Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to be a Good Writer, Part 7: Plot and Characters

For the rest of the week I want to feature plot as a theme. I’ve posted other things about this subject (Archetypes), and that’s because it bears study. A good writer is one who understands at least the basic elements of plot. For me, plot = characters in a lot of ways. But first, plot.

A good story has a skeleton in good order. If you break out the major events in any well-written story, you can build an outline around them. Sometimes we get a look at it in disjunct ways, a la LOST or The Prestige, which are great stories that keep us guessing—but they’re organized quite well in the final analysis. In other words, whatever happens in the storyline has a reason for happening (the fictional past) and a consequence as well (the fictional future). That’s what I mean by a skeleton in good order.

Good stories have certain elements that are universal, too. It’s been that way since the dawn of time. If a crowd can relate to part of the story, they buy in. And if it’s a book, they buy it. That’s the goal here, folks, and it doesn’t require selling out or ignoring/forgetting your principles. Contrary to popular belief.

Take a look at any Sherlock Holmes story. I still stand in awe of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s knack for this. I always wonder which part of the story he wrote first; as if he wrote it inside out and backwards, because how can anyone do that?! It's crazy good writing, with lots of layers, lots of interdependencies; like a combination lock on a safe.

A good plot has lots of layers, interdependent interactions between the characters and the story—because really, the characters are the story. And ideally, as we read, we shouldn’t be able to notice the plot happening. It should feel just like life; like we’re voyeuristically observing the characters moving through their virtual world. In other words, a good plot shouldn’t be noticeably fictional. You’ve gotta have real and believable characters. In other words, they’re flawed. They have issues. And those issues, which go hand-in-hand with a good plot, are compounded by the issues that are created by that plot.

Bills are hard to pay in real life, for example. People get divorced and their kids pay the price in one way or another for the rest of their lives. Parents raise kids that become psychopathic in spite of their best efforts to the contrary. Young people get shipped off to combat and come back changed. If they come back. Accidents happen. Factions within families grow like a malignancy. And still the world turns. What I’m saying is that you don’t have to have some unexplainable time travel event or some impossible meteor hurtling toward earth in order to write a good story, or even tell one. You just need something for the reader to hold onto. And arguably, the closer to home it hits (depending upon a lot of other variables) the more books you’ll sell. And that's the goal, if you're making a living as a writer. Ironically, the more successful you become, there's a danger of being more insulated from good material for inspiration.

I think that’s one reason why some writers at the beginning of their careers can produce better work than those who are a commercial success: they draw from real poignant conflicts, through which they have had to live. that's not to say Stephen King is an idiot. But Jane Austen was never "discovered" in her lifetime, and her work is delicious as a result. Real people live real lives that are marked and shaped by conflict, and they will be more apt to enjoy reading stories that have an air of familiarity, even if the setting is exotic or fantastic. We all want fiction to feel like the truth at its deepest levels. Remember V for Vendetta, where we heard the line, "writers use lies to tell the truth." Fabulous.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Masculine Virtue

Real men: the U.S. Marines.
I know already that someone somewhere reading this will scoff at the title of this piece: “Masculine virtue? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Isn’t that like saying ‘benevolent dictator?” Okay, sure. Men have not acquitted themselves well since, say, the sixties. And all of it led that lady who sang the “Bitch” song to additionally lament, “Where have all the cowboys gone?” Since she’s a self-described beeotch I’ll leave it to her radical feminist friends to run-fetch her a tissue for her tears.

Let me tell you where the cowboys have gone. We’ve pretty much had it. We’re tired of hearing the constant nagging. We’ve run past the point of endurance against the kind of rhetoric that simultaneously scolds and despises masculinity for its violence and rough edges, and then whines about how men refuse to engage and remain distant from the family unit. The cowboys are out hunting. Out riding the range. Out in the garage. Out cutting the grass. Out walking the dog. Out. Why? Because, for lack of a better way to say it, you're not getting us and we're tired of talking all day long about it.

Masculinity is pretty simple and direct, and our chickified culture has misunderstood the meaning of that for a couple of generations now. I'm not trying to be a dickhead, you just tell me I am. I'm not shouting at you or the children, I'm trying to be heard above the freaking noise, okay? It's not that I'm trying to be a tyrant around here, but there are minimum standards for peace and accord that are not being met when the children are shrieking, swinging from the ceiling fan. It's pretty simple! It’s not that masculinity equals stupidity, but things for a man are usually understood in simplest terms; like those exercises with top-heavy fractions you used to have to do in school. Simplify.

Our minds are constantly doing that. All you said was that we haven't been on a date in a while, and that's what I heard. I didn't know I had to read your mind and infer from those words that what you really meant was that you're questioning why you ever married me because I'm an insensitive clot. Remind me again that you don't mean what you actually say. But there's an addendum to that, isn't there? Because sometimes you do. But I'll be damned if I can tell when.

Bill Cosby understood this whole thing perfectly. His characterization of Eve was as accurate as a fifteen thousand dollar watch: “C’mere, c’mere, c’mere, c’mere; no, get away, get away, get away, get away!” That’s it in a nutshell. But guess what, ladies. Your man doesn't stand by you because of the weird mood swings, the irrational blindside outburst, the nagging, the micromanagement of our indoors behavior. Nope. We stand by you in spite of that, and because we love you. We also know you don't have to even try to be confusing as hell for an hour or two, and then give us a teary-eyed kiss, thanking us for...whatever just happened.

So Now Hear This: Men are strong, rough, naturally smelly and hairy, made inherently irritable and uncomfortable by floral prints and doilies, prefer violence, abhor uppity know-it-all high-maintenance women (the maintenance is already pretty high anyway), and aren't amenable to asking your permission to be who we are. We'll tell it like it is; it comes natural. We don't feel like we need to apologize for it, either, so don't feel like you need to make us. We can guarantee you'll be a hell of a lot happier with a real man than with one under your thumb. But that means you've gotta trust us. And that, I'd argue, is why the world is positively filled with unhappy people: because lots and lots of women just ain't havin' that. Those women are the beeotches. And beeotches will always wonder where the cowboys have gone.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions (Shaw)

Ever wanted to know when to use disk or disc? How about the difference between allusion, delusion, elusion, and illusion? Tidbit or titbit? How about the phrase, “that’s a plus.” Well? Is it correct or incorrect?

That’s why I’m reviewing a dictionary (again). This book is a goldmine of good information (notice my qualifier there; so much information today is not only not good, it’s overwhelmingly irrelevant). My particular volume is the revised edition by Harry Shaw, and dates to 1987.

By the way, because I know it would drive me crazy, there’s technically no difference between disc and disk; they’re interchangeable. Having said that, I personally cannot stand to use disk. It has nerdy connotations to me; it’s inelegant, for lack of a better word.

And speaking of words, I guess you know you’re busting some good ones out when MS Word asks your permission to send a list of your recently used words to Microsoft so that they can be added to some database or something. That happened to me not too long ago, and it’s partially because of this book.

It really all goes back to Jane Austen. I started reading through her novels a couple of years back, and something kept coming up that bugged me. She tended to use farther rather than further, almost always, and finally my curiosity got the best of me. My mom had shipped some old books to me, and Shaw’s Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions was included. I cracked it open and discovered that there is a difference between farther and further, and that most of us misuse it in everyday speech.

It turns out that Jane Austen was right. She used farther to denote a measurable distance, which is how it occurs most often in her writing. She used further correctly also, which is indicative of something being “greater in quantity, time, or degree, and also means ‘moreover’.” (p.158). Not that I was surprised to be wrong.

I harp on this often, but if we’re to be taken seriously as writers, or if we’re going to expect it, then we ought to know how to ply our craft. This dictionary is an immense help in that regard and I highly recommend it—or something like it—for your reference shelf.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to be a Good Writer, Part 6

A good writer knows the rules, folks. It’s just that simple. In the interest of serving my fellow man through the broadcast of useful knowledge, I’ve decided that this week will focus on a rule you probably don’t know about. Well, several, in fact. It’s all interrelated. Like Deliverance.

Here’s a rule that’s not in the style guide I have, but one I cannot overstress the importance of nevertheless: Never ever use exclamation marks in your narrative. If you find yourself doing this, you’re probably ignorant of another rule: the cardinal sin of telling and not showing. In other words, you’re using the narrative to communicate the story, when you should be using dialogue to do it. If your story is being told, there’s little dialogue because it’s all narrative. If it’s being shown, it has lots of dialogue, like a movie. But this week's writerly bit is about exclamation marks, so here's an example of when not to use them.

The car came around the corner so quickly that it came up on two wheels!

Okay, there are lots of problems with this bit, not the least of which is that when I look at it I want to add OMG to the end of it, or some other texting-based rot. Have I mentioned how I feel about smartphones? Anyway another problem is that the word came is in there twice. That’s another thing to watch out for, and don’t just right click>synonyms to fix it. Rewrite it with your brain, not Word tools. The above example is an amateurish sentence made far worse by the exclamation mark. If you're adding excitement or tension with punctuation, you've got problems. A writer's spice rack includes not just punctuation but also words, whole phrases...and the insight required to make good use of all of them. It's safe to say that exclamation marks are only for dialogue or something not strictly narrative, like when a character notices a sign that says:

Don’t pee in our pool!

The narrator isn’t saying it, and neither is the character. It’s speaking from inside the world of the book; therefore the flamboyant punctuation is apropos.

Let me give you an example of a far better way to communicate urgency and danger in the bit about the car:

“Slow down,” Jimmy said.
John sped up, however, though the corner was fast approaching.
“Dude, slow down!”
“Shut up,” John said, “I know what I’m doing.” As he yanked the wheel, the car skidded off the shoulder and grabbed, popping it up on two wheels.

Okay that’s a pretty basic version, but I think you get the idea. I’ll leave it to you to decide if the exclamation mark killed everyone or not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review of Airel by Reviews By Molly

Check out the latest review for Airel. This is one of the best reviews I've ever read for any book anywhere. Amazing. Thanks to Molly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Insidious Lie that is Hobby Lobby

I had heard vaguely of this new box store called Hobby Lobby. In my mind I had conjured up mystical greatnesses about it. I called to mind all the great times I used to have as a kid going to hobby stores looking at all the cool model cars, the ships with full rigging, the fighter jets, the radio controlled dune buggies, the flying model airplanes, the rockets. All of it. And one day recently I got my boys all jazzed up to head on over to Hobby Lobby to go get a heady dose of manly creativity.

So on one errand-running outing we decided to finish up our day with a stop at Hobby Lobby, to which I had never been in my whole life. Imagine my surprise.

I walked into the store to see aisle upon aisle of picture frames, baskets, fake flowers, and worst of all, endless shelves of nick-nacks. Or however you’re supposed to spell it. I don’t actually care; I could not in fact care any less. Frick.

I was ten feet inside the front doors, by the check-out registers. I stopped dead. And this is what I said:

“Well, this isn’t a hobby store. This…this is—this is just all chick hobbies!”

The ladies demurely manning the scanners, plus all the people waiting in line to buy their nick-nacks or whatever (100% females), all of them turned to look at me with haughty disdain. I swear to God, it’s getting so that there’s no place for a man to go and be safe in the world anymore. The truth of that old saw about whose world it is, is actually completely opposite: it’s not a man’s world. It’s a woman’s world. I wanted to run screaming from the building in horrified shock, arms waving over my head. But I didn’t, for the sake of the children.

We braved the picture frames and the fifteen thousand square feet of space dedicated to scrapbooking (“Dear God!” I hissed). We walked through millions of wreaths and fake floral arrangements; it was a horticulturist’s horror show; a nightmare. And then, there, like a beacon in blackest night, we beheld it: two lonely aisles, tucked away at the very back of the store, where masculinity was allowed to exist on a short leash.

There we found the rocket engines. There we found the ultra-cool model of Old Ironsides with all her rigging. There we found products with mythical names: Tamiya. Testors. Estes. And even some cheap-ass Lego knock-off. It was as oasis of testosterone; one could actually smell its potent power above the insidious menace of orange-raspberry potpourri. I stifled a shiver.

Well, when I say stifled…

Point is, we survived. We men are warriors. We will overcome. But this was like Hill 881 in Vietnam, 1967. It was the stuff of legend, where heroes were forged in the fires of Hell itself. We don’t talk about it anymore. But when we pass each other in the halls of our house, I nod knowingly to my sons, just a tick of the chin, and they nod back, eyes blazing with the momentary fire of comprehension for what we had endured together as males. The truth is, none of us can stifle a shiver, even now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Guest Post: Is Writing a Privilege or Responsibility?

My first guest ever on my wee little blog is Evelyn LaFont. If you dig humor and vampires with a sprinkling of irreverence, you'll love her, as do I.

Writers have a pretty simple purpose in life—to entertain, educate and empower others. We can use words to create fiction or non-fiction in long or short form to accomplish these objectives. We can use tragedy, comedy and romance. We can use or disregard tropes and genres. We can experiment or play it safe. We can do whatever we want, as long as it entertains, educates or empowers.

But words are powerful things, and the ability to manipulate a reader’s intelligence or mood effectively while using them is an important one. Which makes me wonder—is writing a privilege, or a responsibility that should not be shirked?

In my freelance life, I educate consumers and I consider it a pretty important responsibility to do so. I don’t just do it because it helps me make my house payment every month (Hi HSBC!! It’s coming, I swear!) , I do it because consumers need access to educational resources that they can trust.

As a fiction writer, I’m all about the entertainment. Again, this is an area that I want to create an income from, but I think that showing the world some of your talent for free is a good idea and may help them decide to take a chance on your fiction.

That’s one of the reasons I created, an online fictional magazine that takes the point of view that vampires are real, datable and a little bit behind the times as far as women’s liberation is concerned. It’s a fun, humorous monthly e-zine that gives readers a glimpse into the world I created around my series and offers a form of free entertainment, something I love to provide.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether writers ‘owe’ it to readers to share their abilities or not, because chances are good you won’t be able to stop them from trying anyway. Which makes the ability to write a privilege that creates a compulsive need to share or, in short hand—a win/win situation.

Evelyn LaFont is an author and freelance writer with an addiction to Xanax and a predilection for snark. Her debut novella,The Vampire Relationship Guide, Volume 1: Meeting and Mating is a comedy about dating, sexing, and living with vampires and is available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Smashwords. She has also developed a monthly e-zine to accompany the series, which can be found at

Friday, June 17, 2011

Inception and a Bit About Stories

I saw Inception in theatres last year. I recently re-watched it on Blu-Ray because it is one of the most powerful stories I can remember having ever enjoyed. Much like The Prestige, it’s a movie that bears multiple viewings on the merits of its story. And by the way, good stories aren’t just in books—that’s why my company isn’t called C.P. White Publishing. Stories today come in all kinds of media, and Inception is an incredible example. That story just rips me apart.

Maybe it’s because DiCaprio plays a distant father. It’s not by his character’s choice that he’s been removed from his family, not directly. But as we discover near the climax, he can be blamed for it pretty squarely. The flaws of fatherhood are something that speak to me deeply, because I am one—a flawed father, that is.

Or maybe it’s because the story is about dreams, and we all have them; we wonder at the mysterious universal. The idea of a dream within a dream within a dream begs the question of what’s actually real, much like The Matrix did when it broke onto the scene years ago.

Maybe, though, the story of Inception affects me simply because I like stories that pose hard questions and then lead the audience or reader in a certain direction only far enough to allow us to make the final connections on our own. Inception does this masterfully, and I plan to watch it again, studying it so that I can learn more about how to craft a proper story.

So much has been done already at this point in human history; it’s difficult to innovate. Mary Shelley arguably invented the horror genre in the mid 19th century with Frankenstein, but it’s difficult indeed for any of us to produce such literary shockwaves today. To use another example, just tune into pop radio and listen for a bit and see if you can identify a single song that is truly unique. It’s a tough time in creative media; everything looks or sounds almost identical. It seems we’re resigned by necessity to produce works that are similar to what’s already been done yet just different enough to be able to be called “new.”

Inception is a story that will be talked about for a long time to come. It is different in a sea of sameness. This is the kind of story writers, or creative artists of any kind, ought to study. Sure, it has familiar elements…betrayal, deception, the ubiquitous thuggish baddies that could have starred on the A-Team. But God, it’s a good movie…and a fantastic story. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Be a Good Writer, Part 5

Investment: Scary. I’m not only talking about money. I’m talking about you. Your time. Effort. Sacrifice. That kind of investment—which, yes, can involve money but mostly involves guts.

A couple of questions: How much investment is enough? And in what does one invest? Allow me to argue in favor of you: Invest in yourself.

I have a dear friend who tells me that most entrepreneurs tend to underinvest not in their idea, their passion for it, or in doing the numbers, the research—but in themselves. That’s why most of us fail, at least once: we’re afraid to lay down the money on, let’s face it, the venture about which we know the most. Instead we invest in shaky Wall Street hedge funds, which really amount to Las Vegas East, if you get my meaning. Why would we do that? Why would we favor some idiot account manager in New York City over ourselves? Why do we depend on huge multinational slush funds to properly manage our retirement? Why not invest in the one business idea that actually has merit?

Full disclosure: I don’t have a 401(k) and never have (now we see the bias inherent). But I’m highly motivated to be a retirement hawk, if you will, and manage what I do have aggressively.

All this to say that if your project needs a little jump start to get going, and you have a little something tucked away somewhere, by God, wager it on your own enterprise. You’d do better than sending it off to be confiscated by Lenny-the-Wall-Street-con and his Mob boss in dark places, Uncle Sam. But I digress.

I’ve blown through my word count pretty much already this week. So I’ll leave you with this: Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. This is what separates the careerists from the hobbyists.

Also, I’ll just go ahead and debut my Tips for Writers motif by popping one off right here: Never use the phrase, “but I digress.” If you do, your piece is already running off the rails and can only be salvaged by self-deprecating humor. Such things are only pulled off adequately by the consummately skilled.

Now, I know I promised a little bit here on mechanics and other boring stuff last week. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I’ve run out of space. Aren’t you glad.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of Airel by Life in Review

Okay, this review takes the cake. Check it out here. And don't miss your chance to pick up Airel on Kindle this month for $4.99. It goes to print this fall. Book II in the Airel saga, Michael, is currently being dreamed up.

Smartphones: Do They Make the World a Dumber Place?

Let me lead off with an example. Recently I paid an exorbitant amount of money to go to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Stuff and Madness. Therein I discovered many children. They were all running amok, as children are wont to do. Temper this post with the realization that I was in another one of my mooditudes; in other words not feeling gregarious in any way. But I noticed, while standing amongst the chidingly patronizing exhibits on evolution and how it’s a fact (actually—not so; it’s never ever been proven but you wouldn’t know that to talk to some of these sheeple), that the children were running amok because the parents were…how do I say this…the parents were mobbing around the space with their faces glued to their smartphones. Like, OMG, you guys look really dumb. And your children—do you even care? Cuz I can’t tell. At all. It reminded me of those teenagers who think strapping a used coffee can to the exhaust of their front wheel drive hatchback makes it faster, or somehow better or cooler. Nope. It makes you look like an idiot, my friend.

Now, before this turns into a rant, let me explain myself. I have an iPhone. I do. But I exercise a great many opportunities to walk away from it. I don’t like to be mastered by things. I like my liberties. I fight for them. And I have to ask the question, “before you got your smartphone, how, oh how did you ever manage?” Well? Do you really need to be glued to Facebook all day? Really. How about that stock ticker: you need that? Oh, okay. Can I interest you in this brochure published by Gamblers Anonymous? And how in God’s name did any of us ever make it through the day without playing Fruit Ninja for five hours? Man. Those were tough times a couple of years ago. I can remember way back when cellphone displays were monochromatic. That was like dining on cat exhaust.

Look, people. I love technology. I use it. I just don’t like it when it uses me. And I really don’t like it when it uses people around me, because that affects my environment. Honestly, I can equate the fervor over the constant stream of media that floods us daily, hourly, to a giant cow. Except this one is constantly growing teats. There’s more than enough for anyone who wants to shove their way in there and suckle. The only fights that ever break out are when 2G teats are replaced by 3G teats and 3GS teats, and the occasional teat-contract-early-termination dispute. You can imagine some of the conversations had around the milk bag:

“I don’t like my teat anymore; it’s too slow.”
“Yeah dude, I just upgraded to a 4G teat that makes yours look like a friggin cottage cheese factory.”
“Are you saying my teat is so slow that it curdles?”
“Curdles, bro. Before you can even enjoy it.”
“I know, right?!

That’s messed up. But it’s to illustrate a point. We look like, well, cattle as we drone around our world, held in a headlock by our 3.5 inch diagonal screens. Pull your head out, America. Get off the teat. And wipe that smartphone crust off your face; it’s really gross.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Marsburg Diary = Done.

I just finished the final edit of The Marsburg Diary, based on a vignette in Airel.

Marsburg is set partially in late Victorian Europe, partially in the modern day American Midwest, and follows Harvey Marsburg, son of the late William Marsburg, as he reads through his deceased father's long-lost diary.

At first, Harv is annoyed at the peculiarities of his father, irritated that he has to uncover old wounds by reading this old book. But he finds, to his amazement, that his father might not actually have been mad. In fact it appears that William may have been nearly 150 years old when he died in 1977. Now his body lies decomposing in a Yorkshire mausoleum, but his legacy lives on. Harvey reads cryptic notes from the executor: May your father rest in peace. He deserves it. Something watches him from the darknesses of his house as he reads the diary with growing interest. Plus, there are two other books in that old trunk that the foundation sent. One of them, he could swear it, is calling to him...

Look for The Marsburg Diary on Kindle next month.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Webster's Unabridged 1890

This is odd. I’m going to do something not often done: review a dictionary.

Bear with me here. It is my fervent belief that a writer is only as good as the books on his reference shelf; much the same as a carpenter, however talented, needs proper tools in order to do anything besides theorize about building something.

Now, a reference shelf: it should have more than just reference books, don’t you think? Shouldn’t it be more than what it’s been, as classically defined? It should contain those books that have affected us the most as people, let alone as writers. Mine contains books like Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Pacific and Other Stories by Mark Helprin, and The Burnished Blade by George Schoonover. A reference shelf doesn’t just contain collated facts, then, as I’m defining it. But, and this is a big but, it should contain, in order to be all it can be, several dictionaries, thesauri, style guides, and other reference books. I’ll detail some of those on coming Fridays.

For now, though it sounds absurd, I’m going to write about a monument to the English language: the work of Noah Webster in the nineteenth century. My particular volume dates to 1890 and is unabridged. I swear, and I’m not joking, one could sit down to read this thing for sheer entertainment. It’s that good.

Here’s a list of some words you’ll probably not find very often. Besmear. Canoness. Dialist. Inflexure. Prepositure. Smeeth. Yend. And before you dismiss them as entirely unusable in today’s greasy world, remember that they are part of the foundation upon which our communications rest today, whether written or spoken. That, and it certainly helps to know, if one is a writer, a little more etymology; it tends to give scale and depth to your work. It’s not just for historical novelists, in other words. It’s not just for writers either, I’d argue. It’s for all of us who use the language.

In regard to etymology, take a word like infidel, for instance. In the 1890 edition of Webster’s unabridged, it’s actually defined, partially, as “One who is without faith…unbelieving…a Mahommedan.” I find this to be highly instructive. And I learned something else: the root in Latin is infidelis, which can be readily translated as unfaithful, or literally, “not faithful.” Isn’t it amazing how history moves in currents, in and out, changing definitions, sometimes 180 degrees opposite. Then again, I suppose context is everything—but I love how pre-PC this thing is. There’s something insidious about politically correct thought isn't there (there’s actually nothing correct about it; again highly instructive), how it infects our language, the meanings of our words, twisting fact into fiction and fiction into fact. Where are the writers who have anything to say about this? Well…I’m one.

Looking through an old dictionary goes to show how important history really is. Forgive me for this last little bit, but I’d like to point something out. I love writing. I love that lots of other people love it too—heck, it’s such a dream job that sometimes writers write characters, even protagonists, who just happen to be writers. These are bestsellers. Weird. Anyway, I love it. But I never want to take it for granted. In other words, I think we writers have a large responsibility to posterity, since our work is in print. We have to master our trade or craft to the best of our abilities. We can’t just go off half-cocked and start writing books with no working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, or for God’s sake spelling. We can’t do that and still call ourselves writers. I don’t think so. Yes, there’s room to develop, and take your time at it, but start today; now. And yes, find and hire a great editor, but learn and retain what you learn along the way. I think we owe it to ourselves and our readers, however distant in future history they may yet be, to know what the hell we’re doing. We have a responsibility to know what words mean. We use so many of them. Again, it’s all about the right tools.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review of Airel by Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm

Check out the latest review of Airel here. Positive feedback is just piling up! I need a shovel...can't breathe...stuck under feedback...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Be a Good Writer, Part 4

Let’s talk about attitude. As in, “I’m a professional creator and I couldn’t care less about the business aspects of my career.” Or, “You publisher-type people ought to know how lucky you are to be talking to me.” And there’s, “Editing is for amateurs. Don’t you dare critique me.” As acquisitions editor for an indie publisher, I can tell you for a fact that whenever I run across even a hint of this kind of sentiment my finger hovers precariously over the delete key.

It’s not professional. It’s not even realistic. And I daresay, if you suffer from this kind of thinking and yet persist in calling yourself a writer, perhaps you should consider getting in touch with reality. And a vocational change. To something in government. Tyrants and thieves are peas in a pod.

Right. On with it then. We know what’s not productive. The question is, how do we purge this blackness from our minds and professional careers? I don’t think successful people set out daily with the intent to cause as much pain and suffering as possible everywhere they go. Quite the opposite, in fact. But after writing your one-hundredth query letter, after you reach your one year anniversary for your blog and still have only two followers, after you have attempted to sit down and write that sticky part of your current project once more—only to be interrupted yet again—it’s difficult to remain optimistic about much of anything, let alone remain professional.

Once thing you can do is exercise your second amendment right to keep and bear arms and take up a new hobby—obliterating old milk jugs at close range. If you’ve got a twelve gauge I recommend rifled slugs and rotten produce. Downrange effects with that combination are like an all-Taco Bell diet: explosive. The point of it is to blow off a little steam whenever necessary.

Once you’ve done that and you’re feeling better both about yourself and your (indispensible) work, what then? I strongly recommend a group setting that is both supportive and honest. Join up with fellow writers who are actively writing, who are unafraid to read their work for critique and are eager to return that courtesy to you. Professionals are not defined by their salaries in any given field. Professionals are, at least in part, defined by their bearing and comportment, their civilized kindnesses. What you’re looking for then is fellowship.

My old 1890 Webster’s unabridged dictionary defines fellowship as “partnership in act or suffering, profit, success, or loss.” Well, that’s one of the definitions. My point is to assert that in order to be a successful writer you’ve got to have a good attitude—and the best way to have that is to surround yourself with quality, like-minded people.

Next week we’ll talk about investments, plus a little dry mechanical nuts and bolts action. Until then, writers, write boldly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review of Airel by Cafe of Dreams

Check out our latest review for Airel! It's on sale for $4.99 this month in the Amazon Kindle store. We already have 6 five star reviews, whoa!

Here's the basics: All Airel ever wanted was to be normal, to disappear into the crowd. But bloodlines can produce surprises, like an incredible ability to heal. Then there’s Michael Alexander, the new guy in school, who is impossibly gorgeous…and captivated by her. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she can hear the sound of pages turning, and another, older story being written. It is the story of an ancient family, of great warriors, of the Sword of Light, and the struggle against an evil so terrible, so far-reaching, that it threatens everything. Airel knew change would be an inevitable part of life. But can she hold on when murder and darkness begin to close in and take away everything she loves? Will she have what it takes when the truth is finally revealed?

Friday, June 3, 2011

On Writing, by Stephen King

Coming up with recommendations for writers is a sticky business. For me, that is. I can’t avoid my own eclectic tastes spilling over into my work, and for some reason I feel as if I should temper my output toward what’s more generally acceptable. But after a moment’s thought, I’ve decided that’s complete crap and I’m going to move on with what I think is best. After all, this is my blog and you’re reading it because you want to know what’s going on inside my head. Anyway, if you find out please let me know.

This week I have no decision to make, though. I’ve been so compelled by one book that I absolutely cannot wait any longer to recommend it to you. Next week I’ll give you something crazy, but for now…I may have touched on this book briefly here or there in previous posts. I’m talking about Stephen King’s On Writing.

Forgive me, but I think so highly of this book that I can honestly say that it is a monument to the craft of writing. A book for writers by one of the masters of the trade, On Writing stands, in my opinion, as one of the last words on how to go about it. Writing, that is. It’s honestly that good.

Here’s the caveat: you maybe won’t like all of it. King gives a bit of an autobiography toward the front of it that I personally found a little irritating. I was in a mooditude when I picked it up and wanted nothing more than for him to get to the #$@!^& point. But I pressed on, and when he served up the main courses my mind gorged itself without shame. If it could be compared to a five star dinner, I was at table with a bedsheet tucked into my collar and a shovel in my hand, bits of food and gravy peppered across my face.

Take, for instance, this little gem: passive voice. I didn’t really know what it was, though I had a sneaking suspicion that it was bad because all things wishy-washy and noncommittal are rubbish. Sure enough, it’s bad. Very bad. What’s worse, I was a prime offender. Blast. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s a harsh mistress when it finally climbs off you and leaves you cold and exposed in the light of truth.

I cannot say this enough: if you are a writer, this book is required reading. No exceptions. Your local public library owns a copy. All your excuses are gone. Go forth, read and learn, and watch your writing transform under your very hands from blah to extraordinary. You didn’t know you had it in you. But you do.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How to Be a Good Writer, Part 3

Last week I posted another blog in a series of highbrow lectures about how little ol’ you can be more like Ernest Hemingway. Not that I have the slightest clue. But these days, who gives a #@!% about whether or not anybody actually knows what they’re talking about? Full steam ahead.

On to the business, then.

Let’s talk about references. When I was earning my wee business degree at a school that I can decidedly recommend against attending, I nevertheless picked up more than one useful thing for all the tedium and money expended. One of these was a grammar guide. It’s laminated and three-hole punched for your convenience, and tells you all about how to use pronouns. And other useful tidbits. I recommend finding something like this at, say, a college bookstore.

Another useful publication that resides happily on my shelf is this: The Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions (Shaw, Harry, McGraw Hill, © 1975). This book tells you when to use farther versus further, the difference between hung and hanged, lay and lie, than and then and so on. These are all handy things to know, and they make you look far more intelligent than you actually are. I use it ceaselessly and obviously to great effect.

While we’re talking books to have on hand, we really need to, as professional writers (or at least people who fancy themselves professional writers), build our own library, starting with our very own reference shelf. To that end, I suggest starting off with a quality dictionary. I mean an actual paper one. The older the better (those old ones have such nicely groomed words in them; they never chew gum whilst speaking). I have one from the 1950’s and an unabridged Webster’s from 1890. At one point or another, you’re going to outgrow the stupid and clunky Encarta tools that Microsoft builds into its Word application, and you’re not going to have anywhere to turn if you’re not prepared. I’m warning you now. These older dictionaries are really handy, by the way, for writers of historical fiction or steampunk.

We can include in this vein of reference materials a quality thesaurus. Contrary to what most ignorant bumpkins might think, these are alive and well, and not in fact extinct.  I have a youngish one; it’s paperback and about thirty years old, and already segregated at the binding around the l-m area. So I must treat it carefully. This, again, is an indispensible tool for writers looking to find another word for “suddenly,” or, “therefore.” I’m told by an accountant friend of mine, who was highly irritated as she read through the Twilight books, that she suspects that’s mostly what Stephenie Meyer did especially in books two and three of the series: right click>synonyms in order to make things more interesting. I’ll leave it to the peanut gallery to decide whether or not, as Stephen King has asserted, “She can’t write.”

Now that I’ve worked in a King reference for three weeks straight, I’ll call this a perfect finish.