Friday, September 28, 2012

The Rare Sports Post

Seeing as I am currently celebrating the return of the real NFL Referees, I thought it was only appropriate to pass this along. Randall Munroe, the stick figure genius cartoonist / philosopher who draws XKCD, has provided a handy sports cheat sheet divided up into helpful USA / Rest of the World perspectives.

As an added bonus, here's Roy and Moss from The IT Crowd with a little play-by-play.

Yay, welcome back real American tackle football!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Agent Spills...

Welcome, Linda Glaz, agent with Hartline Literary Agency

Linda, of the (several) agents I’ve (known), you are the most personable and devoted to your clients.
(Okay, you're making me blush)

Are there lines you don’t cross between yourself and your clients and your agency?

I haven't ever had any ethical lines come up, other than we don't, as an agency, handle anything with profanity or gratuitous sex. I suppose if a client came to me with something of that nature, we'd either work through it, or I'd have to release that work from the contract.

What are basic responsibilities of agents, in your heart, and are there rules from your agency about what you can and cannot do?

Our first and foremost job is to take your work and present it to an editor that we think would be a good fit. Some agents do some editing, some don't. I am a very hands on editor. Very few escape my "don't use that, just, and even so much. Too many !!!!! And too many its!" But all have survived and I like to think stand a better chance at getting pubbed because of it.

You’re also a writing agent. Do you ever feel conflicted by that?
All the time. I catch myself working on one of my stories, and I hear in the back of my head my own voice telling one of my clients not to do that, and then I have to go back and fix my own. Errrgghhh!
Did your own work have anything to do with becoming an agent?

In a roundabout way. Terry (Burns) liked the way I picked my own work apart, and he asked me if I'd like to assist him with some submissions. When an opening came up at Hartline, he suggested me for the job. I sent my resume and Joyce thought she'd give me a chance. I love it! I'm still studying contracts. While in the end, I feel an author is responsible for his signature on a contract, obviously we want to be able to let our clients know if we think something isn't in their best interest. With the industry, rights, royalties, etc., changing so quickly, it's tough to stay on top of all of it. But as an agency, we help each other out all we can, and I couldn't ask for a better place to work. Or better people to work with.

You’ve shared your routine with your clients about what you do as an agent. What can you tell Author Culture readers about what you do all day?

Oh, gracious. Well, it's a pretty similar routine. Get up, immediately check email for anything that can't wait. Then I go walk/run on the track to keep the pounds off, come back, have breakfast and eat while I check the email again. I work through some reads, though I usually save full reads for the weekend, but sometimes during the week as well. I put together proposals for clients, research where they might go, and then send them out. I try and touch bases with a couple editors a week either on Facebook or by email just to keep up with what they're buying and to keep my name in their faces. (I'm shameless) will do anything for my clients. I get a half dozen, sometimes more, submissions from newbies each day, and I give each a good read in spite of what some of them think. I answer each and every one, and if I see something I might like with a bit of revision, I send some suggestions and offer to have another look later. Then, when I can't look at one more submission, I work a bit on one of my own novels for a while and then head back to the clients' work.

Why, when, and how should authors go about finding an agent?

PLEASE research their sites. Send only what they want, but also send all that they want. Don't send me erotica. We're pretty clear on our site we don't handle it. Only wastes your time and ours. We ask for a full proposal, not a query, not sample chapters, but all of the above. Outline very clearly on site. That shows a great deal of professionalism and gets bumped to the front of the class.

Does one size fit all?

Not even a little bit. Each agent has their specialty, or specialties, and they don't want to see what they don't handle just because "it's really good and I know you'll like it" or worse yet, "God told me to write this, so you have to take it. God says so." We all want to think our inspy is inspired, but c'mon.

What makes you take on a new client, and what makes you turn prospective ones away?

Attitude is a huge part of it. Surprisingly, while we don't rep literary per se, I have found myself gravitating toward genre fiction that has a very definite hint of literary. Not enough that I have to yawn and skip pages, but enough to give true flavor, better than salt, not as strong as garlic.

Do you have to personally like the client’s work or style to represent the work?

Absolutely. Otherwise it would be like wearing a dress that's ugly to me just because it had a designer label. Yuck! I've got to sit down to read and not put it down. That will make me sign you as a client. I prefer fiction. I do rep a very small amount of nonfiction, but since I don't read it, why would I want to rep it? And I read VERY little nonfiction. I read to be entertained. So much of my life is serious, that I enjoy laughing, crying, being afraid with a character. You do those things to me well and I'll rep your book.

Proud Member of
What type of clients are you actively seeking now and what’s the best way to submit to you?

Go to our site and see how to put together a professional proposal for fiction. It's completely outlined on the site. Then send it to me. I usually respond initially within a few days. I will look at almost any fiction except sci-fi, spec, or literary. What I love, love, love, is romantic suspense, historic romance, suspense, thrillers if they don't include too much blood and guts and definitely don't include profanity. But I'll look at women's fiction, though it's a tougher sell to me. I don't handle a lot. Chick lit if the humor isn't forced. But scare me, make me cry, make me laugh, and I'm putty in your hands!!! Pardon the exclamation points...

What do you want to accomplish as an agent?

I want to find the next Gone With the Wind. A novel that will transcend novels. Will crossover from CBA to ABA and will be a movie before 2014. I hope, I hope, I hope. And if I might let something slip prematurely, I think I recently may have found just that book. Time will tell.

Connect with Linda:

Disclaimer: Linda Glaz of Hartline Literary Agency currently represents two of my manuscripts. ~Lisa
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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sensual Writer: Touch vs. Feel

Touch vs. Feel
by Lisa Lickel
Our senses: we rattle them off, memorized, like vowels: taste, touch, see, hear, smell…but what do we really understand, or even appreciate about them?
I divide “touch” from “feel” similarly to sight/vision: like sight, touch is the top layer of our sense, the first impression, so to speak, of the perception. “Feel” goes deeper. It’s the sensation caused by the touch, and our reaction to it, whether instinctual or controlled. “Feel” here borders on emotional – not “how are you feeling,” but “what does that feel like?” The question asks for your response to the sense of the touch.
Somatosensory. That’s the big word that explains how our nervous system functions. Our skin is basically a sensor receptor, with certain touchpoints more sensitive than others. We have nerves around our internal organs as well, so humans are barraged by stimuli constantly. Touch is also a chemical reaction: hormones, pathogens, food byproducts all circulate in our blood. Chemoreceptors measure these levels, such as salt or sugar levels, and send signals to the medulla – the chemoreceptor zone: I'm thirsty, I need to eat, I need to throw up. How can we stand it? How can we sort out the natural feelings from the danger signs?
Perhaps that is the layer that drives up the tension in your story. Similarly to the ability to see, we are given the ability to experience life tactually. But how can that translate to our writing?
We are familiar with how certain objects feel to us. Everyone regularly experiences a choice of sensations, whether in our personal clothing preference and other lifestyle accoutrements. In fact, our lifestyle is the biggest subliminal indicator of our ability to handle discomfort, pain, where and how we seek pleasure.  A common reaction to feathers brush across our skin is a slight muscle tension and a spasm at the tingle/tickle. We know how sand feels, how ice, glass, metal, silk, paper, liquid, warmth, heat, the touch of another human’s skin feels. Many of these things are recognizable in some fashion or another. We put our reaction to them in two general categories, with multiple sub-categories: Safe, Dangerous. Safe can subgenerate into pleasant, comfortable, acceptable, known, desirous, and so forth. Dangerous subgenerates into painful, uncomfortable, frightening. The automatic reaction is to move toward the safe touch and to avoid the dangerous one. Natural, right?
The twists come when these sensory inputs and reactions get muddled for whatever reason you throw at your characters. Anesthesia stops the input; but paresthesia is uncontrollable stimulus either from within or without. What about characters who seek out dangerous stimuli on purpose? We call that desire unnatural. How will those unnatural desires affect the decision and actions/reactions of your characters? What reactions are instinctive; which are controllable? What about the diseases and conditions that either permanently or temporarily halt or overstimulate nervous reaction? Hansen’s disease is only one case to explore. Mystics who have learned phenomenal control over themselves are another.
Perception of what we touch, or what is touching us, often depends upon other of the main senses to categorize, understand, and react to what is happening. I can feel liquid, but I can’t put a name or react to the liquid without using other senses. If I can taste it, smell it, see it, or even hear it, that data input all works together to help me decipher the liquid. Is it warm, cold, viscous? Is it splashing on me or dripping on me or running on me? The temperature helps me determine danger or safety, but what is my reaction to an unknown? Am I drawn to it, or avoid it? If I am hiking long-distance and feel moisture on the back of my neck, feel drops rolling down my ribs, I reasonably assume I'm sweating, no matter the temperature of my environment. I am working, I am warm, my body responds. I don't have the need to check either by sight or feel. But what about this: I am sitting in a park, reading. Maybe I hear something out of place, maybe it's part of my muse. Moments later, a warm dribble trickling down my shoulder may be the first sign of something unusual happening. The movement is slow, unpleasant. It’s not raining. I sniff: sweet but not pleasant—vinegary; I look over and see dark red and the visual sensation triggers the smell of rust. I’m not even aware of the cut yet as my nerves are shocked to numbness at the point of the wound site. I’m not an expert in the medical field. I do not expect blood in this place at this time, but it takes more than the sense of touch to perceive the presence of blood. What should my or my character’s natural reaction be?
Your characters can also adjust to the sensory input, much like developing a callous for stringed instrument players or dancers. We can learn to sift and sort through our expected reactions until we are comfortable, such as jumping into a swimming pool or lake with water that feels cold. Eventually we adjust. We reflexively turn off the danger signs. Here’s your chance to add tension and conflict to the character’s story arc, and best of all, a twist for your reader.
Add to the noticing exercise in the first lesson on vision. Take out your box of objects again. This time, keep your eyes closed and examine them individually with your hands. Afterward, jot notes on the experience. Would you have recognized any of them simply by touch? How did they feel? Describe the sensations in a notebook for later use.
Remember: the more emotion you can elicit from your readers, the deeper they will be drawn into your world. We'll explore Hearing vs. Listening on October 15.

The excerpt from my upcoming mystery, MESSAGE OF MAYHEM, with the added sensual layer of "touch."
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Love At First Write

Never underestimate your creative power!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Heroine's Journey

I think it's safe to say we've at least heard of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth (also known as The Hero's Journey). It is a storytelling structure Campbell identified from his study of mythology. The variations are myriad but the basic structure is well-defined:

  1. Ordinary World - The hero's normal world before the story begins
  2. Call to Adventure - The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call - The hero refuses the challenge or journey, usually because he's scared
  4. Meeting with the Mentor - The hero meets a mentor to gain advice or training for the adventure
  5. Crossing the First Threshold - The hero crosses leaves the ordinary world and goes into the special world
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - The hero faces tests, meets allies, confronts enemies & learn the rules of the Special World.
  7. Approach - The hero has hit setbacks during tests & may need to try a new idea
  8. Ordeal - The biggest life or death crisis
  9. Reward - The hero has survived death, overcomes his fear and now earns the reward
  10. The Road Back - The hero must return to the Ordinary World.
  11. Resurrection Hero - another test where the hero faces death – he has to use everything he's learned
  12. Return with Elixir - The hero returns from the journey with the “elixir”, and uses it to help everyone in the Ordinary World
George Lucas famously worked with Joseph Campbell himself when he was writing the outline for the film which would become Star Wars. But all of this is preamble to which I think is the more interesting question...

Have you heard of the Heroine's Journey?

The legendary Jo Walton wrote two posts at which touched on this question, and there is a lot of really juicy stuff to consider, here.
I said that the Hero’s Journey made rather an odd life, with a distinct lack of what most people do, such as making things and having children. Lois said that traditionally in most cultures men went out and came back again, off to have adventures and then home to settle down and inherit from their father, whereas women went out and didn’t come back, inheriting from strangers—their husband’s parents. You can see this in a lot of fairy tales.

There aren’t many books that give a heroine a Campbellian Hero’s Journey. If there is a parallel canonical Heroine’s Journey it’s one that ends with marriage, and that’s seen as a kind of ending. In genre romance, the woman’s agenda wins. But in many books ending in marriage closes the doors of story, as if it isn’t possible to see past that—once the heroine has chosen her man there’s no more to be said. And there are the stories where the adventure ends with becoming a mother—I thought about the great line in Mockingbird “The longest trip I ever took, from being a daughter to having one.”

In fairy tales you have the hopeful young girl. Her great virtue is kindness to the helpless. She is often aided by those she has helped, by animals, old people, servants, and dwarves. She has a good mother who is dead, or turned into a tree or animals, who may give magical help on occasion. She has a bad shadow mother, often a stepmother. She may have rivals, sisters or stepsisters, but she rarely has friends or equals. Her aim is to survive, grow up, and marry a prince. Older women are represented by the two formats of mother, and old women by witches, who may be benevolent but are generally tricky to deal with.

In myth it’s rare to have women who journey, who are changed by what happens to them.
Can you think of a heroine who leaves home and journeys and is changed by what happens to her? The first one that came to mind for me was Tazendra, part of Steven Brust's Khaavren Romances. She plays the Porthos character based on the Dumas d'Artagnan Romances, so her role is part of the ensemble rather the starring role.

In a second post, she looks at the Heroine's Journey through the lens of anthropology.
Lois said that traditionally in most cultures men went out and came back again, off to have adventures and then home to settle down and inherit from their father, whereas women went out and didn’t come back, inheriting from strangers—their husband’s parents.

These anthropologists are leaving their own culture and traveling into a strange culture and finding a family there. That does feel right. It’s surprising how often the protagonists do “go native” and settle down on the planet. I find this an intriguing thought...

It’s also especially interesting when thinking about another book that almost fits — Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. Seeing Ender as on a heroine’s journey in that story rather than a hero’s journey makes a lot of sense.
I like stories that stray from the beaten path, that take risks with established convention. I love my favorite superhero film, The Incredibles, because Brad Bird starts with a brief glimpse into heroes in their prime (which is to say, 'single') and then jumps forward and picks up his story after most people's 'happily ever after, the end.' I thought that was a simple but brilliant idea and it paid off handsomely. Elastigirl (Mrs. Incredible) straddles the line between the hero's journey and the heroine's journey. It is an even more (heh) incredible aspect of an already fun and thought-provoking film.

Speaking of unconventional, Carole McDonnell's protagonist Satha forges her own hybrid journey in the unique novel Wind Follower. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it.
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Blogging, Readers, and Book Sales

So a conversation some friends and I had the other day got me to thinking. For years we've been told that as authors we have to blog. If we want publishers to consider us we must build that illusive platform, one plank of which is blogging. But the conversation I had with my friends the other day went something like this...

"Do you ever read (insert favorite author's name here)'s blog?"
"No, not me. I don't have time to read blogs."
To the next party in the group. "What about you? Do you ever read So-n-so's blog?"
Shaking head. "Nope. I don't even know if she has a blog. Does she?"
"Yes. She blogs." To both parties. "Do you read any blogs?"
Both sticking out their lips. "Not really. Every once in awhile, I read an agent's blog. Other than that, not much."

This was eye-opening, if a bit alarming. But it got me to thinking and I want to take a survey of a large segment of the population to see if these statistics were just unique to that small group, or if in general they hold true across the board.

So I've created a very short survey and I'd love it if you would participate.

I'll come back in a few weeks after I've given plenty of time for lots of people to respond, to give you the results.

Click here to take survey

Thanks, everyone!
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Friday, September 14, 2012

FF Friday: The Publishing Process in GIF with Nathan Bransford

This spot comes to the Internet courtesy of Nathan Bransford, social media dude and author.

I can't repost the whole deal here, but, truly, people, Nathan is da bomb!

Check this out: the whole authorial process in pop culture clips:

nathan bransford
Nathan Bransford
Nathan Bransford is the author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, May 2011), Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Dial, April 2012) and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp (Dial, March 2013). He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. He lives in San Francisco.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Something Different from a Typewriter...

I don't usually forward FORWARDS, let alone post them, but this recent email landed on my desktop from my Dad. The images were so compelling, I thought it worth sharing with you (that, and what I wanted to share initially was just rather "Meh," in comparison). Apologies if you've seen this already.

Just A Typewriter

He lived at Rose Haven Nursing Home ( Roseburg , OR ) for years. Paul Smith, the man with extraordinary talent was born on September 21, 1921, with severe cerebral palsy. Not only had Paul beaten the odds of a life with spastic cerebral palsy, a disability that impeded his speech and mobility but also taught himself to become a master artist as well as a terrific chess player even after being devoid of a formal education as a child.

When typing, Paul used his left hand to steady his right one. Since he couldn't press two keys at the same time, he almost always locked the shift key down and made his pictures using the symbols at the top of the number keys. In other words, his pictures were based on these characters ..... @ # $ % ^ & * ( )_ .

Across seven decades, Paul created hundreds of pictures. He often gave the originals away. Sometimes, but not always, he kept or received a copy for his own records. As his mastery of the typewriter grew, he developed techniques to create shadings, colors, and textures that made his work resemble pencil or charcoal drawings.

This great man passed away on June 25, 2007, but left behind a collection of his amazing artwork that will be an inspiration for many. Can you believe that this art was created using a typewriter?

"I Shall Look At The World Through Tears. Perhaps I Shall See Things That, Dry-Eyed, I Could Not See".---Nicholas Wolterstorff.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Thriller Author Steven James, at it again!

John Robinson scored an interview with award-winning author, Steven James, creator of the Patrick Bowers series. This is Steven's second appearance on AuthorCulture--the first time, "Interview with Psychological Thriller Author, Steven James" was after release of The Pawn, book five of the Bowers series. That book went on to win the 2012 Christy award for the suspense genre. September 4th, his newest in the series released: Opening Moves, and like all his other, this one promises to be a winning seat-edger.

Steve, thanks for visiting with us today. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

I’m a tortilla eating, coffee drinking, trail running, once-in-a-while starving artist writer. I’m privileged to have a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation (read: playing) and a master’s degree in storytelling (yes, I’m not making that up).

You're a very fascinating guy! Introduce us to your books.

I’ve written a variety of fiction and nonfiction books over the years, spanning inspirational to fantasy to instructional—and even prayer books—and now I write psychological suspense novels. It’s all up there in my head somewhere and I need to get it out.

Those sound great. So tell me, is it a hard line to walk to write fiction featuring gritty, hard-core material, yet fusing it with a theme of spiritual healing or redemption?

Well, I believe that tension lies at the heart of fiction so if you strive to get a message across, or if you start with an answer, you undermine the very medium you are using to convey it. So, I explore moral dilemmas and try to ask big questions in my fiction rather than trying to write agenda-driven stories. I find that when you write crime novels it’s natural to explore issues of good and evil, life and redemption, God, meaning, justice, and so on. I think it’s our role as authors to explore the truth about the world, and as a Christian, I can’t help but come at that from the perspective that every moment has meaning, and redemption is available to all, no matter how far we have fallen.

On the range with an M4 Carbine
As a manly male-type guy, your books sound really interesting to me. Do you get a lot of women who read your books?

Interestingly enough, I do. I write stories with lots of energy, suspense and testosterone, but there is always a family-element and a romance, and I have a feeling those aspects of the stories appeal more to my female readers.

Steve, do you remember when you first decided that you wanted to write for publication? Was that always your goal?

I have always been a storyteller at heart but never really embraced the dream of being a storyteller until I was in my late twenties. I don’t recall a specific moment, but I do remember being drawn in this direction for a long time—without knowing what it would look like to live this life, but interested in finding out. Then I recalled this story Jesus told about a master giving out talents (that is, gold pieces) to three servants. He chastised the one who didn’t put the money to work and valued those who risked all to honor their master. When I thought of that story, I realized it was true for me—not that God had given me gold, but that he had given me ideas and I couldn’t bury them. So, I started throwing them out to the world, hoping in some way to honor the master who gave them to me.

Tell us about your first contract and how that came about. I always love to hear writer’s stories of how they first got published.

At a conference I met a man who worked at a publishing company. He knew that I traveled around speaking at events, and as we became friends he encouraged me to submit a proposal to his associates. I did, they offered me a contract, and I was on my way. Moral of the story: networking really is the key to making things happen.

Do you (or did you) have someone in your life who was an inspiration in your pursuing writing?

My uncle always told us stories when I was a boy and that impacted me, drew me to the idea of telling stories. Others encouraged me along the way, but I always look back at him as the one who first inspired me to be a storyteller.

So what lies ahead for Steven James?

I’m finishing up the Patrick Bowers series and have launched a new series of thrillers that will begin to release this fall. Next year, I’ll be starting a youth series and a book on novel writing. Lots on my plate. But I like it best that way.

Thanks so much for being with us here today. Steve; we really appreciate it. I do have one last question. What would be your advice to someone just trying to break into publishing in this day and age?

Tell better stories than anyone else. Grab readers’ attention, draw them in emotionally, and escalate the tension so much that they won’t want to put the book down. With anyone and everyone publishing their own e-books, it’s a strange time in the history of publishing, but I believe that the cream will rise to the top.  

You can find Opening Moves, and all of Steven's books anywhere books are sold.
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Friday, September 7, 2012

Neo Hides From Lumbergh

Some days you just feel like hiding from your boss (even if it means co-opting someone else's movie).

(If you haven't seen Office Space yet, there's no time like the present to rectify that omission.)
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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Sensual Writer - Sight

Seeing or Looking?
Fans of the James Cameron sci-fi movie Avatar will recognize the Na’avi greeting, “I see you.” As Norm explains to Jake, the phrase means more than hello/aloha or I’m looking at you, it means I know you – I recognize you. Even more, to me, that greeting implies a certain trust, very much unlike our overuse of “How are you?” and our pat answer of “Fine,” which is usually a lie of varying degrees.
As one of our five recognized human senses, sight is often considered of first importance. Vision commands many other aspects of our lives; to lose it can be devastating. But to those who have never experienced it, other senses gain strength, not necessarily to compensate but to add depth to awareness. Why are such things as Balance or Perception not separately recognized human senses (they are to some)? Because they are governed by other organs that command those senses; the nervous system carries signals to the brain, where the physical experience is sifted, judged, and assigned a value. I experience a sense of imbalance when my eyes are closed, but my sense of balance is controlled by the workings of my inner ear. I can perceive physical experiences like odor or dampness but I cannot understand either without smell, taste, or touch.
So why am I separating Sight from Looking? Seeing is a surface sense, like the words of the Na’avi greeting. Being able to look, to go beyond the first impression of sight, is as different as an X-ray from a visual exam; as different as a victim of prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces) from a victim of Treacher Collins Syndrome (those born without a face).
Just because a creature can see does not mean it can recognize and then understand or put into perspective what is seen.
How do I use the concept of “look” in my writing? Successfully adding a layer of deep examination turns a written paragraph into an artistic rendering. A line becomes two-dimensional when we add other lines to create a shape; the resulting shape becomes three-dimensional when we add a sense of depth with distance or shading. We live in a three-dimensional world and relate best to multi-dimensional experiences. How can you add these layers? By practicing the art of noticing. It is an art that we can all learn, but at our own pace. I’ve long admired such characters as the great sleuths – Sherlock Holmes in particular. What makes him special? He’s smart, of course, but he's incapable of taking in a scene with his eyes; he looks at it with an inner perception that notices what is different, out of place, unique, exceptional. If you’ve never done this exercise, I encourage you to practice with a friend. (There is a boxed family game using this concept I saw recently in a store.) Have someone pick up ten random objects, small enough to fit in a shoebox or such container. Test yourself by spending short periods of time, ranging from 10 – 30 – 60 second increments of time studying the objects and then listing them. First, trying to remember as many as you can, then recounting what you recall about each of them: shape, color, texture, size, relationship to the others.
You and your writing group can practice a similar exercise by observing a public scene, such as when you go out for lunch or coffee and watch the people around you, what they consume; the decoration of the room, timing of the wait staff, and so forth. Practice looking for certain numbers of surface details first: each of you might pick twenty details of the outing to commit to memory for discussion later. Why did you notice those particular items? Gradually you’ll find yourself noticing richer layers of perception every time you look around. A department store shopping cart, or buggy, will not longer simply be a conveyance, but a wielder of the means to transform a dull wardrobe into something fantastic, change a plain meal into gourmet, or supply the necessary tools to fix a maddening leak; or possibly tell its own story by its wobbly wheel or bent wires or broken handle…and so forth, leading the reader to conjecture with you not only about the piece of a larger scene, but about the story behind it.

Adding visual cues to my stripped down scene in my upcoming release (introduced last time), currently titled Message of Mayhem, might look something like this. Feel free to comment or add your own descriptions.
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Monday, September 3, 2012

Ways to Discover Your Goals (Or Telling Dolphins from Sharks)

Waves slammed into shore. The Indian Ocean, normally a shining turquoise, brooded in the wake of the tropical cyclone that had sent residents of Australia's Northwest Cape under cover.

I dug my toes in the warm sand. "Maybe not."

"Come on. There's nothing to it." Eventually, my husband persuaded me to enter those turbulent waters, mask and snorkel strapped to my head and fins on my feet. 

He gave me a reassuring smile. "You'll love it."

I followed him into waist-high water and took my lesson. Relax. Just remember to blow out before you breathe. The buoyant water held me and I relaxed a little. This wasn't so bad, really. My heart rate eased to somewhere around normal.  I dared to open my eyes behind the mask and gave an experimental kick.

A huge silver-blue fish with a dark eye sidled by within touching distance. 

A shark! I just stopped myself from breathing water. Blow out before you breathe. Fighting to find my feet, I fell in the crashing surf. Water poured over me as my husband grasped my arms and hauled me from the water, landing me like a gasping fish on shore.

His laughter washed over me. "It was only a dolphin wanting to make friends."

My face heated. Perhaps if I hadn't nursed the fear of meeting a shark, I'd have recognized the dolphin for the friend it was.

Setting goals can be a lot like encountering that dolphin. If goals loom too close, they can be mistaken for threats when they're really friends. Stepping back gives the full picture. Here are some telltale signs that an idea might be a dolphin and not a shark: 
  • Whatever you do as naturally as you breathe probably belongs in some form in your writing goals.  Do you step in to help people solve problems? Maybe you should write self-help articles. Do you love to cook? Think about writing cookbooks. As a child, I put myself to sleep with my own bedtime stories.Today I write fiction.
  • You're a little jealous about someone else's accomplishments in a certain area. This might be an indicator that you are called to do something similar. Why else you would care?
  • Something makes you angry or concerned, and you feel  "someone" should do something about it. That "someone" may be you.
  • You're afraid of doing a certain thing in life (such as speaking or writing a best seller). Why does it even occur to you to think about it?
  • You'll be disappointed at the end of your life if you haven't done X or accomplished Y or given Z. You only live once. Why wait to get started? 
This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to get you thinking about your own ways to recognize your desired goals. 

Goals versus Dreams

Differentiating between goals and dreams will help you avoid discouragement. I've heard writers mention a goal of getting traditionally published, but what they're really voicing is a dream. A goal differs from a dream in a vital way. A goal lies within your power to accomplish. A dream depends on another person or persons for attainment. 

Before I became a full-time novelist, I was an assistant underwriter for an insurance company. As part of my mandatory continuing education, I attended riveting classes where we read insurance policies, line by line. According to our policies, a person could only insure something that was in that person's care, custody, and control. If those conditions were present, the person was said to have an insurable interest. A goal fits that definition. You can own a goal, nurture it, and even control whether you attain it. A dream does not fit that definition. You can hope for a traditional contract, but unless you own the publishing house, you have no control over whether you'll receive one. 

You can draw goals from dreams in the hope of attaining them, but you can't make a dream come true without someone else's help. Writers falter when they substitute dreams for real goals. Knowing the difference can help you see dreams more as dolphins than sharks.

If you've suffered from discouragement or need a refresher, read: How to Get Published: What Writers Can Learn From Babies .
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