Monday, November 25, 2013

Error Free?

Writer's Digest published an article by Craig Silverman in their November/December 2009 issue called "Regret the Error?" about having errors in our published works.
We've all seen typos and factual errors in books. As much as the authors pray their works will hit the market in pristine condition, errors can be overlooked and be copyrighted right along with the good stuff. Readers have varying degrees of tolerance. I've used the example before of a former cop who read a novel and was thoroughly enjoying it until he reached the point where the MC "flicked the safety off his Glock." Glocks don't have the type of safety that can be "flicked." The cop laid the book down and never picked it up again.
I've read where an author populated her Texas setting with prairie dogs in an area too rocky for the critters. They don't live in that part of the state. I didn't stop reading the book, but at this point it's about all I remember of it.
Writers are responsible for their content's accuracy just as they're responsible for catching typos and spelling and grammatical errors. According to Silverman:
Accuracy is an ethical and professional responsibility for all writers, and a significant error in a book or article can ruin your reputation.
Silverman writes nonfiction, but the statement is just as true for fiction writers. Someone will know when the author has scrimped on research and may respond as the cop did--never pick up the work again.
Preventing errors isn't always a fool-proof process, but things can be done to avoid them. Silverman suggests we acknowledge our weaknesses:
  • What words do I always misspell?
  • Does my process, or lack thereof, for keeping track of my research cause me to make mistakes?
  • Do I have a tendency to get names wrong?
Answering these honestly will prompt us to double check our weakest areas. Having a quiver of knowledgeable and experienced critique partners with fresh eyes for the work also helps. (Author K.M. Weiland wrote an excellent article for AuthorCulture, "Never Miss a Typo Again," which includes ideas like having your Adobe Reader read your work to you. Miss Adobe has a pecular voice, but this technique works.)
Errors can slip through despite our best efforts, and Silverman's remedy is one guaranteed to keep him in the good graces of his readers: Acknowledge the fact that you can make mistakes:
. . . you need to realize (and acknowledge) that you're human, and humans make mistakes. Those who present themselves as infallible gods are first to be renounced.
After you and your critters have checked your work, there will be fewer errors--hopefully no errors--but it's always possible something slipped by. Silverman says to "be up front with readers about wanting them to help you identify mistakes. Create a system for correcting them." He calls this his "Statement of Accuracy" and provides a place on his website for readers to report the errors they've found, then he posts the latest corrections on an RSS feed or readers can sign up to receive the information via email.
He says he enjoys the feedback from his readers:
Even though they're pointing out your mistakes, it's satisfying when someone takes time to read and respond to your work.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

"'Trickle Down' Theory and 'Tax Cuts for the Rich'"

by

Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution Press, 2012)

Reviewed by Donn Taylor



            The title repeats two often-repeated shibboleths of today's political spin. In this very short separately published essay, the distinguished economist and Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell examines both concepts in the light of historical reality. His overall finding is that neither of the two concepts is supported by that reality.
             First of all, among economists there is no "trickle down theory," for the term is a political term used to argue against a caricature of what economists have actually said. What economists have argued is that at times "existing tax rates are so high that the government could collect more tax revenues if it lowered those tax rates, because the changed incentives would lead to more economic activity, resulting in more tax revenues out of rising incomes…."

            Sowell continues by documenting what actually happened when high tax rates were lowered in the 1920s and under presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. "What actually followed the cuts in tax rates in the 1920s were rising output, rising employment to produce that output, rising incomes as a result and rising revenues for the government because of the rising incomes…." Sowell cites actual figures showing that "people in the higher income brackets not only paid a larger total amount of taxes, but a higher percentage of all taxes…." Further, the "hard data" show that "both the amount and the proportion of taxes" paid by those with lower incomes went down, while "both the amount and proportion of taxes" paid by those with higher incomes went up. And the higher the income, the sharper the increase.
            Consequently, Sowell shows, the political caricature that these were "tax cuts for the rich" is false: tax rates were cut for everyone, everyone profited, and the government received more revenue—a win-win for all concerned.
            Politicians can be expected to falsify truth to serve their own purposes, but it is more disturbing that leading journalists have repeated these falsifications and some historians have enshrined them in history books. Sowell quotes several of these and contrasts them by quoting the actual persons (e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon) who were misrepresented. He also follows these and similar misrepresentations through the Reagan and Bush administrations.

            Sowell's writing is clear and easily readable. But perhaps its most impressive feature is his extensive documentation. The number of pages devoted to end notes equals about one third of the number of pages of text. The documentation leaves no doubt that the author has thoroughly researched his subject.
            The result is a thoroughly readable explanation of the historical truth about an important and much-misrepresented subject. It should be required reading for everyone who intends to vote in any local or national election.





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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest post: Story, Story Everywhere!




Writing/Blogging Lessons From The Food Industry by Elaine Stock


Gasp. Shudder. I work in the food industry while waiting for my dream job of a writing career to get the Green-Go-Ahead sign from God. No, I do not ask hungry people if they want fries with their meal, but there is nothing wrong with that. However, I do wake up on a work morning at 3 AM to slog off to a job that the American society attaches a stigma to, and yes, even in novels. But, like the budding actress who waits on tables in-between auditions, I’m making a living, earning needed benefits, cat food money, saving for writing conferences, and learning a few life lessons that I want to share with you.
 

Lesson #1: People are more than their hungry self. A hungry customer can only think about his empty belly. Once fueled, he or she returns, usually, to a more caring and sometimes, even more, dynamic and fun self. A character must have an internal self and external persona he or she shows. This will vary based upon familiarity. When I interview an author or contributor for my blog I try to respect who they want to show to the public. Not everyone wants to broadcast every life detail. It’s necessary to respect this.

 
Lesson #2: Some of my co-workers ask “may I help the next guest?” Treat characters like guests, allowing some to exert themselves and others to hold back. Everyone is an individual. Same goes for interviewing a guest for a blog. Let the guest lead. It’s sometimes necessary to step back and let the guest take a different route in responding to a question, even if it’s not the one you anticipated. Be cordial. Inviting a guest onto your blog for an interview or appearance is the equivalent of asking one into your living room. And on that note . . .

 
Lesson #3: Like a hungry customer, characters in a WIP or guests on a blog have added issues in their private lives. Rightly so, they may not explain why they’re refusing to pour out from your typing fingertips and onto the computer screen. Or, if a blog guest, why they aren’t staring at the blog waiting for the second after a viewer comments in order to reply (do you expect your guest to do this? Really?) Again, be cordial. Don’t harp on them. Thank them. Try to make it easy and fun. Promote them! Encourage them!
 

Lesson #4: There are characters in a novel, and guests on a blog, that like the hungry customer in a restaurant, will stick to “the usual” and then those who will be daring and eager to try the “something different.” Work with your characters. Work with your blog guests. Develop a feel for the unique person your guest is. Remember, that’s why you’ve asked them to appear on your blog to begin with. Or, in the case about creating a fictional world around your special character, it is what fascinated you about the character and the story premise to begin with.
 

I titled my blog Everyone’s Story. Everyone truly has a story. Everyone is a blessed individual. May we return the blessing by honoring them and giving our fictional characters and blog guests their deserved spotlight.

Elaine Stock--Writing to encourage others through difficult times.

Everyone's Story  http://elainestock.blogspot.com/
Twitter  http://www.twitter.com/ElaineStock
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AuthorElaineStock

Rejoice in the good stuff. Ignore any discouragement.
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

To Comma or Not To Comma...That Is the Question

It seems that the rules for proper use of commas always seem to be changing. I learned back in the 60's where and when to place commas in my sentences. Since then the 'rules' keep fluctuating. So I got the thinking, who makes up these rules and if they are rules why do they keep changing?

The serial comma is a good example. I was taught not to place a comma before the and in a series such as red, white and blue. Others were taught to put one in. In college, a million years ago I was marked down because I didn't put one in. This illustrates the problem with 'rules' in some instances in punctuation. There are varying schools of thought as to when the comma is to be used.

There isn't even consensus amongst the supposed arbitrators of proper punctuation. Oxford University Press indicates you should place one but the Associated Press does not. So who do you believe? What way were you taught? Are you writing in England or the USA?

The criticism authors get from editors and readers may or may not be valid depending on what you were taught. Is either way truly wrong? Does it really matter if the meaning of the sentence is clear?

I am going to continue to use, not only serial commas but commas in general as I was taught way back in the 1960's. I'm going to be consistent, or at least as I can be, with their use. I am not going to worry about someone else's method of where I should or should not place commas. If the universities and press can't agree on what the rule should be in my humble opinion it's not a very good rule.
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Revision Decisions



My publisher responded to my agent about a sequel submission I sent recently. They graciously responded that some revisions were needed. They’d be happy to look at it again if I were willing to revise. Good news, right? That’s not a rejection, but a revision. Love it. Went to sleep that night with a plan of action.



2:00 a.m. Woke up with self-doubt. Can I really rise to the next level with this story? I have a “no whining” policy for myself, but I did allow 30 seconds to lament my current time constraints. Pity party over. Now I need to listen to the Father. These are the thoughts that came to me.

Revision has one of my favorite words in it. Vision. Websters: the ability to see : sight or eyesight, : something that you imagine : a picture that you see in your mind :something that you see or dream, especially as part of a religious or supernatural experience. 

I need to “see” my story again. This is how I need to do it.

Revisit my publisher’s imprint. Did I submit a work that was outside their guidelines? Also, revisit the formula for my genre. For instance, a romance generally has two POVs, the hero and heroine. I’d fallen in love with the developing romance of some secondary characters and gave them too many scenes in their POV.

Research for some wisdom about writing sequels. Writing and publishing has been quite a learning journey for me. I need to keep educating myself about my passion. 

Rely on the revision suggestions the editor made. I may have submitted the sequel with confidence, and be totally attached to my characters and story, but the editing team for my first book really made me look good. Their opinion will help me succeed this time as well.

Refocus on my take away. I need to redefine what I want my readers to get out of this work. That eases the pain of having to change some things that I felt attached to in the story that will simply have to go. If my original vision remains, I’m still doing well.

Looks like rewriting this book will be my project for National Novel Writers Month this year. We’ll be in the middle of that when this posts. If you’re participating, I hope you’re having fun.
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Going the Distance

From 2001 to 2006, I raced 'Best in the Desert,' a series of long distance off road races, including 'Vegas to Reno,' known as the longest off road race in the USA. Twice I won the season championships in my class, at ages 50 and 53. I did it without the fastest bike, competing against younger people. What was the secret? Winning the war of attrition. Our team finished in spite of bent bikes, broken bones and other maladies. In 2003 I rolled to the finish line at 11:30 at night with no headlight. What does this have to do with writing?
Everything.

A writer must go the distance too. Remember your first rejection  letter? "How could they?" you demanded. Hopefully you rallied and got back  to it. After a few (or a lot) of them, you developed thicker skin.

Or you spent big money and went to a conference, met an agent, gave her your pitch and got a no. You may have screwed up your pitch or your work wasn't a good fit. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off (I did that literally, many times when racing) and get going again. Once, when racing 'Vegas to Reno,' I crashed and broke my collarbone. I picked up the bike and rode it one handed for forty miles to the pit stop and handed it off to the others, then rode in the chase truck the rest of the day. We finished the race and won the championship that year.

Do you keep track of your submissions? I have a spread sheet with each short story, article and novel I've submitted. 134 submissions, 24 accepts. Being a numbers guy, that's about an eighteen percent success rate. It's skewed now, as I write for Author Culture, Geezer Guys and Gals (www.geezerguysandgals.blogspot.com) and Judi Moreo's 'Choices' eMagazine. I don't include those.

We've all heard the stories about Julie, who sat down, wrote a 75,000 word romance, met an agent, and she just can't write fast enough. Those are the lottery winners, one in a million writers. Most of us must press on, and being a solitary life, sometimes must give ourselves the pep talk, as the team isn't clapping and slapping us on the back as we ride into the pits. Hopefully you have a writer's group, a critique group, or a forum where you can get some words of encouragement. Here's mine: You can do it! Keep writing! Go go go!
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Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Book Review: Am I Okay, God --When a book is more than a book

Am I Okay, God
Lorilyn Roberts


Kindle book: $2.99


So, I was one of the editors on this project, I freely admit. I don't do this often, post a review of a project here, but this book is so unique. It seems we just got around to e-books in general, when now they're jumping to a whole new level. E-books have been here -- QR (quick response) codes have been here a while -- why not combine them? And that's what the author did.

I don't have a smart phone (I don't know how long I can hold out on every machine in the world smarter than me), but the author also helpfully added the physical link along with a QR code that leads the reader to a YouTube video or song that illustrates the devotional. E-books interacting with other web-based material isn't completely new, either, I realize, but I thought it was a really neat idea. How many of you have read books like this, or even created one? I hope to incorporate something like this in my future books.

You can learn more about QR codes and how to generate them here, at qrstuff.com generator site.

Here is a sample of what the coded picture looks like, from Roberts's book, Devotion 4, Guilt:


 


Review:

I knew Roberts's The Seventh Dimension: The Door was a terrific story; an allegory that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though it's targeted to young adult readers. It's no stretch, then, to see how this lovingly thought-out devotional adds even more depth and meaning to The Door. Each of the twenty-six devotionals deals with an aspect of life we all know, from being bullied, to holding secrets you think no one else shares, to forgiveness and seeing God for who he really is. The individual chapters features a passage from The Door, some long and some just a sentence, which shows how the theme is played out in Roberts's allegorical world. The author then shares an episode from her life or from another person or book in a brief essay that ties into the theme. Lovingly crafted prayers follow.

I appreciated the work that went into preparing this special book. Am I Okay, God is a wonderful partner to faith. Recommended for any junior high and up-aged loved one; younger if more mature. Makes a fantastic godparent/sponsor gift, too!
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Visualizing Characters


Recently, I asked my readers what aids they use to visualize book characters--cover, context, or character casting by the author. The disparity in response between people who read and people who write took me by surprise.
I'm a minimalist. When I write I tend to toss in a few details here and there, but leave the actual visualization to the reader. I discovered I'm not the only writer who prefers this, but guess what? Readers want description. In the words of one lady, "Lots of it!"
Of course, I doubt that means she wants pages describing each wart and freckle, but she does want to know the character has warts and freckles. She wants a clear image of who the author has in mind, and she doesn't want it through actors' photos.
One Twitter friend let me know right fast that when the cover art doesn't match the character description it tinges her view of the entire book. She bought a book with a beautiful brunette on the cover, then discovered the character was strawberry blond. I know it's difficult to find pictures to match what the writer has in mind, but what this lady described shouldn't have happened.
To provide "lots" of character description without bogging the text, without being too apparent, and without bouncing out of POV can be a challenge. For romance writers, it shouldn't be too difficult since we're required to throw the two main characters together as soon as possible. Each one describes the other. But for authors of other genres, particularly those who write in first person, the challenge is to avoid cliche means of description--the mirror routine, the clothes selection process--unless those methods receive a face-lift, a unique twist.
Back to cover art: character depiction isn't necessary, according to some who responded--something we all know is true. What's important is that the cover is intriguing. It doesn't even have to give a good representation of what the story's about--that's what back-cover copy is for. An intriguing cover lures readers to pick up the book and read the back, flip through the pages, read a passage or two. It's one of the most valuable marketing tools out there, but it doesn't rank as one of the means for readers to visualize the characters.
They seem to want description. Lots of it.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

On Gratifying the Reader

by

Donn Taylor


            In our most basic instruction on fiction writing we were taught to keep the story moving forward. A codicil to that principle is to maintain the reader's interest on every page. This is usually done by introducing new developments in the plot—an unexpected twist for the reader or a major character's reaction to encountering something unexpected. These are good rules that should be followed. But in these comments I will argue for the effectiveness of another means of gratifying the reader.


            I first noticed it in an old scif-fi novel by Robert Heinlein. He advanced the plot as he should, of course, but in the middle of the action he made a passing reference to a famous zoologist named Dr. Tiergarten. I found myself laughing because tiergarten is the German word for zoo. The effect was momentary, but it definitely gratified me as a reader.
            These momentary comic effects in the midst of drama were standard in the classic movies. No one would question the increasing tension in the movie Casablanca. But as it builds, the C.Z. Sakall character turns around and suddenly bumps into a character we already know as a pickpocket. Sakall's hurriedly checking his pockets provides a moment of hilarity in the midst of the growing tension. In the Western My Darling Clementine, as tension builds toward the climactic gunfight at the OK Corral, the Ward Bond character whinnies like a horse at the beautiful Linda Darnell as she carries a washtub of water past him. She responds by dousing him with the water. Neither of these incidents adds to development of the plot, but both gratify the audience with momentary laughter in the midst of the tension.

            I've tried to make discreet use of this technique a standard element of my fiction, though I tend to keep mine understated in the manner of Heinlein. The hero of The Lazarus File finds himself in a corrupt town run by a thoroughly corrupt sheriff, and in need of escaping town before members of a drug ring can capture him. During the escape he sees a billboard that flaunts the town's corruption by advertising exotic dancers from Germany, one of whom is named Kirsten Keinekleider. (The German keine kleider means "no clothing.") The effect is momentary, yet several readers have remembered it and reminded me of it.
 


            One scene in that novel involves an elaborate hoax perpetrated on one of the villains. The hoax takes place in the Red Herring Bar, and the leading temptress tells the villain she comes from a village named Mirage which, she says, is very close to where they are sitting. Similarly, an incident in my Preston Barclay mysteries has two people mention a rumor that an incompetent psychologist thinks the hippocampus is a zoo. Other incidents of the same kind appear here and there.
            Needless to say, this kind of thing can be overdone. But, used it judiciously, an author can gratify his reader in unexpected ways without detracting from the forward movement of the plot.

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