Friday, August 23, 2013

Writer: The Creative

View this horizontally. 

Above is my birthday card from my second-oldest grandson, what do you think this is? The answer will surprise you. Done guessing?
Well, it is a dinosaur that swallowed a rainbow fish. See the multicolored object in the middle? My grandson thought out of the box. Are you thinking out of box? Are you using your creative juices? 
As a writer, I guarantee you probably do that. But sometimes our drinking well dries up. How do we replenish our creative side? Downtime helps sometimes.
I recently put my prequel novel on hold. It included some great scenes but the whole concept was not right. Readers need to love your character and if I continued with the way it was going they would not root for him. Thus, I got input from critique groups and entered a contest and received feedback there. These insights will make this project better. But while I sort out on how to fix the problem, a different idea came to fruition. 
And, this is co-authoring a book with great friend Ruth Ann Nordin. Our work in progress is titled, Bride by Arrangement, where two women meet on a train to travel to Nebraska in the late 1800s. When I have mentioned this story, people get excited. 
The romance will include two novellas - one written by Ruth and the other by me. My novella is called She Came by Train, where Opal leaves her beloved Virginia to become a governess of two children of a local banker who lost his wife. The plot thickens when a minister from Virginia conducts revival services in the area. She came by train but only her heart will determine if she leaves that way.
How do we develop concepts? There is no certain path. Mine is to write a scene and see where it leads. Here is an example: 
“Her mind whirled. ‘Mice. You don’t bring those into the house do you?’ she asked in a weak voice.
He shook his head in the negative. ‘No, Papa wants them outside so the cats can have their meals. Miss Preston you looking kind of white.’
Her eyes closed. 
‘Miss Preston,’ his shrill voice penetrating her consciousness.
She teetered.”
However, everybody has their own method. There are people who are story plotters. One woman Ruth and I ran into at a conference had a huge sheet with a series of notes on it. She needed a king-size bed to display that paper. But if this is the way you create, go for it. 
Creators do come in many shapes and sizes and each builds on their own experiences to fashion their stories. For example, in my Lockets and Lanterns the secret the husband hides from his wife comes from my background.
Thus, feed on your past and embellish them to make good reading. Remember those fish tales? They got better as the fish became bigger. 
Visiting historical homes or other places gives you ideas. These also make great resource tools to get a real feel for the time period. Even childhood memories assist you. In my prequel, I wrote a scene where a character falls in a lake. I can describe this since as a child my family took me camping and I waded in the river. 
In addition, do not forget about past actions and conversations. Family and friends make wonderful fodder. In my story, “Sweaters of Love,” in Seasons of the Soul I used a conversation between myself and my oldest granddaughter who was 4 years old at the time and weaved it into this fiction tale. 
“Mary told Jolleen about how the weather changed.‘Grandma,’ Jolleen said.‘God is a big guy. He will do whatever He wants.’”
So remind yourself you can take a break; look for new projects to refresh your writing; plot your story your way; generate ideas from experiences, conversations and actions; and fill that drinking well with writing. What you can produce when you put your mind to it is amazing! 
How do you create your stories? Look forward to your comments. God bless. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

Refreshing the Writer

A deer goes to a stream to take a drink to get refreshed. We must do the same as writers. We cannot keep up a fast pace indefinitely. We need a break. This means we need to take vacations, cook or do whatever else we would like.
Recently, I have been on a cleaning and refurbishing spree. Of course, I have relatives visiting from out of state so this does give me an incentive to get things done. However, even when we do not have something pending, we need to cleanse our minds. 
What does this do? It gives us new perspectives about our writing, and the projects we have on hand. When I am stumped on where to go in a scene, I get away from the computer to think. Time away from it helps me come up with ideas. 
When we put our writing on a shelf, it enables us to spend more time with friends, family and our spouses. A husband lives for our kisses or  hugs and when we are busy we brush those aside. Love needs refreshing even if you are married for 33 years as I soon will be Aug. 2. After all, if you are a romance writer is this not what it is about? Those tender times we later embellish in our writings without naming the source of our material. 
I belong to many writing groups either locally or online, thus I receive many e-mails. When I miss a day, they add up. To alleviate this stress, I take the weekends off. If I do not, I get a sickish feeling in my stomach. My body is telling me to leave it behind and regroup before I return to the Monday grind.
Movies are great downtime moments. Last Saturday, I watched “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I observed the characters’ interactions - their facial expressions, gestures and actions/reactions. For example, while sitting on a stream’s bank O’Hara gives Wayne a shy look, takes off her nylons then runs through the water. He follows her. This was what she wanted. The scene shows her playfulness and her strong and growing love for him.  
When we take deep breaths, it provides us time to view our work in new light. Sometimes “you cannot see the forest through the trees” so to speak. But by laying the piece aside, we can see its flaws. In fact, professionals recommend this. Watch, though, in doing this for long periods, leading to you not finishing a work or substantially delaying its output. For example, a summer off is fine but more than that could make it difficult to get back into the writing rhythm. 
Thus, it is alright to take a break to refresh your writing skills. It does make your product better just be wise about it. Well, as always I look forward to your comments. God bless.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

Those Bugs, Those Pesky Commas

They may not be bugs but commas can be just as pesky. We have to decide when and where we place them, and this is not an easy task. 

Below are a few good rules but remember the overuse of commas can be a major problem. Why? Because they heed the reader. Commas are there to provide the reader with clarity. However, if overdone, it will do just the opposite. Thus, keep in mind this rule:  When in doubt, leave out. 

The Grammar Rules:

One is the use of connecting conjunctions, such as and, but, or, nor, for and yet, with independent and dependent clauses. Independent clauses stand alone and include subjects and verbs. We are visiting Los Angeles. We also plan a side trip to Disneyland. If put together, they need a comma. We are visiting Los Angeles, and we also plan a side trip to Disneyland.
Though, a comma is not required if the independent clauses are short and joined by one of the conjunctions. I’ll go this way and you take that way. 
However, when an independent clause is joined with a dependent clause, such as a clause with an understood subject (we as in this sentence), no comma is necessary. We are visiting Los Angeles and plan to see Disneyland. 
Non-essential clauses (not essential to the meaning of the sentence according to the author’s intent) are set off by commas. Example: Reporters, who do not reread their articles before submitting them, should not complain about their editors' work. 
Long introductory clauses or phrases, need commas. (Remember a phrase is a group of words without a subject or verb.) Beyond the sidewalk and over the bend, there sits a thicket of trees.
Introductory words - yes and no - require commas. Yes, I will be there. In addition, use commas after a direct address like Father, I ... 
Commas in a simple series are disputed. Some grammar books suggest a comma before the last conjunction. My Associated Press Stylebook requires none. The pole was painted red, white and blue.  
A comma is needed after an introductory direct quote. Porter said, “She spent ...” But a direct quote of more than one sentence, a colon is required. And, place a comma after dialogue tags. “Say,” he added, “wouldn’t you like to have your picture taken?” Note: According to my stylebook, commas always go inside quotation marks.
Place commas after an individual’s age. Andrew Porter, 48, ... Use commas also after hometowns and states. Lincoln, Nebraska. AP guidelines use abbreviations for states in journalist writing and require a comma after them. Example:  Andrew Porter, 48, Lincoln, Neb., arrived today.
Well, one more thing. Two adjectives before a noun of equal weight require a comma. Thoughtful, meticulous person ... Otherwise, hyphen the adjectives before the noun, such as an easy-grammar rule, which, of course, is an oxymoron. My suggestion is to have several grammar books at your workplace and always have someone versed in grammar proofread your manuscript. 
Remember to place commas in numbers. When you make your first 300,000 sales, praise the Lord for your success and as always I end with a God bless. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Conferences, Are They Worth Attending?

The short answer is “yes,” but the real question is why are they? 
Even after attending several of these, you wonder if you will learn anything new. But as usual, your doubts are put to rest after a conference speaker or two has presented. 
Perhaps you are interested in taking the traditional route. Conferences allow you to meet with literary agents on a one-to-one basis. You can pitch your work and see if they believe your story has prospects either in the marketplace or in your ability to tell a good story. Often you bring a synopsis and at least a chapter for them to examine, but other times you just pitch your story. One writer I know has been pursuing this path for a number of years, and an agent at last week’s Nebraska Writers Guild conference requested to see more of her work.
However, today’s conferences also include a lot of advantages for the self-published author. They put you in touch with professionals in the business, such as in graphic design and marketing. One such speaker was a publishing guru and book designer Joel Friedlander,
He spoke on the benefits of each online social media from Facebook, to Twitter, to Goodreads, to YouTube, to LinkedIn to having a blog, stating blogs are the best resource. It is your hub where you can promote, post new ideas, conduct surveys and more, he said. Additionally, he believed LinkedIn to be extremely value in “gaining reputations” through its discussion formats, in being able to ask questions and in building a niche network.  
Additionally, these professionals asked the audience which sold better e-books or print books? The audience replied, “e-books.” But these experts said the opposite. Thus, those brick and mortar bookstores are not going out of business soon. In fact, young people prefer print books, but adults favor e-books for their ability to enlarge print size, turn pages for those with arthritis and other e-book features, the field representatives said. 
Conferences also allow attendees to interact with their cohorts - writers published or new to the craft. At this conference, there was a Friday night event where those who wanted to could read from their works. You cannot believe the great talent and variety of genres exhibited, such as poetry, memoirs, fancies, romances and humorous pieces. In addition, you got time to sell your books if you wished to do so on Saturday. If going to attend, why not sell your book(s)? You have nothing to lose since you are there anyway.
One thing I loved was putting a face to names seen on the e-mail loop. Nothing is better then talking with other writers, finding out where they are in the writing process and sharing experiences.
Finally, thank those who did the volunteer work to put the conference together. It takes time and a lot of effort from registering participants, preparing name tags, finding speakers, securing a facility and setting up the room. 
So once again, get yourself to a conference even if you think there is nothing new to ascertain. You will not be disappointed. See you there and God bless. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Stand Out From the Crowd

I was one of 40 authors at a recent library, book-signing event. The organizers also allowed you to sell your books. However, in this environment, you needed to stand out from the crowd. How do you do that?
By being different, of course, and this includes wearing something which draws attention (now do not think naughty here). I wore a wedding-dress costume, a blue, large-brimmed hat and white boots, pictured above. People stopped at my table because of the outfit made by a longtime, high-school friend. She did an awesome job with many trials confronting her. I am extremely grateful and thank God for such a beautiful friend.
Why did I dress this way? Because the first two chapters in my five-star, inspiring-historical romance, Lockets and Lanterns, is the wedding scene of the marriage of Red to Edith. The plot is his secret ... her broken heart. Red keeps a secret from his wife which keeps the pages turning. 
But even with a well-written and intriguing story, somehow you have to stand out and wearing costumes helps. Another author dressed in mob attire since his book dealt with that. 
One way to grab attention is to decorate your table with out-of-the-ordinary material, such as using a rod-iron recipe stand in which to hold copies of my novel. I picked it up at a hobby store. In addition, it has a practical value of being able to weather harsh winds during outside events.
Remember to not just sit there but also get up and engage the potential customers. Make sure you tell them your books also are available on Nook and Kindle. In this day and age, this is important. One man took a picture of my book so he could tell his wife and she could order it on Kindle.
A Harlequin, best-selling author brought a flyer. On it, she listed some of her  romance books available on Kindle and Nook and her upcoming non-fiction release on writing. These are valuable tools in standing out from the crowd. 
Bringing candies and cookies can bring people to your table; however, my experience has not been good with this approach. I did this early on since one of my stories in my Best of Year book, Seasons of the Soul, is titled, “Grandma’s Cookies.” Thus, I made chocolate-chip cookies as Grandma Blessing did in my story. Oh, I got visitors, such as children, but this often depleted my cookies without getting buyers. So think about your table and whether your gimmick will work. If, though, your purpose is for you and others to just enjoy the goodies, then go for it. It never hurts to indulge and keep yourself and others in good spirits.
Watch what other authors do and learn from them. One author had a book review of her novel and gave it to potential buyers. It helped her sell it. I did that with my first book but because of limited table space have not done this with my romance. You cannot put too much on a table or it will look cluttered. Remember a person scans your table, and you only have a few seconds to catch their attention.
Additionally, shake things up a bit. Do different types of giveaways. Think outside of the box. Work on a grand-prize giveaway where you give something special and your books. 
Well, I think I have stated enough for today. Have a great day and remember to think unique - it reaps benefits. God bless. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Films and Writing Conflict

Last week my family and myself saw the movie, “Les Miserables.” We love the story, although never read the novel. However, my husband started complaining about it 10 minutes into the musical production. I, though, enjoyed it and would highly-recommend it for those who like operettas. But I will say the new movie adaptation begins a little slow when compared to the past non-musical, action-packed films of this story I have watched (which by the way my husband loved).
The tale is set in early-eighteenth-century France. Jean Valjean, the protagonist, cannot find work. His sister’s family is starving so he steals a loaf of bread, but the French police catch him. He is sent to prison where he spends years, not only for the initial crime but for his numerous prison-escape attempts. Finally, he escapes, finding safety in a priest’s home. The priest shows him compassion. Valjean turns his life over to God and from then on he uses his newly-found wealth to help the unfortunate. However, the prison warden, a stalwart man of law, is determined to bring Valjean to justice and pursues him for years. The continual action, plot build up and the element of faith and redemption make this story work. 
Memorable tales, such as the above, are that for a reason - action and conflict. Look through your work in progress and see if it is compelling? Does it make readers turn pages? 
Learning how to include conflict is not easy. A first-time author does not know the novel’s first page must speak volumes. There is a conference I attend where writers submit their manuscripts’ first pages. Literary agents and publishing houses listen as the pages are read. You cannot believe how many are rejected for lack of conflict. 
How do you find out if your piece needs that? Join critique groups you can trust. They give you valuable feedback. Remember, though, to stiffen your upper lip because taking their input is difficult. I know this through experience, but if you want to grow in your writing ability listen to their input. 
I belong to two critique group - an intimate one of two people and the other a large group. The small group is such a blessing because we know each other so well that we often know what the other is going to say before it is said. We also get to enjoy each other’s company, grab lattes to sip during our critique session and gulp down great lunches with conversations.  
The larger group is beneficial because you get several interpretations. If three or more people, however, say you need to change something, it is a clear sign you need to do that. 
Conflict build up does not mean you need to rewrite your whole story. For example, I increased hostility in a graveside scene in my early-twentieth-century romance, Lockets and Lanterns, when a main character stumbles and falls and is left to grab the hand of the person who is causing the conflict.  
A great villain, especially a character with traits of anger and jealously, increases tension. However, if you plan to make this character redeemable in a future work, keep at least a grain of goodness in him.
Details, too, are valuable in enhancing a story line, and this does not necessarily just apply to fiction. For example, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, a non-fiction bestseller for more than a year, makes readers turn pages. 

“Then Booth hears the crackle of burning straw and smells the sickly sweet wood smoke of burning cedar. ‘One more stain on the old banner!’ he yells, doing his best to sound fearless. No one quite knows what that statement means.
“He looks across the barn and sees Lieutenant Baker opening the door. The actor hefts his loaded carbine, preparing to take aim.
“Just as Abraham Lincoln felt a slight instant of pain and then nothing at all when Booth shot him, now Booth hears the crack of a rifle and feels a jolt in his neck, and then nothing. ...”

Now, I realize Killing Lincoln violates some writing rules, such as not using the word, “felt,” but it is a good example of conflict just the same. Well, this is all I have to say on the subject today. Have a great new year and as always God bless.