was saying that my writing needed work, but that he thought the idea of the book was worthy of the extra effort to develop it further. I still spent the evening wondering if I was reading between the lines correctly.

I read once that no writer really wants to hear the truth about his writing, even though he claims that he does. Thinking it's a bit arrogant to lump every writer on the face of the earth into one tidy category, I don't entirely agree. Of course, no one loves the feeling of finding out that a story she's written and liked isn't the masterpiece she'd hoped for, but personally, I'd rather know the truth than walk around in a deluded bubble.

I gave it some thought. It appeared that this agent was trying to let me down in a gentle and encouraging manner. I really appreciated his thoughtfulness but decided the following:

1. Personally, I prefer brutal honesty shot straight from the hip than a soft letdown to spare my feelings. (My feelings have already been trampled on by multiple rejections from other agents and editors. There isn't much left to trample, so there's no point in watching where you step.)

2. I'd almost prefer receiving a form letter to decoding a vague rejection. I got the no part. I just wasn't sure what the not connecting part meant, other than more rewriting. Certainly the first editor who had wanted to publish it must have connected with it on some level, so it wasn't all bad. The simple advantage of a form rejection is that you don't have to figure it out. It hurts my feelings about as much as a traffic ticket. No is no. I can understand that.

3. Brutal honesty is good, because at some point, a writer will either embrace that if he can learn from an agent or an editor's comments, he'll be a better writer for it in the future, or he'll quit writing. When an editor or an agent is blunt, he is just trying to help you on your journey. Don't take it personally.

4. Editors and agents are people. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're wrong. Learn what is good writing and know when you've achieved it, but don't expect everyone to love what you write. Most of the time, it's probably you and your writing that need work, but sometimes you just haven't connected with the right person for a book to move into the published realm. Be resilient until you have arrived at the place where you can tell the difference.

So, don't let the rejections knock you down. Get up again. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Experiment when you get suggestions. Don't take it personally. Stay thankful. Remember that if you weren't at least on the right track, editors and agents wouldn't be saying anything at all.

: ) Beth

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Should you judge a book by its cover?

I recently made an acquaintance through an online critique site. After the initial hello's were over, she invited me to check out her book at her website. When I clicked on the link, I realized that I'd been there before, because I recognized the cover of her book.

Now, to be honest, I didn't like the cover. In addition to this, I could tell several things right away from it.

• The author had self-published.
• The artist who had created her cover was not a professional artist.

The unfortunate result? I had no desire to open the book and find out what was inside, because I'm a visual person and the cover was an immediate turn-off.

I would suppose that this is one of the hazards of self-publishing. Almost no writers who self-publish are also professional artists. Also, if they are self-publishing, it's not likely they know any professional artists or illustrators who work in the publishing industry who can offer either help or advice when it comes to a cover. Because of this, self-publishing writers have to either create a cover themselves, get one from the vanity press/independent publisher they're working with (I don't like some of their covers, either), or rely on artistic friends who are willing to help out.

The truth is, even though the book might have been a great one, I wasn't likely to go past the cover in order to find out. Since the cover looked unprofessional, something in me wondered if the writing in the book was going to turn out that way too.

Today I read that 70 percent of books published don't earn back their advance. Wow. That's a lot of money that publishers, even with their marketers, distributors, editors, proofreaders, and professional designers, aren't getting much of a return on. Yikes. If you're self-publishing, you're competing against people like this. Can you afford to come up with a cover that doesn't give a potential purchaser any reason to pick up your book?

How about you? Do you judge a book by its cover?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Writers and Blizzards

Blizzards get attention. Not only does the media get all excited, but so does everyone who has to feel the blast of the ice particles in their nostrils and the wind trying to rip off all their headgear and throw them to the ground.

Blizzards can also help your writing - especially if you are working on a novel that involves snow and ice and wind - like me! Experiential writing makes for more vivid descriptions and intense reactions.

It is a wondrous thing to hear the howling roar outside the house and the shaking of the windows inside the house. The fury of nature shows us humans for what we are - small and vulnerable alone, but effective and protective as as group. Advanced tools let us look at and interpret the skies and amazing communications help prepare us in advance.

An occasional snow day dedicated to writing can also help! Here's hoping everyone enjoys the warmth and comfort of their homes, and a special thanks to those who are in the thick of it fighting on our behalf - clearing the roads and providing emergency services.