Monday, March 28, 2011

March 2011 Resource Round-Up For Historical Research

It's time for our monthly resource round-up post. Today the list focuses on several sites that I've found very helpful and informative for conducting historical research.

But first a link that talks about how to write a great query letter from best selling author and agent Noah Lukeman.
http://www.writeagreatquery.com/

Create your own calendar for your storyline, or just pull up a historical calendar to see what was happening during certain days of your characters' lives. http://www.timeanddate.com/

A timeline of U.S. history can be found here: http://americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline.html . And a food timeline here: http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpioneer.html

Need to know if a phrase you want to use was common, or even around, during your story's time? This is a great site on the origin of phrases: http://www.phrases.org.uk/ and another on the etymology of words and phrases: http://www.etymonline.com/

Having trouble deciding what your characters should be wearing? Check out this book: What People Wore When  or this website:
 http://www.costumes.org/

A couple of great resources when you need to know about old tools or furniture: http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/archives/digitized/McMcHTML/index.htm and http://www.buffaloah.com/f/glos/index.html

American Heritage is a very neat site. I've linked to an article about the Oregon Trail, but there is a wealth of information on the site: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1962/2/1962_2_4.shtml

David Rumsey probably has the most extensive historical map collection available on the internet: http://www.davidrumsey.com/ Find maps for just about any place and time you may be writing about.

Here I'm including a list of several places you might go to research modern day books and the publishing industry:
http://www.christianretailing.com/index.php/home-mainmenu-1 , Evangelical Christian Publishers Association , and Copyright Records

Lastly, with the rapid growth of ebooks, I found this invention of a way to autograph an ebook quite ingenious.
 http://www.baynews9.com/article/news/2011/march/214393/Locals-invent-place-for-authors-signature-on-eBooks . And another link about it here: http://www.autography.us.com/

Okay, that's a lot of links to click through, I know. But hopefully you will find something that's of use to you. If you have any other sites that have been helpful to you in your historical research, please feel free to link to them in the comments.

Have a great week, everyone!
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Friday, March 25, 2011

When Grammarians Attack

The three surprisingly correct ways to describe your favorite eight-legged Cephalopods - the Octopus:
Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper explains the fascinating history behind my favorite hair-pulling, knee-capping Internet debate. Two surprising lessons here. First, all three plural forms of octopus can be considered correct. That's right, everybody. We can stop having this argument now.

Second, and more embarrassingly, it turns out that I've been mispronouncing "octopodes" for years. Whoops.



Hat-tip, Maggie Koerth-Baker.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review of The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D.


Because authors tend to write about seriously flawed people, we often delve into the realm of psychology, intentionally or not. Stories in a wide array of genres feature psychologists, psychiatrists, psychopaths, schizophrenics, and any number of other characters that fall within the pale of modern psychology. Unfortunately, however, modern authors are too often guilty of taking their understanding of psychology at face value and running away with common misconceptions without a second thought. How many of us know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist or the difference between psychopathy and psychosis? How many of us (and if you’ve watched A Beautiful Mind, you don’t count!) know that schizophrenia does not involve multiple personalities?


Amid this scene of confusion, Carolyn Kaufman’s accessible The Writer’s Guide to Psychology offers both a fascinating read and a wealth of resource material. This is the kind of book you’ll want to read from cover to cover and then store within reach of your desk for quick reference. Kaufman tackles a complicated subject and breaks it down into easily digestible pieces. She discusses everything from common myths and mistakes, to “thinking like a shrink,” to detailed descriptions of many prominent disorders, including mood disorders, dementia, eating disorders, and PTSD, among many others.


The book is peppered with a delightful gamut of extra goodies, including Q&As and the always fun “Don’t Let This Happen to You,” in which Kaufman uses examples from popular film and fiction to illustrate how not to write about psychological subjects. The book came in particularly handy for me, since one of the stories I’m working on features a psychologist (now I don’t have to worry about whether he should be called a psychiatrist instead!), but I have no doubt that it will be equally useful even in writing stories with no blatant connection to psychology. This one will be on my shelf for a long time to come.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview with Lisa Grace

Lisa Grace is an author to watch for. She snagged a major endorsement for her young-adult series, Angel in the Shadows: AOL picked her Angel series as the Christian alternative to the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyers for their Top Ten Most Challenged Book List of 2010.

Aside from her photo--a show stopper in itself (and yes, that is her real hair)--Lisa's other hit promo gimmick is her tag line, "The difference between angels and vampires? Angels are real."

And they're among us, both the good angels and the ones straight from hell. Lisa's characters are in for one supernatural battle.

Lisa and I met last year in Indianapolis at the ACFW conference. I was impressed with her. I hope you will be too:

What is the setting for your novel?

Angel in the Shadows:
Book 1 takes place in the present, starting at a summer camp in North Carolina, then back in Megan’s home town of Clearwater, Florida, in time for the new school year. Megan’s high school becomes a battle field in the fight between good and evil.


What prompted you to write this series?

I love books about the supernatural. There are so many about vampires, but hardly any of the books out there deal with the supernatural from a biblical point of view. Angels and demons are mentioned over four hundred times in the Bible. Other supernatural creatures are discussed too.
Few of supernatural books make it cool to be human. We have an immortal soul and a spiritual war going on whether we choose to “see” it or not. Our immortal soul is important. I think this is a frightening and awesome prospect. I wanted to write novels from these perspectives.

I also wanted to confront the issues teenagers are facing today--drugs, sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, etc. The Angel series characters are dealing with these problems head-on.

Why do you write?

Because I have stories to tell. Behind the story is a truth. I’m afraid not to write these stories. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “What if…” Also, I honestly believe if I don’t write them, someone else will. When I write the story, the characters take on a life of their own. Many of my plot twists come to me as I’m writing and are not planned in advance.



When did you realize that you wanted to write a novel?

I’ve always considered myself a writer. At the age of five I asked for a typewriter so I could write down my
Star Trek scripts. This last year I finally got disciplined and set a goal of writing two thousand words a day, no matter what, day in day out. That advice came out of Stephen King’s book, On Writing.


What obstacles did you have to overcome to finish your novel?

My largest obstacle was time management. I am married and have a seven year-old. Also, I was still working on a major production of Cinderella for the dance academy and teaching Sunday School, all while writing my two thousand words a day.

Just for fun, tell us something unusual about yourself.

The best pet I ever had was an opossum. A full-size Virginian Opossum. He was paper-trained and we had him for almost four years before he passed away from old age. He would talk lovey talk, cuddle on our laps, and travel in a cat carrier. Opossum’s deserve more respect as America’s
only native marsupial.

***
Angel in the Shadow: Book One

Short Synopsis
Megan Laughlin, a fifteen year old sophomore in high school, has the gift of seeing angels and demons. Megan attracts the attention of Judas, an evil angel, who wants to destroy her, her classmates, and loved ones. She must deal with being a target of Judas and still handle all the problems of a normal teenage girl--save teens from over-dosing at a rave, confront damaging gossip, and watch her best friend make a life-altering decision. Meanwhile, she feels helpless as Judas manages to destroy two classmates and sets out to seduce or destroy her in the process. Can Megan save others while being a target herself?

Contact the author at lisagracebooks@yahoo.com and http://www.lisagracebooks.com to read an excerpt from her second novel in the Angel series, Angel in the Storm.

Angel in the Shadows, Book One by Lisa Grace, is distributed through Ingram Books, and is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: Don't Mess With Readers

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writing Event Story Prologues That Really Work

I'd like to talk about prologues. In the new release The Wise Man's Fear Patrick Rothfuss joins the small but august group of writers of Event Stories where a prologue adds rather than detracts from the novel. And that got me thinking about what these few writers did to break the 'no prologues in Event Stories' rule.

But first, let's review the rule itself and see what not to do. In his book, How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card talks about the Event Story, one of four story types. In the Event Story, something is wrong in the universe, the world is out of order. A golden age has been disrupted and the world is dangerous place. The story starts at the point when the character whose actions are most crucial to establishing the new order takes up the struggle. The story ends when order is restored.

Fantasy and Science Fiction frequently uses the Event Story structure. Card acknowledges that nowhere is this better accomplished than Tolkien's Lord of the Rings epic fantasy. But note something interesting here.
Notice that Tolkien does not begin with a prologue recounting all the history of Middle Earth up to the point where Gandalf tells Frodo what the ring is. He begins, instead, by establishing Frodo's domestic situation and then trusting world events on him, explaining no more of the world situation than Frodo needs to know right at the beginning. We only learn of the rest of the foregoing events bit by bit as the information is revealed to Frodo.

In other words, the viewpoint character, not the narrator, is our guide into the world situation. We start with the small part of the world that he knows and understands and see only as much of the disorder of the universe as he can see. It takes many days — and many pages — before Frodo stands before the council of Elrond, the whole situation having been explained to him, and says "I will take the ring, though I do not know the way." By the time a lengthy explanation is given, we have already seen much of the disorder of the universe for ourselves — the Black Riders, the hoodlums in Bree, the barrow wights — and have met the true king, Aragorn, in his disguise as Strider. In other words, by the time we are given the full explanation of the world, we already care about the people involved in saving it.

Too many writers of Event Stories, especially epic fantasies, don't learn this lesson from Tolkien. Instead, they imagine that their poor reader won't be able to understand what's going on if they don't begin with a prologue showing "the world situation." Alas, these prologues always fail. Because we aren't yet emotionally involved with any characters, because don't yet care, the prologues are meaningless. They are also usually confusing, as a half-dozen names are thrown at us all at once. I have learned, as a book reviewer, that it's usually best to skip the prologue entirely and begin with the story — as the author should have done. I have never — not once — found that by skipping the prologue I missed some information I needed to have in order to read the story; and when I have read the prologue first, I have never — not once — found it interesting, helpful, or even understandable.


For the longest time, I couldn't think of a single instance where I'd read a prologue that I thought added anything to an Event Story. But I've started to accumulate a small but glowing list of instances where I have seen prologues used to good effect. George R. R. Martin used prologue masterfully in A Game of Thrones. GRRM doesn't introduce everything there is to know about his world of Westeros, he starts with one targeted glimpse of something very wrong with his world. It whets the appetite and sets the tone for the work.

Steven Brust gave us a nifty morsel before his book Jhegaala. Brust tells what is essentially a short-short story which relates an anecdote about Vlad Taltos visiting his grandfather, asking questions concerning the mother he knew little about, and learning the difference between Guilds and Covens along the way. This time, the hook isn't so much something wrong with the world as providing one single piece of a puzzle, an important piece which, once the rest of the novel has been written, would be played last and cause everything else to fit into place. Think of it as setting the stage for later resonance much like they do in the movies. Again, the scene was very intimate, very personal.

However, it is the last example that most interested me. When starting The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, I was amused to learn that Rothfuss had given us a prologue, and it was limited to a single page. He wrote what is essentially a tightly-compressed flash fiction scene comprised of six little paragraphs. He introduces a tiny mystery in the first paragraph, and resolves it in the last sentence of the sixth paragraph. Thinking about what Rothfuss did right, it occurred to me what it is about all the other prologues do wrong. I don't want infodump, I don't want the writer to try to impress me with a summation of their complicated and lovingly detailed back history. Rothfuss establishes a little setting, a bit of character, and a dash of tone, and that's it. He masterfully keeps the focus tight and employs the prologue as a teaser to draw us into the bulk of the story in chapter one.

Here are the elements of a good prologue as I see them:
1. They start small, not grand.
2. They make us care about what's gone wrong in the world, or something about a single character.
3. They act as a teaser that pulls us strongly into the beginning of the novel proper.

Do you have a favorite example of a Event Story prologue that works?
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Monday, March 14, 2011

6 Fillers to Avoid in Dialogue

The oft-quoted recommendation to make your dialogue as realistic as possible is sometimes the worst advice imaginable. The next time you’re in a conversation—or, even better, eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation—draw back a bit and evaluate what you’re hearing. Those “ums,” “you knows,” and “so, likes…” that pepper our everyday speech may be realistic, but they don’t generally make for good dialogue on the page. Following are a list of unnecessary “fillers” to avoid in your fictional dialogue:


1. Tics and Time Buyers: “Like,” “you know, “um,” “uh,” “well,” “look,” “er,” “ah,” and their ilk rarely add anything to the conversation. They’re little plugs our brains insert into the flow of our speech to give us time to piece together the right words to finish our thoughts. Only use these words when they indicate something about the character—and, even then, use them with extreme caution.


2. Reiterations: Whenever “huh?,” “what?,” “I didn’t hear you,” “I don’t understand,” or “could you repeat that?” crop up in your dialogue and force a character to reiterate something he just said, it’s a sure indicator of one of two things: 1) Either the original line of dialogue was incomprehensible and needs to be rewritten or 2) the confused character’s question and the subsequent explanation are unnecessary and should be deleted.


3. Repetitions: Don’t let your characters get away with echoing each other: “I burnt the dinner.” “You burnt the dinner. How’d that happen?” “I don’t know how it happened. It just did.” Keep each line of dialogue fresh and punchy with new material: “I burnt the dinner.” “How’d that happen?” “It just did.”


4. Info Dumps: In real life, if we went around saying things like, “As you know, Bob, our sister got married last Tuesday and we both missed her wedding because we discussed it amongst ourselves and decided together that we wanted to spite her,” you’d get strange looks and lose friends. Unless there’s a good reason for including such information in dialogue, spare your characters and your readers and place the necessary info into the narrative instead.


5. Small Talk: Introductions, greetings, farewells, chitchat about the weather—nine times out of ten all that good stuff is completely unnecessary to the plot and adds little or nothing to character development. Ax it relentlessly.


6. Direct Address: Characters calling each other by name is one of the subtler forms of “filling,” but, ironically, it’s also one of the most unrealistic attempts to create authentic dialogue. In real life, we generally call someone by name only when trying to get his attention, when emphasizing a point, when in the throes of strong emotion, or to avoid confusion.


Dialogue is one of the most fun bits of fiction to write, in large part because the gloves are off and “the rules” rarely apply. In fact, none of these “rules” I’ve listed here will apply in every circumstance. Sometimes you’ll make the educated choice to use one or all of these fillers to advance your plot or illustrate something about a character. Just make certain you understand why and when to use them. Now, sit back and let ‘em talk!

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Elevator Pitches that Probably Won't Sell Your Manuscript

Since conference season is fast approaching, here is a little advice for you. When an editor or agent asks you what your book is about these are probably NOT the answers you should give....

1. "Um... uh... well... my book is about... uh...."

2. "It's about an editor who is murdered after he rejects an author's manuscript about an editor who is murdered after he rejects an author's manuscript."

3. "You know, I'm glad you asked because God told me you were just the person to bring this book out."

4. Staring dumbstruck, mouth hanging open. "Well, uh, I figured if you liked the writing on the first page, I'd continue the story from there."

5.  "You know, for you to fully appreciate the brilliance of my manuscript we really need more than the thirty seconds it's going to take for us to get up to my floor. Do you have a couple hours free later today?"

6. "Before I tell you what my story is about, what is the largest advance you've ever given to a first-time author? And I hear that 8% is the going rate for royalties, these days. I'm just not going to be willing to settle for that. Can you offer me something better?"

7. "My story is 'Gone with the Wind' meets 'Star Wars' and I already have the actors picked out. I just know they'll want to star in the movie because the book is going to be SUCH a HUGE success!!! You are going to be so thankful that you published my story, one of these days!"

Alright, those are all the hideous pitches I've got. Care to share one of your own?
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Call for Submission: The Book of Fascination, edited by Rob Kennedy

The Book of Fascination is to be a multi-authored, multi-platform initiative.


The central product is a hard copy book. An e-book could also be one of the other platforms of the initiative. The primary product is a hard copy book, consisting of up to 30 authors original content. Each article less than 5,000 words, multiple articles possible and encouraged. It’s envisaged that the book will contain between 100,000 and 150,000 words, plus associated images and links.


Each author’s fascination can be based on their ultimate fascination, which may not be their primary interest as an author. E.g.: a crime novelist might have a fascination for skydiving and may have never written about it. A fantasy writer may have a fascination for baroque statues.


I have three articles on fascination already written:


Fascinating Pâté – The fascination for the overwhelming desire to devour that glorious substance that is pâté, balanced against the horrible, disgusting and cruel production methods of creating pâté. (The force-feeding of geese).


Fascinating People (But from Behind) – A look at the fascination that some artists throughout history have with recording and portraying people from behind, artists from Caspar David Friedrich to the Australian artist Mark Hislop.


Fascinating Alcohol – Alcohol, wrecks, ruins, creates, conceives and destroys lives, art, businesses, relationships, and even countries. Australia’s fascination with alcohol is unique among countries. My fascinating as an artist, sometimes relies on alcohol. Why?


The multi-platform part of the initiative can consist of social networking sites such as Facebook or even Twitter, e.g.: Your fascination in 140 characters or less, collect these and publish the best in the book. We could do a similar thing with Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and the like. Limit it to 500 words. The general public could contribute to this book, meaning we could do many editions of The Book of Fascination. Perhaps even bring them out as individual fascinations, such as a book of fascination on artworks, on books, on music/composers, on dance and dancers.


The Book or Books of Fascination might work better with a general focus, such as articles/responses only on the arts, or other specific subjects. Various possibilities should be assessed and perhaps tested to see what works best for the authors and the market.


I am currently searching for authors for this project and with support will be applying for a New Works Grant from the Australia Council to fund the project.


The owner of Boccalatte has expressed an interest in being involved in this project. Click here to sign up for the project.
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Marketing ~ The Benefits of Writer's Groups

There are many marketing advantages for writers who join a writers' group.


What is marketing? One of the definitions on Dictionary.com for Marketing is: to carry or send to market for disposal.


One of the challenges we face as authors is that generally people don't come looking for our stories. We have to get our stories out there where the readers will see them. We have to take our stories to each individual reader's market where they will notice the story's existence. 


Research has proven that one of the best ways to "market" your book is via word of mouth - getting others to talk about your great story and spread the word to all their friends.


This is the first benefit to belonging to a writer's group. Every writer knows the pain of trying to market their own books and so, as they get to know you and become familiar with your works, they are generally very willing to help you market your books. A sort of "barn raising" mentality.


The second major benefit to belonging to a writer's group is the education you will receive from other members of the group (and the speakers, if you join one that has meetings.) I belong to both a local group and a couple online groups and have learned so much from both. A better education equals better writing which of course helps with word-of-mouth marketing.


The third benefit is the opportunity to have your work critiqued. Even online groups now offer critique groups. Painful as critique can be, if you allow it to grow you, and don't take it personally, your writing will vastly improve, again making marketing easier.


Fourthly, most groups offer you a venue for marketing your work right in the writing group itself. I know our local group has a table where all members are allowed to bring their books for sale each month with a small percentage going back to our group. I love to sell my books there because it not only helps me, but helps my writer's group, as well. There are, once you become a fairly well educated writer, generally also opportunities to speak and help other writers learn and grow, this in turn exposes them to your writing. 


Here is a long list of writer's groups. If you can possibly find one in your area, I highly recommend you join one. If you live in a very rural area and don't have one near you, these days there are plenty of online groups to choose from as well. http://www.ebookcrossroads.com/writers-associations.html . If there is nothing in the list that interests you, or is near you, a Google search with your city's name and "writer's group" might turn up just what you're looking for.

I'm sure there are some benefits that I've missed in this brief post. Do you belong to a writer's group? What are some of the benefits you've received from your group?
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Friday, March 4, 2011

Top Twenty Best Oxymorons

#20 Found missing
#19 Resident alien
#18 Airline food
#17 Same difference
#16 Government organization
#15 Sanitary landfill
#14 Alone together
#13 Business ethics
#12 Sweet sorrow
#11 Military intelligence
#10 Plastic glasses
# 9 Terribly pleased
# 8 Definite Maybe
# 7 Pretty Ugly
# 6 Computer Security
# 5 Political science
# 4 Diet ice cream
# 3 Working vacation
# 2 Exact estimate
# 1 Microsoft Works

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oh, Please!

I spent the afternoon watching The Snows of Kilimanjaro, an old flick about a “Hemingwayesque” author, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Susan Hayward. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but with the exception of seeing Gregory Peck–my all-time favorite actor, regardless of his age–I hated it. Truly. Something occurred early in the film that upset me no end, and I wasn’t able to shake it during the entire two hours it ran.

It wasn’t the implied sex and Harry Street’s lascivious lifestyle that bothered me. These days, we’re accustomed to far worse. Heaven knows today’s commercials contain far more innuendo than the film did.

The smoking didn’t get me either. My dad’s family is from Georgia, a tobacco state, and they were one of the ones who made a living on the crop. Being ashamed of our heritage is a comparatively recent societal requirement. Besides, as everyone knows, smoking in these old films is common.

The drinking wasn’t a problem either. Face it–the story is about an author. Any author, Christian or otherwise, can occasionally see how our chosen career can drive a writer to drink. Not all of us act on it, but there are times when I, for one, can be totally sympathetic.

No, what furrowed my brow and deepened my frown wrinkles was this: Harry got a contract on his first book, and an advance high enough to leave France for Africa. But it gets better: his royalties were high enough for him to live comfortably, go on safaris, and travel all over Europe.

And get this–never once did they portray Harry struggling to promote his book. Not once!

Oh, please! You expect me to believe that?

I’m an anachronism, absolutely in the wrong era. I should’ve been born early in the last century and reached the peak of my career in the 1940s.

Ah, well. I have something the early writers didn’t. I have a computer.
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